Today is an auspicious day for my blog as I welcome a very special guest to join me to talk about her life – Joanie Toogood, one of the [whispers it] infamous “Winchester Geese” of Southwark.
An unusual choice, you might think, for a blog written by the author of books aimed largely at children! Well, you may be right, but sometimes a chance is too good to miss. The chance, in this case, to speak to someone well-acquainted with life in a London now long gone, who has been drawn into the intrigues of the court and country of Henry VIII. And, I have to share with you, from an area of London in which some of my own ancestors lived … and died.
The interview is, of course, part of the ongoing “Interview My Character Blog Hop” organized by the Historical Writers Forum of Facebook, which has been running throughout June and July: a varied group of historical authors are interviewing each other’s characters, which has made for some fascinating reading! And several of the authors, including Judith Arnopp, are offering free copies (see below for details).
All the interviews can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/Historical-Writers-Forum-Blog-Hop-Page-313883642875335/. My very own Matthew Wansford will be interviewed by Margaret Skea on 17th July, which will be found at https://margaretskea.com/. In the meantime, please sit back, pour yourself a goblet of something refreshing, and prepare to welcome Mistress Toogood. In a purely chaste and friendly way, of course…
In Judith Arnopp’s novel, The Winchester Goose, Joanie Toogood is rough, tough and happy-go-lucky, but she is also kinder than she realises. Her observations of life, her situation, the time she lives in and the carrying-on (as she calls it) at the royal court are eye-opening and honest. She is childless and so mothers everyone she encounters. Carefully concealed beneath her rough manner is a heart of gold. She looks after her siblings, conceals her love for Francis and after the tragedy that befalls them all, comes to care for Eve above everyone else.
As she is keen to remind us, Joanie knows her place but is not afraid to break convention or the law should the need arise. Always caring, during the course of the novel Joanie matures from a ripe, bawdy good time girl into a compassionate, gentle stalwart committed to safeguarding the wife of the man she loved.
AM: Welcome, Joanie – if I may call you that? Please make yourself comfortable, at home, if you can. Tell me about where you’re originally from – a little bit about your childhood (if you had such a time that can be called ‘childhood’ before growing up)? Was it a happy time? What are your strongest memories of it?
JT: Where I’m from? I’m from Southwark, dearie. Never bin nowhere but Southwark until I came here with my Evie. As to whether I was ‘appy’, I’m not sure. Before my old mum died, there was food in my belly and a roof over my ‘ead, even if it did leak in one corner. Didn’t really ‘ave time to wonder if I was ‘appy though. I began earnin’ me livin’ when I was twelve year so … I’d say it was ‘ard rather than ‘appy. We made merry whenever we could but … ‘appy? No love, ‘appy ain’t for the likes of me. I know my place.
What do you most like (or dislike) about Southwark/London?
I got nothin’ to compare it to, ‘ave I? Aside from the thieves and rogues, the people are good enough. My neighbours are ready to lend an ‘and if we need one. No one breathed a word when Francis died so sudden-like, no one called a constable when young Peter carried his body through the street that night yet someone must’ve seen us. We look after our own in Southwark, that’s probly the only thing to be said fer it.
How do you feel about your life – particularly about the work you do? What are the best things about it – and the worst?
Oh, it ‘as its ups and down, dearie, ha ha! The worst thing is being at the call o’ the punters, ‘aving to soothe their needs even if you’ve no fancy to. The best thing is not starvin’ – the clink of a couple o’ coins in a gel’s pocket goes a long way toward salvin’ a sore behind, or healin’ the bruises. It ain’t nice out there, dearie but you ‘ave to make the best o’ life, don’t yer? There’s no point gripin’.
You both live and work with your sisters, something which isn’t always easy. Do you get on well with them? What sort of relationship(s) do you have?
My sisters? We fight like cat and dog tied at the tail, always ‘ave done but that don’t mean I don’t care fer ’em. I’d feed ‘em my last crust if I ‘ad to. Betsy, she’s a vain one and would sell her soul t’ the devil in exchange fer a pretty petticoat or a fancy hat but she’d not sell me. We’re tight, d’ yer see? All three of us are as close as that (she clenches her fist). Our life ain’t pretty so you ‘ave to be tough. We are short on fine words and gestures but if yer turn agin one of us, yer turn agin us all.
What is it like being a woman in Tudor London?
Ha ha ha! How would I know that? I’m no lady, an’ I’m less than a woman. I’m a whore, dearie. I’ve no rights, no one respects me, and if I don’t look t’ meself’ an’ me own, I’d as like as not end up murdered in the river along with … No. I can’t tell ye what it’s like to be a woman in London, I can only speak as a whore. I knows my place.
Do you ever find you become close to your clients – or do you think of them as patrons? Has there been a special person in your life before now?
No. There’s only been one man who came close to being special and that was Francis and look ‘ow ‘e ended up. Most men I come in contact with are interested in just one thing. I give it to ‘em, get out as soon as I can, and then I forget ’em. Frances Wareham though … now, ‘e was different. He was young, vulnerable, a scared boy in a strange city when I first come across ‘im. I took him ‘ome and fed him, gave him the warmth of my bed, the comfort of my body. I expected he’d go on his way come mornin’ but … ‘e stayed, didn’t ‘e? He stayed in the city and ‘ere … in my ‘eart.
