Talk by Tracy Borman on the Tudors at Lichfield Cathedral

Private Lives of the Tudors – Review of talk by Tracy Borman

Thursday 19 January 2017 – Lichfield Cathedral

On Thursday 19 January I went to a talk given by author, historian, curator and TV personality Tracy Borman at Lichfield Cathedral.

The talk was free of charge, not something you would expect these days, especially for a notable household name like Tracy so was especially good value for money!

Although I’m interested in all things history the Tudors are not particularly my time period (being a fan of all things Georgian!) but they are certainly history box office at the moment so it was too good an opportunity to miss, especially as it was taking place in the fabulous setting of Lichfield Cathedral.

The event was very well attended and most of the seats were taken, some achievement in the cavernous nave of the cathedral, and for a Thursday afternoon (with a 3pm kick-off).

Tracy ran through a pen-portrait of the Tudors starting with the (perhaps) overlooked Henry VII, who undoubtedly suffered from the acclamation that his successor, Henry VIII achieved. After a surfeit of food and wives Henry VIII gave way to the boy-king Edward VII who never had the chance to get married let alone have six wives! With a brief interruption by the ill-fated Lady Jane Grey the Tudor line continued with Queen Mary, a devout Roman Catholic with the jolly moniker of ‘Bloody Mary’ who after her death was succeeded by her sister Elizabeth I. After her glorious reign (the time of Shakespeare and the defeat of the Spanish at the Armada) the Tudor line came to an end as Elizabeth never married and had no children – thus started the reign of the Stuarts beginning with James I who was also crowned as James VI of Scotland.

Tracy’s talk was very informed, knowledgeable and entertaining – anyone who has seen the relentless TV series about the Tudors will know that they were prone to murder, incest, double-crossing and torture at the drop of a hat!

So, we heard about the expansive diet of Henry VIII, with the inevitable outcome which made life very unpleasant for the Groom of the Stool (surprisingly a much valued role as it gave the occupant intimate access to the king…although at a price!), the gruelling regime of applying the make-up to the face of Elizabeth I (her facepack included vinegar mixed with lead – not exactly guaranteed to make the skin glow with health…) and the bloody fate that befell the Earl of Essex after he had made an unannounced entrance to Elizabeth I’s bedroom to find her sans makeup – it’s a good job that Michael Fagan did not commit his royal bedroom entrance in Tudor times!

The talk was accompanied by images on a projector screen, including a very interesting picture of a four poster bed which was rescued from outside a hotel where it had been discarded and was found to belong to Henry VII and his wife Catherine of Aragon – a truly remarkable find!

Tracy, very appropriately, gave several mentions to her fellow historian Dr Jonathan Foyle, whose book ‘Lichfield Cathedral – A Journey of Discovery’ provides a wonderful biography of the Three Ladies of the Vale.

After the talk Tracy answered several questions from members of the audience who faced the trauma of walking down the aisle to speak into the standing microphone and then faced the dangers of the microphone feedback howling – I daresay that the Tudors could have used it as an instrument of torture!  

Tracy then stayed aback to answer individual questions and also to sign copies of her book ‘Private Lives of the Tudors’ on which she based her talk.

The talk was just the right length, and pitched at the right level for the audience, with the pleasant balance of history, facts, fun and personal anecdotes, Tracy is clearly very relaxed when talking to a large audience and her natural warmth and friendliness came over very clearly.

Overall a great way to spend a chilly Thursday afternoon, it’s definitely inspired me to take a greater interest in the Tudor dynasty and to research their impact on Lichfield – other than Henry’s VIII’s closure of The Friary of course!