Crowning glory: A Tudor popularity contest

By Hannah Silverman

In a popularity contest for Henry’s favourite wife, it’s a pretty clear win for Jane Seymore. Despite being his half-way bride, Jane produced a male heir and now lies next to Henry in Windsor Castle’s St George’s Chapel, presumably for all eternity and all that jazz. No competition.

To be fair Jane also didn’t live long enough to be accused of treason, heresy, adultery, witchcraft, flirting, hurting the king’s feelings or any other execution-warranting crime. But she gave Henry a son and really, that was all that mattered.

But to the public, little attention is given to Jane in comparison to Henry’s most famous wife, Anne Boleyn. Anne with her mysterious demise, her cunning marital masterminding and, of course, that gorgeous pearl ‘B’ necklace that almost puts Carrie’s signature golden chain in Sex and the City to shame. So why isn’t similar attention given to the other five wives whose stories are equally as compelling?

Anne Boleyn
The infamous portrait of Anne Boleyn with the gorgeous pearl necklace. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London

Continue reading

Pompeii and ceremony – the talking walls of Ancient Rome (Pompeii, Italy)

By Hannah Silverman

In my neighbourhood the streets are lined with houses, churches and parklands. Pretty unremarkable, I suppose. By day the high streets compete for commercial attention in fashion stores, cocktail lounges and restaurants while squares are populated with workers, families, lovers, gym junkies and socialites. At night, dirty take-away pit stops are ready to serve the intoxicated masses and bars promise dalliances with the midnight underworld. This is life in London.

When I visited Italy, I walked through a neighbourhood where similar institutions were founded on motives equally as unremarkable. But instead of the pristine franchises I have become accustomed, these neighbourhood landmarks presented as the charred architectural skeletons of a 2000 plus-year-old history. This was life in Pompeii, and even in its hauntingly decimated state, it felt surprisingly familiar.

DSC00047

Continue reading

The Roar of the Roses – what Richard III is doing for tourism

By Hannah Silverman

There’s an excited energy in the city of Leicester, the kind of buzz you experience when you know something big is about to happen. Real big. Like a new city hosting the Olympics. Like Kate Middleton preparing to do anything anywhere in the world. Like reburying the Last Plantagenet King whose remains were discovered in a car park.

The spectacle leading up to Richard III’s reinterment in Leicester Cathedral next month is contagious and everyone, it seems, is on board. I was in Leicester last week to see for myself just what kind of impact 500-year-old history was having on the the city today and the Richard III effect was evident as soon as I walked into its centre. Signs directing tourists to King Richard III’s Visitor Centre feature as prominently as directions to the Highway, while plum flags bearing an image of Richard III’s statue flap proudly along the city’s main thoroughfares. The King of Tourism is drawing in the masses and the people are listening.

A beautiful site – Leicester Cathedral at dusk with Richard III statue featuring prominently in its courtyard.

Continue reading

Who was this Richard III character anyway, and why is everybody going to Leicester?

By Hannah Silverman

Ever since archaeologists dug up his bones in the unglamorous depth of a Leicester car park, Richard III reasserted his right to the crown of controversy.

Richard III’s death back on the battlefield of Bosworth in 1485 meant the short-reigning King’s death was swiftly overshadowed by the cessation of the War of the Roses and the birth of the Tudor dynasty. There was a new King in town and Richard III was history, his grave site subsequently forgotten. But excitingly next month, after two years of research and scrutiny, Richard III will be reinterred in a burial plot much fitter for a King.

While I can’t make the events surrounding what will be a momentous occasion, I’m taking a train to Leicester this weekend to find out who Richard III really was, and what his legacy has done for the northern English town of Leicester.

Richard III Portrait 2 Copyright Leicester Cathedral Chapter
Richard III portrait, copyright to Leicester Cathedral Chapter.

Continue reading

2015, the year of the English milestone

By Hannah Silverman

There’s a lot of chatter about bucket lists and early attempts at new year’s resolutions, but England is where the cultural party’s at. With more anniversaries than you can flick a Hallmark card at, England is hosting some pretty cool festivities for some of the biggest names in its history.

VisitEngland have put together a list of top sites for 2015 and I’ve hand-picked my top five milestones. So why not plan ahead for your English travel and incorporate some of these key celebrations into your itineraries.
What’s this? Well it’s having a very old birthday in 2015. Photograph courtesy of VisitEngland.

Continue reading

10 little-known Henry VIII sites in and around London

By Hannah Silverman

For a man who had six wives, it’s probably a little unsurprising that Henry VIII got around.

I’m being cheeky, obviously. But as one of England’s most iconic and revolutionary rulers, references to Henry VIII are all over this country and I’m sure we’ve all ticked the many obvious boxes, even if by accident. There are the magnificent historic residences of the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace, the selfie with the stars moment at Madame Tussauds and the Tudor family album at the National Portrait Gallery. Each are good fun and quality cultural experiences.

But I wanted more, and perhaps you do too. I asked leading British historian Richard Jones, who runs the very excellent London Walking Tours, how to follow Henry’s footsteps off the beaten track. Impress your friends with these little known finds.

Henry VIII in Chelsea… the original Spencer?

Continue reading

Keeping up with the Elizabethans, why historic airbrushing was a thing

By Hannah Silverman

What does Queen Elizabeth I have in common with Kim Kardashian, besides bling the size of a small empire? Anyone?

They’ve both been subjected to allegations of image manipulation. But airbrushing and Photoshop wasn’t around in the 16th century, you say. True, but what artists lacked in keyboards they made up for with paintbrushes – and the viewing public was none the wiser.

You see the art of ‘airbrushing’ is no more prevalent among the Hollywood elite today than it was for historic royalty who’s pursuit of perfection, PR and propaganda was equally as critical in shaping status.

I chatted to the experts at Royal Historic Palaces and the National Portrait Gallery to find out why artistic nip-tucking is not a new age scandal and how artists got away with it for so long.

Queen Elizabeth I by Unknown artist, c. early 17th century with 18th century overpainting. Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Continue reading

An audience with Cromwell, how Hilary Mantel resurrected the forgotten underdog

By Hannah Silverman

“She’s in the audience most nights, you know?” the ticket salesman tells me at the Aldwych Theatre. “She comes in all the time and talks to everyone. She’s incredibly friendly.”

I’m collecting my tickets for a last minute purchase to ‘An audience with Hilary Mantel’ where the award-winning author of Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies will discuss the ins and outs of her creative process. At that moment I didn’t expect her to walk through the front door.

Hilary Mantel

Continue reading