Academic claims the Tudor era is a misleading invention

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From the six wives of Henry VIII to the Spanish Armada, the so-called Tudor period has long been a fundamental part of history lessons in our schools.

But now an Oxford University academic has declared that the notion of a “Tudor era” is a misleading invention.

Dr Cliff Davies, a history tutor at Oxford’s Wadham College, scoured official papers, chronicles, poems, plays and pamphlets for the Tudor name and found that it was hardly mentioned at all in the 16th century. 

The term was barely used until the last years of Elizabeth I’s reign, and even then, only sparingly. Of the many poems written to mark the death of Elizabeth in 1603 and the accession of James I, only one talks of a change from a “Tudor” to a “Stuart” monarch.

Dr Davies is convinced that terms like “Tudor England” and “Tudor monarchy”, which are widely used by historians and in TV and film dramas, give a false impression of glamour and unity to the period from Henry VII to Elizabeth I. 

In his view, the idea that people saw themselves as living in a new distinct age after Henry VII came to the throne in 1485 is unwarranted. He argues that historians need to rethink many assumptions about 16th century England. 

“The word ‘Tudor’ is used obsessively by historians, but it was almost unknown at the time,” he said. “While the Tudor name was celebrated in Welsh language writings, it was considered an embarrassment in England. 

“There is very little distinctive or in common between the governments of Henry VII, Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, not to mention the brief reigns of Edward VI and Mary I.” The view of ordinary people as “Tudor men and women” is also confusing, added Dr Davies. 

“It gives a false sense of people identifying with their monarch,” he said. “The very term implies a degree of automatic loyalty, which is unwarranted. Periods are artificial constructions by historians. What makes the concept of the ‘Tudor period’ so seductive is that we believe it to have been current at the time. This was not the case and we need to revise our concepts.”


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