SUES FORUM 49: 12/2023


Welcome to Forum 49. Christmas is rapidly approaching as I write this, so Forum is being sent out a little earlier than usual.

This issue contains reports on our first postgraduate seminar and Peter Firth’s Medieval Bookends course, which has just finished. The seminar was a new initiative, and we welcome your feedback: should we do it again and, if so, is the format appropriate?

Siobhan Nelson has contributed an article in which she investigates a mystery that arose in the final session of Peter’s course: why are there two, somewhat different, versions of the painting An Allegory of the Tudor Succession?

Finally, for some festive fun, Christine Vasey has provided a Christmas quiz and I have written a short piece about a family Christmas tradition.

On behalf of the SUES Committee, may I wish you a very Happy Christmas and best wishes for 2024.

Chris Nelson

Enrolling for 2024 Courses

You can enrol by contacting Rob Firth by email at or by post at 18 Coudray Rd, Southport, PR9 9NL. There is no need to fill in another membership form: just let Rob know which course you want to join, and how and when you have paid. The preferred method is bank transfer, or you can send a cheque to Rob.

If you intend to enrol on Roger’s course, please do so before the end of December.

Roger Mitchell on Colonial and Post Colonial America – History, Art and Architecture

Mondays from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm at All Saints Church Hall.
8th, 15th, 22nd, 29th January, 5th, 12th, 26th February, 4th March 2024
(Eight sessions: Course Fee £40)

The focus of the course is on the 17th and 18th centuries during which new settlements on the eastern seaboard of North America became a new country – the United States of America. George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson head the cast list. We take the story into the 19th century with the art of the Hudson River School and the architecture of Washington DC.

At some point between Christmas and New Year, Roger will send a welcoming email to all those who have enrolled. There will be an attached handout of information about the course and the subject.

Alan Potter on Technology – Understanding Just How Things Work!

Mon 8th, Thurs 11th, Mon 15th, Thurs 18th, Mon 22nd & Mon 29th April 2024.
10:30 am to 12:30 pm at All Saints Church Hall. (Six sessions: Course fee £30)

Using up-to-date research and illustrations, this course uncovers the way in which appliances that we rely on every day actually work to enrich our lives. As we begin to know them better, we can understand how to get the best out of them. Along the way, we will wonder at the ingenuity of humans who have created such amazing, life-enhancing devices.

The Postgraduate Seminar – A SUES Experiment

Both for the Society and for our guest speakers, the meeting on Friday 24th November was a new and different experience. As our name suggests, SUES has always sought links with universities and their students and it was good to welcome two postgraduates studying for their doctorates. They had bravely agreed to act as guinea pigs at an event that Margaret Boneham had organised. Her hopes were that that this would benefit both society members and the visiting students and, as the afternoon developed, it became increasingly clear that this was the case.

With approximately 25 members attending, we had ideal numbers, large enough to require a relatively formal presentation, but small enough to encourage questions and discussion. We needed to keep to time and so each speaker was given 45 minutes for an introductory talk lasting between 20 and 30 minutes, followed by questions and discussion.

Our first speaker was David Coombes, who is a serving member of the RAF. He has worked in military education and training for the last 15 years and is currently in the 4th year of a Doctorate in Education at the University of Western England. His research is closely related to his job and his theme was Multi Cultural Education: a case study of the learning experiences of international military students. He sees practical benefit in addressing some of the cultural failings in the UK military that were revealed in evidence to the Chilcot Inquiry. Based on one-to-one interviews with students from many different countries, and mindful of the variety of learning styles and experiences that these students are familiar with, he is trying to look at the courses offered from the perspective of the learner.

Our second presentation was by Natalie Saunders who is a third year PhD student in the department of Social Sciences at Edge Hill University. Like David, her route to a doctorate was based on experiences earlier in her career. For a number of years, she had worked in a specialist school for autistic children in Southport and became particularly interested in autistic girls. Her doctorate is about the ways in which these girls make and sustain friendships and she told us how she had used in-depth interviews to engage directly with the participants, unravelling their distinctive and personal experiences.

Reflecting on the afternoon as a whole, I was intrigued to note that, although at first sight the two topics seemed unrelated, they turned out to have a good deal in common. Both were based on on-to-one interviews and David and Natalie were anxious that the voices and perspectives of the interviewees should predominate. A phrase that Natalie used sticks in the mind. She talked about “amplifying the voices of autistic girls”. By the end of the afternoon, we felt that we had had a front row seat in the complex process of academic research. There were complicated arguments to digest and new vocabulary to learn and this made it a challenging session for us as well as for David and Natalie. They had both prepared excellent PowerPoint presentations that helped us when the language got technical and the speed of presentation somewhat daunting. We hope that they enjoyed spending an afternoon explaining their research to an interested but amateur audience. We certainly enjoyed the experience and learned from it, and our learning was not confined to multicultural military education and the friendships of autistic girls. We saw research in action and knowledge shared. Perhaps most important, we were reminded of the hard work required for a doctoral qualification and the enthusiasm needed to sustain that effort.

