Mastodon The Writing Desk: Special Guest Post by Melita Thomas, Author of 1000 Tudor People

9 February 2024

Special Guest Post by Melita Thomas, Author of 1000 Tudor People


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The product of years of diligent research, this ambitious title brings the incredibly varied lives (and deaths!) of 1000 Tudor people into a single, accessible volume. Illustrated with historical portraits and a wealth of detail, including specially designed family trees to chart the links between major Tudor figures.


Writing 1000 Tudor People has been a labour of love over three years. I began it in the autumn of 2020 and handed the final sections to the publisher towards the end of 2022. It then took a further year to bring together all the illustrations and the timelines, proofread it, and turn it into the weighty volume that will hit the shelves on 28th March 2024. 

The idea behind the book was to give readers information about a much wider range of people who lived during the Tudor period than just the usual suspects who appear in books or on-screen. Of course the panorama of the royal family with their sneaky courtiers and scheming councillors is fun to read about, but there was so much more to the Tudor age. 

It was a period of massive change: life in 1485 was not very different from life in 1385, but by 1600 things had altered considerably, not just because of the Reformation, but also because of the expansion of knowledge brought about by the printing press, the introduction of plants and food that came from discoveries in the New World, the changes in the economic fortunes of England and Wales, and the expansion of mathematical and scientific knowledge.
 
Choosing the thousand people was difficult. At the beginning, I thought that I might struggle to find enough individuals whose lives were sufficiently interesting or important to merit sharing, but once I began the research, I was quickly overwhelmed with quirky and fascinating characters, and I have a long list, which continues to grow, of people whom I have had, reluctantly, to leave out.


Sir Richard Martin, Lord Mayor of London © British Museum

Although I wanted to expand from just the rich and famous, I had to include them. You can’t have a book about Tudor People that doesn’t include Henry VIII or Thomas Cromwell. But once I had dealt with the monarch, the royal family, and the principal politicians, I turned to the arts. Shakespeare, of course, was high on the list, so I consulted the research I had done on him for the feature on the Tudor Times website. 


© Folger Shakespeare Library Christopher Saxton. Atlas of the counties of England and Wales. London, 1590?

This led me to his colleagues and friends, so I added them, and as I researched each one, I found more names. Gradually, a great network of writers, philosophers, theatre-owners, entrepreneurs, gardeners, mathematicians, and even criminals evolved.
 
One of the difficulties of writing about fifteenth and sixteenth century people is the inequality in records available, particularly of women. Even high-ranking women are much less represented in the records than men, and women below the level of nobility usually only appear in the records if they seriously transgressed social norms – consequently, a disproportionate number of the women included were considered to be criminals. 

Another challenge I had to address was the massive change in our approach to the past, which has happened in the last twenty to thirty years. This is partly about more inclusion of women, but also a different perspective on elements of our history. Older historiography has a fairly uncritical attitude towards individuals who have been seen as heroes for centuries – such as Francis Drake, Walter Raleigh, and the other ‘sea-dogs’. 


Sir Walter Raleigh (Wikimedia Commons)

Today, historians are grappling with more honest interpretations of these men’s activities and I needed to seek out a wide range of sources to present a balanced view, without having the luxury of a word count that would enable me to explore these varied perspectives in detail. Unsurprisingly, I have some favourite characters – some of whom I’d like to meet, but others who might be rather scary in the flesh. 

One of the latter is Katherine Howard, Lady Berkeley, who was such a stickler for protocol that she made her manservant practise one hundred bows to get it absolutely right – I like her because she kept her pet hawks in her bedchamber, and did not care if her dresses got dirty. Another fun entry is Twm Sion Cati – otherwise known as Thomas Jones. He was a trickster who relieved his victims of their belongings by tricking them, rather than by violence. 

Ralph Rishton was another conman, who, at the time of his death had no fewer than eleven ongoing law suits relating to his matrimonial entanglements. Then there are the incredibly sad stories, such as those of Anne Askew and Margaret Clitherow (nee Middleton), who were martyred for their faith - one Protestant, the other Catholic.


Margaret Clitherow (Wikimedia Commons)

I hope that when the readers delve into 1000 Tudor People, they will find stories to entertain, as well as inform them about the Tudor period. Hopefully, the book will also be a manual to be on hand every time the reader opens another book or watches a film or television programme about the Tudors, to find the key facts about all of the people involved.
 
Melita Thomas

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About the Author

Melita Thomas is the author of non-fiction works The King’s Pearl, and The House of Grey and co-author of the Tudor Times Books of Days series of gift books. She is a doctoral candidate at UCL, researching the social and political networks of Mary I and is the co-founder and chief contributor for Tudor Times, a repository of information about the Tudors and Stewarts 1485 – 16625. In her spare time, Melita enjoys long distance walking. You can find her on https://melitathomas.com/ and on Twitter @melitathomas92 and @thetudortimes.

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