Lectures

Rupert Willoughby is an experienced public speaker to audiences of all ages and backgrounds. A medievalist by inclination, he is qualified to speak on a very broad range of historical periods and themes. His approach is to inspire audiences by applying a light, humorous touch. One recent client wrote: ‘Your talk was much appreciated by everyone who heard you. Somehow you manage to bring a period of history to life and one can imagine what life was like not only for the well off and well known characters of the time, but for the more ordinary people as well. It was full of humour and insight …’ The comment of a NADFAS reviewer: ‘Illuminating facts and gentle humour combined. Perfect!’

Rupert was invited to join the NADFAS (National Association of the Decorative and Fine Arts Societies) Directory of Lecturers in July 2011, having successfully completed their gruelling selection process (including the legendary ‘ordeal by tweed’). To meet the requirements of his NADFAS clients, his current repertoire has a strong ‘decorative and fine arts’ bias. Both long and short synopses of each hour-long talk (with reading lists), and of his Study Day, ‘The Normans in England, 1066 – 1215′, can be found on this page, together with a selection of reviews.

For Rupert’s attempt to epitomise both the spirit and content of these lectures, see his April 2012 blog, ’Wooing NADFAS: Setting Out One’s Stall at the Annual Directory Meeting’ (http://www.rupertwilloughby.co.uk/archives/912). Rupert’s one-minute speech at the latest Annual Directory Meeting (14 March 2016) was about his ‘Basingstoke’ talk. Read the full text here: http://www.rupertwilloughby.co.uk/cuttings/basingstoke-and-its-contribution-to-world-culture-read-the-book-hear-the-lecture/

Rupert has also produced a short film to promote his lecture on the Normans, which can be viewed on his YouTube page: see http://www.rupertwilloughby.co.uk/gleanings/the-normans-conquest-and-legacy-the-isle-of-wight/ and follow the link.

Further lecture topics are available on application. Please address enquiries to RupertWilloughby@btinternet.com.

A SHORT BIOGRAPHY

Rupert Willoughby specialises in the domestic and social life of the past. He is the author of the best-selling Life in Medieval England for Pitkin and of a series of popular histories of places, including Chawton: Jane Austen’s Village. His most recent book – perhaps his greatest challenge to date – is Basingstoke and its Contribution to World Culture.

Rupert has published numerous articles, contributes regular obituaries to The Daily Telegraph, writes histories of houses, occasionally broadcasts to the nation and is an experienced lecturer, whose repertoire ranges from the life and personalities of the Middle Ages to the world of Jane Austen.

CURRENT LECTURES

Basingstoke and its Contribution to World Culture. One of the most derided towns in England, renowned for its dullness, Basingstoke is distinguished only by its numerous roundabouts and absurd Modernist architecture. Rupert explains that the post-war planners, who inflicted such features as ‘the Great Wall of Basingstoke’ on the town, were politically-motivated and bent on destroying all traces of its past. He reveals the nobler Basingstoke that is buried beneath the concrete, and the few historic gems that have survived the holocaust. Hilariously told, it is a story that neatly illustrates the ugliest episode in England’s architectural history. As Betjeman wrote prophetically, ‘What goes for Basingstoke goes for most English towns’.

Threads of History: the World of the Bayeux Tapestry. Commissioned by the Bishop of Bayeux who fought at Hastings, executed by skilled English craftsmen, the Bayeux Tapestry is the last survivor of a vanished art form. Rupert Willoughby presents a lively introduction to the tapestry – so much more than the story of Hastings – in which he unravels some of its mysteries, places it in the context of its age and firmly establishes it as a landmark in the history of Western art. With its lively illustrations of languid, party-loving, moustachioed Englishmen, of the cavalcades of noble huntsmen and of the snorting Norman cavalry poised to charge into battle, the Tapestry is the next best thing to a moving picture from the time.

