History has changed. Or to be more accurate, the way it is taught has changed. The BBC’s Horrible Histories programme, which my children love – blood, guts and all – was my first clue that the stories of the past are no longer told in the same dry way as they were when I was at school. And since we’ve begun home educating I’ve become even more aware of how history is being brought to life by people passionate about getting children actively involved in discovering how their ancestors lived.
Following our Victorian experience last month, today we were immersed in all things Tudor. Our “Tudor Activity Day’ was led by Peter, an enormously talented member of Arriere-ban Historic Enterprises. Dressed in rich Tudor costume, Peter entertained and educated us from 10 this morning until 330 this afternoon. It is a testament to his genius that even my fidgety five year old was engaged for most of that time!
We had so much fun, I’m certain we all learned heaps. Here are a few of my favourites out of the many things I personally learned:
(1) Henry VIII wasn’t his parents’ eldest son, and so was allowed to spend his youth indulging in sports and music, rather than studying politics and religion, which was the lot of his older brother Arthur. This had an effect on the kind of king Henry went on to become when Arthur died.
(2) Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, was Arthur’s widow.
(3) The only reason the Pope denied Henry VIII a divorce from Catherine of Aragon (precipitating the country’s break away from the Catholic church and the establishment of the Church Of England) was because the Holy Roman Emperor was Catherine of Aragon’s uncle. (I’m not sure how I managed not to know these first three facts – I have A grades for history O level and A level! I guess they never lodged in my memory the way they did today when I saw giggling children dressed in costumes and wigs carrying name badges, acting out the parts!)
(4) On a Tudor ship of 150 crew, there would have been about 20,000 rats!
(5) The expression “to have the stuffing knocked out of you” is derived from the Tudor custom of bulking out their middles with sawdust and dried peas, which would spill out if they were attacked.
(6) Cheese was a crucial food on long sea voyages, because no matter how mouldy it got on the outside, the middle would stay fresh for years. (This makes me feel better about how we used to carefully cut the mould off certain rarely-requested cheeses in my days as a Saturday girl in a cheese shop.)
(7) It was a legal requirement for everyone to wear hats in Tudor times. Most people also wore a tie-on cloth under-cap as had been worn in medieval times, so that when they bowed or curtsied, the other person wouldn’t have to look at the fleas and other hair bugs jumping around in their hats!
(8) Since it was forbidden to leave a room before someone more important did, men would pee in the sides of their high “bucket boots” if necessary. Women’s skirts saved them the trouble!