History Weekend 2014 preview: 5 minutes with… Suzannah Lipscomb

He is one of the best-known kings in history, famous for his six wives and for establishing the Church of England. But what was life like at the court of Henry VIII?

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In her talk at our History Weekend in Malmesbury, Tudor historian Suzannah Lipscomb will explore how one might best survive the glamorous and precarious world of Henry’s court. 

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Here, in an interview with History Extra, she discusses her love of history, and reveals how in Henry’s day sexual politics were all the rage…

Q: How and when did you first realise you had a passion for history?

A: I can trace my enthusiasm for history to a teacher called Mrs Marcus, who taught me at Nonsuch High School when I was 11. She was a great storyteller, conjuring up the past in her tales, and was intellectually challenging. Plus, she allowed us to cover our exercise books with history stickers.

Q: What’s the best thing about being a historian?

A: It is hard to choose between the tangible excitement I feel when I touch and read manuscripts from the 16th century or get a vivid insight into how someone felt 500 years ago, and the delight of watching that excitement lighting up my students, or those I talk to about history.

Q: Are you reading any exciting history books at the moment?

A: I just read Dan Jones’s new book, The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors, which was exciting because I think Dan is starting to carve out new territory in today’s history market by returning to the practice of some of the great past historians: he’s writing vivid, pacy, narrative history that is entirely based on very sound scholarship.

I’m currently reading Stephen Greenblatt’s The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, which is so elegantly written, and GM Trevelyan’s An Autobiography and Other Essays, from the great master himself.

Q: Why do you love early modern history?

A: I love the evidence: we have a huge amount, but not so much that one can’t get on top of a significant amount of it. We have a richer palette than the medievalists: from opinionated, gossipy letters from ambassadors, to incredible visual sources.

The 16th century is also a dramatic and exciting age: complete tumult in religion, almost constant warfare, extraordinary characters, a Renaissance in art and literature in Northern Europe, the beginnings of discovery and new worlds… it’s all going on!

Q: What can we expect from your talk at Malmesbury?

A: I’m going to talk about how politics at the court of Henry VIII had much less to do with lobbying and political faction and the privy council and parliament than one might expect. It had much more to do with the politics of spectacle, the politics of the person, sexual politics, and the politics of intrigue.

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I’ll explore how one might best survive the glamorous and precarious world of Henry’s court, and the dangers for those who missed their footing.

To buy tickets to the History Weekend, click here. Hurry – time is running out!