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Archive for Historians

Weirfore Art Thou, Footnotes?


Ever read one of Alison Weir’s nonfiction books on Tudor history and, though you enjoy the information, you simply cannot track where it comes from? Many of Weir’s popular works do not include the footnotes and other citations that most nonfiction books do and this has been a source of contention for me as well as others.

On a recent related Facebook page thread, Weir kindly took some time out to explain the deal to me and my followers, and gave me permission to repost the info, as it is a common concern for history fans. Take it away, Alison! …

“Regarding source notes, I must say that my publishers would not allow me to include source notes in my early books – they were then regarded as inappropriate in so-called popular history books. When that editor retired, I insisted that they should be included. Would you believe I then had people complaining that they were a distraction?

“I was told to indicate in the text where the sources came from, but that takes up a lot of text, and you cannot do it in every case. It was not a good decision, and I was unhappy about it, but the world of publishing was very different then, and a new author doesn’t have much clout.

“Since 1998 I have included notes and references in all my books, and I am now rewriting The Six Wives of Henry VIII and restoring all the notes and references, which I still have. But because of my editor’s rule, I did not compile lists of references for the other early books, and my huge files of research notes were discarded in the course of several house moves, which is something I have had cause to regret. I owe a lot to my first editor, but I have been blamed personally for the lack of references when in fact it was something beyond my control. After she retired, I insisted that they be included in the future, and my present editor supported me.”

I thought it would be a good idea to present this, for the record, and I thank Alison again for her participation and time!

Henry VIII’s Annus Horribilis

I didn’t want to get started on reviewing books; I first dipped my toe into that water when I ranted about Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and her spoiled crew. I still plan on leaving book reviews to others, but there is a relatively new book I believe you should add to your queue, Tudor fans!

This isn’t as much a review (I don’t feel I’m qualified as a book reviewer) as it is a recommendation for the book I read just after that one, which I have recently finished, and that is 1536: The Year That Changed Henry VIII by Suzannah Lipscomb

One of the tragedies of Henry VIII’s character is his change from charming, athletic prince to paranoid, gross, and cruel king. Dr. Lipscomb explores the events of 1536 and puts forth why that year was a crucial turning point in the change we see. She easily conveys her vast knowledge of the subject in a well-organized and conversational manner, making 1536 a pleasure to read. It is only 209 pages, perfect for getting your Tudor fix during a long day at the beach or during a quiet weekend!

Dr. Lipscomb has been a research curator at Hampton Court, and a university lecturer. She’s now the subject convenor and Senior Lecturer for history at New College of the Humanities in central London. The complete goods, including video clips, can be found on her website.  And if you are on Twitter, give her a follow! @sixteenthCgirl

A Chat with Dr. Lucy Worsley

Didn’t you just love Dr. Lucy Worsley’s grocery-store segment of the National Geographic special “Inside the Body of Henry VIII“? So did I! And I recently had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Worsley, who is the chief curator of the Historic Royal Palaces.  Lucky gal–What a dream job to have! That’s her, above, in front of the fab Hampton Court Palace (click to enlarge image). Read on for her thoughts on Tudor palaces, Henry’s wives, historical fiction, and her latest exciting find …

Barb: You oversee all the historic royal palaces; which is your fave and why?

Dr. Worsley: I get sucked into the history of whichever one I’m doing the most detailed research work on at the present moment.  So currently that means Kensington Palace, because we’re doing a huge re-presentation project there that will be finished in 2012.  At different times I would have said Hampton Court (when we were re-furnishing the Tudor palace) and Kew Palace (when we were taking the interiors back to 1804, the year when poor old George III was taken there to recover from his ‘madness’.)

Barb: As an American who grew up in a house built in 1898, I always believed that was “really old” — until I lived in England! I was that person who would touch the stone walls of castles and marvel that they stood for so many centuries, that medieval kings and queens had walked down the same hallways I was walking. Being British and working around these historic sites day in and day out, do you have that sense of awe? Has it lessened over the years? Grown?

Dr. Worsley: It’s a really enormous privilege to spend the day in any of my places of work.  It was because I enjoyed being in old buildings that wanted to work in this field in the first place, and I don’t think I shall ever lose the pleasure I find in wandering through our grand state apartments or dusty forgotten attics thinking about the people who’ve gone before me.

Barb: I understand that your interest in history came from reading historical fiction as a young girl. I cannot get into historical fiction because it drives me crazy not to know what’s true and what’s made up! Now that you work around so much history on a daily basis, do you find you still have an interest in historical fiction?

