Wolf Hall, another milestone in the great Tudor revival

The Tudor period, which gave our country such rich culture and strong national identity is still making a comeback. The great Tudor revival has captured the imagination of many in our country. So let us remember to be proud of our exciting and vivid history instead of being ashamed of it.

Tudor revival: Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley in the new play Progress
Clare George-Hilley
On 18 February 2015 20:37

The Tudor period is a remarkable age in our country’s history and one which we should treasure and revere. Indeed, the hugely successful BBC adaptation of Hilary Mantel's novel Wolf Hall is the latest in a string of recent Tudor tributes hitting our bookshelves.

For years, historians have undertaken painstaking research using every resource imaginable to piece together this magnificent era. Yet it is only in the last few years that Britain’s great Tudor revival has hit the big time.

Once upon a time, the only person who could get anyone to show interest in this period was the bellowing and captivating historian David Starkey. So, in a world where the teenage obsession seems to focus around shows like The X-Factor and computer games, the great Tudor revival is helping the next generation refocus on something much more substantial and healthy for the long-term.

From the compelling and colourful novels of Philippa Gregory to the starling film productions of The Other Boleyn Girl and Elizabeth: The Golden Age, these epic figures of history are now part of mainstream culture. From Henry VII to Elizabeth I, this fascinating dynasty is loaded with scandal, spying, success, and revolution which reshaped our country beyond recognition.

This wave of cultural indulgence is not simply confined to big budget books and films, it is also prominent on the stage at independent theatre companies. I recently went to see a new play from the Red Rose Theatre Company entitled Progress, exploring Queen Elizabeth I’s nine-day stay in Ipswich back in 1561.

Directed by Joanna Carrick, Progress follows the experiences of Elizabeth I (Elsie Bennett) and Robert Dudley (Daniel Abbott) as they travel to Ipswich contrasted against their hosts, a local family who are preparing to entertain them with an amateur theatre production.

Carrick’s ability to weave painstaking research, sharp direction and a well-crafted script enables a truly epic production that is both emotional and energetic. Watching the actors on stage delivering such passionate performances leaves the audience captivated, excited and above all totally convinced that the Tudor period encapsulates some of the finest moments in our country’s history.

This period was also marked by a radical reorganisation of religion and social structure. This, in my opinion, is one of the reasons why so many people are currently captivated by the BBC’s new drama Wolf Hall, recounting the rise of Thomas Cromwell, the son of a lowly blacksmith who became King Henry VIII's chief minister.

To many, watching the character of Cromwell skilfully navigating the corridors of power is an intriguing insight into the rise of one of the most powerful men of the day, and is insightful viewing.

The Tudor period also gave birth to some of our country’s greatest achievements. From the poetry of William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe to the battle skills of Walter Raleigh and Francis Drake. We managed to defeat the much-feared Spanish Armada, whilst producing some of the world’s finest writing and cultural contributions that are iconic even today.

The period also gave us atrocities, such as Mary I’s burning of 300 Protestants, financial uncertainty and isolation under Henry VIII. But the Tudors also accelerated the art of English exploration, taught us to show boldness in the face of defeat, cohesion despite deep religious differences and many other qualities that our country still holds dear.

The great Tudor revival has captured the imagination of many in our country. So let us remember to be proud of our rich and exciting history instead of being ashamed of it.

Tudor England may not have been perfect, but its contribution helped put the ‘great’ into the Great Britain we hold so dear today. 

Clare George-Hilley is Director of Communities and Social Justice, Parliament Street Research Council. She is a Contributing Editor to The Commentator. Follow Clare George-Hilley on Twitter: @ClareHilley

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