Interview with Natalie Grueninger
Natalie Grueninger is a researcher, writer and educator who has written a range of Tudor books focusing on the many fascinating locations/buildings/castles/manors that were used during the Tudor age. She has co-written books exploring the places that Anne Boleyn visited and knew during her life as well as locations associated with Henry VIII’s wives. In addition to this she has written a fantastic book exploring the many Tudor sights that can be found in London. She has also co-created two beautiful Tudor colouring books for grownups, is the host of the podcast ‘Talking Tudors’ and runs the website ‘On the Tudor Trail’, a must-visit site all about Tudor England.
I am very honoured today to be able to interview Natalie about her fascinating book Discovering Tudor London.
What inspired you to write a book exploring Tudor London?
Hello Sarah! So lovely to be chatting with you again. As you know, for the last 9 years I have been the sole editor of On the Tudor Trail. In that time, countless people have emailed me asking for suggestions of Tudor-related places to visit in London. Some people had a long weekend in which to explore, others were staying for a week or more. While I responded to each person individually, an idea took root in my mind. I realised that there was a need for a guide to the best of Tudor London, to both the well known locations like the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey and the lesser-known gems, like Sutton House in Hackney. From the outset, I knew that I wanted it to be as practical as possible, so I included a map, visitor information sections and four different suggested itineraries of varying lengths that readers can follow.
How did you go about researching your book?
I used a combination of primary and secondary source material to write the bulk of the guide from my home in a leafy suburb of Southern Sydney. In that time, I corresponded with people working at the locations I’d be featuring, and reached out to local historical societies and experts. Of course, I also embarked on a Tudor London pilgrimage of my own, as I could not confidently guide people around the places without having first visited them all myself. So, I tested out the ten-day itinerary, the longest of the four that I’ve included in the book, and had an absolutely amazing time doing so! This first-hand experience allowed me to include lots of great tidbits in the Visitor Information Sections, like advice on travel options, places to eat and other points of interest to the Tudor time traveller.
What was your favourite place to visit?
This is very difficult to answer! Hampton Court Palace and the Tower of London are absolute favourites, but I also loved my tour of The Charterhouse and recommend it to anyone who’s in London.
What Tudor location that no longer exists do you wish did?
There are a few, but I think I have to go with a perennial Tudor favourite, Greenwich Palace. In Tudor times, the stately red-brick palace was situated on the southern bank of the Thames and boasted an impressive river frontage. It was the setting for many important Tudor events, including the birth of Mary I and Elizabeth I, the arrest of Queen Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour’s official proclamation as queen and Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne of Cleves. Henry VIII was also born at Greenwich, in the old Manor of Pleasance, which Henry VII rebuilt and extended into the vast palace complex that would become one of his son’s favourite royal residences, particularly during the early years of his reign. While nothing remains above ground, excitingly, archaeologists working in the undercroft of the Old Royal Naval College’s Painted Hall recently unearthed remains of the Greenwich Palace. As far as I’m aware, in March 2019 the Painted Hall will reopen and visitors will be given the chance to see the remains of this splendid and highly favoured Tudor royal palace. I for one cannot wait!
What is a Tudor gem that you believe is often overlooked?
If we’re focusing on London, then Sutton House in Hackney is not one we hear very much about. It was built for the courtier and diplomat, Sir Ralph Sadleir (or Sadler), in around 1535 and is believed to be the oldest home in East London. Sadleir was a protégé of Thomas Cromwell, however unlike his mentor, he went on to serve Edward VI and Elizabeth I and live until his eightieth year. Despite the house having been greatly altered over the centuries, there are some wonderful Tudor treasures left to see, namely the Linenfold Parlour, the Little Chamber, the Great Chamber and Tudor Kitchen. I first heard of this Tudor house in a wonderful article that Hilary Mantel wrote for The Guardian in 2009, entitled ‘Author, Author. Unfreezing Antique Feeling’. In it she describes her visit to the National Trust property and recounts a powerful moment that occurred in the cellar, where the home’s Tudor foundations are still visible and some of the bricks are imprinted with traces from the past. ‘It was when I saw the grass stalk, the dog’s pawprint, that I began to sense the spring of 1535, when Thomas More was still alive and pearls were still warm on the neck of Anne Boleyn. It was then that the shock of the past reached out and jabbed me in the ribs. They were as alive as I am; why can’t I touch them?’ From that moment, I dreamt of visiting the house and it did not disappoint.
