Guest Post Monday -Judith Arnopp – My reasons for writing How to Dress like a Tudor

This week I’m delighted to welcome Judith Arnopp to the History Jar. I thoroughly enjoyed finding out more about what motivates her and admiring her tailoring skills – she makes dressing up as a Tudor sound very appealing! But if you’re one of my Zoom class don’t expect to see me clad as a Tudor lady anytime soon.

Without further ado, over to Judith…whose book is now on my Christmas List – those reindeer are never going to get off the ground given the number of history books I’m hoping for this year.

I would probably have never written the book had I not begun to sew my own Tudor clothes. I’ve always played about with fabric and thread but never attempted anything vaguely historical until I began to take part in reenactments.

I love to visit Raglan Castle during their annual Tudor event where I sell my historical fiction books to the public and meet readers. It is fun, and in the early days, to blend in with the other reenactment groups my husband and I dressed up. Initially our get up was very simple and not even close to accurate but then I purchased a second-hand gown made by Gina Clark and became hooked …on dressing up, not sewing at this point.

After a few years the lovely red gown somehow shrunk, or perhaps I got fatter, I don’t know but I needed a new one and the price was way beyond my budget. I began to wonder about making my own. By this time, I was already making hoods and shifts and partlets, but could I make a gown?

Turns out, the answer was no! The first one was awful but luckily, I’d made it from curtains, just as an experiment to see if I could do it. Yes, I was downhearted at the failure, and it took a several months before I summoned the nerve to try again. This one turned out sightly better, at least it fitted and had a good width of skirt. I tried again, this time coming up with a wearable gown. (see pic one)

Unfortunately, just as I was all set to wear it, Covid 19 reared its ugly head and by the time we were allowed out again I had grown even fatter – this is what happens when someone with hypothyroidism is forbidden adequate exercise and locked up with free access to cake. I went on a diet but by this time had begun to yearn for an English style gown, rather than the French style I’d made before. So, I studied a few portraits and got my sewing kit out again.  (see pic two)

I hadn’t even finished work on this when I was approached to write a book on Tudor clothing – after so many failed attempts I didn’t feel I was qualified but then someone pointed out that I could encourage other would-be sewers to have a go and show them that perseverance can pay off. So that is what I did.

The Tudors have always enthralled me. I read about them while I was at school, and as an adult, and when I enrolled in university as a mature student it was the obvious era to choose to study. Having spent much of his life in exile, when Henry VII ascended the throne, he was largely unknown to the people. He was keen to promote the new Tudor dynasty and to show his line off to its best advantage. He stressed the royal connection of his mother, Margaret Beaufort, and her descent from John of Gaunt and legally removed the stigma of bastardy from the family, reiterating the royal descent of his grandmother, Katherine of Valois. More surprisingly, he also claimed descent from the ancient Welsh King Cadwaladr, and King Arthur. The legend of Arthur states that the king will one day return to England, and to give credence to this, Henry named his first-born son Arthur. Unfortunately for Henry, Arthur was not to survive long enough to become King, that honour fell to his younger brother, Henry, better known as Henry VIII.

Henry VIII made no secret of his love for fine clothes and on becoming king, spent vast amounts of money on his wardrobe and further embellishing the Tudor image. Holbein’s famous portrait records a monumental figure, strong, powerful, and fabulously dressed. Everything in the portrait, from the jewels in his hat to his fine slashed shoes point to power, and his prominent codpiece speaks, rather ironically in a man who struggled to obtain heirs, of fertility. 

Henry’s heirs took this idea of power portraiture even further, in the later portraits of Elizabeth I she is almost obliterated. All we see are her huge sleeves, heavily embroidered gowns, and jeweled embellishments. She is the ultimate Tudor icon.  

Of course, although the nobility aspired to match the monarchs, they could not afford such extremes, but even Henry wouldn’t have dressed so grandly every day. Most reenactors cannot hope to accurately emulate the opulence of royalty, but we do our best and even lower-class clothing is great fun to wear. Sometimes I actually prefer my lower status clothes to my fine gowns; they are not so warm, movement is freer and you can roll up your sleeves and take off a few layers. 

A world full of royalty and nobles is dull and there are other roles to play. You can choose from cooks, monks, housewives, prostitutes, costermongers, millers – the list is endless and there is something for everyone.

How to Dress like a Tudor is not aimed at skilled sewers; it is for those who know little more than how to thread a needle, sew a few basic stitches, but are prepared for a steep learning curve. The book also provides a history of Tudor clothing from the reign of Henry VII through to Elizabeth I, offering reference for those who are studying history, or writing in the historical period. The second, smaller section of the book offers advice on how to sew Tudor clothing, with suggestions for patterns, suppliers, fabric choices, ways to cheat and most of all, I hope it encourages people to just give it a go.

