4 February 2018

Extract from Discovering Tudor London: A Journey Back in Time, by Natalie Grueninger

Available on Amazon UK Amazon US
and Amazon AU

This engaging and practical travel guide takes you on a journey through the best of Tudor London, to sites built and associated with this fascinating dynasty, and to the museums and galleries that house tantalising treasures from this rich period of history.

Tudor Treasures of the V&A

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London, also known as the V&A, is the world's leading museum of art and design, its vast collection unrivalled in its richness and diversity. It's home to some extraordinary objects from around the world, including furniture, fashion, jewellery, sculptures, textiles, ceramics and paintings. Each year, several million people walk through its doors to see the 60,000 or so items on permanent display, including a remarkable collection of treasures from the Medieval and Renaissance period. 

V & A Museum
(Wikimedia Commons)
With 146 rooms arranged across six levels, I recommend obtaining a map on arrival and locating the Medieval and Renaissance, and Britain (1500-1760) galleries on Level 0, 1 and 2, where you'll find many tantalising Tudor treasures. 

A definite standout, and one of the largest objects in the museum, is the timber façade of a house constructed in 1600 on Bishopsgate Street, for Sir Paul Pindar, a wealthy English merchant and diplomat. Most timber-framed houses in London were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 and so this is a rare and wonderful relic. 

Among the many other highlights is a fountain attributed to the Florentine sculptor Benedetto da Rovezzano, which once stood in the great court of Cowdray House in Sussex, largely destroyed by fire in 1793, and a beautiful walnut writing box, made in about 1525, and decorated with the royal arms and badges of Henry VIII and Katherine of Aragon. Nearby, is a portrait of Henry VIII and a portrait bust of his father, Henry VII, made by the Florentine sculptor Pietro Torrigiani between 1509 and 1511. The bust is based on Henry VII's death mask and so is presumably a very good likeness of the first Tudor monarch. 

Keep an eye out for fragments of a terracotta relief that once decorated Suffolk Place in Southwark, the London home of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk; a miniature portrait of Anne of Cleves painted by Hans Holbein in 1539 and a miniature whistle pendant, shaped like a pistol, which houses cosmetic tools in the stock, and according to legend, was the first of many gifts given by Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn.

Further on in the gallery is a tapestry that was made in around 1585, which bears the arms of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, who is believed to have commissioned it for his London home, Leicester House, and an enormous bed, known as the Great Bed of Ware, that dates back to at least 1596. This is one of the museum's most popular objects on account of its great size. The four-poster bed is over three metres wide and can reputedly accommodate 8 people. It was probably made in the 1590's for an Inn at Ware in Hertfordshire, and quickly became famous. Shakespeare referred to it in his play Twelfth Night, obviously confident that his readers would understand the reference. 

Do not miss Nicholas Hilliard's miniature portraits of Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, Robert Dudley and Sir Christopher Hatton, as well as a portrait of Mary Queen of Scots aged around seventeen, painted by a follower of Francois Clouet. 

Also associated with the Scottish queen are a number of panels, which Mary is said to have embroidered with Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, better known as Bess of Hardwick, during her imprisonment. 

Finally, look out for the Hunsdon Jewels, which, according to tradition, Elizabeth I gave to her cousin, Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon, the son of Elizabeth's maternal aunt, Mary Boleyn, and a set of virginals decorated with the royal coat of arms, and Anne Boleyn's falcon badge. The late Professor Eric Ives believed it was possible that the virginals may have originally belonged to Anne before her daughter, Elizabeth I, acquired them.

To wander through the many galleries and stand just a few inches away from objects that the Tudors would have seen, held and worn, is a stirring experience, and one that greatly strengthens our connection with them. They cease to be just names in history books and instead become very real - very human.

For opening hours and other visitor information go to https://www.vam.ac.uk.

Natalie Grueninger 
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About the Author

Natalie Grueninger is a researcher, writer and educator, living in Australia with her husband and two children. In 2009 she created On the Tudor Trail, a website dedicated to documenting historic sites and buildings associated with Anne Boleyn and sharing information about the life and times of Henry VIII's second wife. Natalie is fascinated by all aspects of life in Tudor England and has spent many years researching the period. Her first non-fiction book, co-authored with Sarah Morris, In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn, was published by Amberley Publishing in the UK in September 2013. Book number two in the series, In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII, was released in the UK in March 2016. In 2017, Natalie collaborated with illustrator Kathryn Holeman to create Colouring History: The Tudors, a unique and beautifully illustrated colouring book for grown-ups that features images and scenes inspired by the ever-fascinating Tudor dynasty. She also completed Discovering Tudor London, which was published in the UK by The History Press in August 2017. Find Natalie on Facebook and on Twitter @OntheTudorTrail

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