Tudors, towers, turrets and dragons


Earlier this year my daughters’ school topics overlapped with the elder studying the Tudors and the younger learning about castles and fairytales. As we love an historical topic in this house we got involved at home, too. Here are some of the ways we have enjoyed learning more and some other suggestions, too:

  1. Visit some Tudor sites or castles. We are spoiled for choice here in South London, just a relatively short distance from all sorts of interesting Tudor places to visit. Both girls went on school trips to the Tower of London which were excellent although my elder daughter did not enjoy the torture and punishment tour! I am sure a fair few of her classmates did, though! The equally epic Hampton Court Palace is also nearby and we had an excellent boat-ride there along the Thames from Richmond a few years back. Hever Castle, childhood home of Anne Bolyen is a fantastic day out, incorporating the historical castle with beautiful gardens, amazing play areas and a boating lake. Close to us we also have Carew Manor and Whitehall in Cheam which are much cheaper options for a Tudor-themed outing (in fact, the former is now a school and not open to the general public but can be viewed from the road). Of course, if history had turned out a little differently we might also have still had the once fabulous Nonsuch Palace on our doorstep, too! There is a very useful book called A Visitor’s Companion to Tudor England by Suzannah Lipscombe which lists significant Tudor sites to visit all around England so you can be sure to find somewhere to go and see. A word of warning: it’s not a children’s book and some of the descriptions of the fates that befell certain unfortunate Tudor residents are very graphic and upsetting and so not for younger reads (beware the section on Chartwell in particular!). I have listed suggestions of castles to visit in my previous post on Medieval times but there will obviously be different options open to you depending on where you live. Lots of palaces, castles, houses and other sites often have family- and children’s-events going on at weekends and holidays so it is sometimes worth planning ahead to coincide your visit with one of those.
  2. Make a castle cake. Okay, this is one we haven’t done (yet) but it was one of the homework options for my daughter’s castle topic-work and lots of children (and their mums!) made some fantastic castle cakes and biscuits. It’s up to you and your child how much accurate castle information you work into your iced creations but even if you end up with something more suitable for Barbie or Mike the Knight to live in than Henry VIII it will still be fun and inspirational. You could always look at together at some of the wealth of castle books around before you start to feel like you have done some historical research.
  3. Watch TV! A quick scan of iPlayer’s history programmes usually reveal some good Tudor- and castle-related options although parental guidance is always recommended as these programmes are made for adult viewers unless they are Horrible Histories. My daughters recently enjoyed Lucy Worsley’s Six Wives on the BBC.
  4. Make Tudor jewellery or crowns. My previous post on the jewellery my daughter made tudors-009for her school project would be difficult for a much younger child but a quick glance at the internet for inspiration will give you lots of ideas for simpler pieces. Even cardboard and gem stickers should produce a beautiful crown, pendant or brooch. Time Traveller Kids has a how-to-make Tudor pomanders which gives opportunities for learning about tudors-007plague, hygiene and medicine in Tudor times.
  5. Dress up. A princess dress can fairly easily be adapted into a Tudor costume with a lot of imagination and suspension of disbelief especially if you wear some home-made Tudor jewellery. A quick search of the net shows you how to make a cardboard tabard, shield, etc. for a knight. Obviously if you are prepared to spend out a bit of money you might be able to find a slightly more authentic outfit at a party shop, historic site gift shop (these are usually really dear!) or somewhere like TX Max. You might even be able to find a second-hand one left over from some else school dressing-up day if you look on eBay or charity shops. Alternatively, many historical places to visit now have opportunities for children to dress up. My daughter was able to dress up in authentic Elizabethan costume at The National Archives and at Buckland Abbey near Plymouth, home of Sir Francis Drake, our whole family were inveigled into dressing up in Tudor costume by the National Trust Costume Group who operate from there and make Elizabethan costume with traditional methods and materials. There are also opportunities for children to dress up in the house itself and to try Elizabethan games and find out a lot more about life in that era.early-2017-066
