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Katherine wills: Lucy Worsley talks about Eliza Rose.

by on 6 November 2016

Eliza Rose

talk by Lucy Worsley

at Duke Street, Richmond, 5th November

Review by Mark Aspen

What did a Tudor cotton-bud look like? What did Henry VIII’s courtiers give their lady-loves?  Which is the most haunted palace in the land?

The young (and not-so-young) people who left their bonfire making on Guy Fawkes Day to come along to see Lucy Worsley had these and many more such questions answered.   Dr Lucy Worsley is perhaps best known as a television presenter, but she is primarily an historian.  However, her way of presenting history is not dry and dusty, but full-of-life history, quirks and all.  Her knowledge is infectiously enthusiastic and her sparkle and energy never faltered in a talk that was as relaxed as it was frank.


Lucy Worsley dresses a new Queen Katherine


Lucy Worsley is Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces, a charity that manages six of the Queen’s non-residential palaces.   Richmond upon Thames boasts not one, but two existing royal places within its boundaries, Kew Palace and the magnificent Hampton Court Palace (strictly speaking there is a third one, Richmond Palace, but there is not much left of that), so one third of her charges were affectionately known by the local element in an audience in which some had come from as far as the south coast.

For this talk, Lucy Worsley was wearing the third of her hats; as a writer. She has a dozen or so published history books to her name, but her new book is aimed at the young reader and is set mainly in and around Hampton Court.   So there is a real sense of belonging to place in her book.  With girlish glee she explained the excitement that an historian feels when opening documents of the past, especially in the surroundings that they refer to.  With conspiratorial relish, Worsley told the audience that the thing she most likes to see on a document is the words “burn this”.

The new book is called Eliza Rose and is a semi-fictionalised account of the early life of Eliza Rose, a cousin of Katherine Howard, King Henry VIII’s hapless fifth wife.  Eliza was one of the ladies in waiting to the short-reigned queen.

Through the eyes of on of Eliza Rose, Lucy Worsley gave a candid and insightful feel of the realities of life for a Tudor aristocratic young lady. Breaking the “burn this” secrecy, we saw the reality of the concept of arranged marriages for young teenage girls in the Tudor court.  Worsley has said, “Girls are some of the people I care about most” and this was clear in the juxtaposition of the lives of girls in Richmond in the 21st century and in the Tudor aristocracy.

Not that the boys were left out, as this was a practical session and there were great opportunity for young people to dress up and act as servants and ladies in our own Tudor court.   There was more reality when we had a peek at Tudor underwear, and even franker reality when we met with a Tudor “pysse-pott”.

The hardest reality, though, was finding out that Katherine Howard was only eighteen when she was beheaded, and execution that she endured with dignity after spending the previous night rehearsing how best to place her head.

The morning finished with a picture quiz, with prizes of chocolates for the winners, thrown by Lucy Worsley with an accuracy that would have made a Christmas panto actor jealous.

Oh, yes, the Tudor cotton-bud is a solid silver ear-wax scoop. Henry VIII’s courtiers gave their lady-loves precious things that they could wear close to them, like the ivory hair-comb we were shown (or the ear-wax scoop!).  The most haunted palace in the land is (by far) the Tower of London.  This was where Katherine was executed.  It was the eve of St Valentine that Henry’s “rose without a thorn” was beheaded.

In her lively talk, Lucy Worsley shared many historical and literary sparklers to light up the fifth November as we peered into the life at the Tudor court through the eyes of Eliza Rose.

Mark Aspen

November 2016

 Eliza Rose is available in paperback (ISBN: 9781408869437) and is published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Editor’s Note: This talk was one of an annual trilogy of talks in Arts Richmond’s Books for our Time series, which form the highlights of the annual Richmond upon Thames Literature Festival

From → Literature, Reviews

One Comment
  1. celiabard permalink

    Has encouraged me to purchase book!

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