In recent history, long-standing gender norms have been challenged with ever-increasing frequency. Both Lil Nas X and Harry Styles made headlines when they chose to wear dresses publicly, sparking both an outpouring of support alongside some backlash. One can find photographs of people cross-dressing as far back as the 1940s (or even earlier), but it was practised long before the camera had been invented. Meet Mary Frith, also known as ‘Moll Cutpurse’.

Woodcut of Mary Frith from Dekker and Middleton’s The Roaring Girl (1611) [Public Domain]

If cross-dressing remains controversial today, it’s no surprise that it was a taboo practice four hundred years ago — but there was quite a lot of it. In…


Between 1566 and 1700, around 500 people were executed in England for the crime of practising witchcraft. To this day, over three hundred years since the last witch was executed on English soil, the convictions still stand.

The first person to be executed for witchcraft in England was Agnes Waterhouse in 1566. Despite the advancements in science and philosophy during the 17th century, the English witch-craze only worsened. …


In 1583, a Spanish ship sank off the west coast of England. The disaster was put down to witchcraft. An elderly woman in Norfolk, Mother Gabley, was blamed for ‘boyling, or rather labouring of certeyne eggs in a payle full of colde water.’ This was not the first time witches had been accused of manipulating the weather to cause disaster and death, nor would it be the last, but could it be a testament to the impact that changing European climate had on spurring on witch hunts which would leave hundreds of thousands dead?

There has been no shortage of…


The ‘Darnley Portrait’ of Elizabeth I, c. 1575 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

One of the most serious criticisms of Elizabeth I’s reign of England was her failure both to marry and produce, or indeed name, an heir. Her father had been so adamant to produce an heir (and preferably a male one) that he had established the Church of England, at least in part, to stand a better chance at getting one. …


The more you look at maps, the more apparent it becomes that they aren’t always just lifeless, objective depictions of the spatial distribution of objects. Early maps, which began to replace the simple panoramic views of cities which had preceded them, often featured images and lengthy passages describing (and usually praising) the depicted city, country, and ruler. The famous ‘Agas’ map of London from the mid-16th century is one of the first proper maps of the city and features text which lauds the ‘Ancient city’ and alludes to the notion of London as a ‘New Troy’ established by the Trojan…


Illustration of John Felton in Prison (1865)

On this day 392 years ago, John Felton died. A man who might otherwise have not gone down in history at all, those that do not recognise his name will most likely be familiar with George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham. Felton’s connection to Villiers is rather morbid: he was the man who killed him.

Prior to assassinating the Duke, Felton was a lieutenant in the English Army who fought in Spain and France under his command. The expedition he participated in at Saint-Martin-de-Ré failed spectacularly, costing some 5,000 English lives to a French loss of around one-tenth the size, despite…


The genre of horror fiction has a long history. Even in ancient Greece and Rome, and early European settlements which had prevalent folklore, people couldn’t help themselves but tell each other scary stories. As a genre in its own right, one can trace horror fiction back to Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian (1796) or Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), which is regarded as the first gothic novel. However, one of the first horror novels in the English language emerges in the mid-16th century. Of what demons, ghosts, or other monstrosities does this tale seek to warn us? Cats. Seriously…


A portrait of Henry VIII by Hans Holbein (Source: Flickr)

King Henry VIII of England reigned from 1509 until 1547 and was constantly preoccupied with one thing: military success. Namely, Henry was obsessed with pressing his claim to the French throne. Through success and failure, at times of prosperity and of financial ruin, there was rarely a moment when Henry wasn’t thinking about invading France or wasn’t fighting in France himself. His interest in warfare was a testament to the King’s vanity and his obsession with preserving his public image. His father, Henry VII, had ended his reign with a controversial reputation, ruthlessly maintaining a grip over the laws of…


A contemporary depiction of a plague-time funeral (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The coronavirus pandemic of this year (and late last year) has sparked a renaissance of interest in the Great Plague of London which ravaged the city from 1665–1666. Valid similarities have been drawn between the two events, specifically regarding the suspension of large-scale public events. What many comparisons omit, however, is just how harsh life really was for a Londoner at the time and how a social view of the plague reveals unsettling truths about how the disease affected people of different classes.


Henry VII was King of England from 1485 to 1509, following his usurpation of the Crown from Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field. The battle and its aftermath act as a microcosm of Henry VII’s reign. He crushed his opposition, stripping those who had fought against him of their land and titles, began a severe process of disempowering the ‘overmighty subjects’, and manipulated the legal system to serve his purposes.

Henry VII (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The young King’s reign was to be defined by this manipulation. He acted as a spider, spinning a tight web around the country to secure his position as…

Brumafriend

Interested in History. Specifically, Tudor History and the Middle Ages in England.

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