By Nathen Amin
Whilst everyone assumes that I am into the ‘Tudors subject’ as a whole, 1485 to 1603 is a substantial period of time covering many aspects. I find myself drawn to the early period of the Tudors and in particular the reign of Henry VII and the Wars of the Roses that preceded his rise. Henry VIII interests me, his multiple wives and successors less so.
Therefore I was expecting to be intrigued by this new offering from Morris and Greuninger, just not overly so. With books like this, focusing on parts of the Tudor reign that I normally choose to overlook as matter of preference, I tend to try and focus on any information relating to Henry VII that I didn’t previously know. Any concerns I may have had about being bored by the subject matter at hand however, was dispelled as soon as I saw the contents page. Castle after Castle and Palace after Palace, including some oddly unfamiliar ones.
This book follows on the heels of the pairs’ much-lauded book In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn, a release that has become a must-have for those stimulated by the charismatic enigma that was Henry VIII’s second queen. Casting the net wider, this new offering seeks to, self-explanatory, follow in the footsteps of not only Anne, but also her five other fellow queens of Henry VIII.
Guide books like this are a particular favourite of mine. I not only enjoy reading history, I enjoy visiting history and judging from the continued survival of many of Britain’s historic treasures, this seems to be a widely held sentiment. Being able to picture a location from words alone can be rewarding, but to physically visit a site is even better. For those unable to, due to time, distance or otherwise, books like this are an invaluable aid in furthering ones knowledge. But do not be mistaken, this is not a basic guide book light on historical content.
The book is split into seven sections, with one covering the principal royal residences known to all, followed by an individual section dedicated to each queen. In total we are provided eighty locations, with a detailed history of each along with information on any interesting artefacts or features still extant. This is bolstered by over 130 pictures of the sites for those unable to physically visit. A welcome inclusion is the plethora of family trees, maps and timelines that augment the text. Each entry has also been visited by the authors, which is evident in their narrative as they paint a vivid mental picture with their words. Furthermore each queen is introduced with a short biography so even if you have no prior knowledge of the personalities involved, you are catered for. It’s information-overload in the best sense of the word.
The old favourites are here; Hampton Court Palace, Whitehall Palace and Windsor Castle. But where this book stands on its own is the inclusion of the lesser known sites which once hosted queens of England. Acton Court near Bristol has a room where Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII dined in whilst for the first time that I’m aware of we are introduced to the various locations in Germany and Spain with Tudor connections. Dusseldorf features prominently in reference to Anne of Cleves with Spanish sites such as the Royal Palace of Medina del Campo, Alcazar of Seville or the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral providing a thorough account of the early life of Katherine of Aragon. An example of the detailed narrative can be found in the entry for the Archbishop’s Palace, Alcala de Henares in Madrid, where Katherine was born. The authors describe the palace as;
“a vast complex of buildings, gardens and courtyards, more than double the size of the original fortress. It comprised several patios (courtyards), towers, galleries and chambers, including la sala de la Reyna, the queen’s chamber, elaborately decorated in Gothic-Mudejar style, and on the floor above, el Salon de Concilios, or Council Wing”.
Elsewhere, I hadn’t heard of the Echateau d’Amboise or the Schloss Dusselforf for example, so these were fascinating to discover. Closer to home, I hadn’t come across places such as Beddington Place, the Manor of Bletchingley or Thornton Abbey before. The research cannot be faulted.
In the introduction to the book, the authors note that In the Footsteps… takes the reader ‘from the sun-baked plains of Spain in the south, through the lush mountains of the Rhine Valley in Germany to the east, via the great abbeys of England’s West Country to the medieval cities of northern England’. They’re not wrong. Thoroughly enjoyable read, that can be used as and when you need it as a handy reference guide. I’ll certainly be taking it out and about next time I’m visiting any Tudor sites.
Sarah Morris runs the website http://www.anneboleynbook.com, dedicated to her non-fiction and fiction writing about England’s most famous queen consort.
Natalie Grueninger is a researcher, writer and educator, and founder of http://www.onthetudortrail.com, a site about Anne Boleyn and Tudor England. She is the co-author, with Sarah Morris, of In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn.