Archive for the ‘Tudor times’ Category


Guild Chapel Stratford face

Face to face with the past at the Guild Chapel

This post features the Guild Chapel in Stratford, one of many fine old buildings in the town. It is situated next door to Shakespeare’s last house ‘New Place’ on the corner of Chapel lane and Church street.

R0013708_Nash's House & New Place, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK

(Photo taken by Traveller‧旅人 on Flickr : Picture shows Guild Chapel on the left, Nash’s house is to the right & the garden area in the middle is where Shakespeare’s house used to be. The black and white beamed building on the other side of the road is the Falcon Hotel which I can recommend!)

The Guild Chapel dates from 1269 when the Bishop of Worcester allowed the establishment of  a Chapel and hospital. In the following centuries the Guild of the Holy Cross grew in size and influence, becoming a significant landowner in the town of Stratford and attracting many followers.

Postcards - Stratford

(Photo of old postcard showing Guild Chapel taken from mrpb27 on Flickr )

Hugh Clopton.

The chapel took on much of its present form in the 1490’s when an ex-resident paid for extensive re-building. Hugh Clopton was born in Clopton near Stratford in about 1440, he was apprenticed as a mercer in London in 1456 and by 1491 he had achieved the position of Mayor of London.

Despite his success he never forgot his roots in Stratford and he was responsible for building New Place which was purchased by Shakespeare in 1597. He is also credited with building Stratfords stone bridge over the Avon which still bears his name.

Clopton Bridge

(Photo of Clopton Bridge by Nickscape on Flickr : also see his website here)

Clopton funded  extensive development of the Guild Chapel in the 1490’s when the tower and nave were built  and the wall paintings were competed.

The wall paintings

Prior to the reformation, Church interiors in England would have looked quite different to those we see today, being full of colour and religious drama. Ordinary people were active in the maintenance and management of the Church and reading about these times one gets a feeling that this was an important part of community life.

The Guild Chapel would have been no different – imagine how it would have looked when brightly painted with coloured images of saints favoured by the local people.  The most impressive painting was above the chancel arch – this showed a picture of doom with its vivid images of heaven and of sinners falling into hell.

This account from Simon Schama’s history of Britain gives a good idea of how many churches would have changed at this time.

In 1573 the Guild Chapel was attacked , many of the Statues were smashed ( is this where the expression to ‘de-face’ originated?) and the wall paintings were painted over. In churches throughout England, religious wall paintings were being replaced by the Queens coat of arms, ones loyalties in future were expected to be directed towards the Tudor State.

William Shakespeare was aged 9 at the time the Chapel was defaced, one wonders how his family who were surely familiar with the Chapel, must have felt about the changes being imposed upon it.

The Chapel today

As mentioned at the top of the post, the Chapel is well worth a visit today. Although the ravages of past neglect are still apparent, one can easily make out the outlines and colours of many of the original wall paintings. With a little imagination it is possible to get a feel for how things used to be (Nash’s House – next to New place contains illustrations of how the chapel would have looked).

A face from the past that survived the attempt to erase it

I have added some pictures to the post so that you can get an idea of what it is like here. It is possible to see the outlines of figures and to make out faces still vaguely present on the walls. If  you want to see more about the chapel then there are some links below – if you visit then do remember to add a donation to the Chapel funds and help to preserve this for future visitors.

I am keen to find more defaced images – if you know of any, please let me know.

Photo montage : Guild Chapel

Photo montage : Guild Chapel - click image to magnify (takes a second or two to download)


The Friends of the Guild Chapel Stratford-on-Avon

Guild Chapel Paintings virtual reconstruction project

See also

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Bridleway in Snow Revisited

Bridleway in Snow Revisited : Roantrum on Flickr (Click image)

Just a quick post to say Happy Christmas to everyone who has ever looked at Tudor Stuff.

This blog is now very nearly one year old, from a slow start it is has grown really well – it has had thousands of  hits and is looked at by people all over the world. In the process of putting all of this together I have learnt a great deal about this fascinating period in our history – which was always what the blog was intended to do.

Dressed in white

Dressed in white : Robert Silverwood on Flickr (click image)

An important feature of this blog has been the photographs it has featured. Some of these are my own work but the majority are kindly lent to Tudor Stuff by talented people on Flickr who have kindly agreed to allow me to use their work – thanks then to those people.