Dr. Worsley: I’m not the biggest consumer of historical fiction, but it’s a fabulous means of finding your way into different periods.  Thereafter I feel you should graduate to ‘real’ histories based on documents, and those are the books I most like to read.  However, I also study novels for the way they bring history to life.  For example, Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White, about a prostitute in Victorian London, is all written in the present tense, and reading it gives you the feeling of watching a film.  So I decided to write my book about seventeenth-century country house life, Cavalier, in the same way.

Barb: As the chief curator of Historic Royal Palaces, what has been your most exciting find in the recent past?

Dr. Worsley: Oh, I was super-thrilled very recently when we found what might be Henry VIII’s bath tap!  We recently discovered this ancient tap [below] tucked away in the curators’ offices at Hampton Court.  It looks Tudor, though we’re not 100% sure.  If it is, it’s so tempting to imagine that it might once have filled Henry’s tub!

Barb: Historic Royal Palaces include the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace, two of the most spectacular historical buildings in the city — and some say two of the most spectral-friendly! Have you ever experienced any ghostly happenings in these places?

Dr. Worsley: Sorry, never seen a ghost.  But one of our assistant curators was lucky enough to get to BE a ghost – she provided the silhouette for the projected ‘ghostly’ image of Katherine Howard that occasionally flickers over the wall in the ‘Haunted Gallery’ at Hampton Court.  It’s very subtle but effective, and I’ve seen it make visitors jump out of their skins.

Barb: What are some things most people don’t realise about Henry VIII?

Dr. Worsley: I think the top thing that people don’t realise about Henry VIII is that he wasn’t always the bloated and paranoid tyrant of old age.  When he came to the throne, he was young, handsome, talented and apparently blessed by good fortune.  Only with time, infertility, hubris and mistakes did he become one of the bad guys.  There are plenty of historians who’ve asked the despairing question: ‘Oh Henry, where did it all go wrong?’

Barb: In your Arts Industry magazine interview, you are quoted as saying, “I like to shock in a cheeky way.” Right after my own heart! And I was pleased to see that you took on David Starkey in his statement that female historians like to show off their looks on book jackets and have turned Tudor history into “a bizarre soap opera.” I think it’s so important to remember that the Tudors, like all historic figures, were human and thus had human needs, worries, joys, domestic routines, traditions, medical issues, and the like. What kinds of social history would you like to see brought to light as far as the Tudor dynasty goes?

Dr. Worsley: I’m always interested in how people really lived their lives.  I like the knitty-gritty details of what they wore and how they walked and the mundane thoughts about life or love or even boredom that pass through people’s heads every day.  I think that things like food, clothes, furniture and art can help us reconstruct a mental world – and this challenge is just as important as examining foreign policy or national politics in the past.  When we work out what a piece of medieval furniture looked like, really trying to see into the mind of the person who owned and used it.

Barb: Is there a Henry VIII wife who you think is misunderstood? Do you think he had a fave, or even several?

Dr. Worsley: We quite often have a debating event at Hampton Court where different curators ‘make the case’ for the different wives and the audience vote for their favourite at the end.  For some reason I always get stuck with Jane Seymour!  (Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn are usually people’s joint favourites.)  To modern tastes Jane is a little bit anodyne and we don’t hear much of her voice – but I always argue that we should judge the wives by Tudor standards, and Jane was the only one absolutely to fulfil her job description, i.e. to give the king a son.  That’s why she’s the one with whom he chose to be buried.

Barb: One of my favorite parts of National Geographic’s “Inside the Body of Henry VIII” was your spin round Tesco to do Henry’s weekly shop. It was a classic show-don’t-tell that I tried to employ often as a teacher, because it’s a way to present information in a memorable fashion. Does Historic Royal Palaces ever offer public events that would allow people to get inside history rather than simply providing them with written facts? If not, are there any plans to do so? I imagine it would be wildly popular!

Dr. Worsley: I can’t tell you how much fun we had whizzing round that supermarket doing Henry’s weekly shop!  If you visit Hampton Court or the Tower of London, you’ll probably meet some of the professional live interpreters who perform in character as members of Henry’s court every day.  This is actually really hard work because they need to entertain as well as inform.  And it’s hard work getting in and out of the clothes too!


Dr. Lucy Worsley’s new series ‘If Walls Could Talk, An Intimate History of the Home’ is showing in the UK in April on the BBC.  She is currently filming another series about “the naughty Prince Regent.” Cheeky!  Her most recent book is The Courtiers: Splendour and Intrigue in the Georgian Court at Kensington Palace, published in 2010 by Walker Books. Check out her fabulous site!