Author bio

Judith writes historical fiction set during the late medieval and Tudor period. Her usual focus is on the women who lived close to the monarch, women like Margaret Beaufort, Elizabeth of York and Mary Tudor but more recently has been writing from the perspective of Henry VIII himself. Her books are on Kindle, Audible and Paperback.

You can find her fiction books here:

She also writes non-fiction, her work featuring in many anthologies and online magazines. Her latest non-fiction, How to Dress like a Tudor published by Pen & Sword Books is available now.

Judith is a founder member of a reenactment group The Fyne Company of Cambria, and began making Tudor costumes for herself, her husband, John, and other members of the group. It was this that inspired How to Dress like a Tudor and she hopes to write more non-fiction Tudor history in the future.

You can find Judith on FacebookTwitter, Linked-inGoodreadsBlueskyInstagramwebpage

Guestpost Monday: Sharon Bennett Connolly- Nicholaa de la Haye and me

It’s a real delight to welcome Sharon Bennett Connolly to The History Jar as my first guest blogger. I love her blog, History the Interesting Bits and her books. Those of you who have attended my medieval classes will probably have at least one of her books on your own shelves including Heroines of the Medieval World and Ladies of the Magna Carta. I recently posted on History the Interesting Bits ( and it turns out that we may have a bit of a mutual appreciation society going on which leaves me feeling very honoured as really do admire the way that Sharon has drawn women previously left to languish in the footnotes into the limelight. So without further ado over to Sharon…

Well, it has been quite a journey, but King John’s Right Hand Lady, my biography of Nicholaa de la Haye is now out in the world. My journey with Nicholaa started with a blog post in 2015, shortly after a day trip to Lincoln Castle with my son. Nicholaa’s story really caught my attention. From that day on, I devoured everything I could find on Nicholaa, scouring the internet for details of her life and the events in which she was involved. I bought a copy of Louise Wilkinson’s excellent study, Women in Thirteenth Century Lincolnshire, which included Nicholaa’s story. And when I started thinking about writing a book, Nicholaa came to mind. In 2016, I entered a competition with a publisher, to have my first book published and Nicholaa was one of the inspirations. 

In Heroines of the Medieval World, I wanted to tell the stories of the most incredible women in medieval history and Nicholaa was certainly in my Top 10. And from that book, I started thinking that there was more scope to examine the women related to the Magna Carta story, especially Nicholaa and her contemporary,  Matilda de Braose. The conflicting lives and experiences of these two women inspired Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England; while Matilda became King John’s bitter enemy and ultimate victim, Nicholaa was a loyal ally, trusted to hold Lincoln Castle against the rebel barons, despite being a woman. 

As I was researching Nicholaa’s story for Ladies of Magna Carta, I got very excited as I realised that I may have enough material for a full biography. I contacted my editor, expecting her to shut me down and say ‘no thanks, no one will be interested.’ But, instead, she said ‘go for it!’ And the project was born.

Nicholaa’s career spanned sixty years, four kings and two husbands and, in a time when men fought and women stayed home, Nicholaa de la Haye held Lincoln Castle against all-comers. In 1191, 1216 and 1217, it was Nicholaa who defended the besieged castle, earning herself the ironic praise that she acted ‘manfully’. Nicholaa gained prominence in the First Baron’s War, the civil war that followed the sealing of Magna Carta in 1215. 

On one of King John’s visits to inspect Lincoln’s defences in 1216, a recently-widowed Nicholaa met him at the gates and presented the king with the keys to the castle, claiming she was too old and weary to continue in her duties. John refused to accept her resignation, instructing Nicholaa to keep hold of the castle until he ordered otherwise. Whether Nicholaa ever intended to give up Lincoln, or the event was staged so that John could demonstrate his continued trust in Nicholaa, is open to debate. I suspect it was the latter. John was in the midst of civil war and running short of allies. Nicholaa had already demonstrated her abilities at defending Lincoln, and her loyalty to John – he would have been hard put to replace her. However, the event gave John the opportunity to reinforce his trust in Nicholaa in front of his barons.

Intent on continuing the civil war, the rebel barons invited the king of France to take the throne of England. The king refused, but his son, Louis (the future Louis VIII), accepted the offer and was hailed as King of England in London in June 1216.

That summer, Nicholaa prevented another siege of Lincoln Castle by paying off a rebel army, led by Gilbert de Gant, who remained in occupation of the city of Lincoln but lifted the siege of the castle. As Louis consolidated his position in the south, John fell desperately ill, probably from dysentery and halted at Newark Castle, where he died on the night of 18/19 October 1216. King John valued her so much that, from his deathbed, he appointed her sheriff of Lincolnshire; Nicholaa was the first woman ever to be appointed as a county sheriff.