  6. Take photos! Once you have dressed up a really fun idea is to make a photo story with your children (and maybe you?) as the stars or to write a story and use photos as the illustrations. My younger daughter chose making a book as her homework for her castles and fairytale topic. She wrote a story about a princess, a dragon, a witch and a fairy and the whole family were persuaded to join in, taking the different roles. Guess who got to be the witch?! My daughters really loved doing this project because it involved dressing-up, acting and story-telling all rolled into one. They also got to see their daddy dress up as a fire-breathing dragon and their mummy being a witch. What more could they ask for?
  7. Throw a Tudor banquet. At school my daughter’s teacher brought in vegetable soup (‘pottage’), apple juice (‘cider’) and fruit cake. You can be as simple or as elaborate as you like. Bread was a staple so an artisan loaf from a local bakers or even a supermarket might help set the scene, along with meat (unless it’s a Friday!), cooked vegetables and some sweet items. Time Traveller Kids has a tutorial on how to make Tudor marchpane sweets which looks very easy with an impressive-looking finished product and we might well have a go at half-term.
  8. Make a cardboard castle or Tudor house. Enough boxes, loo rolls and paint can produce a very satisfying castle which can then be used for playing knights and other games if you make some little paper dolls or buy some plastic toys. At school my younger daughter made Tudor houses from boxes painted white with black wooden beams.
  9. Watch a play by Shakespeare, visit The Globe Theatre and learn more about The Bard. The Globe runs a Shakespeare’s Telling Tales event every summer especially for children. We went to a fantastic A Midsummer Night’s Dream workshop last summer with Marcia Williams where the children were shown how to create comic strips to tell their own versions of the play. Marcia Williams is enthusiastic and approachable and we all enjoyed it so much. We then spent time hanging out in the Bottom’s Book Market where the were authors reading stories (we heard Polly Faber reading from her Mango and Bam-Bam books and then we ended up buying two of them…), a The Tempest story-telling tent, opportunities to colour your own characters, pop-up performances and a stall run by Tales on Moon Lane.
  10. Read! Some of our favourite books about the Tudors:
  • Eliza Rose by Lucy Worsley. My daughter loves this book about a maid of honour at the court of Henry VIII and her cousin, Henry’s current, doomed wife, Katherine Howard.
  • The Lady Grace Mysteries by Grace Cavendish. These are a series of mysteries set at the Elizabethan Court and starring Elizabeth I’s favourite maid of honour. My daughter has read all of these and while they are historical fiction rather than factual books they give a flavour of the era and what it was like living in those times and circumstances.
  • Usborne Dolly Dressing Tudor Fashion and Tudors Sticker Book by Emily Bone. These are always a fun option for wet days, journeys, waiting rooms and so on.
  • I am also keen to try this Tudor Fashion to Colour by Emily Bone and Rosie Hore.
  • Usborne Tudors and Stuarts by Fiona Patchett. The Usborne history books are always informative and easy to read. My daughter has read this innumerable times.
  • The Tudors: Kings, Queens, Scribes and Ferrets by Marcia Williams. Marcia Williams’ comic strip books are very popular in this house and my daughters have both really enjoyed this new one.
  • 50 Things You Should Know About The Tudors by Rupert Matthews. The information in this book is split into fifty short sections about significant events and issues. Text is displayed in small boxes and there are lots of pictures so it’s easy to read and get an overview of the period.
  • If your child is a little older and a good reader they will soon have gleaned all the information available in children’s books. I found The Tudors: The Kings and Queens of the Golden Age by Jane Bingham in the adult history section of the library; it is readable but takes the information and knowledge on a little further.
  • There are several My Story historical fiction books about the period, inspired by real people and events. My daughter loves Elizabeth (My Royal Story) by Kathryn Laskey and there are more to choose from including Lady Jane Grey by Sue Reid; Bloody Tower by Valerie Wilding; Mary Queen of Scots by Kathryn Laskey; Katherine of Aragon by Alison Prince; Henry VIII’s Wives also by Prince; Anne Boleyn and Me by Alison Prince again; and To Kill a Queen by Valerie Wilding.
  • My younger daughter is now learning about pirates and exploration so we got her A 16th Century Galleon by Richard Humble and Mark Bergin. The illustrations are fascinating and the information given is sophisticated. She took it into class to show the other children and they really enjoyed looking at it.
  • DK Eyewitness Shakespeare: The fascinating life and times of history’s greatest playwright is a good introduction to, and overview of Shakespeare. It also comes with a free wallchart which is good quality and very large! My daughter also loves Where’s Will?: Find Shakespeare Hidden in His Plays by ‘Tilly’ and Anna Claybourne.
  • Time Travel Guide: The Renaissance by Anna Claybourne. This has lots of illustrations and good, solid information that opens up the era rather than just focusing on events in England. It provides a wider context with information about art, religion, politics and new ideas.



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