Terrific Tudor-themed days out for the Easter holidays

With Easter round the corner, loads of fantastic visitor sites across the country are starting to re-open, including many Tudor gems. Why not get out there with the kids and have some fun while (shock, horror) learning a bit of history too? If you read my latest book, you’ll know I’m a bit of a history geek and am a fan, in particular, of the Tudors. So, here are some of my favourite Tudor sites in England to inspire your Easter holiday trip ideas.

North and Midlands

Little Moreton Hall, Cheshire

Little Moreton Hall

Image credit: Christine-Ann Martin (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

I loved this place as a kid because it’s so higgledy-piggledy looking. Little Moreton Hall is a quintessentially Tudor building, with its wonky walls and black-and-white timbers on the outside. As with a lot of these old buildings, the fun for kids lies in spotting the little details as you walk around. You’ll find wolves and dragons carved into the wood and little messages left by the people who built the house, marking their work. It also has a fully restored Tudor-style garden where you can wander while the kids let off steam running around.

Ludlow Castle, Shropshire

Ludlow was a medieval castle defending the English border with Wales which then became an important royal residence in Tudor times. It was here that one of the most important events in British history took place, though few at the time would have guessed how important. Here, Prince Arthur, the older brother of King Henry the Eighth, fell ill while on honeymoon and died. Had this not happened, it is likely that the reformation of the English Church would not have happened. As it was, Henry, Duke of York then, became heir to the throne and married Arthur’s widow, Catherine of Aragon. Though now a ruin, the castle is still in good condition and gives you a good idea of what it would have been like in those days. It is also a fantastic place to run around pretending you are a knight (if the fancy takes you). The market town of Ludlow is itself a lovely place with a number of Tudor buildings to be seen, including the Feathers Hotel.

The South East

Penshurst Place, Kent

Penshurst Place

Image credit: GriffP (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

One of the most famous stately homes in England and used in the TV series Wolf Hall and the film ’The Other Boleyn Girl', Penshurst Place is a must-see. The very grand ‘Baron’s Hall’ inspired the great hall in my most recent book ‘Tudor Trouble’. What’s really fun for kids here is all the armour that lines the ‘Baron’s Hall and the ‘Nether Gallery’. The large grounds are a perfect place to burn off energy before going in the house and the Toy Museum a perfect carrot to encourage less enthusiastic day trippers.

The Mary Rose, Portsmouth

It’s not just about stately homes. In Portsmouth you can see the remains of one of Henry the Eighth’s own ships which sank during an attempted invasion by the French. The Mary Rose is fascinating as it has frozen the Tudor world in time for us. You can see the hull of the boat itself and also loads of the ship’s cargo which gives a unique insight into life almost 500 years ago. You can even see Tudor musical instruments and medical implements.


Hampton Court Palace, South-west London

The ‘top dog’ of Tudor mansions, Hampton Court was home to Henry the Eighth after he confiscated it from his former adviser Cardinal Wolsey. The Palace sprawls with various wings added over the centuries, but at its heart it remains a Tudor palace. You can even see the ‘real’ tennis court in which Henry the Eighth played. ‘Real’ tennis looks like serious fun - I’ll have to give it a go one day. During the Easter holidays this year, they’ll be running a number of Tudor-themed ‘plays’ (Tudor Encounters) where actors will re-enact events from the palace’s past. They often re-enact jousting tournaments too - a favourite pastime of Henry the Eighth and his court.

The Tower of London

The Tower of London from the River Thames

Image credit: Bob Collowân (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

The Tower of London is not simply Tudor and is always worth a visit for the amazing breadth of history it covers. That said, its Tudor links are very strong, from the royal residential buildings, completed under Henry the Eighth to the many grisly things that went on here. You can see the site on Tower Green where Henry had his second wife, Anne Boleyn, executed. You can also visit the White Tower, where, at the same time as Anne was being executed, many of those seen as opponents to Henry's religious reforms were held and tortured. The armoury is also full of Tudor items including Henry the Eighth’s own armour. The Tower of London is a very full day out - you probably won’t see it all.

Richmond Park, South-west London

Richmond Park is the old deer park of Elizabeth the First’s favourite residence, Richmond Palace. It is also where she died. As you potter around Elizabeth’s extensive grounds you may bump into the descendants of some of her deer. For great views back over London, head to King Henry’s Mound, so called because it was reputed to be the site where Henry stood to see a rocket fired from the Tower to signal that Anne had been executed. While the story is now seen to be pretty doubtful, the spot is definitely a great place to survey the city, ancient and modern (including as far as St. Paul’s Cathedral). You can still see the old gatehouse of Elizabeth’s palace on Richmond Green.

