Welcome back to your source for Tudor clothing and accessories with a touch of whimsey and silliness!

Episode 82: Tudor Chroniclers

Episode 82 of the Renaissance English History Podcast is on the Tudor Chronicles. In part because of the rise of humanist thinking, and the printing press, the 16th century saw a huge increase in the number of chronicles, as well as the types of chronicles written. Here are the links, and the transcript is below.

(Remember, if you like this show, there are two main ways you can support it. First (and free!) you can leave a review on iTunes. It really helps new people discover the show. Second, you can support the show financially by becoming a patron on Patreon for as little as $1 episode. Also, you can buy one of my journals, planners, or virtual tours!)

Book Recommendations:
Tudor Historical Thought by F. J. Levy

The Brut Chronicle

Thomas More on Richard III

Vergil’s Anglica Historia

Roger Ascham The Schoolmaster

John Rastell

Full text of Hall’s Chronicle


Holinshead Chronicles

Simon Forman on Going to a Play in Shakespeare’s London

John Stowe Survey of London

Charles Wriothesley’s A Chronicle of England during the reign of the Tudors

William Camden – a life in context

Read the Diary of Henry Machyn online here

16th Century Chronicle to 21st Century Edition: A Review of The Diary of Henry Machyn

Henry Machyn – Article by Ian Mortimer


Show Transcript

(Remember, if you like this show, there are two main ways you can support it. First (and free!) you can leave a review on iTunes. It really helps new people discover the show. Second, you can support the show financially by becoming a patron on Patreon for as little as $1 episode. Also, you can buy one of my journals, planners, or virtual tours!)

Hello and welcome to the Renaissance English History Podcast. I’m your host, Heather Teysko, and I’m a storyteller who makes history accessible because I believe it’s a pathway to understanding who we are, our place in the universe, and connecting more deeply with our own humanity and the other humans with whom we share the planet.

This is episode 82, and it’s on Tudor Chronicles and Historians.

What did people who lived during the Tudor Times write about their own history, and how did they want their history to be remembered? We’re going to look at that through the lens of a few famous chroniclers and antiquarians from the Tudor period.

First though, some admin. This podcast is a part of the Agora Podcast Network, and I invite you to check out the Agora Podcast Network website at AgoraPodcastNetwork.com to find more great history podcasts, as well as some great ones that aren’t history. Second, I am so lucky that I have some amazing patrons. Thank you to: Kathi, Juergen, Elizabeth, Cynthia, Judith, Kayleigh, Kathi, Christine, Annetta, Kandice, Rebecca, Al, and Sandor. I love you all, and if you want to join the list of people I love, you can do so by sponsoring the podcast through my Patreon page for as little as $1/episode. Go to patreon.com/nomadchick for more info.

(I told you before how I took on the moniker nomadchick, right? It was this website I wanted to start way back in 2001 before web 2.0 and facebook and home exchange, and all of it, and it was going to be for single women, like I was then, who wanted to find travel partners, or travel on their own, and get information and support in doing that. Since then, nomadchick has become my alter ego, so even though I’m 41 and a mother, I’m still always going to be nomadchick at heart. Anyway, so Patreon.com/nomadchick will get you to the right place.)

AND FINALLY – have you signed up for the Tudor Summit yet? Yes, you heard me, the Tudor Summit! What *is* the Tudor Summit, you ask? It’s a two day online event where I’m gathering some of the leading historians, bloggers, and podcasters on Tudor history to give talks on their particular subject area. And it’s completely free for you to sign up and watch the event, which will be available online on September 3 and 4. Check out TudorSummit.com for more information, and to sign up!

Okay, now on we go to Tudor Chroniclers.

In 1848 a book called The Diary of Henry Machyn was published in London, and it purported to be a chronicle of events in England between July 1550 and August 1563. This wasn’t unusual – during the mid 19th century several journals from this period were published. But the other ones were by people who were already known to historians, like John Dee or Simon Foreman. Henry Machyn provided a puzzle. Historians only knew of him from this 19th century work. Was it for real, or was it just a literary device? That, is the mystery, and I’ll talk about it in a bit.

