M.Phil, M.Univ. (Hons.), F.S.A. (Scot.)
Lesley Smith has been the Curator of Tutbury Castle in Staffordshire since 2000. She is a medical historian holding an M.Phil in Tudor medicine, is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, and is also a Member of the Society of Medical Writers. In addition to these qualifications, Lesley was awarded an Honorary Masters Degree in 2010 by the University of Derby for “Services to History in the Community”, and has 38 academic publications. She is also published in the wider community and had her own page in the local county magazine “Staffordshire Life” for eight years.
Lesley has also appeared in over 120 television programmes some of which have been broadcast to 38 countries. Lesley is also well known for her highly entertaining and informative costumed portrayals of a variety of historical characters, which she gives both at the Castle and across the UK (and beyond). For information about Lesley’s public lectures and offsite appearances, please call 01283 812129 or Click Here to contact the us.
Please note that Lesley’s performances are intended for audiences over the age of 16, unless special arrangements have been agreed in advance.
Lesley’s Current performances include:
Sex and The Tudors
This lecture given by castle curator Lesley Smith is a rip-roaring tumble through the sexual exploits of the Tudors. Not just Henry VIII had a good time, so did a lot of other people according to records.
Contraception, conception, prostitution and gay sex feature in this engaging and highly entertaining lecture.
Not suitable for those who shock easily or have a nervous disposition!
The story of Boudicca, although much of it is cloaked in poor evidence is still extraordinary. Britannia was a remote outpost of the Roman Empire and in the early years of Roman occupation was still divided into many Celtic tribal kingdoms. Among these, in the part that we now know as East Anglia, was the kingdom of the Iceni, whose warrior queen Boudicca stood against the Roman invaders when her male counterparts were too weak to do so.
This inspiring and mighty Queen was on a mission of revenge for the rape of her daughters and possessed an absolute determination to teach the Romans on her land a sharp lesson. Gathering support from other Celtic tribes, the red-headed queen swept across eastern England, and came close to driving the Romans out altogether. In the end she fell, but her glorious rebellion sent shock waves across the mighty Roman Empire. This is her story.
At the height of medieval England, one couple caused a great scandal across the nation. They were Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt. John was duke of Lancaster, the third son of King Edward III, and the richest man in England. Katherine was the daughter of a Flemish knight, and John’s mistress, and their passionate love affair was considered both shocking and extraordinary, even at a court known for luxury and licentious behaviour. However, this was no casual affair, but one of the great love stories of history. Travel back in time to when there really were knights in shining armour, and hear Katherine’s own account of her life and her love.
For centuries, Henry VIII’s second wife Anne Boleyn has been portrayed as a cunning and manipulative woman, responsible for causing the bloody aspects of the Reformation in England. In truth, Anne was a highly educated and profoundly religious person who cared deeply about her moral standing. There is also evidence that Anne really did love Henry, even though he turned against her when she failed to provide the son he craved.
In this portrayal of Anne she will appear by candlelight in her execution gown during the last 45 minutes of her life in the Tower of London. Bear witness as she prepares to leave Henry, and to join the King of Kings.
Queen Elizabeth I
There is no doubt that Elizabeth I had one of the most profound effects on English and European politics of any British ruler. The Protestant queen in the cold bed was given a matter of months on the throne by Catholic observers of the day, believing she could not hope to survive. Instead, Elizabeth in fact went on to rule England for nearly forty-five years, mostly in peace. Her passionate belief in the English people and her lack of martial ambition combined with a brilliant mind and outstanding political skills made her hugely successful, confounding all her critics.
Here is a chance to meet Her Majesty at her political zenith and already an icon in an English psyche. This glittering presentation will transport the audience back to the time of Drake, Raleigh and Shakespeare, on England’s voyage into the Renaissance.
Mary Queen of Scots
Mary Queen of Scots was queen of Scotland and France, and a dangerous claimant for the English throne. She was a great beauty, and very well educated, but was a fool for men, something her cousin and rival Elizabeth of England was careful to avoid. After being forced to flee from Scotland by her rebellious subjects, she was held prisoner at various properties in the Midlands and Yorkshire. Among these, her most hated was Tutbury Castle, where she was held on on four occasions. It was here that she became embroiled in the plots which were eventually to cost her life. She left Tutbury for the last time in 1585 when she was moved to nearby Chartley. There she was arrested and sent to Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire where she was executed in 1587. Meet the tragic queen during her final imprisonment at Tutbury and share her hopes and fears as her dramatic tale approaches its bitter conclusion.
The Witches of Manningtree
(with Dr. Gareth Williams from the British Museum)
In 1645-6, while England was bitterly divided by the war between King Charles I and Parliament, a hysterical witch-hunt broke out in Essex, spreading to neighbouring counties. Led by the sinister Matthew Hopkins, the self-styled Witchfinder-General, this led to the accusation and trial of hundreds of women (and some men), often on little evidence beyond the spite of neighbours taking the opportunity to settle old scores. With authority weak as the war raged, and with religious tensions high, these accusations often led to the deaths of the so-called witches, even when they were not formally convicted. But were they all innocent? As unfashionable a view as it is today, evidence suggests that some of these individuals were indeed involved in criminal activity including using curses and the threat of witchcraft for extortion and demanding money with menaces.
This is the tale of one accused witch, taken from real evidence recorded at the time, as she awaits her examination by the Witchfinder General. As she tries to win you, the audience to her side, will she be found innocent or guilty?
Nell Gwynne was the mistress of Charles II and for many people, that is all she was known for – other than for selling oranges!
The real Nell Gwynne is a victory for English womanhood, showing great courage against the background of the bloodiest civil war in English history and the poverty that followed for many of the population. Against all the odds Nell became a star of the London stage and the greatest comic actress of her day, and won the hearts of theatregoers and the king himself. Her rags to riches story may have inspired the story of Cinderella, but even after she caught her handsome prince, Nell was no stranger to tragedy.
You will have a chance to meet pretty, witty little Nell in fantastic costume and have chance to both laugh and cry with her.
Unlike most of the famous characters portrayed here, Peggy Knight was an understated heroine, who lived in the shadows as a member of Churchill’s Special Operations Executive during the Second World War. This young woman was a shorthand typist in 1944 at 24 years of age, living in north London. Suddenly she found herself recruited and after just two short weeks of training was parachuted into enemy-occupied France.
What Peggy achieved fighting alongside a politically divided Resistance already in disarray is truly amazing, and she was decorated for her heroism by three different nations, before returning to a normal life and marriage. Learn more of those tense months in France and Peggy’s immense courage and patriotism as she looks back on her experiences.
Margaret Thatcher is without doubt one of the most successful women of the 20th century. From roots in a grocer’s shop in Grantham, she gained a degree in chemistry at Oxford and later also took a law degree.
Margaret Thatcher then succeeded in doing what would have been unthinkable even twenty years earlier, by becoming Britain’s first female prime minister. Her firm handling, both of the Conservative party and of government policy meant she could also be a contentious figure, going down in history as ‘The Iron Lady’.
Admired by many and loathed by others, Margaret Thatcher is one of the most striking political figures in living memory. Lesley bring this portrayal of an extraordinary woman to audiences, many of whom remember the Thatcher years. Using the words of Margaret Thatcher herself in the biography ‘The Path to Power’, we will hear her describe her journey to Number 10 Downing Street.