Hopefully that’s got you thinking about some fun trips for Easter. What will you do? Let me know what you’re planning in the comments below. Have I missed a cracking Tudor site out? Also, let me know in the comments below.

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Pete’s History Picks, 6th – 12th March

Hi everyone! Pete Tollywash, the best time-travelling schoolboy in Guildford, here with another selection of top events from this week in history.

March 6th, 1836

The Mexican army finally overcomes the Texans at the Battle of the Alamo

Apparently it looked something like this(?)

Image attribution: Robert Jenkins Onderdonk, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

My dad’s got this song called ‘Remember the Alamo’ sung by this old guy named Johnny Cash. Apparently this Alamo thing is a big deal to a lot of Americans, in particular Texans. Auntie Cheryl tells me that Texas was part of Mexico in those days, but a lot of the locals, including settlers from the US, were unhappy with the Mexican government and launched a rebellion, the Texas Revolution, in October 1835. The Mexicans weren’t too impressed with this - well you wouldn’t be if you were them. They were further annoyed by being defeated by the Texans in December 1835 at the siege of Béxar (I can see why). The Texans then took up position at an old Mexican fort - The Alamo - and prepared for a further Mexican attack. The Mexicans arrived on 23rd February 1836 and besieged the Texans who held out for 13 days. The 2,000-odd Mexicans finally defeated the 200-odd Texans with an assault on this day in 1836. The defeat encouraged the Texans to keep fighting (weirdos) and they defeated the Mexicans at the Battle of San Jacinto in April. They then declared the Republic of Texas.

March 7th, 1530

Henry VIII’s divorce request is denied by the Pope

As you may be aware, I met this Henry the Eighth bloke on my most recent time-travelling adventure - proper fatso. I met his second wife, Anne Boleyn, too. Henry had had quite a lot of trouble getting a divorce from his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, so that he could marry Anne. The Pope wasn’t having any of it and apparently that was a big problem in those days. But Henry, being Henry, decided if the Pope wasn’t going to give him what he wanted, he wouldn’t listen to him (I wish that would work with Mum). So, Henry told the Pope to get lost and said that from now on he, and not the Pope, would be supreme head of England's church.

March 10th, 1876

First telephone call made by Alexander Graham Bell to Thomas Watson

Alexander Graham Bell - what is with these guys from history and beards?

Image attribution: Moffett Studio, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Is this Alexander Graham Bell guy the reason old people say ‘I’ll give you a bell’ when they mean they’ll call you? Why would you bother calling anyone anyway when you can message them through your Xbox? But apparently in 1876 they hadn’t got round to inventing the Xbox yet, so they had to make do with inventing the telephone. It took Bell years to perfect his telephone and when he finally got it to work, what did he do on this day in history? He rang this Thomas Watson guy, who was a couple of rooms away to say, "Mr. Watson, come here. I want to see you.” Thank goodness we’re all using our phones for more useful stuff now.

March 12th, 538

Witiges, king of the Ostrogoths, ends his siege of Rome, leaving the city in the hands of the victorious Roman general, Belisarius

These Ostrogoth guys again. I first came across these guys when Auntie Cheryl told me about them when I was researching for a previous week’s article. Apparently they were pretty scary guys from what’s now Germany and nothing like the goth kids who hang around the newsagent up the road at night. This Witiges guy (not a particularly scary name) was King of Italy when this Belisarius invaded. He was sent by the Byzantine Emperor in Constantinople (now Istanbul) who claimed he was the Roman Emperor and rightful ruler of Italy (confused?). Belisarius soon took Rome, so Witiges came down to the old Roman capital from Ravenna, the new Ostrogothic capital of Italy. His siege didn’t last long and on this day, Witiges retreated to Ravenna. This day marks the annexation of Italy by the Byzantine Empire or the recreation of the Roman Empire (if you believe what the Byzantine Emperor, Justinian, says).

So there you have it. I hope you enjoyed this week’s edition. If you want to find out more about my own historical adventures, Barford’s offering a free ebook (what a generous guy). Just sign up to his email list and he’ll send it over to you.

Pete’s History Picks, 20th – 26th February

It's that time again when I hand my blog over to Guildford's foremost historical scholar (and only time-travelling schoolboy), Pete Tollywash, to take you through some key events that happened this week in history...

Thanks, Barford. Almost the end of February, so that means it’s time for me to pick out some more historical highlights from this week in history. The British and the French appear not to have been that friendly this week and Queen Elizabeth the First got herself into a bit of bother with the Pope (no surprise there, then). There were also two big book milestones this week as well. All in all, another busy week in history.

21st February, 1431

Joan of Arc’s first day of interrogation during her trial for heresy

Some French dude called Paul Delaroche thinks it might have looked like this.

