This week, I’m working on the Tempus Fugitive historical education project, now in it’s 16th year. Schools send parties of children to Southsea Castle, where they are met by “time guides” (time travellers from the future), who take them to the year 1545, three days before the Battle of the Solent where the Mary Rose sank (King Henry VIII watched the battle from Southsea Castle’s ramparts). The children meet a variety of Tudor people, and are presented with several challenges. For instance, when they first enter the castle, three armed soldiers demand to know why they are there, and they have to explain their presence.
My role this year is the armourer. As such, I have the job of teaching the kids about armour and weapons. The kids get to hand around a full mail vest, and one gets dressed in plate armour before being beaten with a cudgel, to demonstrate the effectiveness of the armour. I also demonstrate a buckler, sword, rapier and bill hook, showing the weak points in a suit of plate armour.
The cook talks to them about Tudor music and food, and gets a child to help him/her read the instructions that they’ve been sent. A girl is always chosen for this, since the cook never believes that the girls can read.
A noble, either Sir George, who is in charge of the castle, or Lady Mary, his wife, teaches the children how to bow and curtsey in the Tudor manner, and discusses religion with them. King Henry VIII has split from the Roman church, but the future king is being raised a protestant, while some people think the country should return to Roman Catholicism. Should Sir George and Lady Mary stay Church of England, or should they become protestants, as the next king will be protestant?
Another soldier talks to them about bows and cannons, showing them how to load and fire a cannon, and telling them about the various types of arrows that the archers use. The boys almost always admit to playing football, which was illegal in 1545, and to not practising their archery on Sundays (every male over the age of six was supposed to practice every Sunday).
It’s a very worthwhile project, and good fun for all involved, but I was both surprised and annoyed that one of the teachers complained that this year there was “too much education and not enough fun”. We try to make it fun and interesting for the kids, but the ultimate aim of the project is education. Dan, the project’s director, puts a lot of effort into ensuring that everything is as historically accurate as possible, and all the Tudors endeavour not to use modern modes of speech.