I thought that by way of a post I ought to have a Christmas theme. Much that we associate with Christmas today was unheard of in Tudor times – but I have managed to find a few things that the Tudors would have recognised. Of course, this is also an excuse to show some suitably snowy scenes from the English countryside, as I type this I can see the snow on the road outside & for once I don’t feel a fraud associating England, Christmas & snow!

Winter sprinkles by Nige in Somerset on Flickr

Winter sprinkles by Nige in Somerset on Flickr (click image)

The Christmas festival in Tudor times

For the most part, Christmas traditions were those that had been practised by people for hundreds of years. Houses were decorated with holly, ivy and mistletoe – all of which reflect ancient pre Christian beliefs.

Other traditions involved games of football, house to house visiting ( a bit like modern ‘Trick or treat’ in the USA) as well as plays performed by ‘Mummers’. Some of these traditions were discouraged under Edward VI and banned completely under Cromwellian puritan rule. Despite occasional official dissaproval however many of these traditions survive to this day.

Marshfield Mummers 2 : Mark Dixon on Flickr

Marshfield Mummers 2 : Mark Dixon on Flickr

The 12 days of Christmas were celebrated between 25th of December to 6th of January, the longest festival of the year. In 1511 the Christmas festivities were extended by Henry VIII in celebration of the birth on New Years Day of a son named after himself. Sadly as with many of Catherine of Aragon’s children this child lived for only 52 days.
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Shakespeare – ‘Loves labours lost’

WHEN icicles hang by the wall
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
And milk comes frozen home in pail;
When blood is nipt, and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl
Tu-whit! tu-whoo! A merry note!
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.
When all around the wind doth blow,
And coughing drowns the parson’s saw,
And birds sit brooding in the snow,
And Marian’s nose looks red and raw;
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl—
Then nightly sings the staring owl
Tu-whit! tu-whoo! A merry note!
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

Christmas Carols

Many of our Christmas Carols date from after the Tudor period although apparently one of the earliest books of Carols was produced in 1521 by Jan Van Wynkn – this included the Boars Head Carol

Another Carol that would have been known at this time was ‘The first Noel’ – which dates from the 13th Century- although it was not written down until much later.

Happy Christmas!

Do you follow any Christmas traditions? Are these old ones or have you developed new ones, perhaps associated with your own family?

If so – it would be great to hear from you


All that remains for me to do is to wish you all a Merry Christmas & Happy new year. If you get a minute to say hello – please feel free to do so

Love & best wishes to you all


PS Check out Roantrums (photographer featured at top of this post) web site

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the merchants house (Circa 1558) Avoncroft nr Bromsgrove: Photo by Ruth 1066 on Flickr : click image

The black and white appearance of housing has become very closely associated with the Tudor period – arguably it is the most widely recognised architectural style – in the world?

Perhaps this is why the header image at the top of ‘Tudor Stuff’ shows such a building (actually it is the side of Anne Hathaway’s cottage). As will be discussed on this blog at a later date, this association may not be completely accurate. However, in this post I decided to look at other features of period architecture.

Tudors by the fire by Ruth1066 on Flickr : Click image


In previous times, homes would burn wood on open fires in the middle of the house. The smoke from this was vented through an opening in the roof. Take a look at the picture at the top of this post – the Merchants house at Avoncroft museum. This house which was built in approximately 1558 did not have a chimney – note the opening on the left hand side of the roof.

As coal use became more widespread the need for chimneys to take away the increased smoke became necessary. Also, anyone who has ever tried to light a coal fire will know that the downdraft from the chimney is really important in getting the fire going.

At this time, a lot of land and property was passing from religious institutions to a new class of wealthy landowner. Many of these people built large houses and an important reason for these houses was to show off wealth and prestige. One way of doing this was to incorporate lots of chimneys into the design – coal was still relatively scarce & this was a way of demonstrating wealth.


Fire was an ever-present risk – especially amidst closely packed timber and thatched houses. Although some areas required people to have a bucket on standby, there was little in the way of fire fighting equipment or organisation.

In the long winters nights people would have gathered around the fire, partly for the warmth but also because this would have been one of the main sources of light.