What is something you discovered about a Tudor location that you previously did not know?
Let’s stick with Hackney for the moment, where in Sadleir’s day the main settlement was centred on and around what is now Mare Street. While exploring the surrounding area, I passed a fourteenth-century tower, which is now all that remains of St Augustine’s, the medieval parish church of Hackney and was excited to learn that it was where Henry Percy, 6th Earl of Northumberland, had been buried in 1537. He was almost certainly buried inside the body of the church, where the nobility were laid to rest, with a monument marking his grave, now, sadly, lost to time. Standing so close to his physical remains, buried somewhere beneath my feet, I couldn’t help but wonder how differently things might have turned out, if his romance with Anne Boleyn had been permitted to flourish.
When exploring Tudor London what would you suggest people take with them?
A very comfy pair of walking shoes! It might sound silly, but on some days, I was walking in excess of 30,000 steps! Also, be sure to purchase an Oyster Card (London Travel card) before you leave home and a London Underground (Tube) map is handy to have, as is a Central London Tourist Map. I also like to purchase membership to the Historic Royal Palaces. Members enjoy free access to all six palaces in their care, including Hampton Court Palace and the Tower of London, and your contribution will help preserve these historic gems for future generations. Oh, you also receive 10% discount in the restaurants, shops and cafes at their venues. Finally, time for a little shameless self-promotion… take my book! J
What is one ‘must see’ Tudor location?
Just one?! I have to say Hampton Court Palace, one of my favourite places in the world. This is the only historic site included in the book that is not situated in London or Greater London, but is easily accessible from London. It is an exceptional Tudor time capsule and a must-see for all lovers of Tudor history.
Can you tell us a little bit about how you write/research?
Sure, it depends a little on the type of book I’m writing, whether it’s following in one person’s footsteps like In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn or whether it’s a more general guide like Discovering Tudor London. But basically, I focus on one location at a time and read everything I can get my hands on, including both primary and secondary sources. I scour books and the internet for contemporary references to the site and, as previously mentioned, I like to reach out to local historians and historical societies because experience has taught me that local knowledge is indispensable. I’ll also often correspond with curators, historians and other Tudor experts. When I feel as though I have enough information, I begin writing, adding and refining as I go along.
What’s next for Natalie Grueninger?
Thanks so much for asking, Sarah. Well, I’m very excited to share that I’m currently researching a book that I’m co-authoring with my dear friend and partner in Tudor books, Sarah Morris. It’s called On Progress with the Tudors. In it we’ll be charting some of the most interesting Tudor journeys and writing about one or more Tudor progresses associated with each of the Tudor monarchs, plus we’ll be following in the footsteps of some other prominent personalities of the day, including Elizabeth of York and Margaret Tudor. We’ve also decided to do something a little different, and launch an accompanying podcast where we’ll be delving into the nitty gritty of our research with our listeners. You will get to hear it all – the good, the bad and the ugly! It’s called ‘On Progress with the Tudors Uncut’ and the introductory episode has already been published. Our first full episode will be released on 30 November, 2018.
Speaking of podcasts, I’m also continuing work on my Tudor podcast, called ‘Talking Tudors’. I can hardly believe that I’m already scheduling guests for 2019! If you haven’t yet jumped on the Tudor bandwagon, I encourage you to tune in at talkingtudors.podbean.com. Finally, I’ll be launching a little something fun called ‘Tudor Wine Time’ in the new year. Watch this space for details!
A very big thank you to Natalie for stopping by and talking about her book on Tudor London and for sharing a little on what she is working on next!
Connect with Natalie:
Podcast: Talking Tudors