Six Documentaries to Watch During Lockdown


I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries during lockdown so I thought I’d pull together some of my favourites here – not all Tudor so if you’re looking for something different, look no further!

If there are any that you’ve particularly enjoyed watching, please leave a comment, always looking for new things to watch and learn from!


David Starkey’s ‘Monarchy’

Episodes: 16

Period: Anglo-Saxons to Queen Victoria

David Starkey explores how the British monarchy has evolved over time, from the patchwork of counties that made up Anglo-Saxon England to how they united under a single king, working through the monarchs right up to Queen Victoria. It focuses less on the monarchs themselves but rather how their actions informed the idea of monarchy.

David Starkey has been involved in some controversy over the last few years with some of his comments hitting the news headlines, so I was a bit wary of including this one on my list, but I don’t think that some of his personal opinions affect the historical research that went into this documentary series. I have this on DVD and have watched it several times, making me interested in aspects of our history that I haven’t been before.

Simon Schama’s ‘A History of Britain’

Episodes: 15

Period: Stone Age to Modern Day

Simon Schama takes a different approach to our history than David Starkey, looking less at the monarchs and more at the general population and how life changed for them from the Stone Age to the modern day through times that have shaped our history.

I have this on DVD as I thought it looked different to other histories of Britain, and I wanted something definitive to widen my area of interest and my knowledge. This certainly didn’t disappoint. It’s not completely definitive, being unable to cover the entire history of Britain in 15 episodes, but it covers some of the most pivotal moments in our history in detail, drawing extensively on primary source research.

Continue reading “Six Documentaries to Watch During Lockdown”

Documentary Notes – ‘Elizabeth’ with David Starkey – Part 1, From the Prison to the Palace


Elizabeth I c.1546 by William Scrots
Elizabeth I c.1546 by William Scrots
  • January 1559 Elizabeth I was crowned Queen of England
  • She was the last of the Tudor dynasty and dazzled the nation and the world
  • Elizabeth reigned for 45 years and her ships sailed round the world and defeated the Armada, Shakespeare wrote plays and Spenser wrote poems
  • English noblemen and foreign princes wooed her
  • Elizabeth was the daughter of Henry VIII
  • The right of women to succeed to the throne was still in doubt
  • Her father would kill her mother and she would be disinherited.
  • Her sister would imprison her in the Tower and threaten to execute her
  • She would be molested by her own stepfather
  • Most monarch have their crowns handed to them on a plate, but Elizabeth would get hers by cunning and courage
  • Elizabeth’s sex was a disappointment to Henry VIII when she was born in September 1533
  • Henry already had a daughter, Mary, aged 17
  • Elizabeth had a magnificent christening with every detail seen to
  • She was declared princess as heir to the throne
  • According to the French ambassador the occasion was perfect, and nothing was lacking
  • But things were far from perfect as Elizabeth was the child of a second marriage
  • The Imperial ambassador refused to attend the baptism and refused to recognise Anne Boleyn as Henry VIII’s wife – referring to Anne as whore and Elizabeth as bastard
  • “Hot but not hot enough” – one ambassador when asked if the baby Elizabeth had been baptised in hot or cold water
  • Henry VIII divorced his first wife Katherine of Aragon because she didn’t give him a son
  • Anne had a stillborn baby boy after 2 miscarriages
  • Anne had failed in her principle duty and Henry had fallen in love with another woman
  • Anne was accused of multiple adultery with 4 men and incest with her brother
  • Anne was executed on Tower Green on 19 May 1536 with a single stroke of a sword rather than an axe
  • Elizabeth was only aged 3 when her mother was executed
  • Elizabeth seems to have airbrushed her mother from her memory and her father filled her world instead
  • Henry and Anne’s marriage was declared null and void
  • Elizabeth was made illegitimate and unable to inherit the throne
  • She became Lady Elizabeth, second bastard daughter of the king
  • Elizabeth’s governess didn’t know what to do and wrote to Cromwell for guidance on Elizabeth’s treatment and clothes
  • No one could forget that Elizabeth was Anne’s daughter and it was to marry Anne that Henry had broken with Rome
  • The monasteries had fallen victim to Henry’s desire to marry Anne – assets were seized, and the buildings destroyed
  • Glastonbury Abbey was one of those that fell
  • There was also spiritual damage – out of the ruins would form a new faith which would divide his country and his family
  • Just over a year after his marriage to Jane Seymour she gave him a son and heir – Edward
  • Elizabeth and Mary were minor royals
  • Elizabeth also lost her governess, Lady Bryan, who was transferred to look after the new baby prince
  • Kat Ashley replaced Lady Bryan and she became close to Elizabeth
  • Her father rarely saw her as she was brought up away from the court
Continue reading “Documentary Notes – ‘Elizabeth’ with David Starkey – Part 1, From the Prison to the Palace”

