History Today: Nicholas Hilliard: Life of an Artist by Elizabeth Goldring

It is July 1571, and Elizabeth I is sitting for a portrait in “the open ally of a goodly garden”, almost certainly at Hampton Court. The portrait is “in little” – what we would now call a watercolour miniature, although the latter term didn’t enter the English language until Sir Philip Sidney introduced it from... Continue Reading →

Renaissance Studies: Thomas Churchyard: Pen, Sword & Ego by Matthew Woodcock

If, as every self-help book will tell you, persistence really were the key to success, Thomas Churchyard would surely have been the most successful writer of the sixteenth century. Reader, he was not – but it was not for want of trying. One measure of Churchyard’s distant familiarity with fame is that Matthew Woodcock’s Thomas... Continue Reading →

TLS: Summer’s Last Will and Testament by Thomas Nashe

  Saturday 30 September saw a unique staging of Thomas Nashe’s only extant whole-authored play, Summer’s Last Will and Testament, in the Great Hall of the Bishop’s Palace in Croydon, where it was first performed in the early autumn of 1592. The performance was a joint venture between the Edward’s Boys company, from the King... Continue Reading →

TLS: So High A Blood by Morgan Ring

So High A Blood explores in detail the life of Margaret, Countess of Lennox, a Tudor princess without whom, perhaps, there would have been no Stewart succession and no subsequent union between England and Scotland. Born in 1515, Margaret was the daughter of Margaret Tudor, the eldest daughter of Henry VII, by her second husband... Continue Reading →

New Statesman: Heart of darkness: from the time-honoured barbarity of the Tudors in Ireland to Islamic State

The leader of a small military force – perhaps 500 strong – is determined to subdue a province, and to do so quickly. Terror is his explicit policy. Every inroad he makes into enemy territory is followed by indiscriminate slaughter and destruction. Every man, woman and child is killed. Houses, churches, crops – everything is... Continue Reading →

John Lyly and Early Modern Authorship: an interview with Andy Kesson

Last week saw the launch of Andy Kesson’s brilliant new book John Lyly and Early Modern Authorship, which makes an eloquent and powerful case for both the quality of Lyly’s work and its importance to early modern literature as we understand it. It is full of fascinating insights into literary and print culture and commerce... Continue Reading →

Review: Elizabeth I and her people – National Portrait Gallery exhibition

Those whose interest lies outside the Tudor era could be forgiven for exasperation at the extent to which the long sixteenth century still dominates our nation’s cultural life. But the new exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery – Elizabeth I and Her People, which runs until January 5 2014 – is nevertheless good enough to... Continue Reading →

The borders of historical fiction and non-fiction: a conversation with Nancy Bilyeau

Last year I reviewed Nancy Bilyeau's excellent début Tudor thriller, The Crown which is set during the dissolution of the monasteries. Its sequel, The Chalice, is being published in the UK by Orion on February 28; and in North America by Simon & Schuster on March 5. Nancy has kindly agreed to take part in... Continue Reading →

Tracy Borman reviews The Favourite in BBC History magazine

The September issue of BBC History magazine carries a really nice review of the paperback edition of The Favourite. I'm particularly pleased with this, since it's by Tracy Borman, whose Elizabeth's Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen is wonderful. Tracy writes: The Favourite explores the complex, "narcotic" relationship between Elizabeth and Ralegh, and... Continue Reading →

The Dutch Church: the dissolution and its tragic aftermath

It is convenient for historians to conceive of history in neat discrete categories, but all too often that approach both obscures continuities and suggests that events are less brutally random than they are. There are, for instance, many ways of writing about the influence of the English Reformation and the dissolution of the monasteries on... Continue Reading →

Richard Topcliffe: the Queen’s torturer

There is no known portrait of Richard Topcliffe, the man most associated with the torture and persecution of Catholics in Elizabethan England. In some respects that is as it should be: those who break human bodies on behalf of the state are usually anonymous, ordinary figures, extraordinary only in the apparent disjunction between their personal... Continue Reading →

Richard Topcliffe and the capture and torture of Robert Southwell

The capture and torture of Southwell is a perfect example of Topcliffe’s full-service approach to persecution: it was his own handiwork through and through, and took extensive planning and thought. Southwell, a Norfolk man, had left England for the Catholic English College at Douai in the summer of 1576. He was not yet 15. Two... Continue Reading →

Ben Jonson: his early life and how it shaped him

Contrary as always, Ben Jonson could cast horoscopes – but didn’t believe in them. What, then, would he have made of his own? In some ways, perhaps, he was born lucky: winter offered the worst chances of survival for an Elizabethan baby; Jonson was born in midsummer. Even so, he was fortunate to survive. One... Continue Reading →

The death of Anne Boleyn: a correspondent writes to Elizabeth I

It is impossible to know what Elizabeth I thought or felt about the fact that her father, Henry VIII, had executed her mother, Anne Boleyn, on charges of adultery with, among others, Elizabeth’s uncle and Anne’s brother. It is entirely possible, given that she was not yet three when her mother died, that she had... Continue Reading →

Sir Thomas Smith and covetousness in history

I blogged a couple of weeks ago about Sir Thomas Smith, late in life and in poor health, complaining about how difficult it was to work for Elizabeth I. (I also quoted his trenchant observation on the implications of the Ridolfi plot here.) Smith is a fascinating example of those apparently minor figures in Tudor... Continue Reading →

Richard Tarlton: the greatest star of the Elizabethan theatre

I have written elsewhere – see for instance my post on the life of Thomas Kyd – on the way in which the more or less arbitrary survival of documentary evidence distorts our ideas about the shape and richness of Elizabethan culture. And for us, looking back, the theatre of the period looks like a... Continue Reading →

The Ridolfi plot

On May 16 1568 the catholic regnant Scottish queen Mary Stuart arrived in England. She had been deposed, marginalised  and effectively disowned by the protestant establishment in Scotland, where her young son James VI, aged 13 in 1569, was now a minority king. Mary was the granddaughter of Henry VIII’s sister Margaret, and therefore had... Continue Reading →

Sir Walter Ralegh and the Babington plot

I was not, truth be told, expecting to write much, if at all, about the world of espionage when I first set out to research The Favourite, my recent book about the relationship between Elizabeth I and Ralegh. After all, Ralegh’s protestant credentials in the fight against imperial Spain would appear, at first sight, unimpeachable.... Continue Reading →

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