At this year’s Essex Book Festival, one of the events which caught my eye was Alison Weir, the noted historian, giving a talk on Katherine of Aragon at Layer Marney Tower near Tiptree. I was immediately drawn to this not only because I have a long-standing interest in the Tudors, but also because Layer Marney Tower is itself a beautiful Tudor building, where Elizabeth I was once a guest.
When the evening for the talk came, I was not disappointed. We arrived after darkness had fallen, and the setting was beautifully rural: when we got out of the car I could hear the bleating of sheep and see the pinpricks of stars through the naked tree branches. Then I almost fell into a cattle grid, which made me feel less favourably inclined towards the countryside.
Inside the venue there was a lively atmosphere; a buzzing bar was stocked with drinks and there was a table stacked with the author’s latest books. We made our way into a great hall with oak panelling, rich red curtains and a magnificent Tudor fireplace. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the place was almost full and I was forced to squeeze into a seat right at the back; I had no idea there were so many fellow history nerds willing to give up their Thursday nights for a talk like this!
The talk certainly deserved the high turnout: Alison Weir was an engaging and eloquent speaker. She spoke primarily about her latest book, ‘Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen’, the first in a series of six novels told from the perspectives of Henry VIII’s wives and based strongly on historical evidence. Weir explained the history and thought process behind the novel, occasionally interspersing this with dramatic readings. This was followed by questions, one of the most inventive being, ‘Where do you think Katherine’s favourite place to visit in England would have been?’ It was lovely to see how excited and interested everyone was by the book, and it was certainly a wonderful experience to learn about Tudor history in a room where Tudor people had once eaten, danced and laughed. As the floorboards creaked, I almost expected to see a lady in a long gown and hood appearing in the doorway.
If you ever get the chance to attend a talk by Alison Weir or fancy a trip to Layer Marney Tower, I would strongly recommend both!