History publishers like a gimmick, so I assumed Suzannah Lipscomb’s A Visitor’s Companion to Tudor England (Ebury, £12.99) must be a cheeky rip-off of Ian Mortimer’s Time Traveller’s Guide series.
Not so. In fact this is a rich, meticulously plotted field guide to the surviving architectural treasures of Tudor England: the houses, fortresses, palaces and battlefields that were trodden by our most famous royal dynasty, from Westminster Abbey and Windsor Castle to Kett’s Oak and Burghley House (pictured).But it is more than just historical I-Spy. Lipscomb is an eloquent tour-guide, and each of her 50 destinations allows her deftly to unfold a different chapter of Tudor history.
The course she leads is hung on all sides with nuggets of information and pithy anecdotes. Here is an example of courtly toadying at its best: ‘When Elizabeth I visited Sir Nicholas Bacon’s house at Gorehambury in 1572, she remarked “My lord, what a little house you have gotten.” By the time she returned five years later, he had built a new wing.’
But there’s pathos, too. The saddest destination is humdrum old Broad Street in Oxford. It was here that Thomas Cranmer’s spirit was broken in 1555, as he watched Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer being burned to death in a ditch. Cranmer burned the next year.
How terribly Tudor.
As a pocket-guide to the dynasty of brutes, this is as good as it gets; even better, if you enjoy a chapter you can hop in the car and visit it. Now that’s entertainment.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated March 31, 2012Tags: Book review, Bookends, History