In the first of our new blog series, we are getting to know Co-Director of Simply Tudor Tours, Historian and Author, Adam Pennington, through a series of questions about his life and passion for all things Tudor.
So, let’s meet Adam!
So, Adam, where did you grow up, and where did you spend time visiting historic properties nearby as a child? If so, which one do you have the fondest memories of?
I’ve always felt incredibly lucky in where I grew up. I have a Londoner for a mother and a Yorkshireman for a father, so there were always ready-made excuses to go and see exciting places. I grew up right on the border between London and Surrey, which meant that I had history literally always around me.
My childhood home practically overlooked Nonsuch Park, home of the sadly lost Tudor palace of the same name. I can distinctly remember visiting Hampton Court Palace for the first time around the age of nine. I also have fond memories of my Mum taking my sister Lucy and me up into central London when we had days off from School to visit places such as the Tower of London and Madame Tussauds, which at the time featured rather dusty waxworks of Henry VIII and his Six Wives.
My fondest memory came when I visited Hever Castle for the first time, aged around ten. By this point, I was learning about the Tudors in school and had shown exceptional passion for the subject. Accordingly, my parents bought me a book about the Tudors from the Hever Castle shop, which I inscribed with my name and address. I still have it on my bookcase to this day.
What sparked your love of Tudor history?
It was twofold. Firstly, growing up where I did meant, as I said above, that it was always around me, but also, my Mum is very interested in the Tudors and insisted my sister, and I knew our history. She considers it treason for any Brit not to be able to name the six wives of Henry VIII, and I must confess I entirely agree!
Do you remember which Tudor character first ‘gripped’ you, such that you had to know more?
Anne Boleyn, without a doubt. My interest in Anne Boleyn started when I first learned about the Tudors in school. By pure chance, one afternoon, the film Anne of the Thousand Days was on television, and despite still being a child, I was allowed to watch it and became completely and utterly hooked. From there, I was off, and to this day, I consider Genevieve Bujold’s portrayal of Anne Boleyn to be the greatest ever seen.
Which person from Tudor history do you think is most overlooked and would love to see get more attention – and why?
Queen Mary I, for sure. She is such a fascinating character and deserves a lot more praise than she is given. The Marian persecutions leave an obvious and understandable stain on her memory. Still, there was so much more to her than this, and really, she was acting in complete accordance with the accepted beliefs of the day.
Hollywood has also repeatedly done the dirty on Mary, with one-sided lazy depictions of her. Thankfully, that all changed in the amazing portrayal of her by Romola Garai in Becoming Elizabeth. More of this, please!
You have just written a book on the Pole family. What did you personally learn through researching the book?
I think one of the biggest elements of the story that came out in my research was that there was certainly more evidence against members of the Pole family than is often believed. I don’t want to give too much away, but suffice to say, Henry VIII had more cause to move against members of the Pole family than he ever did against the likes of the Duke of Buckingham, Anne Boleyn or the Earl of Surrey.
What one Tudor misconception would you most like to change?
Definitely, the belief that Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, was this awful harridan who conspired to bring her husband and sister-in-law down. There simply is no evidence to support this, and moreover, it doesn’t make any sense. She WAS a Boleyn. Her whole position at court rested on her marriage; it was her entire being. Why would she wantonly throw that away? It just doesn’t stand up, in my opinion.
What’s your favourite Tudor place to visit today?
Ooooh, tough one. Hever Castle is amazing, given how jampacked it is with unique portraits and its close ties to Anne Boleyn, but I also love Arundel Castle and Warwick Castle, which are often overlooked.
If you could own one surviving Tudor artefact, which would it be?
When that blooming contemporary portrait of Anne Boleyn eventually crops up (there’s got to be one, right?), it would be that. Still, as we don’t have that, I would say Chequers Ring, owned by Elizabeth I and contains tiny images of her and her mother.
What do you enjoy the most about leading a tour?
The aspect I enjoy most is showing people the things, spaces and places tied to Tudor England, but at a deeper level that they will always remember. Not just walking into a room and going, “Here’s a bedroom”, but being able to point out what happened in the said bedroom, or comment on things many may overlook.
Whenever I’ve been to Hampton Court Palace with family or friends, for example, and point out the often overlooked H&A carvings in the Great Hall that remain to this day, I have noticed people listening in and going, “Oh wow, never would have spotted that”. It’s stuff like this that I really enjoy highlighting, because it brings the past into the present, showing how indelibly linked we are to the Tudors, despite the gap of 500 years.
What are you most excited for people to discover on our tour, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn?
I’m excited for people to see and hear about aspects of Anne Boleyn’s life that are seldom explored. We tend to focus so heavily on her downfall, which undoubtedly is within our tour, but there is so much more to Anne’s story, and I know people are going learn and gain access to new spaces and insight that they’ve hitherto been aware of.
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