A lot of superstitions grew up around fire – for example coals burning in a hollow heap is a sign that a parting is soon to occur. Cinders flying from the fire might mean a birth was to take place whereas in other areas it was the custom to spit on cinder – if it crackled this meant wealth was on the way.


Many of the chimneys in this period feature extravagant brickwork – brick making and layingbecame well recognised crafts during the Tudor period.

On big projects, bricks were made on site by specialist craftsmen. The bricks produced had a tendency to vary in size – necessitating quite thick layers of mortar to straighten things out.

In places bricks were deliberately discoloured to make elaborate patterns when laid – as can be seen in this example from Hampton Court.

decorated tudor brickwork by rabinal on flickr (click image)

decorated tudor brickwork by rabinal on flickr (click image)

If anyone knows of any good examples of Tudor structures & especially if there are any good pictures  then please let me know – I would happily make some space on the blog for them.



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tudors photo

Where her fair breasts at liberty were let,

Whose violet veins in branched riverets flow,

And Venus’ swans and milky doves were set

Upon those swelling mounts of driven snow;

(Excerpt from ‘Mortimer and Queen Isabella at Nottingham castle’ by Michael Drayton 1563 -1631)

‘Her breasts were naked for the day was hot’

(Excerpt from ‘Armida entertains Rinaldo’ by Edward Fairfax d 1635)

In the previous post about Tudor boobs I had wanted to include a photograph I had seen of a short-lived fashion trend  from London in the 1960’s. I clearly remember having seen a woman photographed in the street wearing a dress which exposed her breasts. Sadly, I couldn’t find it – as you can imagine, a Google search for ‘woman’ and ‘breasts exposed’ manages plenty of hits! ( 9,610,000 last count) – unfortunately it wasn’t a very good way of researching my blog post.


I still keep noticing good examples of this trend for breast exposure in the Tudor period – I found this example (below) the other day in the Roxburghe ballads accompanied by ‘Celia’An excellent Ballad of a Prince of England's Courtship to the King of Frances Daughter, and how the Prince was disasterously slain ; and how the aforesaid Princess was afterwards married to a Forrester.

Come, my CELIA, let us prove,
While we may, the sports of love ;
Time will not be ours for ever :
He at length our good will sever.
Spend not then his gifts in vain.
Suns that set, may rise again:
But if once we lose this light,
‘Tis with us perpetual night.
Why should we defer our joys ?
Fame and rumor are but toys.
Cannot we delude the eyes
Of a few poor household spies ;
Or his easier ears buguile,
So removed by our wile ?
‘Tis no sin love’s fruit to steal,
But the sweet theft to reveal :
To be taken, to be seen,
These have crimes accounted been.

Come, my CELIA, let us prove,

While we may, the sports of love ;

Time will not be ours for ever :

He at length our good will sever.

Spend not then his gifts in vain.

Suns that set, may rise again:

But if once we lose this light,

‘Tis with us perpetual night.

Why should we defer our joys ?

Fame and rumor are but toys.

Cannot we delude the eyes

Of a few poor household spies ;

Or his easier ears beguile,

So removed by our wile ?

‘Tis no sin love’s fruit to steal,

But the sweet theft to reveal :

To be taken, to be seen,

These have crimes accounted been.

A mystery solved!


As mentioned at the top of the post I was no closer to finding out who it was in the original 1960’s photo until I happened to chance across it in an unexpected place.

I was lucky enough to have seen the Clash when they came to The Top Rank Suite in Dale End, Birmingham (about 1978 I think)I have been a fan ever since.  The first Clash album is one of my favourites and I especially like the song ‘Janie Jones’  which is one of the best songs on it.

I have always played the guitar – excruciatingly badly I admit – but it keeps me happy. I was trying to play ‘Janie Jones’ and decided to look up the chords on-line , I also wondered why the song was called Janie Jones and looked that up too.

I came across this website telling the story of Janie Jones, who was a London Madam, pop star and friend to the Clash. Check out her 1965 single ‘Witches brew’ and notice the picture that is 8 seconds in.

Mystery solved! – this is the photo of Janie taken as she attended the 1964 premiere of the film ‘London in the raw’  – this is the image I recall seeing on TV sometime in the past.