Roger Mitchell

PS We hope to have more of these sessions in the future. The Committee are considering how best to develop the structure of these meetings and members’ comments would be very much appreciated on matters such as:

  • Whether to have one or two visiting speakers and whether present timing needs to be changed, e.g. one speaker for 75 minutes or two with an hour for each.
  • Whether to restrict numbers to c25 to maintain the ‘seminar’ feel.
  • How best to help the speakers adjust to the needs of rather different students to those that they might find at a postgraduate seminar in their own university, e.g. our hearing is probably not as good as it used to be, and so ‘slower and louder’ would help us.

Please send any comments to Chris as editor of Forum. His email address is on the final page.

Course Report: Peter Firth on Medieval Bookends

Peter Firth’s 10-week course, which ended on 27th November, took us on a journey through time, concentrating on the two ends of the medieval period (or ‘Middle Ages’). Peter’s stated aim was to analyse what makes this period special, how it came into existence and how it gave way to ‘modern’ times. He explained that the medieval period is around 1000 years long, it begins with the end of the Roman civilisation in the 5th century and is considered to end (from a British perspective) with the start of the Tudor period. He set out to question the way some historians have seen the early part of this period as the ‘Dark Ages’; the time required for western Europe to recover, in terms of the society, culture and scientific advancement achieved at the height of Roman civilisation.

Weeks 1 to 7 of our course were concerned with the ‘left-hand bookend’, in which Peter covered the end of the Roman Empire, invasion of Britain by Anglo-Saxon peoples, their assimilation and transformation into seven kingdoms (Kent, Sussex, Essex, East Anglia, Wessex, Mercia and Northumberland), the introduction of Christian belief and culture, the subsequent Viking invasions and the gradual emergence of a place called England. He used maps very effectively to help us understand the constant shifting of territories and borders during this very fluid time as a long succession of leaders (warlords, sometimes kings) came and went.

Peter drew on sources such as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (created in the 9th century) and the writings of Bede, St Gildas, Nennius, William of Malmesbury and Henry of Huntingdon. He noted the need for caution: there is little contemporary documentation and it is necessary to be aware of likely bias in the different accounts for religious or political reasons. He also noted that academic historians have had a tendency to produce “epic nationalistic narratives”, focusing on key dates (such as battles) and “great men”. However, modern historians are more likely to use the available evidence to study people, actions, decisions, interactions and behaviours. Throughout the course, Peter used this approach to challenge conventional thinking: a noteworthy example was his questioning as to just how ‘great’ King Alfred was, and indeed whether he was a king!

In week 7, as we arrived at the end of the first ‘bookend’ period, Peter discussed the life of Aethelstan, who is regarded by modern historians as the first King of England, a further unsettled period after his death in 939, stability under Edgar the Peaceful, and finally the reign of Aethelred the Unready. Summing up, Peter argued that the chaos of repeated invasions by barbarians (foreigners), Anglo-Saxon and Viking, had gradually given way to a unified kingdom, and a politically sophisticated state. At this point, having discussed along the way the meanings of the names of various Anglo-Saxon kings, we paused for a fascinating session on the influences of Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, Viking and Old English words on the modern English language and British place names.

Week 8 arrived and we leapfrogged over several centuries to the ‘right-hand bookend’ and the Wars of the Roses. For me, this was slightly more familiar territory, although caution was required by those of us who were taught some of our history by Shakespeare! Family trees took over from maps to help us navigate through the saga of the Houses of Lancaster and York (related branches of the Plantagenet dynasty). I had not previously appreciated that the red and white rose emblems were little used during these wars, and that the term ‘Wars of the Roses’ was first used by Sir Walter Scott.

Peter warned us that the Wars of the Roses were complicated, and so it proved. For example, while English kings have, generally, followed one another in an orderly fashion, Henry VI and Edward IV each had two separate reigns between 1422 and 1483. Edward V then lasted only a few months, and was never crowned, before being deposed by Richard III and, with his brother, imprisoned in the Tower. Quite by coincidence, Channel 4 had just broadcast The Princes in the Tower: The New Evidence. The following week, we were able to have a discussion on whether they were murdered (probably still the majority opinion), or lived to fight another day; it seems that the jury remains out on this, at least until such time as DNA testing is done on those two skeletons.