Image attribution: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

I’ve mentioned this before, but England had an empire long before ‘The British Empire’, and it was a lot closer to home. The first ‘English Empire’ was in France and, unsurprisingly, the French weren’t too keen on it. You might have heard of this Joan of Arc person before, well apparently she was particularly unimpressed with the English Empire. She claimed to have had divine visions telling her to rise up and free France from the English. She told the King of France this and (after a while) he believed her and gave her troops to fight the English. Did I mention she was 17 years old? I reckon the King of France was clutching at straws a bit there. Anyway, she did all right for a bit against the English and won a few battles, but after two years she was captured. The English then accused her of heresy because she claimed God had told her to free France from the English. On this day her interrogation began. It didn’t go to well for Joan and she was eventually burned at the stake for heresy and witchcraft three months later, aged 19.

22nd February, 1797

The Last Invasion of Britain by the French, begins near Fishguard, Wales

As I said earlier, the British and the French weren’t the best of pals this week in history. This one ends a bit more comically than the previous one (no teenage girls getting burned at the stake). France planned to attack Britain in support of the ‘Society of United Irishmen’, a group who wanted an independent Ireland. They hoped to land a small army in South-West Wales and march on Bristol. They didn’t get very far, though. A hastily assembled group of local volunteers joined the soldiers stationed at Fishguard to stop the French. It is said the French were confused by the presence of women in traditional Welsh outfits (red coats and black hats), which they mistook for British redcoat soldiers. Believing Fishguard to be better defended than it was, discipline broke down among the French. There is a story that a local woman, Jemima Nichols, finding twelve French soldiers in her field, marched the men at ‘pitchfork-point’ to the local church and locked them inside. When reinforcements arrived, the French were in no fit state to fight and surrendered.

23rd February, 1455

Johannes Gutenberg prints his first Bible

Awesome beard! They'd love him in East London nowadays.

Image attribution: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Until his guy came along, copies of books in Europe had to be written out by hand. I just wouldn’t have bothered - I’d have just played Dragon Dancer on my Xbox instead (they didn’t have Xboxes then, Pete - Barford). It took Johannes Gutenberg many years of research and experimentation to create the first printing press in Europe. The first thing he printed was a poem (what a waste of time!) in 1450. By 1455 he had created a printing press that could print a whole Bible (that’s a pretty long book). The few copies that survive are thought to be the most valuable books in the world.

25th February, 1570

Pope Pius V excommunicates Queen Elizabeth the First and absolves her subjects from allegiance

Following my recent trip to Tudor times (see here for more info), I’ve found out this sort of thing happened a lot. It was Liz’s dad, Henry, or King Fatso as I like to call him, who had started the trouble with the Pope by telling him he wasn’t in charge of the Church of England anymore because Henry was going to be. The Pope called Elizabeth a ‘servant of crime’ and accused her of heresy (they liked doing that back then). He then concluded by saying that Elizabeth’s subjects didn’t need to listen to her. This just made things worse for the poor Catholics living in England…

26th February, 1848

Karl Mark and Friedrich Engels publish their ‘Communist Manifesto’

Karl - you'd better go to Johannes Gutenberg for beard advice.

Image attribution: Author unknown, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

I don’t really know what communism is, but apparently it was a very big deal in the twentieth-century, with people having revolutions to make their country communist and other countries fighting wars because they were afraid their country would become communist. It was a big geeky German guy with a huge beard called Karl and his wealthy factory-owning mate called Friedrich who started it all on this day 159 years ago...

I hope you enjoyed our little trip through this week in history. If you want to learn even more about the past, then sign up to Barford's mailing list. The generous old guy is giving away a free ebook all about one of my adventures in Roman Britain just for signing up!

See you next time.

Fantastic female role-models you’ve never heard of, No. 4 Hypatia of Alexandria

 Leading female philosopher whose death ushered in the end of the age of classical philosophy

You’ve heard of Plato? Socrates? Aristotle? Hypatia of Alexandria? Our modern image of a classical philosopher is of a bearded man in a toga. But not only was Hypatia of Alexandria a female philosopher. She was one of the most prominent of the late Roman Empire.

A 19th century imagining of Hypatia

Image credit: H. M. Paget, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


What? A female philosopher in Roman times?

As we hear so little about women in the classical world, it is assumed they always filled a subordinate role to men. This was not always the case and it was most certainly not the case for Hypatia. She was born in Alexandria, in the Roman province of Egypt, in around 350AD. She was taught philosophy, mathematics and astronomy, probably by her mathematician father Theon.

What was so great about her?