So – for the first ( & possibly last) time ever I have an excuse to put a Clash video on a blog about the Tudors! This is a video from 1977 – around the time that I saw them, what a great band and what a great front man Joe Strummer was –

RIP Joe.

He’s in love with rocknroll woaahh
Hes in love with gettin stoned woaahh
Hes in love with janie jones
But he dont like his boring job, no…

An he knows what hes got to do
So he knows hes gonna have fun with you
You lucky lady!
An he knows when the evening comes
When his job is done hell be over in his car for you

An in the in-tray lots of work
But the boss at the firm always thinks he shirks
But hes just like everyone, hes got a ford cortina
That just wont run without fuel
Fill her up, jacko!

An the invoice it dont quite fit,
Theres no payola in his alphabetical file
This time hes gonna really tell the boss
Gonna really let him know exactly how he feels
Its pretty bad!




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Many of the posts I have done for Tudor Stuff have touched upon people who were outlawed for their Catholic beliefs; many of these people were fined, imprisoned, tortured or executed.  In researching these stories I have often come across the name of Richard Topcliffe. Although this name is less well known today it was infamous in Elizabethan times for its association with torture and cruelty.

Early years

Somerby Church Linconshire : Rick Wilks on Flickr (Click image)

Somerby Church Linconshire : Rick Wilks on Flickr (Click image)


The Topcliffes were an old family from Somerby in Liconshire, Richard was born in 1531 but orphaned when he was aged 12 and was placed in the care of Sir Anthony Neville, his uncle.  It seems that Topcliffe may have entered the Queens service in some capacity before she ascended to the throne. Family connections helped him to become Member of Parliament for Beverley in Yorkshire and eventually secured him a role in the official investigation of those perceived to be enemies of the state.

Torture chamber I HDR : Photo hans jesus wurst on Flickr (Click image)

Torture chamber I HDR : Photo hans jesus wurst on Flickr (Click image)

Bully  and sexual fantasist?

From the 1570’s onward, England had no shortage of external enemies but the most suspicion fell upon its Catholic minority. Special attention was given to the Priests who were being smuggled into England to minister to these Catholics, it was in the persecution of this group that Topcliffes talents were most often employed.

Although Topcliffe seems to have been used at different times by the Privy Council, Lord Burghley and the spy master Walsingham, he was known to boast of his links to Queen Elizabeth. One of his victims, a Priest called Thomas Pormont reprted that Topcliffe had boasted to him that the Queen had allowed him to touch her breasts and legs and also;

‘that he felt her belly and said unto Her Majesty that she had the softest belly of any womankind’

It is hard to read anything about Topcliffe without getting the impression that this was a man who enjoyed his work. John Gerard wrote about meeting him after he was arrested in 1594. Apparently Topcliffe said to him

You know who I am? I am Topcliffe. No doubt you have heard people talk about me?

Clearly, Topcliffe thought that the mention of his name might be enough to frighten people. In order to heighten the effect Topcliffe hit the table with his sword as he said this. Gerard reported that he was unimpressed although he had indeed heard of Topcliffe, describing him as ‘a cruel creature’ who ‘thirsted for the blood of Catholics’

Torture bed : jeff caires on Flickr (Click image)

Torture bed : jeff caires on Flickr (Click image)


So closely was Topcliffe associated with the practice of Torture that the term ‘Topcliffian practices’ became known as a euphemism for torture. There are many accounts of his involvement with this, and again it is easy to get the impression that he took personal enjoyment from this.

He is known to have had his own ‘stronge chamber’ in his London house where he boasted that he kept a personally designed machine for torture – ‘compared with which the rack was mere childs play’ – we can only guess what form this machine may have taken. It is also likely that he helped to pioneer the use of manacles, a ‘lesser torture’ than the rack but still devastating in its effect upon victims.

Torture chair : Brian Gilmore on Flickr (click image)

Torture chair : Brian Gilmore on Flickr (click image)

A useful but little regarded servant of the State

Although he was useful to the Elizabethan state it seems likely that there was no love for a man who may have been considered a necessary evil. In his later years Richard Topcliffe retired from London and spent most of his time in his estates in Yorkshire and at Badley Hall in Derbyshire where  he died in 1604.

