So, I finally got around to watching ‘Lucy Worsley Investigates’ on BBC. I always love watching anything with Lucy in it and this looked fascinating. It is a four episode series covering four different historical episodes that changed history – the Witch Craze, the Black Death, the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower, and the madness of King George III.
Worsley has a real way of engaging with the audience and making history come to life. I’m not familiar at all with either the Black Death or the madness of King George III, but I’ve done quite a bit of research on the Princes in the Tower, and I studied the European Witch Craze at university, so had a bit more knowledge about those. Nevertheless, I learnt things I didn’t know before, and would even go back and re-watch the series as I’m sure I would have missed something!
It really is a fascinating series, and well worth a watch if you’re interested in history of any kind. I’m next looking to binge Lucy Worsley’s series on Agatha Christie, as I’ve just booked to hear her speak on Christie in September!
If you’re in the UK, you can watch it on BBC iPlayer here – BBC iPlayer – Lucy Worsley Investigates
Below are just a few things I picked up from each episode which gives you a sense of what each episode in the series covers.
Episode One – The Witch-Hunts
- October 1590 North Berwick group of witches gathered.
- Said they conjured storm to kill King James VI returning to Scotland from Denmark by sea and lucky to survive.
- Dozens executed and triggered century of persecution.
- Witches seen as threat to order and stability.
- First woman executed in Berwick witch trials was Agnes Sampson who was midwife and wise woman in town.
- Malleus Malleficarum ‘Hammer of Witches’.
- Sex and witchcraft fundamentally intertwined.
- Scottish Witchcraft Act made witchcraft a capital offence for which punishment was death but didn’t define witchcraft.
- Evidence found in treasury records like pins for pricking witches.
Episode Two – The Black Death
- 1348 Black Death struck Britain, most deadly pandemic in British history.
- 6 million population at first but 2 years later only 3 million left – literally half the population wiped out.
- Was a bacterium humans hadn’t been exposed to before so no herd immunity and no understanding of how it spread.
- Two types of plague; one spread through breathing and air (pneumonic) and one through lice and fleas on clothes (bubonic).
- Plague pits dug, shocking and sudden change when burial considered so important.
- Concern with health of soul to lessen time spent in purgatory, prayers said to have better death rather than longer lives.
- Generations of families dead within days or weeks.
- Fewer workers after Black Death meant rise in wages and workers demanded more.
- Women began to hold land, take over businesses, and be apprenticed.
Episode Three – The Princes in the Tower
- Story claims Edward V and brother Richard Duke of York murdered in their beds.
- Richard III hogs limelight of story and Shakespeare portrays him as villain ‘shedding of infant’s blood’.
- Discovery of bones of Richard III forged campaign to rehabilitate reputation.
- Reclaim story of princes.
- Edward V grew up away from family and schooled for future he couldn’t escape from, raised at Ludlow with Anthony Woodville.
- Dominic Mancini wrote account and probably met Edward V.
- Whoever controlled king called controlled country when Edward V succeeded to throne, Richard III made protector, so intercepted king on route to London and executed Woodville.
- Elizabeth Woodville fled into sanctuary.
- Princes lost right to throne through stain of illegitimacy.
- 1502 James Tyrell confessed he killed princes on Richard’s orders.
- Other suspects for murder of princes including Duke of Buckingham but no evidence they were murdered either.
Episode Four – Madness of King George
- Winter 1788 George III violent, abusive, and hallucinating, rules for 60 years but plagued by bouts of mental illness unexplained at the time.
- Diary of Robert Greville, king’s equerry recorded king’s illness.
- Has been argued king had porphyria but historians divided, bipolar disorder is modern diagnosis of madness.
- 1765 first instance of illness but no records, perhaps first experience of mental illness.
- Triggers seem to be deaths of children; he was devoted father.
- George III actually drafted abdication letter in period of lucidity but didn’t send it.
- Confined at Kew 1788 and son senses opportunity to seize power – regency bill drawn up in preparation.
- 1780s doctors believed they could purge madness from body.
- Francis Willis brought in to treat king and George recovered from bout of illness and attended thanksgiving service.
- Relapsed 1801 and 1804.
- King stayed with George Rose who saw relapses and led commission 1815 to reform Bedlam hospital.
If you’re interested in any of the topics above, some further reading can be found below:
- Jeremy Black – George III: Madness and Majesty (2020)
- Tracy Borman – Witches: A Tale of Sorcery, Scandal and Seduction (2013)
- Nigel Cawthorne – Witches: The History of a Persecution (2019)
- John Hatcher – The Black Death: An Intimate History (2010)
- Christopher Hibbert – George III: A Personal History (1998)
- John Kelly – The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death (2006)
- Matthew Lewis – The Survival of the Princes in the Tower (2017)
- Suzannah Lipscomb – Witchcraft: A Ladybird Expert Book (2018)
- Stephen Porter – The Black Death: A New History of the Bubonic Plagues of London (2021)
- Andrew Roberts – George III: The Life and Reign of Britain’s Most Misunderstood Monarch (2021)
- M J Trow – The Killer of the Princes in the Tower (2021)
- Alison Weir – Richard III and the Princes in the Tower (2014)