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Brand: John Matusiak

The Tudors in 100 Objects

by John Matusiak

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The Tudors in 100 Objects

This seminal period of British history is a far-off world in which poverty, violence and superstition went hand-in-hand with opulence, religious virtue and a thriving cultural landscape, at once familiar and alien to the modern reader. John Matusiak sets out to shed new light on the lives and times of the Tudors by exploring the objects they left behind. Among them, a silver-gilt board badge discarded at Bosworth Field when Henry VII won the English crown; a signet ring that may have belonged to Shakespeare; the infamous Halifax gibbet, on which some 100 people were executed; scientific advancements such as a prosthetic arm and the first flushing toilet; and curiosities including a ladies' sun mask, 'Prince Arthur's hutch' and the Danny jewel, which was believed to be made from the horn of a unicorn.

The whole vivid panorama of Tudor life is laid bare in this thought-provoking and frequently myth-shattering narrative, which is firmly founded upon contemporary accounts and the most up-to-date results of modern scholarship.

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This book might be better entitled 'The Tudor Period in 100 objects', as you will learn very little of the actual Tudor royal family. The format relies heavily on the selection of 100 very good colour plates, presenting these on high -quality paper - which does make for the slight disadvantage of making the book surprisingly heavy. Many of the photographs show the items against rather busy patterned backgrounds, which I think would be better plain. The division into twelve topic sections is rather rough and ready, e.g. Thomas Cranmer's cell door could well have been in the Crime and Punishment section, and Lady Jane Grey's prayer book might well have been in the Religion section. Within each section there is often a progression through time, e.g. from an item found at Bosworth Field to a lock of Elizabeth 1's hair, but reading right through the book gives one more the feel of random items that would be useful, perhaps, to a quiz-setter. Nonetheless, it's undeniable that the author has found many intriguing and surprising items; the early appearance of knitting frames, guillotines, flushing toilets, revolvers and quite sophisticated prosthetic arms, how women coped with menstruation, (a topic rarely discussed in history books before, although all women wonder), and more excitingly, the possibility of an earlier date for the discovery of America. They believed tomatoes were poisonous, but except for James 1 it was thought that tobacco good for you. I found the writing style rather pedestrian, but the facts often interesting. Hilary Potts Friends of The National Archives http://nationalarchives.gov.uk/get-involved/friends.htm