There are no pictures of Topcliffe that I know of ( unless anyone can correct me?).  I though it appropriate to use images of torture instead. Also, as an Amnesty International supporter I have added a link to their information about torture – sadly, there are plenty of modern Topcliffes still at work.
See also our earlier post ‘Torture – rack and manacles’


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Harvington Hall is well known for it’s wall paintings (see link) which were completed in the 1600’s. Until 1936 these paintings had lain forgotten beneath a layer of whitewash although they have since been uncovered and can be seen by visitors to the Hall. The largest of these paintings(above) is of a mermaid and this image is today’s subject.

The Mermaid passage.

The Harvington mermaid lies above a doorway on the first floor and can best be seen as one leaves the great chamber. The picture shows a two tailed mermaid sitting on a scallop shell. Around the mermaid are two smaller mermaids as well as an intricate scrolling design including what appear to be fountains of water as well as vases and fruit.

The Mermaid - above a bedroom door at Harvington Hall

The Mermaid – above a bedroom door at Harvington Hall

The image of fruit on the mermaids head suggests (to me) a cornucopia – an image associated with female fertility. The picture is in a style knownas ‘arabesque’ – popular in the Elizabethan period and there is an idea that it may have been completed by a Flemish or German artist.

The mermaid is in reasonable condition but was clearly once part of a larger design which is fading into the walls around it. The worst damage to the mermaid (the plain & nearly circular patch left of centre) was caused where a hole was cut to allow access for a flue pipe from a stove in the room beyond.


Mermaid legends are of ancient origin and often have similar themes. A mermaid is pretty much always seen as a seductive and tempting figure. In the same way that the sea can be both beautiful and dangerous – stories often tell of mermaids trying to lure people with their beauty – often with tragic consequences. It is also common for there to be terrible consequences if a mermaids advances are spurned.

Mary Queen of Scots - 'dolphin' used as a slur against her

Mary Queen of Scots – ‘mermaid’ used as an insult.

In Elizabethan times, the mermaid came to be a euphemism for a prostitute ( I have been told that German people still recognise this connection, unknown in modern English people). This was used as a slur against Mary Queen of Scots and Shakespeare is commonly thought to have refered to this in ‘The Midsummer Nights Dream’

‘Thou rememberest

Since once I sat upon a promontory,

And heard a mermaid on a Dolphin’s back

Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath,

That the rude sea grew civil at her song;

And certain stars shot madly from their spheres,

To hear the sea-maid’s music.’

In the extract above the ‘mermaid’ represents Mary Queen of Scots, the Dolphin is the ‘Dauphin’- the French Prince she was married to and the ‘certain stars’ are noble supporters who rallied to her hopeless cause.


The above image shows a mermaid with a crown and the initials M.R. which stands for Maria Regina (Mary Queen of Scots) The mermaid in the 16th cent was a symbol of prostititution, and this mermaid wearing a crown is a slur on Mary Queen of Scots after she married James Hepburn Earl of Bothwell, as a great whore. The symbol below with the Hare, is the Insignia of Lord Bothwell with his Initials J (I) H= James Hepburn his proper name (this information is taken from a comment made by W. Adams on 21.01.2019, as it improves the post I added it here, see comments below for context)

(See articles here & here for fuller discussion of this)


I always wondered why Harvington had a painting which was suggestive of such a sensual theme, it hardly seems to fit with the rest of the Hall given it’s strongly Catholic background. This website which discusses Mermaids in Irish Church art gave me cause to think.

The author confirms the association between the mermaid and sin and tempation but concludes with the suggestion that the image of a mermaid was used to divide the secular part of the church from the sacred areas. At Harvington, the mermaid is roughly situated at the point where one leaves the family areas of the house and moves upstairs to areas where Priests would have stopped and masses were held. Is it possible that this image was used here for a similar purpose? (* See below *)

A modern mermaid.

Porpoise - (click image)

Porpoise – (click image)

I thought I would include the reason that I got thinking about mermaids in the first place. I have just come back from a holiday in Yorkshire, one day we took a walk out to the cliffs at Flamborough head.

Whilst walking I looked out over a cliff and saw a dead poropise on the rocks below. There is a suggestion that the mermaid myth may be built upon mis-interpretations of sightings such as this.

