Henry VIII in Love and War (Stowe) – A History Masterclass with Suzannah Lipscomb and Sam Willis

Henry VIII in Love and War (Stowe) – A History Masterclass with Suzannah Lipscomb and Sam Willis

17th June 2017, Stowe School, Buckinghamshire.


Stowe House is one of the most important country houses in England. Reaching its magnificence in the eighteenth century, it was soon visited by leading European nobility and royalty, including King Gustav IV of Sweden, Tsar Alexander I of Russia, King Louis XVIII of France, the Prince Regent (the future King George IV). And on a scorching June day in 2017 it was the turn of History Masterclass, where our attendees enjoyed a unique learning experience on Henry VIII in love and war.

The Masterclass was held in the Blue Drawing Room, named for the panels of blue silk damask that hung on the wall in the latter half of the nineteenth century and have since been immaculately restored.

The Masterclass began with the attendees helping to create and then explore a timeline which placed Henry VIII in a global context as well as considering the significant events of the era in which he lived. From Columbus discovering the New World in 1492 to the Armada in 1588, from Henry’s birth in 1509 to his coronation, marriages, break with Rome, and death in 1547, the Masterclass was now set up to consider how Henry and his Tudor world were influenced by love and war.

Dr Sam Willis began by considering the surviving examples of Henry’s armour and exploring the stories behind three significant and very different sets. Each was considered as an object biography. What can we learn from armour? Using a heavily-decorated armour commemorating his first marriage, Dr Suzannah Lipscomb then considered Henry’s relationship with Katherine of Aragon before introducing Anne Boleyn and Henry’s first crisis in love. The subsequent break from the Catholic Church was then explored by Sam in relation to the fortifications built by Henry VIII to defend England from French invasion. After a brief working lunch the attendees were given a mini-masterclass in palaeography. How can we translate Tudor handwriting? Within twenty minutes the class had decoded one of Henry’s love letters to Anne Boleyn. The Masterclass then finished with an introduction to Henry’s navy, using the Mary Rose as case study.

An exciting and joyful event in a truly fabulous historic location, this was a Masterclass none of us will forget any time soon.

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