The rest, for Dr Tracy, is history

One of the country’s top historians, Lincolnshire lass Dr Tracy Borman, has shared how she turned her love of history into becoming the very word in history.

Dr Tracy Borman holding Anne Boleyn's newly-discovered falcon.
Dr Tracy Borman holding Anne Boleyn's newly-discovered falcon.

Dr Borman specialises in the Tudor period, a love she has carried since her school days in Scothern.

"I love the Tudors – you honestly couldn’t make their lives up!” she said, “There’s villians with Henry VIII and Mary I, drama with Henry’s six wives, and the Virgin Queen as our heroine.”

Tracy’s favourite monarch of the all is Elizabeth I, who Tracy described as an icon who was way ahead of her time:

Tracy conducting some research at The National Archives.

"She was a real role model,” she said, “She was also the most successful of the Tudor monarchs and she overcame such diversity to become one of the greatest monarchs of all time.”

But it was an inspiring history teacher called Mrs Judy Jones when she was an A Level student at the Yarborough School – now Lincoln Castle Academy – who really inspired her to follow a career in history.

“She really inspired me to realise that history is about humans who are just like us, and she really brought the Tudors to life,” she said, “She lit a fuse in me and that was it – I knew I had to study history for as long as possible.”

But her incredible career wouldn’t have happened at all, had she followed the advice of a careers advisor who told her “not to bother” studying history, as she’d never have a career in history.

Tracy Borman takes a selfie on the roof of Hampton Court Palace.

"I’m so pleased I didn’t follow their advice,” Tracy said, “At the time I was devastated, but I knew I had to go for it.”

Dr Borman studied history at the University of Hull, where she later taught, and was awarded a PhD in 1997, as well as an honorary DLit in 2017.

It was at university that she discovered her love of heritage as well, and one of her first roles was a volunteer jailer position at Lincoln Castle, and later at Grimsthorpe Castle, near Bourne.

After moving to London, Tracy’s first big break was working at the National Archives, which she said was such a treasure trove for a history buff like herself.

Dr Tracy and Bishop Grosseteste Vice-Chancellor Peter Neil.

She said: “There are so many incredible treasures in there – that was it, that was when I knew I had to spend the rest of my life in this career, and I’ve been incredibly lucky to do exactly that.”

Dr Borman has had a successful career in heritage and has worked for a range of historic properties and national organisations, including the Heritage Lottery Fund, The National Archives and English Heritage.

She is now Chief Executive of the Heritage Education Trust, a charity which encourages children to visit and learn from historic properties.

"We want to get out there that history is far from boring,” Tracy said, “Mrs Jones said that hisotry is all about stories and the characters in them, and it’s all really relatable and what we want to do is bring those stories to life.”

Tracy conducting some research at The National Archives.

She is also joint Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces, the charity that manages Hampton Court Palace, the Tower of London, Kensington Palace, Kew Palace, the Banqueting House, Whitehall and Hillsborough Castle.

"I think Hampton Court is may favourite of the palaces I look after,” she said, “It’s one very close to my heart as it’s got so much Tudor heritage connected to it and it’s a dream job to work here.

"I also married my husband at the Tower of London.”

Tracy recalls one of her first days at Hampton Court where she was doing some training in one of the palace’s private rooms, and the guide told her that the room she was stood in was the very room that Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife, gave birth to the future Edward VI, and died from childbirth fever 12 days later.

"I was stood in there completely agog that such an important historical moment happened in that room, I couldn’t listen to the rest of the talk, I was in so much awe,” Tracy remembered fondly.

Tracy has gone on to write many books on her favourite subject – the Tudor period in history, specifically the Elizabethan period – and it was a conversation with fellow historian and author Alison Weir who set her off on a path of writing.

Tracy at the Tower of London

"We were in the National Archives and we just clicked,” Tracy said, “And I said I’d love to write a book about Henrietta Howard [a mistress of George II and a trailblazer of her time], and she helped me to write a proposal for her publisher, and the rest, literally, was history.”

She has now written more than a dozen books, both fiction and non-fiction, including ‘Elizabeth’s Women’, which was Book of the Week on Radio 4, ‘Thomas Cromwell: the untold story of Henry VIII’s most faithful servant’, which was a Sunday Times bestseller, and ‘Henry VIII and the Men Who Made Him’.

Her latest book, ‘Crown & Sceptre: A New History of the British Monarchy’, explored every English monarch since William the Conquerer up to our current Elizabeth II, and her next one, going back to her favourite time period in history, is based on the relationship between the doomed Anne Boleyn and her daughter, Elizabeth.

She also has three new fiction novels in the pipeline too due out in the next couple of years.

Her expertise in history has led to her becoming Trustee of The Buccleuch Living Heritage Trust and a Patron of Lavenham Library, the Friends of Marble Hill House, Vectis Archaeological Trust and the Chalke Valley History Festival.

Not only boasting being a best-selling author and history expert, Dr Tracy Borman has also added TV presenter to her many accolades, with recent historical documentaries including ‘Inside the Tower of London’, ‘The Private Lives of the Tudors’, ‘The Fall of Anne Boleyn’ and most recently, ‘Hampton Court: Behind Closed Doors’.

Tracy said one of the highlights of her career came while filming, as she was given access to the Vatican Archives where she was able to see a love letter written by Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn during their courtship.

In January 2021, she was awarded an honorary professorship from Bishop Grosseteste University, Lincoln, where she also became chancellor last month, and in 2020 she was made an Honorary Fellow in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Queen Mary University of London.

Knowing so much about history, how does Tracy feel about historical dramas, especially when many ae known to be historically inaccurate or exaggerated?

"Most historians fall into one of two camps,” she said, “Those that hate them because they can be so inaccurate and misleading, and those who think they are a great way of getting people into history and encouraging them to find out more, and I fall into the latter camp.

"It’s just a case of remembering it is a drama at the end of the day, and if they want to find out more about history, they can find it out for themselves.”

For anyone out there who wants to follow their passion for history, as Tracy has, she said the key piece of advice would be to volunteer as much possible.

"You need to get as much experience as possible in your field,” she said, “Getting qualifications is important too, but having experience in voluntary positions, a summer job or whatever you can find is also vitally important.

"But most importantly, don’t give up! Don’t listen to anyone who tells you can’t do it!”

Dr Tracy Borman holding Anne Boleyn's newly-discovered falcon.
Dr Tracy Borman at Hampton Court Palace.
Tracy at the Tower of London