Welcome to my monthly Insiders series, where I will be sharing interviews with historians, novelists, advisors, bloggers, and other creative types that are movers and shakers in the world of history.
About 20 years ago, Natalie Grueninger read her first book about Anne Boleyn. And after turning the last page, she was hooked. Like so many people—yours truly included—Natalie was instantly drawn in by the exciting and tragic story of Henry VIII’s legendary second wife. Since then, Natalie has been researching and writing about Anne Boleyn and other aspects of Tudor England for her blog, On the Tudor Trail, and in various non-fiction books. In 2013, she co-authored In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn with Sarah Morris, and in 2016 she released In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII.
This year, Natalie has two exciting releases: a Tudor landmark travel guide titled Discovering Tudor London: A Journey Back in Time, as well as a Tudor-themed adult colouring book called Colouring History: The Tudors. When I saw that Natalie had created a colouring book featuring illustrations by Kathryn Holeman of iconic Tudor motifs, portraits, landmarks, and manuscripts, I knew I needed to both get my hands on a copy (if you’ve been following my blog or my Instagram you’ll know that colouring books have a very special place in my heart) and speak to her myself to get a peak inside her head. And I thought: who better to kick off my new monthly Insiders series than her? With her passion for bringing history to people in new and exciting ways, Natalie fits the spirit of this series perfectly.
So read on for my Q&A with Natalie, where we discuss her love for all things Anne Boleyn, her blog, her non-fiction work, and her must-read book recommendations.
Q&A with Natalie Grueninger from On the Tudor Trail
Sienna: Tell me about yourself! From your bio online, I understand you started your career working as a teacher. Are you still teaching to this day?
Natalie Grueninger: Yes, I’m still teaching. I have been working in public education since 2006 and currently have a class of wonderfully inquisitive and clever six, seven, and eight-year-olds. I live with my hubby and two children in a leafy suburb of southern Sydney, and when not basking in the delights of home, I love to travel, especially to destinations where the past is palpable.
Have you always been interested in Tudor history? When and how did you first realize this was your passion?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with the past. I’ve been drawn to stories of people and places from long ago, and to old houses and things. But it was a book that I read in my early twenties that sparked my initial interest in the Tudors. In around 1998, my sister leant me a copy of The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn by Robin Maxwell, and from that moment on my interest grew. A visit to Hampton Court Palace and the Tower of London in 2000 only served to fuel the fire. I wanted to know everything, and not just about the big events and personalities of the day, but about the common folk and everyday life. Over time, my initial interest and curiosity evolved into a great passion, one that has vastly enriched my life.
What inspired you to launch On the Tudor Trail in 2009?
2009 was a special year because it marked the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII’s accession to the throne. To mark this occasion, many historic sites around England, and various galleries and museums, hosted special exhibitions and talks. My sister (a fellow Tudor enthusiast) and I decided that this would be a wonderful year to visit England, to participate in the great schedule of events and follow in the footsteps of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, to whom we both felt particularly drawn. We turned to the internet to help us research and plan our itinerary but found the same few historic sites mentioned over and over again—Hampton Court Palace, the Tower of London, Hever Castle… all wonderful sites, however, we were sure that Anne had visited more than just these few locations in her lifetime! So I decided to start my own website, documenting historic sites associated with the Tudors, and in particular, those visited by Anne Boleyn.
How has this site evolved since its launch?
Originally it was just a place for me to blog about historic sites associated with the Tudors but it quickly became a space for me to share my own research and articles about all aspects of life in Tudor England. Today it’s home to a huge range of articles, written both by myself and by guest historians and experts in sixteenth century England. You’ll also find many book reviews and Q&A’s with authors, and various other resources of interest to the lover of Tudor history.
What is it that draws you to Anne Boleyn?
From the first moment that I came across Anne’s name, it seemed strangely familiar to me, like that of an old friend… At first, like many others, I was drawn to her extraordinary story, her rise to fame from relative obscurity and her dramatic downfall. I yearned to discover all there was to know about her and wanted to understand how she’d come to meet such a brutal end. Why had a seemingly devoted husband turned on the woman he’d ardently pursued for seven years, and ordered her execution? Had she been guilty of the crimes of which she was accused? What part had she played in her own demise and untimely death? Had she ever truly loved Henry? And the list goes on…
The more I researched Anne Boleyn’s life and world, the more connected I felt to her and the more I grew to admire her. I am drawn to her complexity and bold personality, as to her intelligence, erudition, undeniable courage and sparkling wit. She was a sixteenth century woman with a voice—an inspiration for a woman in any age. Anne Boleyn was also charismatic and an accomplished dancer, singer and musician, who turned heads wherever she went. She inspired fierce loyalty and was loyal and generous in return, often helping members of her family, her household and those sympathetic to her cause. She also supported educational institutions and was a patron of the arts and scholars.
It’s funny because she was actually the historical figure that first really drew me into history, back when I read Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl (2001). To this day, she is such a popular historical figure in pop culture. Why do you think this is?
I think it’s down to her dramatic and controversial story, and to her complexity. Anne had many admirable qualities but on the flip side, she could also be ruthless, calculating and unrelenting. She had a fiery temper and an impetuous side. As well as inspiring fierce loyalty, she inspired hatred. I think it’s this dichotomy, coupled with her intriguing story, that make her compelling and addictive.
Furthermore, the fact that so much about Anne is unknown, debated and controversial also captures the imagination. In popular culture, she’s variously depicted as a ruthless adulteress, zealous reformer, romantic heroine or saintly queen, and these greatly varying interpretations appeal to a wide range of people—hence her popularity.
I’m so excited about Colouring History: The Tudors! I absolutely love the adult colouring book trend. How did this project come about?
Very simply, in a moment of inspiration! The fact that I’ve always loved to colour also played its part.
What was your role in the creation of this colouring book? I understand you worked with the illustrator Kathryn Holeman.
I came up with the idea, and acted as consultant during its production, researching all the images and providing suitable contemporary inspiration for Kathryn Holeman to base the drawings on. Without her dedication and obvious illustrative talents, the book would not be as wonderful as it is.
How do you hope Colouring History: The Tudors will be received by readers? What do you hope it will bring to people’s understanding or appreciation of Tudor history?
Enthusiastically, I hope! I’m happy to report that judging from the feedback I’ve received since its release in May, this is the case. Many of the illustrations are based on contemporary paintings and manuscripts and so I hope people learn something new about the Tudor dynasty from the images and accompanying captions, while having fun! Most importantly, though, I hope it brings people joy and helps them reconnect with their creative inner child.
Colouring History: The Tudors is available on Amazon here.
Natalie Grueninger’s Top 3 Anne Boleyn Book Recommendations:
- The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives
- The Creation of Anne Boleyn by Susan Bordo
- In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn by Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger herself!
Connect with Natalie Grueninger:
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