Last Sunday I took a trip to Winchester, the Roman capital of Britain. I’d booked in to four lectures as part of the BBC History Weekend, as part of their ‘History Extra’ programme. I had a fantastic time, and really enjoyed the historical overload! The venue was stunning – the Great Hall, with the Round Table and giant statue of Queen Victoria, was an amazing place to hold lectures.
I went to a range of lectures, covering the following topics:
- Misunderstood Matriarchs?: the Role and Reputation of Royal Mothers from Ancient Rome to Restoration England ~ Carey Fleiner and Ellie Woodacre
- Houses of Power: The Places that shaped the Tudor World ~ Simon Thurley
- Elizabeth’s Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen ~ Tracy Borman
- Richard III: loyal brother or murderous tyrant? ~ Chris Skidmore
For someone who finds the role of women in history fascinating, these were perfect. I’m also a big Tudor fan (and not just because they’re the only dynasty people know about, other than the Victorians!) I think my favourite lecture of the day was the one given by Tracy Borman, and I’m really excited to read her book soon!
So…what did I learn?
- Sources often portrayed women negatively as a way to attack the men around them. An inversion of the social order; i.e. women taking control, was an easy way to intimidate the men in charge, and so chroniclers focused on that. This ultimately has often given women a negative reputation throughout history.
- Elizabeth I hated dining in public, yet this was part of a courtly ritual. To combat this, she would be served the first course, and then retreat to her withdrawing room. While she ate her dinner, the meal continued to be served to an empty table, while the courtiers watched the charade. Once Elizabeth had finished dining, she would return, and continue to host the courtiers.
- While Henry VIII may have revolutionised the way in which his palaces worked, this architectural design became a blueprint used until the early 18th In this way, the architecture of English Palaces was a like a ‘straight jacket’ to the monarchy; they couldn’t progress like the European monarchs until they changed their palaces.
- Blanche Parry, one of Elizabeth’s closest ladies, was in her service for 57 years. She didn’t marry, didn’t have children, and by the end of her service, was blind, but continued to serve.
- Despite being in a patriarchal society, all of Elizabeth’s main rivals were women. These included Katherine Grey, Mary Grey, and Mary, Queen of Scots (MQS). Although the problems with MQS continued for 20 years, her execution is thought to have provoked Francis I into launching the Spanish Armada. This gives Elizabeth a great success, and forms the beginning of the ‘Elizabethan cult’.
- Richard III has been painted throughout history as a murderous tyrant, in particular through Shakespeare’s writing and the Tudor chroniclers, as it was all for propaganda. When assessing his reign, and his person, it is important to consider his early years, and his support for Edward IV as a brother.
I’ve just picked out a few highlights from the day – there is definitely too much to give you a full overview (plus you’d probably get bored!). I thoroughly enjoyed getting back into the swing of education – even if it was just for a day!
I want to leave you with one final thought. Simon Thurley shared this story while talking about how, sometimes, the truth is stranger than fiction. He’d been walking round the Tower of London, and overheard one of the Yeoman Warders talking to a group of visitors.
“In this very tower, Queen Elizabeth was incarcerated by her sister for two years.”
The following response was also heard…
“Oh, I never did like that Princess Margaret.”
What are some of your favourite facts from history?