Shortly after John’s death, the rebels returned to Lincoln.

Although now her 60s, Nicholaa endured a siege that lasted close to seven months, resisting the English rebel barons and their French allies with all she had, and giving the regents for the new king, nine-year-old Henry III, time to gather their forces and come to her aid. 

The siege ended in the Battle of Lincoln, also known as the Lincoln Fair, when 70-year-old William Marshal, known to history the Greatest Knight, spurred on by the chivalrous need to rescue a lady in distress – and to send the French packing – marched on Lincoln. The six-hour battle, fought in the tightly packed medieval streets of the city of Lincoln, was the turning point in the war. Within months of Marshal’s victory, the French had gone home, and the English rebels were swearing allegiance to Henry III.

The French chronicler Anonymous of Bethune described Nicholaa as ‘a very cunning, bad-hearted and vigorous old woman.’ Perhaps they were sore losers!

And how was Nicholaa thanked for such a stalwart defence of Lincoln Castle? Within four days of the battle her office as sheriff of Lincolnshire was given to William Longspée, Earl of Salisbury – the king’s uncle. Salisbury then seized the castle, evicting Nicholaa. Why? Because Salisbury’s son was married to Nicholaa’s granddaughter and the earl thought he should control the young couple’s inheritance. Did he really think Nicholaa would give up without a fight? Did he think seven months of siege had taken the fight out of her?

He should have known better.

Nicholaa appealed to the king and the privy council and got herself reinstated as constable of Lincoln Castle. She never got to be sheriff of Lincolnshire again, but at least she got her castle back. Not that Salisbury was one to give up either and there are various instances throughout the early 1220s of Salisbury trying to take the castle, through siege, subterfuge and persuasion. He tried everything! But Nicholaa would not give up – Salisbury would die first, which he did! And three months after Salisbury’s death, Nicholaa finally retired, resigning her custody of Lincoln Castle and settling on her manor at Swaton, Lincolnshire, where she died in 1230. She was buried in the local church, St Michael’s, where her tomb can still be seen today.

Nicholaa de la Haye was a staunch supporter of King John, remaining loyal to the very end, even after most of his knights and barons had deserted him. And I wanted to know why. Why did Nicholaa support John? Why did she not rebel like the rest of them? She must have known how heavy-handed and brutal John could be. She must have known the dreadful fate of Matilda de Braose – starved to death in one of John’s dungeons. So, what made her stay loyal?

To both King John and Henry III, she was ‘our beloved and faithful Nicholaa de la Haye.’

A truly remarkable lady, Nicholaa was the first woman to be appointed sheriff in her own right. Her strength and tenacity saved England at one of the lowest points in its history. 

It is often said that the best thing John ever did was die when he did. 


The best thing he ever did was appoint Nicholaa as sheriff!

Nicholaa de la Haye is one woman in English history whose story needs to be told…

About the book:

King John’s Right Hand Lady: The Story of Nicholaa de la Haye by Sharon Bennett Connolly

In a time when men fought and women stayed home, Nicholaa de la Haye held Lincoln Castle against all-comers. Not once, but three times, earning herself the ironic praise that she acted ‘manfully’. Nicholaa gained prominence in the First Baron’s War, the civil war that followed the sealing of Magna Carta in 1215. Although recently widowed, and in her 60s, in 1217 Nicholaa endured a siege that lasted over three months, resisting the English rebel barons and their French allies. The siege ended in the battle known as the Lincoln Fair, when 70-year-old William Marshal, the Greatest Knight in Christendom, spurred on by the chivalrous need to rescue a lady in distress, came to Nicholaa’s aid. Nicholaa de la Haye was a staunch supporter of King John, remaining loyal to the very end, even after most of his knights and barons had deserted him. A truly remarkable lady, Nicholaa was the first woman to be appointed sheriff in her own right. Her strength and tenacity saved England at one of the lowest points in its history. Nicholaa de la Haye is one woman in English history whose story needs to be told…

Sharon Bennett Connolly FRHistS is the best-selling author of 4 non-fiction history books, including Heroines of the Medieval World and Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England. Her latest book, a biography, King John’s Right-Hand Lady: The Story of Nicholaa de la Haye, was published in May 2023. A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, Sharon has studied history academically and just for fun – and has even worked as a tour guide at a castle. She writes the popular history blog, and regularly gives talks on women’s history. Sharon is a feature writer for All About History magazine and her TV work includes Australian Television’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?




Twitter: @Thehistorybits



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