Think you know everything there is to know about disability during the Tudor times? Think again. A review by Chloe Johnson.
(Disability and The Tudors written by Phillipa Vincent-Connolly and published by Pen and Sword History.)
[Image: the cover of Disability and the Tudors has a red background with intricate filigree patterns. In the centre of the cover is a historical painting of King Henry VIII, Mary the 1st, and Will Sommer, King Henry's Court Jester. The title sits above the portrait and the writer's name, Phillipa Vincent-Connolly sits below the portrait.]
I really thought I knew everything there was to know about The Tudors. I’ve watched every documentary special, read every Starkey book - dabbled in Phillipa Greggory (and by dabbled I mean I own every one) - and am able to spout facts at random. However, I haven’t ever read anything quite like this. Disability is something that often seems an add-on - for a minor character in a historical fiction, or as a chapter in a comprehensive non-fiction history - but this work dives head first into what disability looked like to Tudor society. This is no mean feat, as everything - including language - has to be re-explained to the reader, due to the complete difference in thought. As somebody hugely interested in disability theory, I found some aspects of this weren’t as useful to me as they may be for somebody new to learning about disability in history, but I appreciated the comprehensive look anyway.
What I found particularly interesting was the personal aspect to this book. Instead of looking at disability as a whole, we had introspective looks at specific lives - connected to big names many will know, and occasionally being a big name themself - which really brought the concepts discussed to life. Connolly does a great job at really putting us into the world - because it is, almost, a different landscape to what we experience today, though you can track some similarities. Notably, Henry VIII was a character in which I saw in a different light due to the angle of the book, and there were some fascinating looks into how the Tudor court hid - or helped - disabled people. In a way, I found a more positive view on disability than I was actually expecting, and I found the book was very naturally educational without seeming inaccessible for those that are not master historians, especially when it dived into personal histories of “natural fools” and courtiers, as well as how the Reformation shaped those lives.
It was clear to me that this was a labour of love. Connolly’s passion for her subject shines through as clear as day. Although I found some aspects of the book repetitious, I overall enjoyed it thoroughly, and found it easy to dip in and out whilst still keeping up. For anybody who finds the topic title interesting, I guarantee you’ll take something away from this book - it’s easy to consume, engaging and informative; it really paints a picture of disability in Tudor life, and was a standout non-fiction read for me.
Chloe Johnson is a writer, with words in The Independent, Stylist, and Wonderland Magazine. She is deputy editor of Conscious Being Magazine, and is a major Taylor Swift fan. You can find Chloe on twitter - @ladychloestark and on instagram - @lemoncaketales