Last Saturday, I gave a lecture to teachers at the Historical Association’s free Continuing Professional Development day in York. The day focused on Teaching the Tudors, with workshops on teaching pedagogy and subject knowledge lectures.

Unfortunately, I didn’t arrive in time to catch Tracy Borman’s lecture on Henry VIII and the Men Who Made Him, so the first session I managed to get to was Using Miranda Kaufmann’s Black Tudors to refresh the teaching of the early modern world, by Kerry Apps and Joshua Garry. They noted that at community level, history is very popular among black audiences, but their academic involvement often doesn’t continue beyond A-level, as the curriculum is not empowering for people of colour.

Kaufman’s book takes a social history approach based on archival material: there are 360-400 people of colour in the Tudor period for whom we have sources. There is a wide geographical spread but most are in London or close to large ports.

Joshua studied history at university. He was fascinated by the Tudors but wanted to know where he fitted in. He only saw slavery which didn’t give him pride – but then realised there blacks here before the slave trade, and that slavery was illegal in Tudor England. He suggested several ways in which Black Tudors could be taught:

  • Introducing students to the black Tudors.
  • Brainstorm what you already know about black Tudors – often the answer is nothing. Then you can get them to think about why that is the case.
  • How did Tudors view the Africans?
  • Introduce key characters – who were they, why did they arrive, why are their stories significant? Note that they had talent and this makes a difference. This is empowering.
  • You can include some of the characters in more general teaching activities. By teaching the Mary Rose, you can throw in Jacques. Teaching Circumnavigation and Drake, you can throw in Diego.
  • Do you think racism by today’s standards existed in Tudor England? Or was more about religion.
  • Build on their work by a debate on to what extent were Africans free and accepted in Tudor England. Then write a short judgement.

Kerry had also always been interested it the Tudors, and colonisation. Her Year 7 curriculum very traditional, but she wanted to move away from the top down approach to demonstrate that the early modern world was a more connected world than we think. Her Year 8 is more about identity,  so  her students study witchcraft and Tudor exploration leading eventually on to the slave trade, to show that race becomes a ‘thing’ during the period.  She has decided to pepper the Black Tudors into a scheme of work about expansionism. 

She was happy to say that too many of her students now know about John Blanke the Tudor trumpeter to make him a big impact to start the course. Instead she uses the story of the Salcombe Treasure to link to the Moroccan delegation to Elizabethan England.  Her students are still surprised, though, to note that the Reformation hinges on a person of colour – the witness to Catherine of Aragon’s wedding night was her servant Catalina, a woman of North African descent. 

They had several aims with their teaching:

  • to widen the Tudor horizons,  placing English history in the wider world where it had links.
  • to break down myth that diversity only arrives with Windrush
  • to demonstrate that historical blackness doesn’t equate to slavery (slavery doesn’t arrive until codification in 1661 in Barbados)
  • to complicate approaches ahead of teaching slavery and abolition

The next session was my lecture: A History of the Reformation in 5 Ballads, which I will tell you more about next week.

After lunch, I went to Hugh Richards’ Making Sense of Sources at A level.  Hugh is subject leader for history at the fully comprehensive Huntington School in York. It is a research school, and one of the top 2% of country.

He started by asking the teachers to identify good things about sources at A level:

  • • Challenge
  • • Making them think
  • • Skills they have to use

And then the challenges:

  • • Comprehension
  • • Context
  • • Misconceptions
  • • Wrongful assumptions
  • • Accessibility and availability
  • • Creating exam style questions
  • • Turning thinking into something that the exam board actually want.

You will have noticed that the list of challenges was much longer than the list of good things.

Hugh argued that chronology is everything, so pedagogy needs to be intelligently based on a secure grounding in what happened when. They have to know about a topic before they can engage with sources successfully.

He suggested various ways of using sources, all based on the idea of sources as raw material.  He also suggested thinking in terms of lego rather than a jigsaw: a jigsaw puzzle makes a single picture, but primary sources are more like lego – you can arrange them in all sorts of ways depending on what you’ve got and what you are looking for.

Finally, he noted that English and history are the least objectively and reliably marked subjects at A-level.  A scary thought.

The final session was a lecture given by Professor Steven Alford of the University of Leeds on All his Spies: The Secret World of Robert Cecil. The title comes from a Ben Jonson play about spies, intelligencers, informers and tyranny. These were the buzz words of the late Tudor and early Stuart period.

A document from around 1597 called the Names of the Intelligencers is a list of Robert Cecil’s spies. They included lots of merchants and officials. The book for which it was the title page no longer exists, but it would have contained lists of payments and handlers. Another document which sits alongside it  dates from Cecil’s diplomatic mission to France in 1598. He left behind him a list of names of and payments to his key strategic intelligencers across Europe. He intended to make sure that any information coming in from these individual were properly dealt with in his absence.

Robert Cecil was part of a formidable father and son team. He was positioned by his father as a political heir.  Robert Cecil became the queen’s secretary 1595. His espionage network was of about 15 individuals who had a full system of secret communications, cyphers, payments, paid for by a budget of c£13,000 a year. The modern equivalent would be about 1000 times that.

Espionage was central to the 1590s and early 17th century. Information was key and was a kind of political currency.  The 1590s was a difficult decade and Professor Alford suggested that we could seriously a posit a late sixteenth century crisis  There are strains of war, conscription, financial problems, and the succession is fraught. In addition, there are all the social problems ofdearth, famine and plague. People are beginning to think in terms of politics as being necessarily unstable. In this situation, there is a claustrophobic sense to court culture. The court is full of danger, you need wary circumspection to keep an eye on the people around you. Dissimulation becomes key to understanding how court politics works. All of this speaks to anxieties about politics. Informants are dealing with the big problems, such as recusancy and Catholicism.  Cecil knew exactly what his intelligencers were like – he knew they took his money but didn’t always come up with the goods. But they were worth it.

From the end of the sixtenth century, those at court have to look to the future and have to start planning.  The secret correspondence between Cecil and James VI is the most incredible part of his career – its an almost solo effort on Cecil’s part. His first letter to James shows that he believes it necessary and permissible for the queen’s counsellors to do their own thing and keep their actions from the monarch, in the interests of the monarchy. It seems that he believes that it is too dangerous and destabilising not to do this, and that he is keeping her in the dark for her own good.

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