The fact she learnt these three disciplines was remarkable enough, but she was later sent away to the home of philosophy itself, Athens, to continue her education. Once she returned home, she became a teacher of philosophy, astronomy and mathematics herself. She was so well respected that in about 400AD she became the leader of the Neoplatonist school of Alexandria (these were the ‘modern’ followers of Plato’s school of thought).

So what happened?

As a well-known and highly educated woman in the classical world, Hypatia also faced a lot of prejudice and controversy. And this was to prove her undoing. In the year 415AD, a feud arose between the prefect of Alexandria, Orestes, and the its bishop, Cyril. The origin of the feud is unclear, but Hypatia somehow became involved. As a friend of Orestes and a highly intellectual woman, it is said that Hypatia was accused of witchcraft by some of the Christian followers of Cyril. When a riot broke out among followers of Cyril, their anger was turned on Hypatia and she was murdered by the mob. This is seen as a critical turning point in classical scholarship and the fortunes of Alexandria as it led to many scholars leaving the city. The city was still recovering from damaging attacks on its library in around 390AD. This new blow led to the decline of what had been one of the most, if not the most important seat of learning in the Roman Empire.

Want to find out more about Roman times? Sign up to my mailing list and you'll get a free ebook from my historical comedy series, 'Pete's Time-travelling Underpants'.

Pete’s History Picks, 6th – 12th February

Guildford’s finest historical scholar (and only time-travelling schoolboy, I think) is back to throw some more light on key events from history. Take it away Master Tollywash.

I’m back again to bring you my highlights from the events that took place this week in history. And it was a pretty hectic one. Two wars involving Russia began, Wales got its first English prince (bet it was well chuffed) and Henry the Eighth became head of the Church of England. In different years, of course. So, here we go.

6th February, 1508 - Maximilian I proclaimed Holy Roman Emperor

Maximilian I - He looks a laugh-riot

Image attribution: Portrait by Albrecht Dürer

Yeah, you read that right. Holy Roman Emperor. I always thought the Roman Empire ended a long time before that (well that’s what I thought I learned when I went back to Roman times on my first time-travelling adventure). Well, Barford says I’m right and he also says some clever French guy called Voltaire agreed with me too. He said 'the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire’. This Maximilian guy, however, would have disagreed with me (well he would, wouldn’t he). He claimed he was the inheritor of the Roman Empire and that it had never ended (no idea how he worked that out). He ruled what is now Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, a little bit of Italy and a little bit of Poland - not really heartlands of the Roman Empire. Barford says they also elected their emperors. All sounds a bit nuts to me.

Oh, yeah, also on this day, Queen Elizabeth the Second became queen. Barford assures me it wasn’t the same day but was in 1952. I have my doubts - she seems pretty old.

February 7th, 1301 - Edward of Caernarfon becomes first English Prince of Wales

So, apparently Wales had princes before this, but they were Welsh and Wales was totally separate from England. That is until King Edward the First decided he liked the look of it and invaded. He blamed the Prince of Wales, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd (yeah, no idea how you say that one), for starting it by not paying homage to him as King of England. Once he had defeated Llywelyn and taken Wales as English territory, he put his son, also called Edward, up to be the new Prince of Wales. There is a story that Edward the First told his new Welsh subjects that he would give them a prince born in Wales and who didn’t speak a word of English. As his son was a baby who had just been born in Wales this was kind of true. I hope that story is true. Seems like the kind of thing Edward the First would do. Anyway, on this day his son, Edward, became Prince of Wales and this is why the monarch’s eldest son (like Prince Charles now) has been the Prince of Wales ever since.

February 8th, 1904 - Japan attacks Russian ships in Port Arthur (now in China), starting the Russo-Japanese War

So, apparently Japan basically ruled Korea (the place that annoying K-Pop comes from) from the late-19th century until the end of World War Two. By 1904, they were worried that Russia was going to try and nick it off them, so they pre-empted the Russians and attacked them in a port they were renting off the Chinese (all a bit confusing, I know). This led to a war which Russia eventually lost and meant Japan’s control of Korea was confirmed. Until this point, the European powers, including Britain, France and the now defeated Russians hadn’t thought much of Japan. This gave them all a nasty wake-up call.

Woah! This looks mental and pretty scary

Image attribution: Le Patriote Illustré, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

February 11th, 1531 - Henry the Eighth recognised as supreme head of the Church in England

As you may know, I met this guy on my most recent time-travelling adventure (yeah, Mum still doesn’t know and let’s keep it that way). Because the Pope, who was in charge of the Church in England until this point, wouldn’t let him divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon, Henry decided he didn’t want to have to listen to him anymore. So he broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and said he was in charge now and could decide whether or not he divorced his wife. I’d love it if I could just tell Mum and Dad that I’m breaking away from the Tollywash family and that I will now decide whether or not I can have Haribo sweets and chocolate cake for dinner. My Auntie Cheryl (she’s a history teacher by the way), was telling me that this was one of the biggest and most important changes in British history. Even though she’s mad as a brush, she might be right.