But by way of introduction, what made Tudor chroniclers so special, and why am I doing an episode on them? Here’s why. The spread of humanist thinking, as well as the printing press, means that for the first time, in the 16th century, we see the birth of historical thinking. The chronicler of the mid 15th century, who was firmly medieval, didn’t seem to have any concept that the past was in any way different than the present. It was as if all time just was, forever and ever, life everlasting, amen. Chroniclers wrote down events to reveal morality, to talk about these grand lessons from God, and to write how one side or another was favored, or punished by God. Look at Bede as an example of this. It was during the 16th century that we start to see the understanding of the concept that the past was different than the present. Also, the idea that society was made up of people, and that citizens should be engaged, began to take hold out of the rise of humanism.


Partially this came out of the great changes of the 16th century with the Reformation. The church was no longer just one continuous unchanging organism. There was the Church Before, and the Church After. And as humanists were so interested in the classical period, they began to look at Rome and Greece not just from the writing of events, but looking at objects and evidences of events the way we would today. They looked for evidence of the Roman roads in England, of coins, of inscriptions. They began to see the value of these artifacts. This was an entirely new way of thinking and looking at the past. Because humanists believed that education was so important as well, it became the job of the humanist to get these new ideas out into the world, and thus were born the amazing Tudor Chronicles. These Chronicles then directly led to the History Plays of the late Elizabethan theater. The idea of writing the past had gone from being an activity for a solitary monk, designed to teach people morality, to being a popular event, a day out at the theater, and learning to understand ones’ place in the world, which is, incidentally, what I’ve been saying at the opening of this podcast for several years.

So let’s look at where things are at the start of the 16th century. One of the first pieces that Caxton published was the Brut Chronicle which was a medieval chronicle with events dating from the 13th century. Chronicles like this were meant to be read by wealthy educated merchants and landed nobility who wanted to read a general history. Records like the Brut Chronicle are simply contemporary records of the past with no analysis. Within just a few decades we start to see people writing commentary on events that link current situations to the past. By the end of the 16th century, leading antiquarians and chroniclers formed the Society of Antiquaries which is still in existence today.

There are too many chroniclers to talk about in a single episode, and I urge you to check out this episode’s show notes for full links to all my sources. Many of these chronicles are freely available to read online thanks to the magic of the Interwebs, and I have links up.

So now that we’ve set the stage, I’m going to pick three particular chroniclers to talk about. Edward Hall, William Camden, and John Stowe. Those of you who read a lot from this period will chastise me for leaving out Polydore Vergil, for example. Again, check the show notes.

Edward Hall was a lawyer and Member of Parliament, and he is most famous for his he Union of the Two Noble and Illustre Families of Lancastre and Yorke, commonly known as Hall’s Chronicle published in 1548, a year after Hall died.

Hall’s Chronicle begins in 1399 with the ascension of Henry IV, it follows through the Wars of the Roses, and it continues until the death of Henry VIII in 1547. Hall is a major source for Shakespeare’s history plays.

Hall writes about Richard III in the way a proper Tudor would – writing in a propagandist way calling him a usurper and legitimizing Henry VII’s overthrow of him. He does talk about the sadness and foreboding that Richard felt before Bosworth, which is dramatised in Shakespeare’s play when Richard loses his spirit right before the battle. Hall sees the monarchy as this ongoing line, directed by God, culminating in the Tudor dynasty.

Here’s a passage he wrote on monarchy.

“This prince was almost the Arabical phoenix, and amongst his predecessors a very paragon. For that he amongst all governors chiefly did remember that a king ought to be a ruler with wit, gravity, circumspection, diligence, and constancy, and for that cause to have a rule to him committed not for an honor, but for an onerous charge and daily burden, and not to look so much on other men’s livings as to consider and remember his own doings and proper acts. For which cause he, not too much trusting to the readiness of his own wit nor judgments of his own wavering will, called to his council such prudent and politic personages the which should not only help to ease his charge and pain in supporting the burden of his realm and empire, but also incense and instruct him with such good reasons and fruitful persuasions that he might show himself a singular mirror and manifest example of moral virtues and good qualities to his common people and loving subjects. For it is daily seen that a vicious prince doth much more hurt with his pernicious example to other than to himself by his own peculiar offence.