Week 10 arrived, Henry Tudor became King Henry VII and the Wars of the Roses, and our course, came to an end. Looking back over this millennium, Peter argued that the Middle Ages, rather than just being the interval between two significant periods of history (as sometimes portrayed in the past) was an important period of transformation, now generally recognised by modern historians. This was a time when the idea of Europe as a distinct cultural unit emerged, as did the identity of England. It is unfortunate that the term ‘medieval’ is now often used wrongly by journalists and politicians as a synonym for ‘uncivilised’ or ‘ignorant’. Peter noted that there were many technological advances during the Middle Ages; examples include the ability to build large cathedrals, the printing press (and the resulting cultural transformation), crop rotation, the spinning wheel and vertical windmills. It was also a period during which slavery in England came to an end, and living standards were transformed for nearly everyone.

Throughout this course, Peter kept the proceedings informal and encouraged questions, comments and discussion from his audience; he was not disappointed! While he had joked, at the start of the course, about setting us homework in the form of essay assignments, it was Peter himself who was given ‘homework’ each week in the form of research to answer the questions raised. I was impressed in equal measure by the historical knowledge and analytical skills of my fellow course members and Peter’s ability to deal with the questions asked and the points raised, often by gently pointing out that the matter would be dealt with on the next slide! So, many thanks to Peter, for presenting a lot of complex history in an engaging way that held our attention, and to my fellow course members for many fascinating discussions and observations along the way.

Chris Nelson

A Tale of Two Paintings

During the final session of Peter Firth’s excellent Medieval Bookends course, one of the images he included – An Allegory of the Tudor Succession – raised some questions. It was noticed by eagle-eyed participants that the image in Peter’s slide show differed, in several details, from the version reproduced in the book he had brought with him (The English World: History, Character and People, ed. Robert Blake), although it seemed the same at first glance. A quick Google search established that the image in the slide show was painted by Lucas de Heere in 1572, but nothing was found about the version in the book.

As it was the end of the course, Peter was excused from having to do ‘homework’ to find out more (see Chris Nelson’s report above!), so I volunteered to do a bit of research and report back. I shall restrain myself from launching into a full ‘compare and contrast’ essay, you’ll no doubt be pleased to hear.

Here are the two paintings in question:

The Family of Henry VIII: An Allegory of the Tudor Succession.

Painted in 1572 by Lucas de Heere. Oil on panel, 131.2 x 184.0 cm.
Commissioned by Elizabeth I as a gift for Francis Walsingham.
Image copyright: Amgueddfa Cymru – Museum Wales.
On permanent display at Sudeley Castle.

An Allegory of the Tudor Succession: The Family of Henry VIII.

Painted c1590 by an unknown artist, ‘after Lucas de Heere’.
The circumstances behind its creation are not known.
Oil on panel, 114.3 x 182.2 cm.
Yale Center for British Art (YCBA), Paul Mellon Collection. (Public Domain.)

Both paintings depict (left to right): Mars (God of War); Philip II of Spain; Mary I; Henry VIII; Edward VI; Elizabeth I; ‘Peace’; ‘Plenty’. As the title and the allegorical figures hint, these are not mere portraits of Henry VIII and his family. With Henry at the centre, the left half of the painting represents War and Catholicism and the right half Peace and Protestantism. I won’t go into the details here, as it would repeat what Peter discussed in the course. Interestingly, Lucas de Heere was a Flemish Protestant who came to London in the late 1560s, fleeing religious persecution.

Initial differences spotted between the two images were the colour and pattern of the carpet, the attire of Elizabeth I, and the state of dress/undress of the figure representing ‘Plenty’.

Close inspection of the later painting reveals an additional figure on the far left, within a small arch beside the figure of Mars. YCBA, in its list of the subjects depicted in the painting (, includes “Somer [Sommers], William, court fool”, so presumably this is he.

Detail from the c1590 painting.

For comparison, here is William, beside the King, in an 1800 print of the Royal Family by Francesco Bartolozzi (after Hans Holbein).

William also seems to have featured in an earlier painting (reproduced below), where he is said to be the figure depicted through the arch on the far right. It was painted c1545 by an unknown artist of the British School, and was probably commissioned by Henry VIII. William went on to serve both Edward and Mary, and he attended Elizabeth’s coronation.


The Family of Henry VIII.

c1545, unknown artist (British School), oil on canvas, 144.5 x 355.9 cm.
The Royal Collection.