Evie now, she’s still with me … or I’m still with ‘er anyways. The first time I saw ‘er, she was stumblin’ about on London Bridge lookin’ for Francis. When I saw ‘ow lovely she was I was bit by envy and I led her astray, sent her into a trap but … I swear by all that’s ‘oly, I never meant any ‘arm to befall ‘er. I swear on my sister’s miserable lives, I didn’t.
Francis Wareham – of course, Master Thomas Cromwell’s man. Has his very different station in life caused you problems – or him?
When it comes to whorin’, dearie, there ain’t no ‘different stations’. Once they take off their fine clothes and feathered ‘ats they are naked just like the rest of us. Underneath it all, lord or costermonger, their urges are the same. Francis was different because ‘e was lookin’ fer a mother, and me … well, I ain’t got no children, thank the lord, so we both filled a gap the other lacked. The only problem that came along was in the form of his wife … my Evie. In the end, I came to love ‘er far more than I ever did ‘im. Poor damaged lamb that she is.
How much do you know about Francis’s work? Does it affect you? These great matters of state – are they not far above your simple life in Southwark?
We didn’t talk much about work, dearie. What man in his lust thinks about work? I knew ‘e was up to something but until the day ‘e died, I had no idea it was so dangerous. He was a bit of a braggart, my Francis, when ‘e had coin ‘e liked to throw it around. He’d bring me presents, fine things a girl like me has no ‘ope of. Francis softened my life, made it easier. After he’d been t’ see me and left a pile of coin on the dresser, I could put me feet up fer a few days, and stay off the street a while. As to matters of state, well, I ‘ear what’s goin’ on an’ shake me ‘ead over it. King Henry is no better than my punters, his queens are bought and sold just as I am but hopefully, if I keep my nose out o’ the business of my betters, I’ll get t’ keep my ‘ead.
Can you share a secret with us – one you’ve never told anyone else?
Oh no, dearie, I’d never do that. I’m not that sort of gel. A secret shared is no secret at all, is it? My ‘ead is full of other people’s secrets, some of ’em important state secrets, but my lips, as they say, are sealed.
Joanie Toogood is the lead character in Judith Arnopp’s novel The Winchester Goose that charts the events at Henry VIII’s court through the eyes of a prostitute. The Winchester Goose is available on Kindle and in Paperback or read FREE on KindleUnlimited.
Judith is offering one FREE copy; paperback version in the UK or kindle copy in the USA. For more details please comment below this blog or on the Facebook post.
Tudor London: 1540
Each night, after dark, men flock to Bankside seeking girls of easy virtue; prostitutes known as The Winchester Geese.
Joanie Toogood has worked the streets of Southwark since childhood but her path is changed forever by an encounter with Francis Wareham, a spy for the King’s secretary, Thomas Cromwell.
Meanwhile, across the River, at the glittering court of Henry VIII, Wareham also sets his cap at Evelyn and Isabella Bourne, members of the Queen’s household and the girls, along with Joanie, are drawn into intrigue and the shadow of the executioner’s blade.
Set against the turmoil of Henry VIII’s middle years, The Winchester Goose provides a brand new perspective of the happenings at the royal court, offering a frank and often uncomfortable observation of life at both ends of the social spectrum.
‘This novel provides a truly fresh perspective on Henry VIII and tells a human story of love and survival for the less privileged in Tudor London. Magnificent.’ – reader review
‘a compelling tale of love, lust, violence and heartbreak and I lived amongst it being swept along with every single word into the other side of Tudor England.’ – reader review
About the author.
A lifelong history enthusiast and avid reader, Judith Arnopp holds an honours degree in English and Creative writing, and a Masters in Medieval Studies, both from the University of Wales. Judith writes both fiction and non-fiction from her home overlooking Cardigan Bay in Wales where she crafts novels based in the Medieval and Tudor period. Her main focus is on the perspective of historical women from all roles of life, prostitutes to queens.
Her novels include:
Sisters of Arden: on the pilgrimage of Grace
The Beaufort Chronicles: the life of Lady Margaret Beaufort (three book series)
A Song of Sixpence: the story of Elizabeth of York
Intractable Heart: the story of Katheryn Parr
The Kiss of the Concubine: a story of Anne Boleyn
The Winchester Goose: at the court of Henry VIII
The Song of Heledd
The Forest Dwellers
Her non-fiction articles feature in various historical anthologies and magazines.
For more information:
Author page: author.to/juditharnoppbooks
Alex Marchant is author of two books telling the story of the real King Richard III for children aged 10+, the first set largely in Yorkshire, and editor of Grant Me the Carving of My Name, an anthology of short fiction inspired by the king, sold in support of Scoliosis Association UK (SAUK). A further anthology, Right Trusty and Well Beloved…, is planned for later this year.
Alex’s books can be found on Amazon at: