Heritage & Culture

Tremendous Tudors!

The Tudor period was one of tremendous change, not only in religion, but also in the arts, sciences, politics and fashion. Now, a new Vivacity exhibition at Peterborough Museum explores these fascinating facets of Tudor life alongside a whole host of associated events. Telling Peterborough’s story during these tempestuous times, the Tremendous Tudors exhibition brings together artefacts from the Museum’s collections, the local archives and loans from Cambridge University museums – including Tudor portraits, relics of Mary Queen of Scots and a rarely seen Book of Hours. The Moment talked to Vivacity’s Exhibitions Assistant Julia Habeshaw about what’s on offer

The Book of Hours

‘We have several books of hours in the Museum collection, but most of the medieval manuscripts that we have cannot be on permanent display because of the detrimental effect of light on them. So, this was an opportunity for us to bring one of those treasures out. This one dates from 1505; most books of hours are from much earlier, in the medieval period. It was bought by the Museum Society at auction in 1918, so doesn’t itself relate directly to Peterborough, but is a good representation of a type of manuscript that was familiar at the time. ‘One of the big changes during the period is the advent of printing. A book of hours is a type of prayer book, and some people would have started to have their own printed prayer books during this period, but the very rich – including royalty – would have continued to have these hand made books with very lavish, colourful illustrations. Both Mary Queen of Scots and Anne Boleyn, when they went to execution, had books of hours with them, and they looked very similar to this one. Mary Queen of Scots has a local connection, having been tried and executed at Fothringhay, so it’s an insight into an aspect of her life, too.’

Relics of Mary, Queen of Scots

‘Mary Queen of Scots was executed at Fotheringhay in 1587, and in 1887 the Museum Society had an exhibition for which they had collected relics, including a lock of hair from Mary and a square of her bedding cut from her bed. Whether or not these are genuine is difficult to say, as often the provenance of older collections is a bit hazy, but if nothing else it’s interesting to see them as part of that Victorian exhibition in 1887. There’s also a piece of the castle itself, which James I had destroyed, because he didn’t want his mother’s place of execution to remain standing.’

Tudor documents

‘The archive service at the Library have some Tudor documents which they have lent to us to put on display – basically, legal documents, deeds and charters, of which the Tudors generated quite a few. One of the main reasons this period has so many books written about it is that it is incredibly well documented compared to earlier periods.’

Scientific instruments

‘The Whipple Museum in Cambridge has lent us some scientific instruments, including sundials, compasses and an astrolabe, which all look very Harry Potter! There are great leaps in science and exploration happening during the period; at the very beginning of the Tudor period, in 1492, Columbus makes his historic voyage to America, and in 1577-1580 Drake circumnavigates the globe, and so these devices – used to determine your position on Earth – reflect those major advances in navigation, which become such a defining factor of the period.’

Artefacts from daily life

‘The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology has also lent us a group of objects found during a dig at Corpus Christi College, which includes a pair of leather Tudor shoes, and two wooden plaques, one with the face of a man and one with the face of a woman – we presume a portrait of a man and wife that would have hung side by side. They’re really full of character!’

“The Tudors are larger-than-life characters, and it’s a very dramatic period in history – a period of great change. But also this is a period for which we have much more evidence on the personal lives of monarchs than in the medieval period. Three reasons for that: the spread of diplomacy, the growth of literacy and printing, and also the fact that Henry’s matrimonial adventures – his ‘Great Matter’ – brought a royal marriage into political and public focus for the first time. There’s also a wonderful visual record, because this is the age when portraiture came to fruition – Hans Holbein and Lucas Horenbout – and we can see these royal English faces properly, for the first time.”

Alison Weir


‘In addition to the exhibition itself, we’ll be hosting all manner of events, from illustrated talks to Tudor food, dancing and music [see highlights, and full listings in the What’s On section]. To complete the picture, we’ll also be pointing people to some of the great local Tudor buildings – Burghley House, of course, but also Apethorpe Palace, which is relatively less well known. Architecture is another great development of that period, creating some of our grandest houses, of which Burghley and Apethorpe are among the finest examples. Many royals stayed at Apethorpe – and James I had his lover, who was a man, living there – and although it went to rack and ruin in the 1980s, it was restored by English Heritage and is now open to the public in July and August. It still has intact interiors from the Tudor and Jacobean periods, which are very rare.’

‘It really was an incredible time, and now at Peterborough Museum you’ll have a chance to see the city’s Tudor past from a new perspective and discover a period in time that truly helped make Peterborough “Tremendous”!’

Tremendous Tudors exhibition (21 Jan 2016 – 2 Apr 2017) Peterborough Museum Opening times are Tuesday to Sunday, 10am – 5pm. Admission free, except on special event days. Call 01733 864663 for more information. www.vivacity-peterborough.com

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