The great fatso himself - I didn't call him that to his face.

February 12th, The Great Northern War begins between Denmark–Norway, Saxony and Russia and the Swedish Empire.

Before they got into flat-pack furniture and super-tasty meatballs, the Swedes were pretty scary guys. So scary in fact, that in 1700 the Russians were worried about them and decided they needed to gang up on them with help from two other states. So, on this day, over three hundred years ago, they all went to war. Now you’d think three against one would be a pretty easy fight, but those Swedes didn’t go down easily. It took 21 years for Denmark-Norway, Saxony and Russia to finally defeat them. This victory ended Sweden’s position as the most powerful state in the region and began the dominance of Russia.

I hope you enjoyed my latest look through history. If you want to find out more about my own historical adventures, Barford’s offering a free ebook (what a generous guy). Just sign up to his email list and he’ll send it over to you.

Fantastic female role-models you’ve never heard of: No.3, Kate Sheppard

Leader of the first successful campaign anywhere in the world to get women the vote

Kids need role models. But more than that, they need role models to whom they can relate. How many kids today can relate with rather stuffy looking middle-aged, wealthy white men with huge sideburns and whiskers? Yet these are often the people we hold up as role models and put on banknotes. I am doing my own little bit to try to address this by bringing you a new ‘fantastic female role-model you’ve never heard of’ each fortnight. Previous weeks have looked at the world’s first ever computer programmer (Ada Lovelace) and a mixed-race Brazilian composer (Chiquinha Gonzaga) who was wildly successful in her lifetime, but who is hardly remembered now. This week I’m going to look at a pioneer of votes for all (not just women) who made her country the first to give women the vote. But, no, she isn’t a Pankhurst and, no, it wasn’t in the UK. This week our 'fantastic female role model you’ve never heard of' is Kate Sheppard: the woman who made New Zealand the first country to give women the vote.

So who was Kate?

Kate in 1905

Image attribution: Author unknown, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Kate Sheppard was a Scouser, that is to say, she came from Liverpool in north-west England. She was born there in 1847, but moved to New Zealand as a young woman when her mother emigrated there after her father died.

What did she do then?

Once she arrived in New Zealand, she became part of something called the ‘Temperance Movement’. This movement encouraged people to drink less alcohol or stop drinking it all together. Very soon, though, through talking to other women in her group, Kate became interested in the idea of votes for women. For her it wasn’t simply a political subject, but a question of what was morally right. Kate said at the time, "all that separates, whether of race, class, creed, or sex, is inhuman, and must be overcome." She quickly became a popular speaker on the topic and organised many events.

Hold on a second, women couldn’t vote in New Zealand at this time?

Women couldn’t vote in general elections in any democratic country at this time. What Kate was talking about was hugely controversial and campaigners in other countries had been put in prison.

OK. So what happened with Kate?

A newspaper cartoon of the presentation of the 1893 petition to parliament.

In 1887, Kate helped with the creation of the first women’s suffrage (voting) bill. It wasn’t passed, but this only encouraged Kate to work harder and the following year she published a pamphlet entitled ‘Why the women of N.Z. should vote’. This helped to gain more support for the cause and in 1891 she led a petition which was presented to the New Zealand parliament. Again, it failed, but Kate kept going. She led another petition the following year which, again, failed. Undeterred, in 1893 Kate launched another petition and this time she gained support in parliament for another women’s suffrage bill. And this time, the bill was passed.

Kate didn’t have long to celebrate - the 1893 general election was ten weeks away and no women were registered to vote. Kate and her colleagues from the Temperance Movement toured around the country (believe me this isn’t easy even today) getting women to register. In the election two-thirds of women cast a vote, which is incredible, particularly when you consider turn-outs for elections in the UK these days.

Why’s Kate so important?

Kate's image on the NZ$10 note

Kate was the leader of the women’s suffrage campaign in New Zealand. Without her perseverance, her charisma and her flair for organisation, women would not have received the vote as early as they did. Not only that, but the successful campaign made her an inspiration for other women’s suffrage movements, including in the US and UK. She worked with campaigners in both countries, particularly in the UK where she returned briefly to live in 1903-4. Kate was not only the woman who got women the vote in New Zealand. She started the process that saw women in all the world’s major democracies receive the vote over the next thirty years.

I hope you enjoyed this latest delve into the history books. If you want to find out more about me and my books and GET YOUR FREE EBOOK, sign up to my mailing list here.