Is it significant, I wonder, that the Court fool, shown here on the right, has been positioned on the left side (the ‘War/Catholicism’ side) in the c1590 work?

At the bottom of the 1572 painting is written:

The queen to Walsingham this tablet sente
marke of her peoples and her owne contente

The inscription around the frame reads:

A face of muche nobillitye lie in a little roome
Four states with theyr conditions heare-shadowed in
A showe, a father more than valiant, a rare and virtuous Soon
A zealus Daughter, in her kind, what els the worlk doth knowe
And last of all a Vyrgin Queen to England’s joy we see
Successyvely to hold the right and virtues of the three

Sir Roy Strong suggested that the 1572 version of the painting was done to “commemorate a peace treaty with France, and thereby the work was intended to deliberately set Protestant peace against the Catholic warmongering of Mary and Philip” (Lisa Ford, Yale Center for British Art).

Why was the 1590s version painted? It is not known who commissioned it, or why, but Lisa Ford suggests that “it may have been a loyal subject who supported the Protestant succession and also supported Elizabeth. If so, perhaps they commissioned it as a triumphal work after the Armada victory”.

I immediately wondered whether this was a celebration of ‘Gloriana’. Indeed, Estelle Paranque writes of the 1590s painting: “She is no longer a mere Tudor queen who sought to defend her legitimacy as queen of England. She is Gloriana, the Faerie Queene, the Virgin Queen who has done the impossible – defeat the Spanish Armada in 1588 – and whose reign continues to bring prosperity and stability to her people and country”.


Things to ponder on:

  • Were the differences in the carpet (which is said to symbolise the Church of England) merely a decorative change?
  • Why the more modest dress of the figure of ‘Plenty’ in the later painting? Was it seen as rather unseemly to depict a woman baring her breast behind Elizabeth, ‘Gloriana’, in all her finery? Discuss!


Siobhan Nelson

Christmas Trivia and Traditions Quiz

(answers below)

  1. If you were born on Christmas Day, what would your star sign be?
  2. What novelty item for the Christmas table was invented by Tom Smith in the 1850s?
  3. The late Queen’s Christmas speech was first televised in 1952, 1955 or 1957?
  4. How many ghosts appear to Scrooge in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol?
  5. How do you say ‘Happy Christmas’ in Spanish?
  6. In 1647, Cromwell banned Christmas and two other religious festivals. Which other two?
  7. Professor Clement Moore, author of The Hebrew English Dictionary, is better known as the author of which classic Christmas poem?
  8. There are over 110 varieties of which popular Christmas vegetable?
  9. The Bûche de Noel is better known in English as what?
  10. What is the title of the song featured in the animated film, The Snowman?
  11. Which Christmas decorative item, first produced in 16th century Germany, was made of strips of real silver?
  12. La Cenerentala is the Italian name for which English pantomime?
  13. Who was crowned emperor on Christmas Day in the year 800?
  14. In 1947, which U.S. president established the custom of sparing one Christmas turkey?
  15. In 1939, a New York Jewish writer, Robert May, wrote a children’s Christmas story whose hero now features in a very popular Christmas song. Who is he?
  16. Santa’s red costume apparently only became permanent in 1933 as a result of what?
  17. Which saint, in the 13th century, first created nativity scenes with the Holy Family in the stable.
  18. In which country do Grandfather Frost and his granddaughter, the Snow Maiden, leave presents for children?
  19. Tchaikovsky and Petipa, the choreographer, turned which of the ‘Tales of Hoffman’ into a popular ballet?
  20. Match these regions with the average family forecasting spending this Christmas:
a) Yorkshiree) £752
b) Scotlandf) £691.96
c) South Eastg) £745.24
d) North Westh) £858.87

Christine Vasey

Quiz Answers

  1. Capricorn
  2. Crackers
  3. 1957
  4. Christmas Past, Present and Future and Jacob Marley
  5. Feliz Navidad
  6. Easter and Whitsun
  7. The Night Before Christmas
  8. Sprouts
  9. Yule Log
  10. Walking in the Air
  11. Tinsel
  12. Cinderella
  13. Charlemagne
  14. Harry Truman
  15. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
  16. A Coca-Cola advertisement
  17. St. Francis
  18. Ukraine
  19. The Nutcracker
  20. A&F, B&E, C&H, D&G


Chair: Alan Potter
07713 428670

Secretary: Roger Mitchell
01695 423594 (Texts preferred to calls)

Membership Secretary and Forum Editor: Chris Nelson
07960 117719


See our archive for previous editions of the SUES Forum!

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