Last Friday afternoon I attended the first of this year's Ford Lectures. This year the series is on " The English People at War in the age of Henry VIII" and the lectures are being given by Dr Steven Gunn of Merton.
King Henry VIII in a German print of 1545
The king fought many wars, but how did they affect his subjects? How much did they think about war or talk about war? How did communities cope with the pressures war placed upon them? How did military service relate to the social power and self-image of the landed elite? How did war affect the economy? What weapons did people own, did they know how to use them, were they ready to kill and how many of them died? And how did engagement in war shape his subjects’ relationship with the king and their sense of being English? This year’s Ford lectures will ask all these questions in the context of the century of military, political and social change that lay between Henry’s grandfather Edward IV’s invasion of France in 1475 in the afterglow of the Hundred Years War and his daughter Elizabeth’s attempts to shape a trained militia and a powerful navy to defend England in a Europe increasingly polarised by religion.
30 January – Wars and rumours of wars
6 February – Towns and villages
13 February – Noblemen and gentlemen
20 February – Trade and tillage
27 February – Killing and dying
6 March – Kings and peoples
Fridays of Weeks 2 – 7 of Hilary Term
5pm Examination Schools, South School
Image and text: Oxford History Faculty website
His chosen era is rather longer than the King's reign, being the period from 1475 through to the 1570s. This was indeed a time of wars, but they tens to be ones which are not well remembered or studied in the way that the earlier and later campaigns of the Hundred Years War or of the Spanish War and the Civil Wars respectively are.
As Dr Gunn pointed out in his introductory lecture there are detailed studies of individual aspects of campaigns and of military procurement and provisioning, but as yet there is no synthesis of the place and contribution of war in and to English life in the period comparable to the continuing reassessment of the impact of the reformation on national life.
In his first lecture he explored the popular, at various levels of society, awareness of war and rumours of wars, of conflict and its consequences, through news reports and private correspondence. From the surviving evidence people were indeed interested in what was happening in military matters and information was to hand for the English as to what was happening in France, Flanders and Scotland.
I look forward to attending the rest of the series.