Pete’s History Picks, 23rd – 29th January

Hello again! I can’t believe another fortnight’s gone by. Well, here I am for another look at the things that happened this week in history. It was a busy week, what with emperors being assassinated, Australia kind of beginning (kind of) and the biggest empire in the world coming to an end. Oh yeah, and some annoying play which I’m having to read at school got performed for the first time. Anyway, without further ado, here’s my top picks from this week in history.

24th January, 41 AD

Claudius succeeds his nephew Caligula as Roman Emperor.

The emperor Cladius - what on earth is he wearing on his head?

This Caligula dude sounds mad as a brush. He was assassinated by his own bodyguards who had basically had enough of his crazy (although his government, the senators, were also in on it). Caligula’s crazy included claiming he was a god, regularly dressing up like different Romans gods and making his horse a priest with a plan to make him a consul (a really important political position). There are also claims that he even fed members of the audience to the lions at public games, because he was bored (well I guess that would liven things up a bit). Apparently the final straw for the senators was when he threatened to leave Rome and go and live in Alexandria in Egypt to be worshipped as a living god. The senators weren’t so fussed that the guy was clearly off his rocker. They were more bothered that if he left Rome, they would lose their political power. So, with his bodyguards they plotted his death. They then put his uncle Claudius into power, Apparently he wasn’t quite so amusingly crazy. But he did lead the conquest of Britain. By the way, apparently Caligula's name means ‘little boots’. He was nicknamed this as a little boy by the soldiers his father was in charge of because he used to wear a child’s soldier’s costume, including little boots.

26th January, 1788

Captain Arthur Phillip and British colonists hoist the Union Flag at Sydney Cove, New South Wales, now celebrated as Australia Day. Auntie Cheryl tells me that people in Europe didn’t really know Australia even existed until around this time. They didn’t have Google Earth to help them, I suppose. Some guy called Captain James Cook (not to be confused with Captain James Hook from Peter Pan) and his crew were the first British people to land in Australia (in 1770), but they weren’t the last. After Captain Cook there was a bit of a gap until some more Brits were sent to set up a penal colony (Auntie Cher says this is kind of like a prison). The plan was to send British criminals to the other side of the world so we didn’t have to worry about them anymore. The group sent to found the colony landed on 26th January, 1788 and claimed the land for the British crown. Soon after they founded Sydney. This day is now celebrated as Australia Day as it’s kind of when the modern country of Australia started to be formed.

27th January, 661

Rashidun Caliphate, then the largest empire in history, ends with death of Hasan Ibn Ali.

The Rashidun Caliphate - its inheritors would go on to expand the empire to the Pyrenees.

I’ve heard of caliphates on the news, because of some people called ISIS who want to make one. This Rashidun caliphate isn’t quite the same as the one that ISIS want to make, Auntie Cheryl says, as non-Muslims were allowed to continue to follow their own religion if they chose. This caliphate was ruled by men called ‘caliphs’, who were meant to be the leaders of all Muslims. It was created in about thirty years and grew bigger than the Roman Empire in that time. The caliphs were all men who had known the Prophet Mohammed, who was the founder of Islam, and saw it as their duty to spread the religion. This caliphate ended when the last of the Rashidun Caliphs, Hasan Ibn Ali, the grandson of Mohammed, was assassinated. A man called Muawiya, an enemy of Hasan, took over and founder the Ummayad Caliphate, which in another fifty years had spread their empire all the way to Spain!

28th January, 1807

London's Pall Mall is first street lit by gaslight This just seems mad. Burning gas in the middle of the street? Even I wouldn't do that.

29th January, 1595

William Shakespeare’s play 'Romeo and Juliet' is thought to have been first performed.

Load of old cobblers

So people have been suffering this rubbish for over four hundred years? I've been to Tudor times and even I can't understand the drivel this Shakespeare guy comes out with. They reckon that people first had to sit through this load of old cobblers about teenagers in love, people thinking people are dead, but they aren't and generally behaving like complete muppets on this day in 1595. The play wasn't actually published until 1597 though. So that's when they probably started forcing poor school kids to read it.

Top 5 weird eating habits from Ancient Rome

As the hero of my children’s time-travelling adventure series finds out, the Romans had a very different approach to eating compared to us modern types. Here are five of their strangest eating habits.

1. Oi! Use your fingers!

Did your mum ever tell you off for slouching at the dinner table or using your fingers? Well, she’d have hated dinner at a wealthy Roman house. Everyone lay on couches to eat and were quite happy to share a couch if guests turned up. They would lay one their sides propped up on one elbow while using their free hand to feed themselves.