This sighting was confirmed by the local wildlife experts as being a dead porpoise but It is easy to imagine how one might catch a glimpse of such a creature and ‘see’ a mermaid – especially if one had been rised to believe in such creatures.

The Mermaid by James Edward Creamer (Click image)

The Mermaid by James Edward Creamer (Click image)

The mermaid image continues to inspire people – just try putting ‘mermaid’ as a search term on flickr – this is my favourite (above). I was however suprised (& a little pleased!) to find that the mermaid can still cause some offence.

The Starbucks Mermaid.

I stated above that (apart from the Germans) I didn’t think anyone would still associate the mermaid with anything lewd. Apparently there is a Christian group in the US who have campaigned for a boycott of Starbucks because of their use of the two-tailed mermaid! (See also)

As they say in Yorkshire – ‘theres nowt as queer as folk’

(* of course – it may be that the mermaid is there because it was fashionable at the time & the Hall inhabitants just liked it – it is possible to over-do the search for deeper symbolic meanings!)

PS Thanks to Lee Durkee for drawing my attention to this image of a mermaid feeding her young – from the Royal collection.

PPS See also ‘How many breasts does a mermaid have‘ by Lee Durkee



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Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I By Nicholas Hilliard 1586-1587 (V&A museum - click image)

Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I By Nicholas Hilliard 1586-1587 (V&A museum - click image)

I was recently looking for a book about Tudor Portraits and came across this book by Maurice Howard. The book doesn’t just cover portraits, there are references to items such as engravings, tapestry and funeral monuments. The author points out that the Tudor period saw an explosion in the production and use of artistic imagery. Some things were designed for private contemplation, for example the portrait minature  (see this wonderful Blog for more about this).  However, many other items seem to have been designed to display wealth and power. Looking through collections of artwork one gets an idea of the competition to acquire the the most elaborate and decorative items.

Pair of Gloves 1603 -1625 Victoria & Albert Museum (click image)

Pair of Gloves 1603 -1625 Victoria & Albert Museum (click image)


It is suprising how many portraits include subjects wearing – or quite frequently just holding gloves. Many of these are very highly decorated and are elongated into lace and pearl covered gauntlets. It seems hard to imagine that it would have been practical (or even possible?) to wear some of these pairs of gloves.

In his biography of Shakespeare, Anthony Holden discusses the playwrights father John who was known to have been a glover. After soaking the hides of deer, goats and sheep he would make the leather into gloves as well as other items such as belts and purses.

Elizabethan glove: little miss sunnydale on Flickr (Click image)

Elizabethan glove: little miss sunnydale on Flickr (Click image)

Over elaborate & a bit odd?

Of course, Stratford was a rural provincial backwater and it seems unlikely that John Shakespeare would have been turning out anything as elaborate as items being produced for use in London. As well as gloves, there are over-decorated shoes, sleeves, hats and of course the ruff. Look at this image from 1613 of the 3rd Earl of Dorset, Richard Sackville. No doubt the Earl dressed in his very finest clothes for the portrait. Clearly, the fashion for elaboration had continued to develop long after John Shakespeares day.

Richard Sackville 3rd Earl of Dorset c1613 William Larkin

Richard Sackville 3rd Earl of Dorset c1613 William Larkin

Really quite odd?

The Saltonstall Family 1636-37. Odd and just a little disturbing - what was he thinking of?
The Saltonstall Family 1636-37. Odd and just a little disturbing – what was he thinking of?

Look at this picture by David des Granges of the Saltonstall family. This painting is a family record which shows Sir Richard Saltonstall with his new wife and baby (seated) as well as his two  children from his first marriage. It has been suggested that the children are painted as they were at the time of their mothers death. The dead mother is lying in bed behind them all – her husband is vaguely waving his gloves in her direction. Can you imagine how such a picture would be recieved today? – it would be quite easy to make this sort of thing in photoshop. Surely this is one of the oddest pictures ever? Would you want it on your wall?

Is it just me, but..

Not for the first time when looking at Tudor images I find myself thinking how, well – odd it all looks. The Tudors really had a very different idea about what looked good – to modern eyes it all looks a little strange. Don’t you think that the Earl above looks just a little ridiculous? For me, the best expression of this came in this episode of Blackadder – have a look at this and ask yourself what Blackadder would have said about the Earl.

What do you think? Comments as ever are really welcome.



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