I have been spending a lot of time lately starting at a tapestry in the Queen’s Gallery. I find it mesmerising. I have stood before it for hours on end moving in close to hone in on a small detail or standing back to appreciate the glimmers of the gold thread that remain to illuminate it. It is a vast 403cm x 823 cm in size. Its provenance fascinates me. It was made in 1523 and used to belong to Cardinal Wolsey before it was appropriated by Henry V111. I love that word appropriated! It rolls off the tongue and hides a multitude of sins.
Most children in Year 4 ‘do’ the Tudors at school and the wonderful ‘Horrible Histories’ fills in the rest of the details. I have been having some amazing conversations with primary school children about it. We imagine the effort and time required in making it. We gasp at the expense. Henry loved tapestries and they cost him the same amount as buying a warship (although this one was appropriated!)
Every inch of this tapestry is filled with sound from the rustling of a winged horse to the roar of a herd of elephants. We compose instant sound poems. We notice that only Fame is silent. I explain about her attribute- the golden trumpet which has fallen from her hands. We mime blowing our own trumpets. Then we think about what Fame means to us today. We giggle about ‘ I'm a celebrity get me out of here.’
Then we move on to consider the themes in the tapestry. I tell them about Petrach and his set of poems called The Triumphs.
We ponder on what Henry V111 thought he was going to be remembered for. Would he have been surprised that he was renowned today for having had six wives? How would he feel about Horrid Histories?
The final stanza says,
And even though the errant crowd may hold
That for long ages Fame may still endure,
What is it that so highly is esteemed?
Time in his avarice steals so much away:
Men call it Fame; 'tis but a second death,
And both alike are strong beyond defense.
Thus doth Time triumph over the world and Fame.
When I was 9 years old I wanted to be a writer and I wanted to be famous. I had this strong desire to leave something of me behind. That desire has not left me. It is what keeps me going. If only I can find the time…….