Such a governor was King Richard the Second, which of himself being not of the most evil disposition, was not of so simple a mind, nor of such debility of wit, nor yet of so little heart and courage but he might have demanded and learned good and profitable counsel, and after advice taken, kept, retained, and followed the same. But howsoever it was, unprofitable counselors were his confusion and final perdition. Such another ruler was King Edward the Second, which two before-named kings fell from the high glory of Fortune’s wheel to extreme misery and miserable calamity. By whose infortunate chance, as I think, this King Henry being admonished, expulsed from him his old playfellows, his privy sycophants and ungracious guard as authors and procurers of all mischiefs and riot, and assigned into their places men of gravity, persons of activity, and counselors of great wit and policy. . . .”

Next up we have William Camden, born in 1551, who became the first chronicler to write a history of Elizabeth’s reign. He was a Londoner, and studied at Oxford, becoming a teacher and spending all of his leisure time to antiquarian studies. He started his Britannia, which was published in 1586, and is a survey of England written in Latin. He wanted to write a full history of England, and in 1607 he began his Annales Rerum Anglicarum et Hibernicarum Regnante Elizabetha (Annals of the Affairs of England and Ireland during the Reign of Elizabeth).

He published the first volume, which goes up until 1588, in 1615. The next volume covered the period from 1588 until Elizabeth’s death. Most historians use Camden now as a major source for information about Elizabeth’s reign.

During his travels he discovered roman coins in England, and was the first person to study the impact of the romans in terms of place names and coinage. He died in Chislehurst in November 1623, and is buried at Westminster Abbey. His monument incorporates a demi-figure of Camden holding a copy of the Britannia, and can still be seen in the south transept.

I’ll read to you now his description of the defeat of the Spanish in one of the battles of the Armada:
“In the meantime Drake and Fenner played hotly with their ordnance upon the Spanish fleet that was gathering together again over Gravelines, and they were presently joined by Fenton, Southwell, Beeston, Crosse and the Lord Admiral himself, Lord Thomas Howard.

The Spaniards got clear of the shallows and sustained a charge as much as they could since their ships were much torn and shot throughout.

The galleon Santa Matteo was taken, and the whole Spanish fleet most grievously distressed all the day long.””

Finally, I’m going to talk about John Stowe.

In 1598 a very old man decided to write a history of his changing city, a snapshot of a city that was going through enormous transformation, and he wanted to capture the city he knew as a younger man for posterity.  The man was called John Stowe, and the city was London, and the Survey that he wrote provides historians with much of what they know about life in the late 15th century.

John Stow himself was born about 1525 in Cornhill in the City of London and was a tailor by trade, though he began writing about history in 1561.  He saw the task of capturing a changing England almost as a mission:  “I, seeing the confused order of our late English Chronicles and the ignorant handling of ancient affairs, leaving mine own peculiar gains, consecrated myself to the search of our famous antiquities.”

At the beginning of the 16th century London was a small city of about 50,000 people, though throughout that century it would transition into a modern and diverse city.  It had quadrupled by the end of the century.  The city was much more cosmopolitan than we imagine, with a population of black people large enough to be considered “too many” by some.  In one parish alone, “St. Botolph’s outside Aldgate,” there are French and Dutch immigrants, a Persian, several Indian, and one “East Indian” (Bengal).

Stow, born before there was any Church of England, when the English church followed the Pope’s rulings, and when King Henry was still the Defender of the Faith, saw a huge amount of change in his long life.  He saw his city turn from a medieval backwater town in Europe that was still reeling from the dynastic Wars of the Roses in the 15th century, to becoming a major cosmopolitan city.

