Student and avid history fan, Emma Casson, is 18 years old and lives in the Netherlands. She contacted us as she wanted to share her experiences of learning about the Tudors and what she feels could be done to help history to flourish in the modern education system. Over to Emma...
“Divorced, beheaded and died. Divorced, beheaded, survived.” Perhaps you know this song. It was my first introduction to the Tudors. In the Netherlands, we don’t really learn about the war of the roses or the rivalry between Elizabeth the first and Mary, Queen of Scots. So this song my English teacher taught me was the only thing I ever learned about the Tudors at school.
I didn’t think much of it and I soon forgot about Henry the 8th and his six wives. Until one day when I was scrolling through Netflix. I came across a film called ‘The other Boleyn girl’. I decided to watch this film and quickly became so intrigued by this dynasty. Days became weeks and all I did was look up every bit of information I could find about Anne Boleyn and Henry’s other wives. A true obsession with these interesting people began. For the first time, I loved history. Whilst at school, I had a strong dislike for it and failed almost every exam.
Teaching myself everything I know about the Tudor kings and queens was great because I was never tested or graded on my knowledge. I had the ability to read and watch what and when I wanted to. Maybe that is my secret to actually liking history. You have to look for that one thing you truly find interesting. For me, it is the strong, fascinating and wise people. They are human and just like us, yet they wore a crown or died because of one. Every once in a while I would choose one person and try to figure out everything there is to know about them. One week that was Elizabeth of York and the other Katherine Howard. Slowly I began to understand how the Tudors became the rulers of England. I have never met Anne Boleyn, nor do I know what exactly she looks like. Yet I know so much about her.
So I found an interest in the Tudor dynasty and taught myself what I know by reading books, watching documentary’s and visiting castles. The real question is: How can you make this part of history interesting for the people at school who have to endure the way kings and battles are portrayed? There is not one simple answer to this question, but we can make it easier for everyone to understand. See, during my history lessons, I was taught by someone who would just read from our history textbook. He didn’t tell stories that make you sit on the edge of a chair and have a thrill listening to. That is what we should do in my opinion. Teach the young people at school in a way that makes history great and relatable, because it is. Anne Boleyn, for example, was a real person and had real feelings, just like you and me. Too often, people in history are just a name on a piece of paper. We should embrace their true personality. Give these people a face and story. Someone we can relate to and feel sympathy for.
Nowadays that face is given to historical figures by films and TV shows for example. I could easily name at least 5 TV shows that have something to do with the Tudors. These shows are obviously not as factual as the real story, but it’s a great way to get young people interested. This is not the way to teach at school, of course. The most important thing is that the teacher has to love history themselves, which is quite likely if you are a history teacher. Maybe there could be lessons where there is a personal story being told or shown what people used to eat and wear back in the days for example. These things are what you see on the shows. People have to feel real to be able to be interesting. The best memories of history at school I have were of a teacher I had when I was 14 years old. She would talk about kings and queens by giving them a great story. She explained, showed us videos and made me want to know more and more. That is what would make Tudor history more interesting for young people. Giving kings like Henry the 7th or queens like Catherine of Aragon a story and a face. The Tudor dynasty is quite complicated, but maybe by doing these things we could all gain just some slight love for a most interesting period in British history.