The Normans – Conquest and Legacy. It is 950 years since the Normans invaded England. The roughest of company, they came not to civilise, but to seize. A mere eleven men in Duke William’s inner circle enjoyed an unprecedented bonanza, receiving almost half the land of the conquered kingdom. There followed an orgy of building in what was described as ‘a new manner’ – castles, churches, monasteries and cathedrals – that all but effaced the fabric of Saxon England. It was their way of showing us who was in charge. In describing the mass of post-Conquest masonry, Rupert focuses on individuals, like the deeply unpleasant Baldwin de Redvers, lord of the Isle of Wight, where his legacy endures. He offers an insight into their lives – and the disgusting details of William the Conqueror’s funeral.

Knight Errant: The Life and Adventures of William the Marshal. Reckoned by a contemporary to be ‘the best knight who ever was or will be’, William was the classic knight errant, who made his name – and a fortune in ransoms – on the tournament circuit in northern France. Such was William’s renown that he rose to be Regent of England during the minority of Henry III, uniting the nation and saving the English monarchy. Rupert compares William’s verse biography with the Arthurian romances of his contemporary, Chrétien de Troyes, and finds fiction merging with reality. He stirringly evokes a gorgeous world in which the knights were dominant. In their coats of mail like silk shirts and their golden spurs, these were ‘the angels men complain of, who kill whatever they come upon’.

Simon de Montfort – At Home and At War. Now a romantic ruin, Odiham Castle, in north Hampshire, was once the residence of Simon de Montfort and his wife Eleanor, sister of Henry III. Rupert draws upon both written and archaeological evidence to reconstruct the castle and the home life of the couple. He leads the audience on a room-by-room tour, describing what is known or can be surmised about its furniture and decoration. He discusses clothing, literacy and language, the Montforts’ turbulent married life and Simon’s remarkable piety, and ends with a moving description of his death in 1265, at the Battle of Evesham.

Leaves from a Family Album: the 1890s and 1900s through the Eye of the Camera. Having inherited a remarkable collection of family photographs, Rupert set out, with the help of letters, diaries and newspapers, to reconstruct the lives of his ancestors, the Mumbys from Gosport and the de Faletans from eastern France. His collection includes hundreds of spontaneous, natural shots – scenes of them wearing the latest fashions in the Bois de Boulogne, sitting on bicycles, posing with a new motor car or indulging in mixed bathing, all of which offended or even shocked the conservatively-minded at the time. Rupert’s talk is an extended plea not to throw away old photographs – every one an historical document, and often, with a little detective work, a fascinating story to tell.

The World of Jane Austen. An unsentimental jaunt through Jane’s landscape, in which Rupert looks beyond the well-rehearsed biographical details to examine Jane Austen’s physical surroundings, her family life and that of their country neighbours, from squires like William Chute of the Vyne to peasants like the Littleworths of Steventon, one of whom was nanny to the Austen children. Rupert describes the appalling state of the roads and the complications of travel. He contrasts the distinctive Hampshire dialect with the educated speech – hardly less peculiar – of the Austens themselves. He elaborates on the peasant’s smock and the gentleman’s knee breeches and wig – and there is a word about Jane’s shopping habits and her schooldays in Reading.

STUDY DAY

The Normans in England, 1066 – 1215 - Rupert Willoughby presents a trilogy of talks about the Normans – from an unravelling of the Bayeux Tapestry to an account of the orgy of building after 1066 that all but effaced the fabric of Saxon England, and, to conclude, a celebration of the life of William the Marshal, a characteristic Norman knight of the Magna Carta period.

SHORT SYNOPSES AND READING LISTS

Rupert in conversation with John Wesley at the NADFAS Annual Directory Meeting, March 2014

Basingstoke and its Contribution to World Culture – about the post-war development of a typical English town. What motivated the planners who imposed the absurdities of Modernist architecture on our landscape? Hilarity is guaranteed. (Suggested reading: Rupert Willoughby, Basingstoke and its Contribution to World Culture (2010); George Orwell, ‘The Lion and the Unicorn’, in Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus eds., The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, II (1968); Diana Stanley, Within Living Memory (1967).)

Threads of History: The World of the Bayeux Tapestry – in this lively introduction to the tapestry – so much more than the story of Hastings – Rupert unravels some of its mysteries, places it in the context of its age and firmly establishes it as a landmark in the history of Western art. (Suggested reading: Sir Frank Stenton ed., The Bayeux Tapestry (1957); David Wilson, The Bayeux Tapestry (1985); Lucien Musset, The Bayeux Tapestry (2005).)

