During the recent lockdowns of 2020, I have found solace in reading – like a lot of people. It has been really enlightening to try books outside my normal genres, however, I do like a good thriller/adventure story or, failing that, an historical fiction. Having done “Tudors and Stuarts” History ‘0’ level way back in 1980, I have always had a soft spot for that era. So when Ben Cameron asked me to review “The Secret Diaries Of Juan Luis Vives” by Tim Darcy Ellis, a book reminiscent of Hilary Mantel’s superb “Wolf Hall”, I gladly accepted. The novel is based on the remarkably true story of Juan Luis Vives – a Spanish academic, humanist and a secret Jew (parading as a New Christian) – who, having fled Spain to avoid the Inquisition, was brought to England by his friend Thomas More to tutor Princess Mary. He was caught in the turmoil that was the divorce between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon …. and his own love life was just as turbulent. Juan Luis Vives, who was later dubbed “the godfather of psychoanalysis “ was an interesting character indeed. It was a fast paced, interesting novel that I really enjoyed and I highly recommend the book. This novel is a debut book for author Tim Darcy Ellis, an archaeologist and history buff turned author – he should be proud as it is an excellent novel and as this is book one of a planned trilogy, I will definitely be reading the next instalments. With my interest piqued, I caught up with Tim to talk about all things Tudor and fashion too, of course! Hi Tim….
Hi Linda, and many thanks for the interview! I’m Tim. You could describe me as a ‘Jack-of-all-Trades,’ writing historical fiction being one of the most enjoyable pursuits in a very full life. I was born in Sussex, brought up in Surrey and now live in Sydney, Australia. I was formerly an archaeologist – and worked at the Museum of London in the late 80s/early 90s, I was also a tour guide at the British Museum.
I retrained as a physiotherapist in London, (94-98) and I worked as a chef for four years at the Covent Garden Brasserie, which is now the Apple store! I moved to Australia in 2000, the year of the Sydney Olympics; thinking that it would be a temporary move. I have been here ever since. Currently, I have my own holistic Physiotherapy and Wellness centre (Excel Physiotherapy and Wellness) in Sydney.
I love working with a dynamic young team, I enjoy teaching and researching, and being of service to the community, but what really drives my passion is reading about history, archaeology and philosophy – it is my relaxation and my escape. Finding fascinating characters, forgotten by the mainstream – like Juan Luis Vives – who really did make the world a better place, and then bringing them back into the light is just the best escape.
Who or what inspired you to research and write about Juan Luis Vives?
I’ve always written creatively – be it poetry, short stories or travel. I had been researching my family history, and found out about the Elisha family of Houndsditch: the heart of the eighteenth century Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community of London. I then gave a Spanish friend living here a book about exiles from Spain, but before I gave it to him, I read about the Spanish Jews who had been exiled and discovered the incredible story of Juan Luis Vives. I literally spent a month searching for the novel of his life, or the film, but I found to my amazement that there was none, so I got to work. I really felt that bringing his story into the light was my life’s work.
I really enjoyed reading your book, “The Secret Diaries of Juan Luis Vives”. I love reading about the Tudor era – I did Tudors & Stuarts history O level – and yet I hadn’t heard of Juan Luis Vives before. His life seemed like a balancing act – having to hide his Jewish roots/publicly claiming he was a New Christian; having to decide who to side with when both King Henry VIII & Catherine of Aragon wanted his support for their opposing demands; his love life…. I admire his ability to navigate his way through some dangerous times knowing a wrong move could cost him & his family dearly. What did you admire most about Juan Luis Vives?
Thanks Linda! I’m so glad that you enjoyed reading all about Vives. It is so fascinating that we haven’t heard more about him in the English history narrative. I guess he skillfully navigated many worlds – Spanish, Jewish, English – and remained just one step ahead of the Inquisition while going about his important work. That lead to a certain degree of anonymity. There is so much about Vives to admire. He truly was a man ahead of his time. He showed immense concern for the care of the poor and sick. He also wrote about the proper care of animals and the importance of observing nature. He insisted that the education of a woman was as important as the education of a man, and above all, he was a pacifist: eschewing persecution and discrimination.
What I admire the most is his courage to address the significant power players of his day – Kings, Popes, Emperors, and to honestly tell them what he thought of them: while not offending them too much as to have him executed. It is even more remarkable when you consider that he lost almost his entire family to the persecution of the Spanish Inquisition for being ‘Juadaisers.’
