The Royal Albert Memorial Museum has been voted Museum of the Year before, and its latest exhibition entitled West Country to World’s End: the South West in the Tudor Age means it’s not hard to see why. Being an avid lover of all things Tudor, I went along to RAMM to check out this exhibition, and I wasn’t disappointed.
When arriving, a talk is provided lasting around an hour in which some of the key features of the exhibition are looked at in greater detail and context. Led by Professor Sam Smiles of the University, the talk centred on the suggestion that, in studying the Tudor period, too much attention is granted to the court and to London, the seat of monarchical and aristocratic power, rather than to the provinces. But the South West has an intriguing and vibrant history in the Tudor age, and Smiles feels that this is well worth exploring further. During the Elizabethan ‘Golden Age’, people of the West Country were innovative in their endeavours. Francis Drake sailed to the ‘World’s End’ in pursuit of glory and riches, while Walter Raleigh took settlers to a new world. The talk also focused on the greatest Elizabethan portrait painter, the miniaturist Nicholas Hilliard, and scholar Thomas Bodley (the Bodleian Library in Oxford is named after him).
Alongside recounting the adventures and exploits of these enigmatic individuals, the talk looked at goldsmiths, plasterers, carpenters, masons and lacemakers, and the key role they played in the South West. The exhibition includes items from the Bodleian Library, the British Museum, the British Library, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Trust, the Royal Collection, the Victoria & Albert Museum, and Royal Museums Greenwich. Items related to the Spanish Armada of 1588 provide fascinating glimpses into the danger posed to the western counties, which were ultimately able to defeat the threat of Spanish invasion.
The exhibition is well worth seeing, particularly because it focuses on an aspect of the Tudor age not centred on the court, Henry VIII, or his six wives. Instead, it rightly emphasises that intriguing insights into industry, politics, the economy, and society in the sixteenth century can be attained by looking in greater detail at other areas of England. The South West, it’s clear, enjoyed an adventurous and exciting history in the Elizabethan age.