04 December, 2009

Medieval and Renaissance Galleries now open at V&A

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London opened the redesigned Medieval and Renaissance Galleries this week.

Rachel Campbell-Johnston at The Times Online has posted an article and video introducing the exhibition, and the excellent Londonist has photos showing the bright and airy galleries. The Guardian site has another video.

The £31m refurb' is "triumphant" according to Jonathan Jones of The Guardian in his review:

"Renaissance art is not just a thing of beauty, but of self-expression. It is strange, it is disconcerting, it is all the things we, today, want art to be. You can see that in Donatello and throughout these wonderful new galleries"
Both Jones and Richard Dorment in his article at The Telegraph agree that the V&A holds the best collection of Italian Renaissance sculpture outside Italy. Dorment is also mightily impressed by the new galleries:
"The whole project, designed by architects MUMA in collaboration with the V&A’s curators is a triumph."

And....it's free.

PS. I hope they still have room for the Great Bed of Ware.

17 November, 2009

Cooking the Books

Cooking the Books is the blog of the Tudor Kitchens cookery project at Hampton Court Palace.

Learn how they interpret original recipes like this one:

Roast Beef

Salmon Fress Boiled
Capon Stewed
Ryse of Genoa

13 November, 2009

Hendrick Avercamp and the Little Ice Age

A relaxing way to spend a cold winter evening is to pour a (large) glass of sherry and get stuck into a jigsaw featuring one of Hendrick Avercamp's wonderful paintings of 17th century Dutch winter landscapes.

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has posted an excellent video podcast on Avercamp's paintings to go with its forthcoming exhibition "Hendrick Avercamp: The Little Ice Age". Curator Pieter Roelofs zooms in on details to show life on the ice.

02 November, 2009

Virtual Exhibitions of the Bibliotheque Nationale de France

I recently stumbled the Virtual Exhibitions page of the Bibliotheque Nationale de France (BNF to its friends), which conveniently has an English translation button.

The site a) looks fab and b) has plenty of interesting content.

Enlightenment ("Lumieres") charts "the passage from obscuranticism to free thought and free actions, illuminated by reason" from the mid-C18th onwards . The presentation is grouped around the themes of religion, science, the individual, public space, the political order, universality, and heritage.

There are plenty of pertinent quotes, and I like this one from Voltaire (picture above):

"If England had only one religion, despotism would have to be feared; if she had two, they would cut each other's throats, but since there are thirty, the English live in peace with one another." (1734)

Also to enjoy are beautifully presented expositions on Medieval Bestiary and Medieval Gastronomy.


22 September, 2009

Mystery Photo Challenge

Today we have a mystery photo: can anyone identify the location? It has a famous Tudor connection...

[Photo Copyright the author]

17 September, 2009

Desktop Siege Engines

Every history fan should have one of these Medieval Trebuchets on their desk, or alternatively an equally effective Roman Onager - according the the blurb the range is up to 20 feet, so plenty of scope for office mayhem...

09 September, 2009

johnson ben tesco

One of the fun things you can do with a website tracking tool such as Statcounter is to look at the sometimes odd search strings or keywords people enter into Google (or occasionally Yahoo, or sometimes the new-fangled Bing).

Here are a few obscure ones that have recently landed on Cardinal Wolsey's Today in History:

"johnson ben tesco"
"play icy tower vi.3.1"
"cardinal wolsey cabinet"
"cardinal wolsey suicide" [The Tudors on TV to blame for this one...CW]
"oliver cromwell stonehenge" [did he go there?]
"stonehenge scary games"
"tudor food fight"

and would anyone like to own up to ...

"german lady mudfight" ?????

15 August, 2009

Ghosts of Kew Palace

Kew Palace is a striking terracotta Dutch-gable style house in the grounds of Kew Gardens, London.

It was built in 1663 by a merchant and later leased by George III, who acceeded the throne in 1760.

It is not really a palace at all, but takes the name of a larger building commissioned by George III in the same grounds, but never finished.
You can still view the outline of the foundations.

Unfortunately George went mad before this palace was completed. His son the Prince Regent didn't fancy it, and Parliament opted to knock it down [the staircase ended up at Buckingham Palace].

The "Dutch House" as it was known was used by Queen Charlotte, and their family. An enormous dolls house is one of the exhibits - it needed to be large as they had 15 children. She died there in 1818.

The palace is open to the public and a painstaking restoration has left areas where the decorations are peeled away to reveal layers beneath. It is very atmospheric, expecially in the "back stairs" and upper servants quarters. Here clever audio-visuals create ghostly memories of the lives of those who once served the royal family [all photographs copyright this blogl

23 June, 2009

Henry VIII is now on Twitter

Loyal subjects can now follow Henry VIII's coronation on Twitter (!), courtesy of the Historic Royal Palaces press office. Today is the day before Henry's coronation, and he reflects on becoming King. How long will HRP keep the site going I wonder? They have collected over 800 followers so far which isn't bad.....

21 June, 2009

"Free the Stones!" 36,000 descend on Stonehenge

Stonehenge was in danger of being toppled this weekend as 36,000 wannabee Druids converged on the site to celebrate the Solstice. BBC Wiltshire presents some scary photos and a video interview with a friendly Druid.

18 June, 2009


This weekend in London is a grand event which should draw a substantial crowd of nobility and groundlings alike.

