During 2021-22 I researched and wrote my first “big book”: The Tudor Empire. I had never attempted to write something this vast – hundreds of pages (and around 90,000 words) – and the task seemed, at times, too large to complete. But I kept going, thanks to encouragement from the publisher Pen & Sword. Last September I submitted the draft and after feeling somewhat drained I didn’t think I would attempt something like that ever again!
But the subsequent months have allowed me to reflect on the book itself. I learned so much from the research and writing, helping me build on existing understanding and allowing me to form stronger, more in-depth interpretations. The whole purpose of the book is to provide a better grasp of empire building during the Tudor age, which I do not think has been fully covered previously. There have been books and studies of the attempts to explore and create colonies in the New World, however, these have not truly understood the mindset of the Tudor monarchs and the thinking of that society.
For example, ’empire’ is usually framed as existing away from Britain across the ocean. Noam Chomsky has referred to this as the ‘salt water fallacy’, particularly in regard to American imperialism. For example, the USA did not suddenly become an imperial power with the aftermath of the 1898 war with the Spanish (in which they obtained overseas colonies, such as Guam, and other lands, such as Cuba); because America had expanded and taken land from its very beginnings two centuries earlier. Land was taken from the Mexicans (notably in the Mexican War of the 1840s) and, more importantly, land was taken from numerous native American tribes. The US did not need to cross water for imperialism to actually happen (hence the ‘salt water fallacy’).
In a similar manner, Tudor empire building began in Britain: the peoples of the British Isles came up against the might of the Tudors, with clashes leading to battles, rebellions, and deaths. This happened in the north of England, in Wales, and in Cornwall. But such imperialism is, today, largely forgotten; perhaps because it is difficult to remove ourselves from the modern perspective; Britain is a unified country. However, Polydore Vergil, one of the first historians of the Tudors, wrote of the nations of Britain:
Britain is divided into four parts; whereof the one is inhabited of Englishmen, the other of Scots, the third of Welshmen, and the fourth of Cornish people, which all differ among themselves, either in tongue, either in manners, or else in laws and ordinances.
The kingdom that Henry VII had won in 1485 was not a united one; it was diverse and multi-national. As such, The Tudor Empire attempts to recontextualise imperialism as Henry VII, his children, and grandchildren would have understood it. Chapters are focused on the Welsh, Irish, northern English, and Cornish experience, along with the adventures beyond the isles, such as Roanoke Colony, Drake’s landing in California, and Raleigh’s doomed attempts to find El Dorado.
The intention of this post was to provide a plug of the book – but it seemed to have turned into a wider discussion of the book and its justification. If you are interested, the book is out in October 2023, but you can pre-order a copy right now by following the link: Buy here!
If you are interested in following up any of the points raised above, feel free to leave a comment or contact me directly via email or on Twitter. And, in a complete 180 from my initial feeling after submitting the draft for my book, I am now back on the horse and am researching material for a second book on Sir Walter Raleigh!