Reconstruction of a Roman dining room (triclinium) in Munich Archaeological Museum

Image credit: Mattes (Own work), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

2. Stop eating like an animal.

If you didn’t have a lot of money (which meant the vast majority of people back then), your diet would be not much better than that of animals. Many Romans main food was millet, which was also fed to farm animals. This would often be boiled into a kind of porridge. If you were lucky it might be flavoured with a vegetable or two.

3. Fish pudding anyone?

The Romans used to flavour a lot of their cooking with a kind of fish sauce called ‘garum’. They loved it so much, they would even put it in sweet dishes, including fruit tarts.


Ruins of a garum factory in Southern Spain - bet it smelt lovely!

Image credit: Anual (Own work), Creative Commons BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

4. Pancakes for breakfast?

You may be forgiven for thinking our American cousins invented breakfast pancakes. Wealthy Romans would often eat a wheat pancake filled with dates and honey for breakfast (I might try that myself).

5. How do you want your dormice done?

One of the top culinary delights of ancient Rome was honey-coated dormice. The tiny rodents were a popular snack in many wealthy households and would often be kept alive in little dormouse warrens called a ‘glirarium’ to provide a fresh supply. The warm confined space would encourage the dormice to hibernate and fatten up!


A 'glirarium' at the Archaeological Museum of Chiusi - poor dormouse!

Image credit: Marco Daniele (Own work), Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

If you want to find out more about life in Roman times, be sure to sign up for my mailing list to get your free 'Pete's Time-travelling Underpants' ebook.

Pete’s History Picks, 9th – 15th January

9th January, 1909

Ernest Shackleton reaches furthest recorded distance south


Shackleton (second from left) and some fellow male models, probably taken by James Murray (1865–1914)

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Auntie Cheryl says this Ernest Shackleton guy is a British hero. He was an explorer who wanted to be the first person to get to the South Pole (90 degrees south). He didn’t make it, but he did get to 88 degrees, 23 minutes south - the furthest anyone had gone to date. The first person to make it to the South Pole was some Norwegian dude called Roald Amundsen (NOT the guy that wrote the awesome books - that’s Roald Dahl). 

10th January, 49 BC

Julius Caesar crosses the Rubicon, signaling the start of civil war

Auntie Cheryl tells me that there’s a saying “To cross the Rubicon”, which means you’ve done something from which there’s no going back. It comes from this Julius Caesar bloke, who was a Roman general who did the very naughty thing of crossing a river called the Rubicon with his army. This river marked the boundary between Cisalpine Gaul (where Caesar governed on behalf of the government in Rome) and Italy (where the government in Rome was in charge). This was treason and led to a civil war which Caesar eventually won. The rest, as they say, is history.

11th January, 1838

First public demonstration of telegraph message sent using Morse Code


Obviously Samuel Morse's new invention couldn't order him a coat that fitted.

Photograph by Mathew Brady, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Now I didn’t believe this one to begin with. People used to send messages to each other using beeps. They didn’t talk to each other. They didn’t send a text. They beeped. Well, this thing called a telegraph beeped. Apparently they didn’t have iPhones or Snapchat - how awful must that have been? Although Barford (the big loser) said it sounds like bliss. Anyway, I digress (Barford taught me that word). So, these beeps they used to send were called Morse Code and different combinations of beeps (long and short ones) meant different letters according to the code. On this day in Morristown, New Jersey, Samuel Morse (who invented Morse Code) and his mate Alfred Vail sent the message “A patient waiter is no loser” (I beg to disagree) over two miles in front of a small crowd. I’m told the crowd were very impressed and this was a massive breakthrough for telecommunications.

14th January, 1784

US Congress of the Confederation ratifies the Treaty of Paris - American Revolutionary War ends

I still think this is pretty crazy. Britain used to be in charge of the United States of America (although it wasn’t called the USA then). I mentioned that Boston Tea party thing the other week, where they chucked the tea into the sea. This was a protest against British government of America which eventually led to war between Britain and the US. Well Britain lost that war (as you probably already guessed) and on this day in 1784 the US Congress agreed to the peace treaty, officially ending the war.

15th January, 1559

Elizabeth the First crowned Queen of England


Wow! I met her mum and dad! It was on my most recent time-travelling mission in Tudor England. Anyway, I digress (Note from Barford - I wish I hadn’t taught him that word). Elizabeth would never have expected to become queen as she had a younger brother, Edward, (until recently the eldest son would always become king, even if he had a big sister). He died as a teenager, but even then she had an older sister, Mary, who became Queen before she did. Mary also died and Elizabeth was the only one of Henry’s children left. Queen Elizabeth was unusual in many ways for the time. She followed straight after another queen (Mary) and she wasn’t married (apparently that was a big thing for a queen in those days). She’d spent her sister’s reign in prison (wish I could put my brother, Jim, in prison) and now here she was at the head of the country. Elizabeth’s reign was one of the most important periods in British history according to Auntie Cheryl as it was the start of building an empire.

