As an end-of-the-summer-holiday treat my little family and I went on a road-trip from Devon to Portsmouth to visit the Mary Rose Museum. I would highly recommend you to visit if you are nearby, or are particularly interested in Tudor life or the famous ship that was brought back to the surface in the 1970s.

The Mary Rose was sailing from 1511 to 1545 and saw a lot of action, serving Henry VIII well until her sinking at the Battle of the Solent. Out of the 400-strong crew, only around 35 men survived. The men aboard were a mixture of ordinary soldiers and higher order officers, and their personal items have been found amazingly preserved including shoes, tools, and books.




The Mary Rose

I find Tudor life fascinating and it is easy to romanticise the period what with its dresses, courtships, and seemingly simpler lives, but you soon realise that unless you are a rich man you wouldn’t fare well. Practical skills were generally held in higher regard especially in the lower orders. Learning to create, mend, and grow produce are essential life skills when you cannot afford to pay someone to do it for you. Academic education was reserved for those with the financial stability to educate the child and pay for a tutor. The luckier children had literate parents who could pass their knowledge on to them.

Horrifyingly to us Reading Addicts of the female persuasion we would have even less of a chance to read and write. Women and girls were seen as inferior, and their education seen as a waste. If a 16th century girl is lucky, or has particularly progressive or aspiring parents, then she may be permitted to read the Bible or her prayer book, but anything more than that was considered a waste of everyone’s time.

It seems it wouldn’t even matter if you were destined to be Queen: two of Henry VIII’s wives, Jane Seymour and Catherine Howard, could barely read a word. Despite this injustice many privileged women of the Tudor court were permitted to read and write, including Anne Boleyn whose golden book of psalms is now held in the British Library.

Anne Boleyn’s golden book of psalms.

Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth I) c. 1559

Beautiful prayerbooks were popular among the wealthy women, above is Elizabeth I clutching her own copy in pious readiness.



As soon as I saw this book cover I thought about you lot- our Reading Addicts- and how you would understand my excitement at seeing a 500 year old book. Back then books were rarer than they are today, they were very expensive and so only the higher orders on the Mary Rose would own such an item. This beautifully decorated, calfskin book cover belonged to an officer aboard the fateful ship. The Mary Rose organisation says: “It is one of only two covers found on the Mary Rose to incorporate human likenesses within the design. Within small panels on the front and back are the letters ‘MD’, originally assumed to represent 1500 in Roman numerals, but now believed to represent Martin Doture, a London-based bookbinder and stationer during the period 1527–57.”

I have read many Philippa Gregory books about the royal courts during the 15th and 16th centuries, so this visit brought some realism to the characters I had come to know and the events that had unfolded. To see the leather boots the men wore and the tools they used, touched me deeper than I imagined it would. Life was cruel for many who lived through the reigns of bitter feuds of entitled royals and consequential religious turmoil, but it had always been just stories. Since seeing the bowls they ate from, etched with their personal symbols for easy identification, and the clothes they wore for comfort or protection, it has brought them to life again.




The Horse-Riding Librarians of the 1930s

By | Culture, Libraries | No Comments
You may know a badass librarian of two, a school librarian who was a stickler for the rules, or a community librarian who would go above and beyond for her library-goers. Have you ever met a librarian who would traverse snowy mountains to provide books and other reading materials for her people?

If your community was cut off from the rest of the country, how would you access your new and favourite books?

Back in the 1930s, after the Great Depression, there was a lack of funds for public services such as libraries. In around May 1936 the American Library Association estimated that over a third of all Americans had no real access to public libraries.

The Pack Horse Library Project was started in 1935 to help tackle this problem in the area of the Appalachian Mountains. This area of Kentucky, USA was particularly inaccessible back then, with over 30% of the rural community there being illiterate. The poorer communities realised that literacy was one way out of poverty so they banded together to donate books, and facilities to store books.

Read More

The World Digital Library Is Now Open

By | Culture, Libraries | No Comments
Have you always wanted to search through 16,982 items from 193 countries between 8000 BCE and 2000 AD? The World Digital Library offers ways to do just that.

With help from the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) the Digital Library has been available since September and is free for all users.

The library boasts an extensive range of books, along with manuscripts, videos, artworks, maps, and audio, and in seven different languages. Users can search for content in various ways: through simple searches of type of item, topic, etc, or with the interactive maps and timelines.

Read More

London’s Tiniest Library Opens as Part of the London Design Festival

By | Culture, Literary Events, Literary Places, News | One Comment
The London Design Festival is taking over the capital for the 15th year right now and that means weird and wonderful art installations popping up all over the city. From playcastles to light shows, design trails and everything in between what caught out eye is the micro library on London’s South Bank.

This month London’s South Bank will be host to a micro-cabin of literature; the smallest library in the capital, measuring a rather tiny 3.5 square metres. The library will be home to books telling the story of London’s rich history covering everything from ancient tomes to modern day classics that reflect the city and its history.

Read More

Leader of Azeri Exclave Recommends His People Read Hemingway and Jack London

By | Culture, News | No Comments
Vasif Talibov, supreme assembly chairman of the landlocked Azeri exclave of Nakhchivan, has published a list of books which he believes all citizens should read. As the BBC reports (via Minval.az), the list includes 30 books which include authors from Azeri and medieval Eastern authors as well as some well known Western writers such as Ernest Hemingway and Jack London. Read More

5 Books For The American History Fanatic

By | Culture, Literature | One Comment
For many people history is compelling and fascinating, as well as utterly horrifying. In the UK and the US in particular we are not always told the whole truth of our history, often for shameful reasons, and for fear of losing patriotism.

It is important to understand what our nations did, and how we became the powerful countries we are today. The sacrifices made by our ancestors, as well as the now-abhorrent action taken in the name of progress cannot and should not be ignored.

To truly understand why certain people feel certain ways, and why others are treated the way they are to this day is related directly to our past. We start with American history- land of the free and home of the brave- But how did they get to that point?

These American history books are a fascinating look into how America became the multiethnic, multicultural, multilingual powerhouse she is today.

Read More

Leave a Reply