In our second blog, we are getting to know another of the Co-Founders of Simply Tudor Tours, Historian and Author, Sarah Morris. Following on from last week’s blog, her fellow co-founder, in this case, Adam, posed ten questions which open a window into Sarah’s background and love of Tudor history.
- Where are you from in the UK? I come from ‘God’s Own Country’ – that is, North Yorkshire, in the north of England. However technically, I was born even further north, in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. This makes me a Geordie by birth, but I moved away when I was only nine months old. So, I don’t have any memories from that time.
- What’s something you love about where you live now? I live on the northern edge of the Cotswolds, one of the most picturesque and delightful areas of the country. I love walking with my dog, and there are some panoramic and heart-stoppingly beautiful country walks in this part of the world to enjoy. Then, there are the pretty Cotswold villages like Chipping Campden, Bourton-on-the-Water and Broadway: think the Hollywood movie, ‘The Holiday’ and you have it!
- Where did your passion for Tudor history start? When we learnt about the Tudors at school. I was 11 years old. I opened a textbook to see the portrait of the young Princess Elizabeth in that stunning damask red dress with her flaming red hair. She stared right out of the page at me with those alluring, hazel eyes, and when I found out that her mother, a queen called Anne Boleyn, had been executed by her father, I HAD to know more. Yes, that is when I was first sucked into the vortex of Tudor history and I have never emerged!
- Do you have a controversial Tudor opinion? I can get a bit of a bee in my proverbial bonnet when people start assessing the sixteenth century through a modern-day lens. It was a ‘foreign land’ as the saying goes. I think we cannot apply the values and morals of today to that period. However, we can try and understand and learn. That does not make wrongs right, necessarily, but perhaps sometimes more understandable. People are rarely black and white. I prefer to enjoy the shades of grey.
- Anne Boleyn’s year of birth, 1501 or 1507 – what do you believe and why? I used to be firmly in the 1501 camp based on the age of Anne’s transfer to the court of Margaret of Austria and the maturity of the one surviving letter she wrote from that time. However, I came across Gareth Russell’s writing a year or two ago. He penned a compelling argument for 1507 as Anne’s birth date. His primary evidence is the account written by the Countess of Feria, a one-time lady-in-waiting to Princess Mary, Henry VIII’s daughter. She states that when Anne was executed on 19 May 1536, ‘she was ‘not yet twenty-nine years of age.’ There is another corroborating piece of evidence from William Camden’s writing in the early seventeenth century. Lord Burghley had commissioned Camden in the latter’s lifetime to write a biography of Elizabeth I and her reign. He, too, mentioned the 1507 date. It’s a thorough account that left me reconsidering Anne’s date of birth.
- What do you think is the most overlooked historic Tudor castle or palace that people should be visiting more? There are so many I want to talk about. My final answer might surprise you, and the UK’s tourist board won’t thank me for this, but I would urge people to visit some of the European destinations, outside the UK. So, if you are interested in Henry VIII’s queen consorts, visit The Loire in France, the Alhambra in Spain or the area around Dusseldorf in northwest Germany. My first visit to the Chateaux of the Loire, where Anne did much of her growing up at the French court, was illuminating. I began to understand more clearly why she became the woman she became…and the same was true when I visited Dusseldorf and the surrounding areas. I felt I understood Anne of Cleves in a way I had never done before. What people experience in their childhood moulds who they become. I find that fascinating!
- If you held a dinner party with five figures from Tudor England, who would they be? Henry VIII would be right up there…I have SO many questions for him, and I’d like to give him a piece of my mind over some of his acts of brutality. He wouldn’t like it, but Anne Boleyn would be there too, of course, my historical heroine. I probably wouldn’t be able to stop staring at her, though. There would definitely be some fangirling going on! My third guest would be Elizabeth of York; we know so little about her, I’d love to know more…and maybe she could answer the question of ‘Who killed her two younger brothers, the so-called Princes in the Tower?’ For number four, it would have to be my guilty pleasure, Thomas Cromwell. Who wouldn’t want to converse with a genius of the age and get all the gossip? He must have known pretty much everything that was happening…and speaking of geniuses, my final dinner guest would be Hans Holbein. Not only could I beg him to redo a full-length portrait of Anne Boleyn, but I bet he also heard his fair share of gossip as he moved about the court, capturing the likeness of so many of the protagonists of the Henrician age. You have to talk about something as you are sitting there being sketched, right?
- Do you have a Tudor fact or tidbit that you’d like to share? It is a small thing, but one of my fav Tudor facts is that if you were to move around Tudor England, most of the people you would meet would have been under 30. This is hard to imagine in today’s ageing society, but I remember reading this some years back and thinking, ‘Oh yes! Wow!’ Society at the time must have had a more ‘vigorous’ vibe, just because of the predominance of youth.
- If you could go back in time to one single moment from the Tudor era, what would it be and why? There are many dramatic times I could choose when I would love to have seen exactly what happened for myself: the moment Richard III was killed at the Battle of Bosworth and Henry VII had his crown placed upon his head; the day of the May Day joust, when Henry received the message of Smeaton’s confession; the execution of Anne Boleyn. But all of those feel too voyeuristic at another’s expense, so I can’t choose any of them. For my final answer, I am torn between attending the Field of Cloth of Gold – I mean EVERYONE of the moment was there, you could see the tournaments in all their glory, visit Henry VIII’s magnificent temporary palace, witness everyday life going on in the service tents around the Field and get dressed up in your most glamourous clothes. However, I have decided I will choose another, more private event. I’d love to have accompanied Anne from her apartments in Whitehall, along the King’s Gallery to the Holbein Gate, climb the stairs to the upper floor and be a witness at her wedding to the King. There are so many unknown details about that ceremony, and I’d love to confirm who was there to witness it and why they were chosen. For example, if the accounts are to be believed, where were Anne’s family? There is no mention of them. I think her brother may have been overseas on embassy; but what about her parents? Why was Lady Berkeley in attendance? She doesn’t crop up anywhere else in Anne’s story..was she much closer to Anne than we know, or was it just she happened to be waiting upon the Queen-to-be at the time? I need answers!
- What are you most excited for people to discover on our tour, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn? I am eager to take people to Windsor, help them dismantle all the Georgian and Victorian interiors, and see the Tudor castle again. In particular, I am excited to bring people into the Garter Throne Room. I remember doing my research for In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn and pouring over plans of the castle as the rooms were laid out then and how they are arranged now. I realised that this room was once part of the King’s Presence Chamber and that this was the very chamber in which Anne was made Marquess of Pembroke. I think so many Tudor lovers are disappointed by Windsor because it looks so Baroque, but many of the footprints of the King and Queen’s apartments are there if you know what you are looking for. Perhaps we will see you there!