Elizabeth Wydeville: The Slandered Queen, Tempus (Stroud, Gloucestershire, England), 2005.
Arlene Okerlund has researched literature of the Renaissance period, particularly works by authors such as William Shakespeare, Edmund Spenser, and Christopher Marlowe. She took the opportunity after retiring from San Jose State University to focus her research on the historical context of the life of Elizabeth Wydeville, queen consort of King Edward IV and grandmother of Henry VIII. Elizabeth became the center of fifteenth-century controversy by marrying Edward in secret and for arranging lucrative marriages for her relatives. She is also known as the mother of two princes who disappeared, presumably, at the hand of Richard III, when they were declared illegitimate. In Elizabeth Wydeville: The Slandered Queen, Okerlund deviates from previous historical accounts that portray Elizabeth as a selfish manipulator, and attempts to prove that the negative light in which she has been portrayed is unwarranted. It is Okerlund's assertion that many historical accounts of Elizabeth's life and actions were slanderous; instead, her character was more objective and complex than historians make her out to be. Writing in the English Historical Review, J.L. Laynesmith remarked that "for the general reader, this is an entertaining and accessible book, well-equipped with timelines and genealogical tables, and attractively illustrated."
Okerlund told CA: "I started writing in the 1950s as editor of my high school newspaper in Taneytown, Maryland—a rural school with a high school graduating class of forty-four students. Writing is essential to clarifying my understanding of the world, both what I experience and what I read. Shakespeare—the master of style and content—has taught me everything I know about economy of statement and the profound subtleties of vocabulary."
When asked to describe her writing process, she said: "In writing biography, I begin by gathering every fact known about a person's life from original documents. I supplement that information with secondary materials in which subsequent writers have described and analyzed the person. Initially, I am always overwhelmed by too much information, but I slowly sort it out chronologically. A timeline of important events from birth to death provides a starting point for organizing the biography.
"As I begin writing, I organize the material into chapters that focus on a central event, some crucial influence within the individual's life, or a chronological period. Initially, I include everything. As I write, I select, delete, and organize material into coherent chapters, editing and reorganizing constantly as I write. After I complete a first draft, I start from the beginning and rewrite at least twice.
"Most importantly, writing requires discipline. Authors must establish a schedule for writing that is inviolate. That means skipping dates with friends and limiting activities in which normal people indulge. Especially if one has a day job, a firm and undeviating schedule for thinking and writing is crucial.
"Elizabeth Wydeville tells the story of an extraordinary woman whose human spirit survived unimaginable and incomprehensible tragedies. I was compelled to write this book when I discovered that the negative reputation of this queen and her family originated in propaganda and slander fomented by political enemies—the same enemies who executed her father, three sons, and two brothers, then declared her nineteen-year marriage to Edward IV to be adulterous and their ten children ‘bastards.’ The failure of historians to consider the source, perspective, and context of the stories perpetuated about Queen Elizabeth offended my sense of justice and motivated me to set the record straight."
When asked what effect she hopes her books will have, Okerlund said: "I hope a broad audience of general readers will reflect on the human experience—both theirs and others—as they read about the lives of important historical figures."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
English Historical Review, September 1, 2006, J.L. Laynesmith, review of Elizabeth Wydeville: The Slandered Queen, p. 1170.
San Jose State University Web Site,http://www.sjsu.edu/ (May 16, 2007), faculty profile of Arlene Okerlund.