That's it for this week. If you want to get hands-on with history, sign up for Barford's email list here for your free 'Pete's Time-travelling Underpants' ebook.

Legendary ladies: The women history forgot, No.2 – Chiquinha Gonzaga

Children need strong role models. Not only that, but they need role models which reflect the diversity of humankind - role models who look like you or come from a similar background to you are always easier to relate to. However, most of the role models our society holds up today are male and white, meaning many children and, in particular, girls are left out. I am passionate about doing my small part to address this. In this vein, the second of my blog posts on the amazing women that history forgot looks at a pioneering, mixed race, female composer from the nineteenth century - Chiquinha Gonzaga. In spite of her success at the time, few beyond musical circles in her native Brazil, have heard of her. But, before I get into her story, I'll begin with some interesting facts about Chiquinha that you can share with your kids.

Interesting facts to share with the kids:

  • Chiquinha Gonzaga was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1847 and became one of the first famous, female composers in the world.
  • What made her even more rare in those days was that she was mixed race and she was a divorced mother.
  • Many in those days believed that people like her were not meant to be composers. They thought it was something only white men should do.
  • Chiquinha struggled against prejudice like this her whole life, but she did not let it defeat her.
  • She became a famous and highly successful composer in her own country of Brazil and even did tours in Europe, including the UK.
  • Because of the difficult challenges she had faced, Chiquinha wanted to help make things better for other people and was a leader in many social campaigns. She campaigned for the end of slavery in Brazil and for women to be given the vote. Both these things happened in her lifetime.
Chiquinha, aged 18
Chiquinha, aged 18

An unusual childhood

Francisca Edwiges Neves Gonzaga, better known as Chiquinha, was a Brazilian composer, conductor and anti-slavery and votes for women campaigner. One of the first women in the world to gain fame and earn her living as a composer, Chiquinha is largely forgotten today. She was the daughter of a wealthy white father and a poor mother of mixed race. Though this wasn't particularly unusual at the time, what was unusual was that her parents were married and Chiquinha was brought up like any other wealthy young lady. She was taught to read and write, she became a talented mathematician and excelled at the piano.

Saved from disaster by music

Chiquinha was married off at the age of 16, very much against her will. Her dowry was a piano. The marriage was a very unhappy one and Chiquinha was very poorly treated by her husband. She managed to secure a divorce, a scandalous thing in nineteenth century Brazil, but her husband gained custody of their youngest two children. Chiquinha was left completely alone with her eldest son as her father now disowned her. Fortunately, she had continued her piano playing during her marriage and supported herself and her son by teaching piano and playing in musical instrument shops.
A very energetic-looking Chiquinha, aged 78
A very energetic-looking Chiquinha, aged 78

Success in the face of prejudice

She also composed her own music, mainly for popular dances such as the polka, tango and waltz. This is where her contribution to music really began, as she adapted the traditional sounds of the piano for the modern requirements of popular entertainment. At the age of 30, she gained her first big success with the polka 'Atraente', which was so popular it was printed and copies sold. And this was in the face of considerable criticism for her working in a male industry, for her composition of 'vulgar' popular music and for being a single mother.

Chiquinha, the campaigner

Chiquinha continued to compose and at the same time became engaged in a number of social movements. Her social engagement was inspired in part by her mother's poor origins and the discrimination and struggles she herself had faced. It included the campaign to abolish slavery in Brazil, which finally succeeded in 1888. As part of the campaign she had sold her sheet music door-to-door to raise funds. She was also politically engaged, campaigning for votes for women and becoming involved with the group who overthrew the Brazilian emperor in 1889 and declared Brazil a republic. Throughout this time, Chiquinha's popularity rose and rose and she moved into composing operettas and even opera. In the 1880s she also began to conduct, the first woman in Brazil to do so. She scored a major success in 1911 with the operetta 'Forrobodó' which ran for 1500 shows straight following its premiere.

Success beyond Brazil

As Chiquinha's popularity grew in Brazil, she began to be noticed in Europe too, and toured there on numerous occasions between 1902 and 1910, including trips to the UK. Not only was Chiquinha talented and popular, but she had great stamina too and continued composing into her eighties. She wrote her last composition, the opera 'Maria', only a year before her death at the age of 87. Her impact on Brazilian music and Brazilian society is huge. But she was also a pioneer for women and people of mixed race the world over and for this she deserves to be much better known. Are there any fantastic female role models you think should be covered in a future instalment? Let me know in the comments below.