The Normans – Conquest and Legacy – an account of the orgy of building after the Conquest that all but effaced the fabric of Saxon England, with the focus on individual patrons and their lives. (Suggested reading: Rupert’s series of blogs in the ‘Norman Conquest’ category – http://www.rupertwilloughby.co.uk/archives/category/the-norman-conquest.)

Knight Errant: The Life and Adventures of William the Marshal – celebrating a key figure in the age of Magna Carta, the 800th anniversary of which falls in 2015, Rupert stirringly evokes a gorgeous world in which the knight was dominant.  In their coats of mail like silk shirts and their golden spurs, these were ‘the angels men complain of, who kill whatever they come upon’. (Suggested reading: Rupert Willoughby, ‘The Perfect Knight’, in Reading and its Contribution to World Culture (2010); Chrétien de Troyes, Arthurian Romances (Penguin Classics, 1991).)

Simon de Montfort – At Home and At War – Rupert leads the audience on a room-by-room tour of thirteenth-century Odiham Castle in Hampshire (now a romantic ruin), describing what is known or can be surmised about its furniture and decoration – and reveals intimate details of Simon’s home life. (Suggested reading: Rupert Willoughby, Life in Medieval England (Pitkin Guides, 1997) and A Key to Odiham Castle (1998).)

Leaves from a Family Album: The 1890s and 1900s through the Eye of the Camera – reconstructing the lives of Rupert’s ancestors through family photographs – hundreds of spontaneous, natural shots of them sitting on bicycles, posing with a new motor car or indulging in mixed bathing, all of which offended or even shocked the conservatively-minded at the time. (Suggested reading: Rupert’s series of blogs in the ‘Incredible Journey of Victor Hugo’s Dog’ category – http://www.rupertwilloughby.co.uk/category/the-incredible-journey-of-victor-hugos-dog/.)

The World of Jane Austen - an unsentimental jaunt through Jane’s landscape, in which Rupert looks beyond the well-rehearsed biographical details to examine her physical surroundings, her family life and that of their country neighbours, both rich and poor. (Suggested reading: Rupert has written four books dealing with aspects of Jane Austen’s life and times – Chawton: Jane Austen’s Village, Sherborne St John and the Vyne in the Time of Jane Austen, Reading and its Contribution to World Culture and Basingstoke and its Contribution to World Culture – see http://www.rupertwilloughby.co.uk/books/.)

'Fort! Fort!' Arms of the Count of Savoy from the Château de Chillon, Switzerland

A SELECTION OF REVIEWS

Basingstoke and its Contribution to World Culture

‘A most amusing and thought-provoking lecture. Outstanding.’ (Alton)

‘An unusual subject for a lecture which had a very amusing beginning, a serious central theme and a light ending. Expertly delivered with good digital slides and very well received by an appreciative audience. An excellent end to our year of lectures.’ (Goring)

‘A great lecture, with well presented information and a humane side … Excellent.’ (Northleach)

‘An enjoyable and well-received lecture, at once amusing and thought-provoking, stimulating a good buzz of discussion afterwards among members. Particularly good, clear and confident delivery. Excellent.’ (Horsham)

‘Good speaker and unusual subject but was interesting, humorous and informative. It was very well delivered. Excellent.’ (West Wycombe)

‘Really good lecture. Content was well presented and prompted much thought about changes in the 1950s and 60s in the name of modernisation.’ (Malling)

‘A thoroughly entertaining lecture, combining both serious content and humour. Outstanding.’ (Hart)

‘Rupert Willoughby gave an amusing, concise and informative lecture. One of the best  I have attended. Good social history, lightened with humour. A broad self-opinion by the lecturer aroused much thought, to be commended.’ (Camberley)

‘Well delivered, lively and amusing.’ (Leatherhead)

Excellent style of presentation … Very nice man!! Excellent.’ (Sheffield)