Documentary Notes – ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ with David Starkey – Part 4, Katherine Howard & Katherine Parr


Katherine Howard miniature by Hans Holbein.
Katherine Howard miniature by Hans Holbein.
  • Katherine Howard was a teenager when she married the king
  • She was petite, pert, and pretty
  • She liked men and men liked her – the king thought he was her first and only and that she loved him as much as he loved her
  • Katherine’s problems began when Henry found out that she had a past
  • From age 10 Katherine was raised in the household of the dowager duchess of Norfolk
  • Katherine’s mother was dead and her father constantly in debt
  • Katherine’s behaviour was anything but conventional even if her upbringing was
  • She enjoyed the attentions of several men, her favourite being Francis Dereham
  • Katherine and Dereham were caught kissing and given a hiding by the dowager duchess
  • The unmarried women slept together in a dormitory
  • In theory the maiden’s chamber was out of bounds to the men of the household and the door locked at night
  • In reality, the key was stolen, and the men came and went as they pleased
  • Katherine was a member of the second most powerful family in England – the Howards – who married well, into power and wealth
  • Katherine’s uncle, the Duke of Norfolk was head of the house, and a Catholic
  • Katherine was cousin to Anne Boleyn
  • Mary Norris and Katherine Howard were granted places at court in 1539
  • Katherine left the duchess’s household to become lady-in-waiting to Anne of Cleves
  • It was a dream come true for Katherine – music, dancing, clothes, banquets, and men
  • The king began to lavish Katherine with gifts and attention – for him it was love at first sight but nothing of the sort for Katherine
  • Norfolk and his conservative allies wanted to use Katherine as a pawn in a political game to get rid of Anne of Cleves
  • Under Anne of Cleves the Catholics had been attacked and they wanted to restore their fortunes
  • Katherine was given advice on how often to see the king, what to wear and what to do
  • The king sent Anne away to court and Katherine withdrew to Lambeth
  • The king visited Katherine and his boat was routinely seen going down the Thames
  • In mid-July 1540 Henry and Anne’s marriage was annulled and 2 weeks later at Oaklands the king married Katherine
  • The honeymoon lasted 10 days and Henry was infatuated, wanting time alone with her
  • Henry suspected Anne of Cleves wasn’t a virgin and was unable to have sex with her
  • He thought Katherine Howard was pure
  • Katherine was cheerful and loving towards Henry and he was satisfied with her
  • Katherine saw Henry as old – he wasn’t like the men she was used to
  • Henry had been the youngest king in Europe when he came to the throne
  • At Hampton Court the celebrations continued with banquets and hunts, but Henry was slowed down by an abscess on his leg
  • Katherine was in the prime of life and loved to dance – Henry indulged her, but sometimes could only watch her
Continue reading “Documentary Notes – ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ with David Starkey – Part 4, Katherine Howard & Katherine Parr”

Documentary Notes – ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ with David Starkey – Part 3, Jane Seymour & Anne of Cleves


These notes are from part 3 of ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ documentary with David Starkey. For part 1 on Katherine of Aragon, click here and part 2 on Anne Boleyn, click here.

Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein c.1536.
Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein c.1536.
  • The day after Anne Boleyn’s execution her lady-in-waiting was rowed up the Thames to the royal palace
  • Jane Seymour was to be Henry VIII’s new wife
  • Anne Boleyn’s body was barely cold, but Jane was getting betrothed to the king who banished one wife and beheaded another
  • There was a complete contrast between Anne and Jane
  • Anne Boleyn was a dramatic brunette with dark eyes with a spirit and temper to match, arousing Henry to rage
  • Jane was fair, almost pallid with pale blue eyes, a receding chin, and a doormat personality
  • She had helped to engineer Anne’s downfall
  • Could she really have been such a doormat to step over Anne’s body to the throne?
  • To marry Anne Boleyn Henry made himself Supreme Head of the Church
  • Traditional Catholics were appalled by Henry’s religious changes, including Jane
  • Jane had served Katherine of Aragon
  • As Henry flirted with Jane traditionalists wanted to take advantage
  • Thomas Cromwell would always fight Jane’s influence
  • Henry wasn’t taking Jane seriously at first, wanting her as a mistress
  • He sent her a letter and purse of money, but she rejected the money and returned the letter unopened
  • She flung herself on her knees, saying that she had no greater riches in the world than her honour – she would only accept a gift of money when she was married
  • “Masterpiece of seduction”
  • For Henry it was powerfully attractive
  • Jane was coached by Nicholas Carew to play up her demureness
  • Carew had chosen the right moment and the right woman
  • Henry’s behaviour transformed from seducer to suitor, only seeing her with a chaperone
  • Jane, her brother and her sister-in-law moved into an apartment beside the king
  • 10 days after Anne Boleyn’s execution Henry and Jane were married in private
  • She took as her motto ‘bound to obey and serve’
  • She kept her traditional Catholic faith
  • She put her own stamp on the court, with her ladies told to be demure and dress in the English style rather than the French
  • “We have come from a hell into heaven”
  • Religion was a key area where women had a certain freedom of action
  • Anne had pushed that freedom for reform, but Jane’s beliefs were the opposite
  • Would Jane be as persuasive as Anne had been?
  • The first test of Jane’s influence was in defence of the Princess Mary, a devout Catholic who refused to accept the illegality of her mother’s marriage
  • Nicholas Carew urged Jane to approach Henry directly
  • Jane made Mary’s cause her own – even to name Mary heir was treason
  • Jane’s position wasn’t secure, but she was prepared to risk everything out of conviction
  • Jane begged Henry to restore Mary to the succession, saying that their children would only be safe if Mary was restored
  • Jane was playing with fire as Henry still required Mary to surrender to his will
  • Mary’s friends were summoned before the council and questioned about their activities on her behalf
  • Mary confronted with a choice between her friends and her conscience gave in and submitted to the king’s will
  • Jane had hoped Mary’s restoration would signal a Catholic resurgence
  • This backfired, but she would try again whatever the risks
Continue reading “Documentary Notes – ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ with David Starkey – Part 3, Jane Seymour & Anne of Cleves”

Documentary Notes – ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ with David Starkey – Part 2, Anne Boleyn


These notes are from part 2 of ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ documentary with David Starkey. For part 1 on Katherine of Aragon, click here.

Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait
Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait
  • 1529 Henry VIII in love but not with his wife Katherine of Aragon but with Anne Boleyn
  • Henry’s determination to divorce Katherine and marry Anne plunges England into turmoil
  • What kind of woman who can inspire a king to commit bigamy?
  • Anne’s enemies called her a shrew, whore, and bigamist
  • Remarkable woman who risked everything, including her life, to get the man and crown
  • Anne grew up in Kent, highly intelligent daughter of a courtier and diplomat
  • Her father, Thomas Boleyn, was ambitious
  • Anne left Hever Castle for the court of the Archduchess Margaret in the Netherlands
  • Anne’s first letter home written in French
  • Had been expected to learn French and courtly ways and expected to be a rising star at the English court on her return
  • Plenty of opportunity to perfect her French when she moved to the French court
  • More French than English on her return to the English court
  • Anne began a lady-in-waiting to the English queen
  • Not beautiful by the standards of the day but was witty, confident, intelligent and an excellent dancer
  • Court regulation required that the queen’s ladies should be good-looking
  • Court entertainment was all about love – it was the theme of pageants, plays and poetry
  • Lord Percy was soon head over heels in love with Anne – she aimed high and scored
  • Percy’s family blocked the match
  • 1525 Anne was being serenaded by the poet Thomas Wyatt – tantalising and untouchable, as he withdrew when he realised Anne had another admirer in the king
  • King couldn’t command the love of a woman like Anne Boleyn
  • Anne had her own plans – Henry’s marriage to Katherine had lost its passion and it hadn’t provided a son
  • She tried to get the throne, learning from the experience of her sister, Mary, and held out
  • Mary gave the king her favours and was discarded
  • When Anne was away from court Henry wrote love letters to her – she gave him the tough treatment and didn’t answer his letters
  • She deliberately stayed away from court
  • When Anne did write to the king, she gave him mixed signals
  • 1526 Henry was driven wild by Anne’s behaviour while she was at Hever
  • In December Henry asked Anne for a straight answer and she replied on New Year’s Day 1527 with a jewel of a storm-tossed maiden
  • Anne surrendered to Henry, but only as his wife and not as his mistress
  • Henry thus had to divorce Katherine, his wife of 18 years
  • Anne was asking Henry to take on Katherine, her friends and supporters, and the universal Catholic church
Continue reading “Documentary Notes – ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ with David Starkey – Part 2, Anne Boleyn”

Documentary Notes – ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ with David Starkey – Part 1, Katherine of Aragon