Vives took on Henry VIII warning him against arrogance, he criticised the church and told the Pope that he required him to silence the rush to arms amongst the princes and the rush to sedition amongst the people. He told the Archbishop of Seville that he couldn’t consider himself a true Christian, and he said to queen Catherine of Aragon, whose family had seen his chained the stake, that ‘his conscience was greater than that of kings.’ Amazingly, he survived it all.
I was surprised that in Tudor & Stuart England there were small but established Spanish & Portuguese Jewish communities in London – their path to England to flee from the Spanish Inquisition must have been arduous. Were there any aspects of Juan Luis Vives life or indeed life around that time in general, that surprised you, pleasantly or otherwise?
I guess he navigated both the internal conflicts of his life – living outwardly as a Christian – but inwardly being very attached to the Judaism of his parents – with the external fear of being ‘outed’ or ‘persecuted,’ all with the utmost courage and grace. He never once baulked from his overarching aim of honouring the Jewish idea of ‘Tikkun Olam,’ or ‘repair of the world’.
Studying the Spanish Inquisition in-depth, and the fate of the thousands of Jews who left Spain after the Decree of Alhambra in 1492 was quite shocking to me. It is very sobering to think that people were persecuted so horrifically – and not so long ago – for their sincerely held religious practice. These were people who had contributed to the economy, the arts and science. Astonishingly, many of them survived to tell the tale: I admire their courage and tenacity.
Having studied archaeology at university, you became an archaeologist and you have also worked in both the British Museum & the Museum of London. What did you enjoy most about working as an archaeologist and working in a museum?
I loved the excitement and fascination of just not knowing what you were going to find next. I remember working at the Guildhall in London in 1997. There were three of us working in a small space, and we had got to the bottom of the Medieval layers and found masonry. There was a moment when we all looked at each other and said, ‘it’s Roman.’ Soon after we discovered that we had found the site of the Roman amphitheatre of London.
I loved the openings of the exhibitions and new galleries at the museums and the after-hours drinks and chats. There were great characters at the Muesum, we were young, and we had a lot of fun: times that I’ll never forget.
“The Secret Diaries of Juan Luis Vives” is the first book of a planned trilogy. Can you tell us a bit about the other books?
Absolutely – I’m fascinated with the stories of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews who paved the way for the eventual official readmission of the Jews into England in 1656. That was huge because it meant that, in time, the lands that the English settled in – notably America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand could become safe places for Jews to live in. America has the second-largest Jewish community in the world. So I’m exploring the possibility of writing about tow other great characters – both Portuguese Jews who helped to make this tumultuous event really happen.
Are you a bookworm? What is your favourite genre and/or authors? Kindle or actual book?
Yes, I love books, I can lose hours stuck in them. I usually have a pile of six or seven books on the go at the same time. I am researching the seventeenth century at the moment: so there is a considerable pile of non-fiction works at the moment. I love philosophy, and I migrate to fiction books that combine history and philosophy. I also like the escapism of easy-going crime writing – I’m currently reading Donna Leon’s series set in Venice, around her fictional hero Commissario Guido Brunetti. I’m very old fashioned in that I like printed books, although kindle is excellent when you’re travelling – not that there is much of that at the moment!
Is “The Secret Diaries Of Juan Luis Vives” available to purchase worldwide?
Yes, absolutely, through the major retailers.
If you could visit any place in the world to give you inspiration for your next book, where would you go and why?
I’d like to visit the hills of northern Portugal, the Jewish ghetto of Venice, the Jewish quarter of Seville and the true east end of London. That is where the heroes of my books lived, and that’s where I get my inspiration.
Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?
I love my Australian RM Williams boots – one pair can easily last ten years – they’re so comfortable that you can sleep in them! They’re very masculine and go with smart trousers, jeans and even shorts. It can get chilly here in Sydney between May and October, and I wear Icelandic sweaters – they’re so comfortable and warm, but not heavy and I end up being the envy of just about everyone. For evenings, I feel most comfortable in plain white or plain black business shirts. Summertime is for tees, shorts and ‘thongs’ (flip-flops). Having said that, there’s no greater investment than having really comfy socks and undies!
Do you have any favourite shops or online sites?
Apart from RM Williams I swear by Matt and Bow for jeans and tees and Lulu Lemon for casual and sportswear. For gym shoes and runners I prefer Asics to any other brand.I get my plain business shirts from CJ Tyrwhitt.
What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?
I’m looking at some funky waistcoats and another pair of RM Williams.
Boots or Shoes?
Definitely boots, they give you that lift and confidence.
Thank you so much Tim for chatting to us about Vives – a vivid character indeed. My thanks also to Ben Cameron, of Cameron Publicity & Marketing for the copy of Tim’s book to review. All photographs have been published with kind permission of Tim Darcy Ellis.