And he chronicles his city in such detail that we can picture it completely.  The entirety of the 1603 edition is freely available online, and in reading it we get a complete biography of London starting with an overview of the city, then the geography including the rivers (he laments that one creek – Walbrook – is now covered over by streets and its path runs underground so no one really is aware of it any longer).  He also adds in his own personal commentary.  In the same chapter on the creeks and rivers of London, he has a section entitled:  Fleete dike promised to be clensed; the money collected, and the Citizens deceiued in which he talks about an event in 1589 when the Council allotted a thousand marks to be collected and draw upon the springs from the Hampstead Heath to bring fresh water to “all places of want.”  But the money was spent and apparently the experiment failed, and now things were worse than ever before.

Before discussing each of the wards, Stow gives background information on customs and pastimes of Londoners.  We learn that the chief activities are plays, ball play, cock fighting, shooting, leaping, dancing, wrestling, fighting of boars, baiting bears and bulls, and “exercises of warlike feats on horseback with disarmed lances.”  We learn that after dinner all youths go into the fields to play ball, even scholars of each school.  The old and wealthy men of the city come out to watch the young men playing, and every Friday in Lent a fresh company of young men comes into the field on horseback and the best horseman conducts the rest.   Then the Citizen’s sons, and other young men march with disarmed lances and the practice feats of war.  He then describes what the activity looks like, and how you win or lose.  It’s so clear that I can clearly imagine Finsbury Fields bright and bustling with these games.

Stowe then goes through each ward and the suburbs, including Southwark and Westminster, discussing the notable homes in each, who lived where, the history of who had owned the homes, and what the streets were like.  He talks about the gallery of Whitehall, the tennis courts, and parks.  Each ward is thoroughly dissected, its history, customs and activities discussed.

But there is often the air of, “I’m an old man and my city is changing and I don’t always like it” with him.  In the early section on rivers and brooks, he laments how in the past there were so many fresh brooks and waters in the suburbs, which are now decayed.

If you live in London, or you love London, you should really read this book to get a picture of the vibrancy of the city almost five hundred years ago.  I link to it in the show notes.

So that concludes the three chroniclers I was going to talk about. But what of our opening story? What about Henry Machyn? Well, he was real. But only one fact has been published about Machyn’s life: that he was buried in the autumn of 1563, which is also the last year recorded in the diary.12 The initial source of this information was a church plaque describing him as “Taylor and Clerke of the parishe and Clerke of Trinity the Less.”

Here’s a sample from this week in 1553 as Mary I rode triumphantly into London after the rebellion of Lady Jane Grey
[The iij day of August the Queen came riding to London, and so to the Tower; making her entrance at Aldgate, which was hanged,] and a grett nombur of stremars ha[nging about the said gate;] and all the strett unto Ledynhalle and unto the [Tower were laid with] graffvell, and all the crafts of London stood [in a row, with] ther banars and stremars hangyd over ther heds. Her grace cam, and a-for her a M1. velvet cotes and [cloaks] in brodere, and the mar of London bare the mase, and the erle of Arundell bare the sworde, and all the trumpets [blowing]; and next her my lade Elssabeth, and next her the duches of Norffoke, and next her the marqwes (fn. 11) of Exseter, [and other] lades; and after her the aldermen, and then the gard with bowes and gaffylens, and all the reseduw departyd [at Aldgate] in gren and whyt, and red and whyt, and bluw and gren, to the nombur of iij M1. horse and speres and gaffelyns.

I hope that this episode has inspired you to read some of these chronicles and discover the vibrant way that people were talking about their history during this time period. Like I said, head on over to Englandcast.com for the show notes and get links to most of these freely available online. Also, while you’re there, check out the Tudor Summit, and sign up for that, and remember you can support this show through Patreon at Patreon.com/nomadchick. The book recommendation is Tudor Historical Thought by FJ Levy, and I have a link to that on the site as well. I’ll be back next time with the Tudor Times interview, and then I’m going to do another unit on food and dining manners. So stay tuned for that. Thanks so much for listening, and I’ll speak with you soon!

(Remember, if you like this show, there are two main ways you can support it. First (and free!) you can leave a review on iTunes. It really helps new people discover the show. Second, you can support the show financially by becoming a patron on Patreon for as little as $1 episode. Also, you can buy one of my journals, planners, or virtual tours!)