Katherine of Aragon c.1502 by Michael Sittow.
Katherine of Aragon c.1502 by Michael Sittow.
  • 1501 16-year-old Spanish princess stands on brink of destiny to become Queen of England
  • Katherine of Aragon entered old St Paul’s Cathedral 14 November 1501 to marry the Prince of Wales
  • Ally England to the most powerful royal house in Europe
  • Future of upstart Tudor dynasty seemed secure
  • Wedding a mixture of fairy tale and international relations – took place on a raised walkway with bride and groom dressed in white
  • Future Henry VIII stole the show – escorted Katherine along the aisle
  • Prince Arthur (Henry VIII’s elder brother) was the groom
  • Katherine was the daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile – one of the great military partnerships of Europe
  • Conquered Granada and began conquest of Latin America
  • 1491 Spanish royal family entered the Alhambra in Granada
  • Katherine’s upbringing was founded on Catholicism, Inquisition and military conquest
  • Faith underpinned her life
  • Katherine’s role model was her mother, Isabella – monarch in her own right
  • Ferdinand and Isabella had an unusually equal relationship
  • Given an impressive education to prepare for queenship – betrothal to Prince Arthur aged 5 knowing she would leave for England aged 16
  • December 1501 Katherine was at Ludlow Castle – Arthur’s seat as Prince of Wales
  • Katherine didn’t find her life entirely strange at Ludlow, still a luxurious palace and a familiar pattern of life
  • Only common language between Katherine and Arthur was Latin
  • Katherine was allowed to keep her own Spanish attendants
  • Couples as young as Katherine and Arthur didn’t necessarily live together straightaway – Katherine was 16 and Arthur aged 14
  • The pair got on very well on their wedding night, so it was decided they would live together straightaway in the hope that Katherine would produce an heir quickly
  • Weather was foul and disease broke out at Ludlow
  • End of March 1502 both Arthur and Katherine were gravely ill
  • 2 April 1502 Prince Arthur died, probably from TB aged 15, married less than 5 months
  • The funeral procession struggled through mud and rain, abandoning horses and using oxen instead to make it
  • Katheirne was left vulnerable by sudden death of Arthur, in strange country
  • Two solutions – return to Spain or marry again in England
  • Henry VII and Ferdinand of Aragon bargained – Katherine would marry Arthur’s younger brother, Henry
Continue reading “Documentary Notes – ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ with David Starkey – Part 1, Katherine of Aragon”

Documentary Notes – British History’s Biggest Fibs with Lucy Worsley: the Wars of the Roses


  • Story of past open to interpretation 
  • Carefully edited and deceitful version of events 
  • Not just a version of what happened – more a tapestry of different stories woven together by whoever was in power at the time 
  • Wars of the Roses was invented by the Tudors to justify their power 
  • Immortalised by Shakespeare – darkest chapter in English history 
  • Lancaster and York locked in battle for the crown of England – kings deposed, innocent children murdered, cousin fought against cousin 
  • 1485 Richard III slain and Henry Tudor took the throne 
  • Henry VII’s victory hailed the ending of the Medieval period 
  • Line between fact and fiction often gets blurred 

Late 16th Century portrait of Richard III, housed in the National Portrait Gallery.
Late 16th Century portrait of Richard III, housed in the National Portrait Gallery.

  • 1455 Stubbins in Lancashire scene of a legendary battle in the Wars of the Roses beginning with volleys of arrows but ran out of ammunition 
  • Lancastrians pelted the Yorkists with black pudding – local legend 
  • Yorkists pelted the Lancastrians with Yorkshire puddings – local legend 
  • Wars of the Roses in national memory 
  • History books – rivalry between Lancaster (red rose) and York (white rose) – bloody rivalry largely a creation of the Tudors 
  • 1461 bloodshed real in the middle of a snowstorm at Towton 
  • Lancastrians started out well but tide turned against them, chased by the Yorkists down the slope to a river and so a massacre began 
  • Blood stained the snow red, so location became known as the bloody meadow 
  • Shakespeare portrayed the battle as a bloody Armageddon – represented a country torn apart by war, nothing as bad in our history 
  • Somme 19,000 British soldiers killed on the first day, Towton 28,000 killed 
  • 20 years ago Bradford University revealed barbarity of fighting with remains of 43 men killed at Towton 
  • Head forced down into the spine, poleaxes – exceptional even for the Wars of the Roses 
  • Skirmishes, but real battles only around 8 in 30 years 
  • Not ravaged by all-out war – later myth 
  • Out of 32 years of wars, fighting on lasted a total of 13 weeks 

Continue reading “Documentary Notes – British History’s Biggest Fibs with Lucy Worsley: the Wars of the Roses”

Documentary Notes – ‘Henry VIII and his Six Wives’ with Suzannah Lipscomb & Dan Jones – Episode 4, Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr


Katherine Howard miniature by Hans Holbein.
Katherine Howard miniature by Hans Holbein.

