On a cold winter’s morning in November 2000, I stepped through the gates of the Tower of London and was forever changed. Unknowingly, I had become another victim of the Tudors, but not of their politics or policy, rather, their ability to awaken curiousity and draw people into the tumultuous and dangerous period in history in which they lived, more than 500 years ago.
The sub-zero conditions were new to me, so accustomed to the mild Australian climate, but regardless of the bitter cold a spark ignited in me, a spark that over the years would grow and consume my thoughts in a way I could not yet have imagined. As I walked the grounds of the Tower, absorbing its history and its moods, I stopped on Tower Green to read a plaque that named seven victims that had met their terrible end in a private execution.
Among them was the name ‘Queen Anne Boleyn. Second wife of Henry VIII’.
This name seemed strangely familiar to me, like hearing about an old friend. Immediately, I yearned to discover more and to attempt to understand how and why this woman had met such a violent end. Why had a devoted husband turned on his own wife- his Queen- and ordered her execution? Had she been guilty of the crimes of which she was accused? What part had she played in her own demise and untimely death? Why did her name stand out above all others? I still find this final question particularly difficult to answer. Over the years I have come to think that perhaps the solution lies not in this lifetime, that perhaps we are not yet supposed to uncover the source of our strong affinity with a stranger from the past.
For me, this was the beginning of a long journey- I was undoubtedly caught in the Tudor web.
The next day, my visit to Hampton Court Palace only fuelled the fire within. Never in my life had I imagined such a place. Growing up in Australia had allowed me to indulge in exquisite landscapes and amazing coastlines but never had I ventured inside a palace or experienced the feeling that encompasses your very being when you realise you are walking on grounds where Kings and Queens once roamed, or wandering corridors that have overheard the secrets of great monarchs, witnessed the affairs of state being played out and heard the whispers of courtiers. I was humbled and honoured to be standing in a palace that had stood for hundreds of years- a palace that King Henry VIII had loved and held dear.
I was sure that hidden in the fabric of these ancient walls lay imprints of its past inhabitants and the events they played a part in. Only time separated us. Like flicking through a pile of old negatives, I wanted to peel away the layers of time and glimpse into the past. What did Henry look like in the flesh? What did Anne Boleyn’s voice sound like? I wondered if it was ever possible for a building, a space, to reveal its secrets, to play back events that echoed through its walls and floors and allow some among us to sense it.
For these reasons, On the Tudor Trail is dedicated to retracing the steps of an indelible queen. Like an exercise in time travel, this journey will take us through stately homes, chapels, parks and buildings- hidden treasures- that still stand today with a significant Tudor connection. It is also a space for sharing information about the Tudor monarchs and daily life in Tudor England, a place to discuss the ways in which the lives of historical figures from half a millennium ago still resonate powerfully with so many of us today. The focus will be on the reign of Henry VIII and the life of his second wife Queen Anne Boleyn, as I yearn to better understand their relationship and form a more detailed picture of the events that culminated on Tower Green, May 19th 1536.
So join me- on the Tudor Trail.