Barbara Mitchelhill Talks To Bookbag About Her Favourite Period in History: The Tudors

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Barbara Mitchelhill Talks To Bookbag About Her Favourite Period in History: The Tudors

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Summary: We loved Barbara Mitchelhill's Road to London and couldn't wait to hear more about Barbara's fascination with the smell of Tudor life.
Date: 17 April 2012

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My Favourite Period in History – the Tudors

My love of the Tudor period began many years ago with the saga of Henry and his six wives. Who could resist following that royal soap opera full of lust and plotting with enough twists and turns to keep a dozen script writers happy for a year? Then there was Elizabeth. Poor girl, having to cope with Henry's rejection of her mother, not to mention the precarious relationship with her sister Mary once she had ascended the throne. And much, much more.

But fascinating as the royals and the politics are, I'm interested in how ordinary people lived during the Tudor period. While writing Road to London, I had to get inside the heads of my characters and had to imagine not only how they lived, but how they thought. For instance, the protagonist, Thomas Munmore, is beaten by his school master and by his father. Most boys in 2012 would be furious and would probably report such abuse. But my character wouldn't think in the same way as a twenty first century boy. He would have accepted beatings as a normal punishment.

The contrast between everyday lives then and now is huge and that's one more reason to love the Tudors. They are a world apart from us and yet, as I see it, they are within reach. I see parts of the landscape which have changed little in three hundred years and in my own village there are buildings dating from the sixteenth century.

I try to imagine how people would cope staying in a small village when, in the Tudor period, travelling outside it was restricted. Permits had to be obtained and many people lived and died in their village without having left it. Even with a permit, imagine how difficult it would be to travel a hundred miles? Roads were little more than dirt tracks and, unless you owned a horse, you would go on foot.

And what about all that dirt? Human waste and household rubbish thrown onto the streets mixed with horse droppings, making a stinking soup of muck under your feet. You would be fighting a losing battle with dirt on your clothes which would be made of wool or linen – no cotton and certainly no synthetics. That linen shirt or smock would be worn in bed as well as during the day and wouldn't be washed all that often. Think how hard it would be to do any laundry. Heating water over the fire would be slow and difficult. A trip down to the river might be the best solution. With these problems, you certainly wouldn't put clean clothes on as regularly as we do today. As for a woollen dress or doublet and hose, those might never be washed. Mud on your clothes would be left to dry and then brushed off. Your own and other people's smell would be a part of your life.

So, because of the fascinating 'big picture' of the 16th and 17th centuries, the politics, the power struggles and the lives of ordinary folk struggling to survive which contrast hugely with the lives of the wealthy, I can't get enough of the Tudor period.

Would I swap it for the 21st century? Yes, because I would love to see and experience and smell life as it was lived – but for one day only. I value my health too much to linger longer.