  • After 4 failed marriages Henry VIII married Katherine Howard
  • She had a guilty secret
  • Final wife Katherine Parr more obedient but not all she seemed
  • 1539 Henry VIII aged 48, first 3 wives dead
  • Henry stuck in a loveless marriage with Anne of Cleves – called her fat and ugly, he was so disgusted he couldn’t have sex with her
  • Big problem for Henry and the Tudor dynasty
  • The king only had one son, and child deaths were common
  • Just months into his marriage to Anne Henry began to look around for her replacement but didn’t look far
  • 1539 aged 17 Katherine Howard arrived at the Tudor court – came from a rich and powerful noble family
  • Henry fell in love at first sight
  • Katherine was everything Anne wasn’t – made him feel manly
  • Henry saw Katherine as virginal “blushing rose without a thorn”
  • Within months of arriving at court it is believed Katherine became Henry’s lover
  • Spring 1540 Henry was seen making regular trips day and night to Katherine’s house, and planned to wed her
  • Anne had to go – just 6 months after the wedding Henry left Anne
  • Used her previous engagement to a French nobleman to annul the marriage – she was paid off and sent away
  • 28 July 1540 Henry and Katherine married, just 2 weeks after the annulment of Henry’s previous marriage
  • Being queen was everything Katherine dreamed it would be
  • Henry showered Katherine with jewels and showed her off at banquets and hunting expeditions
  • Henry in love and lust, drunk with desire – sexual problems disappeared

Continue reading “Documentary Notes – ‘Henry VIII and his Six Wives’ with Suzannah Lipscomb & Dan Jones – Episode 4, Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr”

Documentary Notes – ‘Hidden Killers of the Tudor Home’ with Suzannah Lipscomb


Suzannah Lipscomb, historian.
Suzannah Lipscomb, historian.

  • Tudor home is icon of Britishness
  • Quaint relics of the past – changed them and us
  • Age of discovery and anything is possible – change most evident in the home, domestic life transformed
  • As with anything new there were risks
  • Life threatening changes made their way into the heart of the Tudor home
  • Emergence of people with new wealth – aspirations for their homes
  • New homes introduced hidden killers to the home
  • Newly discovered lands brought killers home into the kitchen and dining room
  • Boom in trade, prospering in trade and new goods including food and furniture, home became more comfortable than ever home
  • Increase in material goods
  • Dining room – taste for the new and exotic
  • Until the 1540s the English didn’t have a word for orange
  • Sugar became more available with lower prices – slave trade
  • Medieval diet rather bland, enhanced with sugar in Tudor period
  • Sugar needs to be broken up – work hours as well as expense, desirable way of displaying status
  • Could play with sugar to shape and dye it
  • Huge release of energy when sugar introduced to a diet that had none before
  • Consumption more widespread but caused trouble – changes in disease patterns over time, impact of sugar on health
  • Dental health – marked change in dental health. Medieval teeth much healthier than Tudor skulls as sugar introduced
  • Methods of cleaning teeth in the Tudor period made things worse
  • Used solutions to clean their teeth containing sugar or alabaster
  • Kissing comfits were sweets which took away bad breath but damaged teeth
  • Sugar also affects chemicals in the body – serotonin, pleasure chemical

Continue reading “Documentary Notes – ‘Hidden Killers of the Tudor Home’ with Suzannah Lipscomb”

Documentary Notes – ‘Henry VIII and his Six Wives’ with Suzannah Lipscomb & Dan Jones – Episode 2, Anne Boleyn


Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait
Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait

Anne Boleyn was the most notorious mistress in English history

Intelligent, sophisticated, ambitious

Captivated Henry VIII

Together Henry and Anne destroyed Katherine of Aragon

Anne became too confident and paid for the crown with her life

1529 Henry VIII in love with Anne for 3 years

Was lady in waiting to Katherine of Aragon – tired of being mistress

Anne promised Henry a living son – the one thing Katherine had failed to give him – but she wouldn’t sleep with Henry until he left his wife

Katherine refused to step aside – loyal wife for 2 decades

Katherine wouldn’t give up Henry without a fight – Katherine asked Henry to allow marriage to be judged in public court

Katherine had chance to save marriage and crown

Katherine had been preparing for this her whole life – not to be crushed by any man

All or nothing

21 June 1529 great hall at Blackfriars priory – struggle made public

Henry and Katherine faced each other in the divorce court in front of public audience

Continue reading “Documentary Notes – ‘Henry VIII and his Six Wives’ with Suzannah Lipscomb & Dan Jones – Episode 2, Anne Boleyn”