Q&A With Jane Marguerite Tippett
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Q&A With Jane Marguerite Tippett
I have the honor and privilege of doing this Q&A with historian, archivist, and author Jane Marguerite Tippett. In late 2023 in The UK, Jane released her first non-fiction book Once A King: The Lost Memoir of Edward VIII. Everyone knows I’m a huge fan of reading books about royals both historical fiction and non-fiction. I can’t wait till Once A King is released in the United States so I can read it!
Q: Jane, where did your love of history come from and what made you choose to be a historian, archivist and now an author?
A: I grew up in a family where history was always a big part of family life – and my parents were really responsible for fostering in me a curiosity for the past. Travel played a huge part in our lives, both in the United States but also in Europe – and because my parents loved history – those trips were always geared towards visiting historic homes, monuments, battlefields and museums. I really learned to love history and feel a connection to it from these first-hand experiences. From an early age I had a fascination with manuscript material – because to me it seemed such a living link with the past. To see a letter or sometimes even hold a letter by a famous historical actor meant this immediate and very tangible link with them. But I also think I began to appreciate the way that papers, diaries, and letters could tell a story. Closer to home, my family has always been fascinated with genealogy. And in the case of my father’s family there is a rich manuscript legacy which dates back to the 17th century. I remember, in particular, reading through when I was perhaps only 10 or 11 – correspondence we have from a member of our family who fought in the Civil War and being mesmerized by reading those. His experience came alive in these letters, and one felt a real and indeed more intimate connection with the moment.
Q: Europe, especially England, has fascinating history especially about their kings and queens. What made you choose to write a memoir about Edward VIII?
A: My interest in royalty actually began with the Romanovs – and my reading, when I was probably only about 12 – Robert Massie’s biography Nicholas & Alexandra. That eventually led me to Queen Victoria – and her many and varied descendants. Gradually a biographical interest transformed into an academic field of study as I began to be interested in the ways in which monarchy functions as a part of national identity. I was particularly interested in the way the British monarchy managed to shape national identity and at the same time survive the great upheavals of the First World War. Edward, early on in this interest, emerged as a significant but underrated figure in that process – and I gradually realized that it was his story / his history that I wanted to tell. I felt, and still feel, his importance has been overlooked in the history of 20th century monarchy and in the way in which the British monarchy has evolved and transformed itself into a very modern institution.
Q: How long did it take for you to write Once A King: The Lost Memoir Of Edward VIII?
A: The actual writing of Once A King was shockingly brief – I began working on it in January 2023 and completed the manuscript by July 2023. I had been researching another book on Edward VIII since early 2020 – a book that was meant to look at, in detail, the twelve crucial months following Edward’s abdication in 1936 – culminating in his disastrous trip to Germany in October 1937. Along the way I discovered the archive of his ghostwriter (June 2022) Charles J.V. Murphy and it quickly became clear that I had an entirely new book to write! Because the material I was working with was unpublished – and because it was in a publicly accessible archive – I think there was a fear that the story might be scooped up by someone else so there was a real drive to get the book out as quickly as possible. It was a challenging timeline, but I think one that worked because I had such a rich background already in Edward’s life. Having to work on this incredibly tight timeline had the added benefit that it made the writing of this book an extremely immersive experience. Because I really did nothing but write during these seven months. I lived every day and hour with the material and with the people – enabling, I think, a richer and more nuanced portrait, particularly of Edward, than I might otherwise have been able to create.
Q: Would you say that your job as a historian & archivist helped in researching and writing Once A King?
A: I really feel both. I think I found Murphy’s papers because I am a good historian – and I asked the right research questions – the same for the material I uncovered (also not published before) in the Royal Archives. But I believe it was my skills as an archivist – as someone who has essentially created, pulled together a lot of disparate material into one story (or one archive) – that enabled me to realize the full potential of the story that I could tell with what I had found. I think of Once A King almost as an figurative archive – it is a narrative that has been created by pulling sources from a lot of different places into one single story – that is what archives, physical ones, do.
Q: What advice would you give to those wanting to become a historian, archivist, and author?
A: My first piece of advice – which I think is essential – is to not be daunted by the obstacles. Being a writer, historian, and archivist – are all challenging professions to break into, but they are also professions which are filled with passionate and determined people. I think one has to have, from the outset, the confidence to pursue those passions and realize that it is, for almost all of us, an at times frustratingly slow process of building a career. It is so important to not be discouraged, to keep faith with yourself and that you have something to bring to the discipline.
Q: Which royals will you write about in the future? Will you go the route like Alison Weir has and write both nonfiction and fiction about different royals?
A: I am still in the early stages of developing my next project. I don’t think I’ve left Edward VIII behind but I certainly want to widen the net – look at others in 20th century British royal history who have shaped the institution as pivotally as he has.
I love the versatility of someone like Alison Weir – who seems to pivot seamlessly between the two genres. I think my path is probably more conventional and destined in the non-fiction route but I’m certainly open to something that might come along and make me rethink that. I feel as a writer it is really crucial to be open to opportunities and new ideas as they come – and not to have too fixed opinions on what you have to write and do at any one time. Had I not been open to basically changing course two years into my work on Edward then I wouldn’t have been able to write this book and be enjoying all the incredible results.
Q: If you’ve seen the Netflix series, The Crown, what did you think of Alex Jennings portrayal as Edward VIII?
A: I love Alex Jennings as an actor and think he did an extremely good job at Edward VIII – he caught some of his subtleties including his often conflicted stance towards the life he found himself in after the abdication. I don’t agree with Peter Morgan’s interpretation of Edward overall, particularly as it relates to Germany. It is actually a fascinating episode though because having fictionalized so heavily Edward’s links with the Third Reich – he then, in a masterstroke of persuasion, closes the episode with historic still photography from Edward’s visit. Viewer’s are then left with the impression that what Morgan has said about Edward is unquestionably true – proved by the imagery they are seeing which is fed to the viewer with out any context. I think that is irresponsible but then of course The Crown is fiction. Morgan has a point to make about the Royal Family / the institution of monarchy – and he creates scenes and storylines that ultimately work toward that aim.
As regards performances – I must admit to a preference for Edward Fox’s portrayal of Edward in the 1978 drama, Edward and Mrs. Simpson. I think he is brilliant, captures Edward’s gestures, looks and even accent in a remarkable way – and it remains the benchmark for me in terms of cinematic Edwards.
Q: When will Once A King: The Lost Memoir Of Edward VIII, be released in the States?
A: It will be released on March 19th. Really excited for this!