Saturday, August 16, 2008

Question from Gervase - Fascination with the Tudors

Friends, has anyone besides myself ever wondered why we are so fascinated by the Tudors? I have pondered on this question over and over again, especially when I see the actual photographs of the castles, letters etc., originating from Henry VIII, or Anne, or any other person involved with them. At times it is very eerie, I don't necessarily believe in reincarnation but I am puzzled by these feelings about all of the characters, especially Anne Boleyn. I believe if her father had not "pimped"(excuse the expression) both she and her sister Mary, she would have been married to Percy and happy. excuse me for rambling but if someone would care to comment, I would like to hear from you all.......Gervase

[Ed note - This seems to be the question I get asked the most when reporters want the opinion of a 'fan site' owner when doing articles on the Tudors (the series or the royals). It always makes me stop and think!]


  1. Well isn't it interesting? We have the two Henrys, great men, who leave a boy who dies in his minority, an old woman who burned about 300 people,and another woman who most people think as the greatest reign.

  2. I think our modern fascination with the Tudors stems from a variety of reasons.

    Firstly, the Tudor period marks the beginning of what we might recognize as a "modern" world, making it less alien to a modern observer than are the so-called "Middle Ages." Many of the modern institutions of government and politics began to take shape in the Tudor period. Protestantism, which is itself the major Christian belief system in the UK and the US, emerged in this period. There is something "familiar" about the Tudors, but there is simultaneously enough "strangeness" to keep it more interesting than, say, the Hanoverians.

    The Tudors were also the first dynasty that benefited from printing, making production of various cultural artifacts much easier. And because those artifacts were produced in larger numbers, more of them have survived. A corollary to that is the institution of governmental bureaucratic systems under Henry VII and Henry VIII for the more efficient preservation of government documemts. As a result, we have more material to work with than for previous periods. And it is difficult to get really excited about an era for which we have limited information. The Tudors offer us treasure, and we eat it up.

    I think too that art plays a part in our fascination with the period. The Tudor era is the first in which portraiture of the individuals involved became truly refined and genuinely representational. Holbein is largely responsible to "introducing" us to the Tudors through his outstandingly lifelike portraits. And other artists followed his lead in producing portraits that those of us living in the era of photography can more nearly appreciate. Portriature from earlier periods lacked the detail and refinement needed to give us a true sense of the individual. Humans are very visual creatures; we like being able to see the things we are interested in. The Tudor period left us with a great deal of high quality visual material to admire and to study.

    Yes, Kelly, the period is full of interesting people. But so are other periods in English and British history. Edward III had as much "greatness" as Henry VIII, yet we Tudor fans do not find Edward nearly as fascinating. Henry VI's wife Margaret was every bit as divisive as Mary Tudor, yet she is not well known today. And many might put Victoria forward as an equal to Elizabeth. No, I think the people themselves are not enough to keep our interest as strong as it is. We must look to the mixture of the people, the social, cultural and political institutions they developed, and the rich supply of artifacts they left that is not equalled by previous eras. The Tudors lived just long enough ago to render them still exotic, but recently enough to provide us with sufficient familiarity to grab on to.

  3. Oh, and for those who live in the UK and may be interested, there is a mini-conference coming up at Bristol that directly addresses Gervase's question, entitled "Tudorism: Historical Imagination and the Appropriation of the Sixteenth Century (website:

  4. My fascintation started with Margaret Campbell Brown's novel about Anne Boleyn "Brief Gaudy Hour". My mother introduced me to the book when I was 8 years old. I've been hooked ever since...

    "Brief Gaudy Hour" was my first experience with a woman who went after what she wanted, caught the attention of a very powerful man, and paid with her life. I couldn't understand the reasoning behind this, and so started my hunt for the personalities of Henry VIII and Anne.

    Along the way, I read about another Anne, and a young girl who didn't have any direction, and a woman who'd been married twice already and STILL agreed to marry a man who chopped off unwanted heads.

    What more could an impressionable 8 year old, maturing young woman, want in the ways of reading about how life really was? The Tudors were my introduction to life outside the school playground.


  5. phd historian – that sounds like a very interesting symposium; thanks for mentioning it! Ironically I’m from Bristol and would love to go, but are these sorts of conferences open to all? I’m currently studying history at university and am in the process of applying for an MA. But are such conferences only for post grads and those in the history profession? I would be willing to pay the full price to go!

  6. Nasim, have a look at the website link that I provided. It has contact information where you can ask about attending. There is a public lecture at the beginning by David Starkey, so I know you can attend that. And I suspect you can probably register to attend the rest since you are a student. And I have to say, if you DO get to go, I am VERY jealous! I cannot afford to travel from Southern California to Bristol right now, otherwise I would love to attend.

  7. I have often wondered what got me started. I also think it is Holbein. My mother had a copy of Neville William's "Henry VIII and his Court" and I loved looking at the glossy pictures of the women and marvelling at what they wore, and loved that they were all queens! Then I started checking books out of the library and after stumbling through some biographies (with more pictures), I discovered Jean Plaidy and never looked back. So for me it was the richly costumed world originally recorded by Holbein, that was recreated by BBC productions and movies like Anne of the Thousand Days that came out around the time I started noticing, plus the stories of all the queens that really appealed to a young girl of 8 or so.

  8. Thank you again phd historian! Fortunately they do accept under grads, although one of the directors of the event informed me that rarely do they get applications from this group.

    If it is any consolation, I am exceedingly jealous of the wonderful weather you are probably experiencing in California whilst here in miserable England we are facing the wettest and coldest summer in decades....

  9. If you attend the symposium, Nasim, I would appreciate a full report. Lara can forward my email address to you.

    As for our weather, it was 105 degrees fahrenheit today with 13% humidity and a cloudless sky. But I'd trade that to live in the UK in a heartbeat!

  10. Absolutely. Also if there is any literature given I will scan and send, etc!

    Thank you again!


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