Threads of History: The World of the Bayeux Tapestry

‘Outstanding. Particularly effective use of wit … good and well-researched information and an engaging, fluent style.’ (Portsea)

‘Humorous and very informative. Greatly enjoyed by all present. Excellent.’ (Fife)

‘Rupert is a wonderful speaker and the audience were enthralled by Rupert himself, his presentation skills and the fascinating subject … Excellent. (Cheam)

‘Rupert’s presentation was mellifluous and highly proficient. He brought the whole story of the Bayeux Tapestry to life and one member said it was one of the best lectures ever … Excellent.’ (Hillingdon)

‘A captivating speaker, sociable and very entertaining. Lecture well presented and most interesting. The background and content of the Bayeux Tapestry was covered with great expertise. Outstanding.’ (Reigate)

‘Very well received. A new look at an old subject, and a very accessible lecture. Excellent.’ (Abingdon)

‘This was a very well prepared lecture, excellently and clearly delivered. It dealt with the world of the Tapestry in its broad context, as well as its manufacture and subsequent history, giving many insights into this world as revealed in its images and related artefacts. The lecture was very well received by the audience who responded very warmly to the speaker, his message and his gentle humour. It left many of us with a strong desire to see the tapestry again with our new understanding of its images and its background. To sum up, this was an excellent lecture.’ (Devon)

‘Delivered “The World of the Bayeux Tapestry” with ease, humour and depth of subject. Excellent.’ (Harrogate)

‘A fascinating lecture, enhanced with touches of humour … Excellent.’ (Arun)

‘Rupert had a very clear delivery, commented upon by many members. He was witty and knowledgeable … Partly as a result of this lecture we gained 4 new members. We do not take questions from the floor but after the lecture Rupert was very happy to talk to people to discuss his lecture with them. Outstanding.’ (Ealing)

‘An extremely well researched lecture, delivered clearly with gentle humour and great detail, all the time relating the Tapestry to relevant historical events, and even involving our local village, Bosham. The lecture was supported by excellent images. Excellent.’ (City of Chichester)

‘An excellent lecture, very informative and strongly recommended if a society is planning a visit to Normandy, or Leek (the copy!). Very pleasant, clear voice and smatterings of humour. Would be worth having for a study day to go into greater detail. Excellent.’ (East Grinstead)

Simon de Montfort – at Home and at War

‘This was a most enjoyable lecture and an entirely new subject … Some members felt that this was the best ever lecture … There were many humorous asides … Our annual luncheon followed so questions were taken in the foyer and Mr Willoughby was most approachable. Excellent.’ (Runnymede)

‘Excellent.’ (Kensington and Chelsea)

Various

(Rupert has long experience of lecturing to local historical societies, associations and clubs. Here are some recent testimonials:)

‘I’d like to say how much I enjoyed your talk yesterday on Oscar Wilde and Reading Gaol. You had a fantastic turn out – just how many people did you manage to squeeze into that room? It was an engaging talk, injecting some humour into the macabre facts that you had to deal with. Absolutely brilliant! Your talk was so good it kept me there straining to hear it against the background noise …’

‘Please pass on to Rupert Willoughby our thanks and congratulations on his superb hour-long guide to the Bayeux Tapestry, which we were honoured to receive yesterday. Rupert’s enthusiasm for, and deep knowledge of, his subject made it come alive for us. Well done, Sir!’

‘Your talk was much appreciated by everyone who heard you. Somehow you manage to bring a period of history to life and one can imagine what life was like not only for the well off and well known characters of the time, but for the more ordinary people as well. It was full of humour and insight and I am sure we shall all look at pictures of the Bayeux Tapestry with new eyes. Thank you very much.’

‘I am writing to say how much I enjoyed last Thursday’s Lunch-Time Lecture by Mr Rupert Willoughby on the subject of Simon de Montfort. Would it be possible, at a future date, for Mr Willoughby to give a further talk on this very interesting and important subject?’

‘A wonderful talk … enjoyed very much by our members.’

‘The lecture was delivered with panache and was followed by a lively question and answer session … All in all a splendid and informative afternoon.’

‘You manage to make history really come alive.’

Passage-way at Llanhydrock House, Cornwall