Today, 19th May, is the anniversary of the execution of Anne Boleyn. An appropriate day, then, for Tracy Borman to launch her new book, ‘The Private Lives of the Tudors’. First things first, Borman is a BRILLIANT speaker – joint Chief Curator for Historic Royal Palaces by day, as an author she is knowledgeable & passionate about history, bringing it to life with a wicked sense of humour. Secondly, I LOVE the Tudors; am fascinated by them – always have been. So getting to hear Borman speak about them for a whole evening was a real treat for me.
As Borman wryly pointed out at the beginning of the evening, despite the title of her book you could argue that the Tudor monarchs did not, actually, have private lives – as Elizabeth I once commented, wearily, “I do not live in a corner. A thousand eyes see all I do”. And yet. Through studying the accounts of more junior court attendants, and documents includng royal household accounts, Borman has uncovered a wealth of fascinating detail which provides a previously-unseen insight into the lives of these weird & wonderful people. To wet our appetite for the book, she shared a little about what she had learned of Henrys VII & VIII, Edward VI, Mary Tudor and Elizabeth I – dispelling some myths along the way.
So: Henry VII: a dull miser with few redeeming features other than his unwavering love for his wife? No, says Borman – actually, Henry was a witty, engaging man and a brilliant orator; an inveterate gambler who loved clothes and was sports-mad. Henry VIII: a brutish, attention-seeking bore? Pah! says Borman – in fact, Henry was incredibly shy, as well as a hypochondriac terrified of all kinds of illness. HIs legendary love of food, is however, true – he consumed around 5,000 calories a day and from his late 20s onwards was obese. As for his much longed-for son, Edward VI – well, he was, sadly, completely over-indulged; a “spoiled brat” who both looked and acted like his father. He was also the only Tudor monarch to have kept a diary. I was hugely excited when Borman mentioned this – until she read us an extract. You wouldn’t think it possible for a Tudor king’s diary to be boring – but trust me, it is.
Mary Tudor, on the other hand, turns out to have been a bit of a good time girl! From her household accounts we learn that she loved a drink, enjoyed a party, had a soft spot for minstrels and fools – and adored children. She has been, accordng to Borman, misrepresented over the years – although, let’s be honest, her habit of burning her subjects at the stake for their religious beliefs was never going to endear her to people.
Last, but not least, Elizabeth I – my favourite of all the Tudor monarchs (well, I am named after her). Lizzie was by far the most vain member of the family, spending four hours a day dressing for court and putting on her make-up. Despite being notoriously thrifty, she accumulated a wardrobe of over 6,000 dresses. As she grew older, fewer & fewer of them fitted her, presumably because of her habit of adding sugar to everything, including wine and cosmetics. Eventually, most of her teeth fell out, leaving people unable to understand a word she was saying – this only served to reinforce her royal status, as only the very wealthy were able to afford sugar.
What a fascinating evening this was – I will definitely be buying Borman’s book, as well as checking out her others…
[…] Tonight, I attended a special event organised by Cityread London 2017: a conversation between S.J. Parris, author of ‘Prophecy’ (this year’s Cityread London reading choice) and Tracy Borman, historian and author of ‘The Private Lives of the Tudors’, which I wrote about a few months ago. […]