As I wrote and edited The Favourite, I became aware that there were many subjects about which I wanted to write, but which didn’t fit neatly into the structure of the book. Many of these were portraits, whether of men in Ralegh’s circle or of others caught up in the deadly dramas around Elizabeth I and her cousin, Mary Stewart, the former queen of Scotland.
Some, of course, I tried to find a home for in the book, only to remove them later because they presented too much of a digression from what is intended to be a compelling, fast-moving narrative. Others I took the decision to exclude earlier on, recognising that their presence would be a distraction. Often, there are brief glimpses of these figures in the background, men who define Ralegh by their company as much as by their differences with him.
But, having thus left them on the cutting room floor, I nevertheless always intended to find a forum to write about them, or to publish what I had written. Over the next few weeks, therefore, I will be publishing here what are, to all intents and purposes, deleted scenes from The Favourite, featuring characters who were either cut altogether from the finished book, or whose substantial parts as originally conceived were cut down to the literary equivalent of a few lines, a few seconds of screen time. One, on the soldier-poet George Gascoigne, was my first post. There will be another on the courtier and conspirator George Gifford shortly.
These are not well-known men, but I believe they are interesting in their own right, with rich and revealing lives – perhaps particularly because they were ultimately unsuccessful – that offer distinctive perspectives on the pressures and challenges of life in late Tudor England. In some respects, these are fairly random writings; what they have in common is Ralegh. But if these are minor characters to us now, hidden in the shadows of history, I hope their stories nevertheless help us resist the temptation to over-simplify or over-determine the choices made by better known – that is, more exceptional, for both good and ill – men and women.
Having taken them up, then, I felt I had to do them some kind of justice. I hope I can do that now.