Few artefacts survive from Tudor Canterbury. On display are rare mazers – drinking bowls made from maple wood, which did not split, shrink or leak. Made in late medieval times they were used throughout the Tudor period and byeond at hospitals in and near Canterbury. They were filled with mead, wine or beer and passed around at feasts.
During the reign of King Henry VIII events took place that had enormous impact on Canterbury. Henry had married Catherine of Aragon but wanted to divorce her and marry another. When the Pope refused permission, Henry made himself head of the Church in England and divorced Catherine. This was the start of the Reformation. Church assets were seized, abbeys and friaries closed, and buildings converted or dismantled. Evidence includes melted lead and broken headless figures of saints. An artist’s reconstruction view shows the destruction of St Thomas Becket’s jewel-encrusted tomb. Its stones were carted away, and may have included the pink carved capitals found in the River Stour.
Canterbury’s medieval seal had a view of the city on one side and Becket’s murder on the other. At the Reformation all images of Becket had to be destroyed. A local bell-founder was asked to remove Becket and put in his place a shield with the city’s arms.
Items of everyday life under Henry’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, include a pottery money-box, child’s alphabet, bone gaming die, and an amazing rare and beautiful painted plaster wall from a house in Canterbury. The child’s alphabet is written on parchment covered with horn, on a carved wooden board. There is also the funerary helmet, sword and gauntlets of Sir Roger Manwood, a wealthy local landowner.
Christopher Marlowe (1564-93), a contemporary of Shakespeare, was born in Canterbury. He was the son of a local shoemaker and baptised in St George’s Church. After attending the King’s School, Canterbury, he went on to become a successful playwright. At the age of 29 he was stabbed to death in Deptford but some believe the murder was a cover story. Mysteries surrounding Marlowe’s life and death are explored in the displays.
Elizabethan child's alphabet. © Tim Stubbings