A reenactment of Henry VIII's royal progess up the River Thames from The Tower to Hampton Court is taking place, complete with attending flotilla, music, and entertainment by the King's Fools.

This is part of the celebrations for the 500th annniversary of Henry's accession. He will be accompanied by Queen Katherine Parr and sundry members of Court.

The King is being conveyed in a Shallop, in its day the "Limousine of the Lower Thames", although lacking in privacy glass and minibar.

"King Henry’s loyal subjects are invited to line the banks of the river". Better turn up then.

image courtesy easier.com

24 March, 2009

Had a bad day in the City? Relax at Hampton Court.

Whilst browsing for Hampton Court videos, I came cross this one. A city trader finds solace by the Thames at Hampton Court after a bad Friday's trading. Seems appropriate for the credit crunch.

08 March, 2009

Rick Wakeman at Hampton Court

Rick Wakeman is promising a "Mock Rock Tudor Experience" when he performs his legendary concept album The Six Wives of Henry VIII at Hampton Court in May .

This is Rick's contribution to the celebrations marking the 500th anniversary of Henry's accession in 1509 [if you have not yet visited the palace, this is the year to come].

Rick has also been inspired to write 3 new pieces for the event - Tudor Overture, Defender of the Faith and Tudor Rock. Groovy.

If the credit crunch hasn't hit you yet, it's only £150 for the VIP Platinum Package, "including pre-show canape reception and chance to meet Rick Wakeman". Groundlings will still have to cough up almost £50 for the cheap seats.

If you want to sample what to expect, I included a Youtube extract from the Six Wives in this post last year.

More events for the 500th around the world are listed at TudorHistory.

27 February, 2009

"Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery"

"Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery" (Jane Austen, Mansfield Park).

Hels at Art and Architecture has included this blog in her nominations for the Excessively Diverting Blog award, a meme created by the authors of the Jane Austen Today blog; thank you Hels.
My reputation at Court can only be enhanced by this fortuitous event! I will go immediately to the Long Water at Hampton Court and dive in fully clothed, in the manner of Mr Darcy.

Here is a selection from my blogroll that I nominate for the award in that they "uphold the highest standards in the art of the sparkling banter, witty repartee, and gentle reprove".

With an English historic slant, I give you:

1. Philip Wilkinson's English Buildings; always turning up quirky buildings with the story behind them.
2. Samuel Pepys Diary: Phil Gyford's blog version of Pepys' account of London in the 1660s, mixing matters of state with nefarious socialising.
3. Got Medieval Carl Pyrdum's "tonic for the slipshod use of medieval European history in the media and pop culture", complete with medieval on-line shop.
4. Unmitigated England, Peter Ashley's witty ramblings around the buildings and countryside of England, "with a leaning toward the slightly odd and neglected"
5. Wonders and Marvels, by Holly Tucker of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN "A community for curious minds who love History, its Odd Stories, and Good Read".
6. The Story and the Truth, Anna French and Dan Hartland's wide-ranging blog covering novels, history and much more.

As this is a Meme, winners are invited to nominate up to 7 blogs that they consider meet the criteria for the award to spread the word......


09 February, 2009

Pepys tries DIY...and regrets it.

Phil Gyford's Diary of Samuel Pepys blog is a fantastic resource, with many comments and annotations by contributors. In the entry for 7th February 1666, Pepys records what happens when he tries a little Do-it-yourself around the house.

15 January, 2009

Captain Woodes Rogers where are you now?

Last week a $3m ransom was parachuted onto the deck of the hijacked supertanker Sirius Star, which had been captured by well-armed Somali pirates. No doubt the insurers considered this a reasonable price to retrieve the $100m cargo and crew. The pirates wittily call themselves the Central Regional Coastguard.

The large number of warships of various countries on patrol off the Kenyan coast don't seem able to stop these ruffians from interrupting legitimate commerce. Maybe they could do with some assistance from an old-fashioned privateer such as the redoubtable Captain Woodes Rogers, who made Caribbean pirates' lives a misery in the early 1700's. He is credited with rescuing Alexander Selkirk, the inspiration for Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, from his island.

The Daily Telegraph reports that a rare copy of Woodes Rogers' journal has been unearthed in a
Bristol attic. It will be auctioned on 21st Jan and is expected to reach £3,000. Good value.

The painting above shows Woodes Rogers and his family:
"Here he is seen with his family, as his son proudly holds a plan of burgeoning Port Nassau (visible in the background). In reality, events proved less happy for the new British acquisition." Angus Konstam, The History of Pirates. Quoted here.

05 January, 2009


Temperatures are due to drop well below zero Centigrade in London tonight. Not cold enough to freeze the Thames, as in this painting of 1677, but still parky for these parts. We are used to being kept warm by the jets taking off overhead.

1677 was during the period of the so-called Little Ice Age, which brought very cold temperatures to Early Modern Europe. The Thames regularly froze over , and "frost fairs" were held on the ice.

During the Great Freeze of 1683-4 , the diarist John Evelyn wrote that 'Streetes of Boothes were set upon the Thames... all sorts of Trades and shops furnished, & full of Commodities..." (source: Museum of London).

More seriously, many communities in northern and eastern Europe were abandoned to the advancing ice. Something to think about whilst doing your Pieter Breughel the Elder jigsaw in front of a cosy fire....