Visit by Historian Helen Castor

By Georgia Jones, Isabella Kessedjian and Ariane Laurent-Smith, Form U5A.

Considering the King Edward VI Foundation’s roots may be traced back, via the Gild of the Holy Cross in Birmingham, to the year 1392, perhaps it should come as little surprise that a medieval spirit lingers still in our (modestly) hallowed halls. Indeed, the medieval world takes a proud place in both our Year 7 and Sixth Form syllabi, and even extends its pervasive fingertips into the extra-curricular lives of some of our school’s Living History re-enactors.

A visit on 9th January from the eminent historian, author and broadcaster, Dr Helen Castor, brought this lingering spirit well and truly alive. Her visit commenced with a reading group meeting, focusing on her recent book, She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England before Elizabeth, which will soon be at the centre of a three-part documentary series to appear on the BBC. In the book there are four sections which each explore the lives and characters of four extraordinary medieval women, who all exercised great power and influence at a time when this was uncommon in England: Matilda; Eleanor of Aquitaine; Isabella of France; and Margaret of Anjou.

Many girls from the senior end of the school arrived at Miss Evans’ study to share in this widely anticipated event with copies of She-Wolves in tow in all shapes and sizes, even on Kindle!  Several girls remarked on the readability of such a book and the narrative style that keeps its pace fast and flowing.  Dr Castor offered valuable insight into how and why the book was written, and it was an amazing opportunity to be able to discuss the book with its author. To conclude the session, we discussed the situation and portrayal of women in the modern media, and how the tendrils of medieval thought hold precedence today. We also had an opportunity to have our copies signed!

Later that afternoon, A-level History students and a few girls taking GCSE History this year were given a talk by Dr Castor on twelfth-century Queen of England, Eleanor of Aquitaine. It was fascinating to hear from Helen Castor herself, and both girls and staff throughly enjoyed the afternoon. We felt that she brought the four female subjects of her book to life and also shed light on a period, that is routinely overlooked by many people. It’s also safe to say that, if any audience members in the lecture had not yet read Dr Castor’s book, they will start it as soon as possible — many copies were snatched up quickly after the talk’s conclusion!  We would all recommend She-Wolves to anyone who is interested in History, or just a good read, and would say that we would not be surprised at all if Helen Castor will do for History what Brian Cox has done for astronomy!  The day was excellent, and we thank Dr Castor for visiting KEHS and being so generous with her time and love of medieval history, wishing her the very best of luck in her future writing and broadcasting.

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