Wednesday, May 23, 2018

What did they wear in Ancient Rome?


History Extra


The Romans had a variety of clothes for everyday use, including simple tunics, mantles and cloaks (for men) and shawls and gowns (for women). Fine brooches were regularly worn in order to pin layers down and keep them in place.

 Trousers were considered a very ‘barbarian’ form of dress, and no self-respecting Roman male would be seen in anything that completely covered his legs. Loincloths, bandages and leather bands were used to support the nether-regions in the absence of briefs, pants or bras.

The most famous article of Roman clothing was the toga – a large semicircular blanket of woollen cloth wrapped around the body in such a way that it required the wearer to continually support it with their left arm. The toga was heavy, hot and impracticable, but as an emblem of civilian power it was an essential item of dress for all ceremonial, political or official occasions.

Dr Miles Russell is a senior lecturer in prehistoric and Roman archaeology, with more than 25 years experience of archaeological fieldwork and publication.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Was Henry VIII a good king?

History Extra


The success of Henry’s reign is mixed. Economically, England flourished, partially at the expense of countless monasteries and religious houses. But Henry was also a patron of the arts and humanist learning, and was a driving force behind an enthusiastic building campaign.

He also fortified England, building an impressive navy that would impact the reigns of Mary I and Elizabeth I. But it is perhaps his break with papal authority and his six marriages for which he is best known.

 The break with Rome arguably gave England a sense of national identity, and Henry’s numerous wives and matrimonial dramas have captured our imaginations.

Lauren Mackay is the author of Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the Life and Writings of the Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys (Amberley Publishing).

Monday, May 21, 2018

What is the oldest law in England?


History Extra


Habeas corpus is, indeed, one of the most distinctive features of English law and may well be the oldest in force. The law means literally “you shall have the body”, but in practice allows any court of law to demand that any person is brought before it. Historically it has been used to stop a person being held in prison unlawfully or without a fair trial.

 Habeas corpus is often said to originate in Magna Carta, signed by King John in 1215. The habeas corpus provisions in Magna Carta were codifying an already existing procedure that dates back to the 1130s and probably to pre-Norman England.

Although habeas corpus is still on the statute book, the version now in force dates from the amended Magna Carta issued by Edward I in 1297. The oldest formally written law still in force in England is therefore the Distress Act of 1267. This made it illegal to seek ‘distress’, or compensation for damage, by any means other than a lawsuit in a court of law – effectively outlawing private feuds.

Answered by Rupert Matthews, historian and author.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

How did Ancient Egyptians mummify a body?


History Extra


Egypt’s undertakers employed different mummification methods at different times. Here are details of the classic method, as used on Tutankhamun.

 The deceased was taken to the undertaker’s workshop soon after death. The body was stripped, laid on a sloping table, and washed in natron solution (a naturally occurring salt used both as soap and a preservative).

The brain was emptied out of the skull via a hole made through the ethmoid bone (the bone separating the nasal cavity from the skull cavity). Next, an incision was made in the left flank, and the stomach, intestine, lungs and liver pulled out. These organs were preserved so that they might be buried with the mummy.

With the finger and toenails tied in place, the corpse was packed inside and out with natron and left for 40 days, until entirely dry. The desiccated body was then washed, oiled and packed with linen to restore its shape.

Wrapping was a long and complicated process, as the undertakers employed a mixture of bandages, linen pads and sheets to give the mummy a life-like appearance, and a mixture of charms and amulets, distributed within the bandages, to ensure its protection. Finally, the wrapped mummy was placed in its coffin.

Dr Joyce Tyldesley is a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Manchester, where she writes and teaches a number of Egyptology courses.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Where, in Ancient Egypt, did people live?


History Extra


The thick mud deposited by the River Nile made an excellent building material. Mud-brick buildings are well suited to hot, dry climates, being cool in summer and warm in winter, so it is not surprising that the Egyptians built their homes and palaces from mud. They saved stone for the temples and the tombs they built in the desert.

 Mud bricks were cheap and easily available, so they allowed Egypt’s architects to experiment with large-scale structures that could be raised with surprising speed. Several kings founded cities which grew from nothing to fully functional in just seven or eight years. These cities included spacious elite villas with gardens, and more humble terraced housing for workers.

Throughout the Dynastic age the population was concentrated in the area around Thebes (modern Luxor: southern Egypt) and in the area around Memphis (today just to the south of modern Cairo). Today the settlements have almost all vanished – either dissolved into mud or crumbled to dust.

Dr Joyce Tyldesley is a senior lecturer in the Faculty of Life Sciences at the University of Manchester, where she writes and teaches a number of Egyptology courses. You can follow her on Twitter @JoyceTyldesley.

Friday, May 18, 2018

When did our kings and queens start using surnames?


History Extra


Monarchs in Britain have adopted second names such as ‘Fair’, ‘Ironside’ or ‘Harefoot’ since at least the ninth century...

 Although early British monarchs may have adopted second names, these were not hereditary and were more in the way of nicknames.

The Irish and Welsh rulers kept this system and did not adopt surnames. The first English monarch to use a hereditary surname was Edward IV. He used the surname Plantagenet to emphasise that he was descended from the elder branch of the royal family – unlike Henry VI who came from a younger branch.

The name Plantagenet refers back to Henry II who came to the throne in 1154. Although it had not been used in formal documents before Edward IV, it must have been in informal use during that period as it was clearly of practical benefit to Edward.

The first Scottish king to have a surname is generally said to have been John de Balliol, who gained the throne in 1292 after the death of Margaret, heiress to Alexander III. However, John’s surname was more of a title indicating his hereditary lordship, an objection that could also be made to Robert the Bruce (ruled 1306–1329). The first Scots king undeniably to have a surname was Robert Stewart (or Stuart) who gained the throne in 1371 and ruled for 19 years. His surname derived from the family’s traditional role as Stewards of Scotland.

This Q&A was answered by historian and author Rupert Matthews.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

What happened to Katherine Parr’s daughter, Mary Seymour, after her mother’s death?


History Extra


Following Katherine’s death a matter of days after Mary’s birth, the newborn’s father, Thomas Seymour, placed Mary in the household of his brother, the Duke of Somerset.

 But the brothers’ relationship deteriorated and as Thomas faced death for treason, he appointed the Duchess of Suffolk, Katherine’s close friend, as Mary’s guardian.

 The Duchess of Suffolk’s main estate was at Grimsthorpe in Lincolnshire and Mary moved there with her little retinue. Her guardian resented the cost of looking after Mary and petitioned William Cecil, then in Somerset’s household, for additional funds to support her. These were granted in autumn 1549, and in January 1550 an act of parliament restored Mary’s title to her father’s remaining property.

 There was, however, very little left. The Privy Council’s grant to Mary was not renewed in September 1550 and she never claimed any part of her father’s estate, leading to the conclusion that she died around the time of her second birthday.

 There is a story that Mary survived, cared for by the Aglionbys (a northern family who had once been clients of the Parrs), and married a courtier in the service of Anne of Denmark, queen of James I. In the absence of documentary proof, it seems far likelier that this tragic orphan died very young. 

Answered by Linda Porter, author of Katherine the Queen (MacMillan, 2010).