Tudor England: it has been a continuing source of inspiration for film, for novels, for television. Though Tudor monarchs reigned for just a bit over a century, it was a time of great change in politics and social life, and one that has held interest through the centuries since. Are you trying to place them in history? Henry VIII and Elizabeth I will surely ring bells in your memory; Henry VII, Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey, and Mary I also reigned. From near the end of the fifteenth century up until a few years into the seventeenth century is when the Tudors ruled England. The 1500s — the sixteenth century– was their time.
There is still quite a lot of Tudor history which survives in the cities and countryside of England, and quite a bit to be learned and brought to life from experiencing places where people in those times lived out their lives and where major events took place. Much has changed, of course, but there is indeed much that is still around to explore.
That is what Suzannah Lipscomb invites you to do in her book A Journey through Tudor England. From London to Cornwall to Yorkshire, she explores fifty places — mainly buildings, but also occasionally streets, collections of university buildings, a battlefield, some ruins, and at least one ship — which have connections to to Tudor era monarchs, other important folk, day to day life, and events of history.
Narrative is what makes things engaging: each chapter on a specific place stands well on its own — perfect if you’re laying out a regional itinerary or exploring just one or two places — but each comprises a good bit of history in context. You learn not only about architecture but also about the people who lived in these places, how they lived, and why they might have built things the ways they did.
Bess of Hardwick, for example, chose a then innovative design emphasizing symmetry when she built Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire. It was (and is) a grand house, featuring for the time an unusual numbes of windows, as well as six towers with the initials ES (for Elizabeth Shrouesbury, her signature) worked into the design of each along the roofline. It is impressive inside and out, built in part because Bess had reached a point in her life in wealth, time, and independence where she could do this, in part because she hoped her friend Queen Elizabeth I would visit there, and in part because at times she thought her granddaughter Arabella Stuart might turn out to succeed Elizabeth on the throne. She didn’t, but Hardwick Hall still impresses.
For a different sort of historical presence, you might visit Hatfield Old House, in Hertfordshire. It was there Elizabeth was staying when she learned that she had become queen. Though much has changed about the place, under the chestnut and oak framed ceiling that is still in place in the great hall, the new queen held her first council of state.
Queen Katherine of Aragon’s final resting place in Peterborough Cathedral in Cambridgeshire is an atmospheric spot. Chances are, too, that in Lipscomb’s chapter about it, you may learn a few things about Henry VIII’s first queen that you do not yet know.
Bosworth Field, where the whole Tudor thing began with Henry VII’s defeat of Richard III to claim the crown, Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire where Mary Queen of Scots spent part of her imprisonment (and wrote about hating it as being dank and drafty), the marker on the street in Oxford where Thomas Cranmer and other Protestant clergy were burned during the reign of Mary I, all come in for visits and interesting stories of history which may encourage you to visit as well.
So too with Glastonbury. Well known for the music festival nowadays and the legends concerning the Holy Grail, in Tudor times Glastonbury Abbey was one of a very few whose abbot did not yield to Henry VIII’s demands to turn over the abbey to the crown. You will learn his fate and a bit about what else happened as monasteries were dissolved in Tudor times. The ruins of Fountains Abbey and Whitby Abbey in north Yorkshire further tell that story.
Though most of the buildings which survived from Tudor times until today were built by those who had the wherewithal to choose lasting building materials, not all the stories in A Journey through Tudor England of the lives of those who are well known. The “endearingly crooked house” of Little Moreton was built across almost all the years the Tudors reigned by a family of local landowners in Cheshire.
Shakespeare’s Stratford Upon Avon comes in for a visit; The Walker Art Gallery in Merseyside in Liverpool leads the way to consider portraits of those in Tudor times; there’s a visit to the church where Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s younger sister is buried, and there are many more excursions well worth the taking.
A Journey through Tudor England is not lavishly illustrated. It doesn’t need to be: the stories and narrative are enough. Suzannah Lipscomb is well qualified to tell them. She holds a doctorate in history from Cambridge, has written several books, and frequently presents history programs on the BBC. Whether you choose to read it to seek out practical information to plan your visits or as an interesting way to learn more of life in Tudor England, social history, or architecture, you’ll be well rewarded.
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