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Department of History

Staff Profile

Dr Natalie Mears

Associate Professor (Reader) (Early Modern British History) in the Department of History
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 41049

(email at natalie.mears@durham.ac.uk)

I’m a primarily historian of Tudor and early-Stuart politics and religion, though I have additional interests in the posthumous reputation of Elizabeth I and in the representation of the Tudors and Stuarts in modern media, especially opera.

My interest in the early modern period began when I did voluntary work in the archives of Hatfield House before I went to university. The home of the marquesses of Salisbury, it contains the Cecil Papers -- the papers of William Cecil, Lord Burghley (Principal Secretary and Lord Treasurer to Elizabeth I) and his son, Robert Cecil, earl of Salisbury (Principal Secretary to Elizabeth I and James VI and I, as well as Lord Treasurer to James) – probably the most important collection on early modern English politics in private hands. I loved working there so much that I went back every vacation during my undergraduate degree at Cambridge and used the archive for my undergraduate dissertation which was published, in shortened form, as 'Regnum Cecilianum? A Cecilian perspective of the court', in John Guy’s edited collection, The Reign of Elizabeth I: Court and Culture in the Last Decade (Cambridge, 1995). I went on to complete an M.Litt in Historical Research and a doctorate with John at the University of St Andrews. I taught at the universities of Cambridge, Manchester and Swansea, as well as working as a research assistant on the Clergymen of the Church of England Database, before coming to Durham in 2003. I am currently a Reader.

My initial interests were in high court politics, political culture, and the nature of Elizabeth’s queenship, all things that I investigated in my first book, Queenship and Political Discourse in the Elizabethan realms(Cambridge, 2005), and in a number of articles. From 2007, I was co-investigator, with Philip Williamson and Stephen Taylor (both Durham) on the AHRC-funded project, British state prayers, fasts and thanksgivings, 1540s to 1940s. This project explores over 800 occasions of special worship: prayers, liturgies, fasts and thanksgivings ordered by the crown or government, either to seek divine help during periods of crisis (such as plague, famine or war) or to thank God for his intervention. I was lead editor for the first of a three-volume edition, published by the Church of England Record Society in 2013: National Prayers: Special Worship since the Reformation. Volume 1: Special Prayers, Fasts and Thanksgivings in the British Isles, 1533-1688. I am currently co-editing, with Philip Williamson, the third and final volume; my focus is on the unofficial and official anniversary occasions, such as Accession Day and Fifth of November. 

The main project I am now developing explores the nature of political participation in England from the Break with Rome to the outbreak of Civil War. It arose partly from my examination of the issue during Elizabeth’s reign in Queenship and political discourse, as well as a growing dissatisfaction with the dominance of Habermas’s model of the ‘public sphere’. I began to rethink the nature of ‘participation’ in 'Public Worship and political participation in Elizabethan England' published in the Journal of British Studies in 2012, drawing on some of my research on the State Prayers project. Now, I’m interested in investigating notions of ‘participation’ using new methods on ritual performance and linguistics (including Austin’s concept of ‘speech acts’) using the very rich, but poorly catalogued, records of the Star Chamber, the judicial wing of the privy council. 

My supplementary project examines the relationship between history and opera. It arose from a series of workshops I conducted with successive groups of second year students, with the help of Ruth Paton and English Touring Opera, and which was funded by an Excellence in Teaching grant from the university. I am particularly interested in how individuals and events from the sixteenth and early-seventeenth century are represented in productions over the past fifty years or so. Though a very challenging project, it does, at least, allow me to spend my time going to the opera to see productions of Donizetti’s Anna Bolena, Maria Stuarda, Roberto Devereux, Bellini’s I Puritani, and Britten’s Gloriana to name but a few!

I am privileged to be invited regularly to lecture and talk to new teachers through the Prince’s Teaching Institute and have completed a teacher/student pack of documents on The Reformation in collaboration with The National Archives, which will go ‘live’ in the summer of 2017.

Research Groups

Research Projects

Research Interests

  • Tudor and early Stuart politics and religion
  • Political participation, popular politics, and the 'public sphere'
  • Posthumous representations of Elizabeth I
  • Representations of the Tudors and Stuart in modern media, especially opera

Related Links

Publications

Authored book

Chapter in book

  • 2016 'State papers and related collections', in Sangha, Laura & Willis, Jonathan (eds.), Understanding early modern primary sources, Routledge, pp. 17-34
  • 2014 'Paul's Cross and nationwide special worship, 1533-1642', in Kirby, Torrance & Stanwood, P.G. (eds.), Paul's Cross and the culture of persuasion in England, 1520-1640, Brill, pp. 41-60
  • 2013 'Special nationwide worship and the Book of Common Prayer in England, Wales and Ireland, 1533-1642', in Mears, Natalie & Ryrie, Alec (eds.), Worship and the parish church in early modern Britain, Ashgate, pp. 31-72
  • 2012 'Introduction’ and ‘Special nationwide worship and the Book of Common Prayer in England, Wales and Ireland, 1533-1642', in Mears,Natalie & Alec Ryrie (eds.), Worship and the Parish Church in Early Modern Britain, Ashgate.
  • 2011 'Brought to book: special book purchases in English parishes, 1558-1640', in Peter Langman (ed.), Negotiating the Jacobean printed book, Ashgate, pp. 29-44
  • 2010 'The council', in Susan Doran & Norman Jones (eds.), The Elizabethan World, Routledge, pp. 59-75
  • 2004 'Politics in the Elizabethan Privy Chamber: Lady Mary Sidney and Kat Ashley', in James Daybell. (ed.), Women and Politics in Early Modern England, 1450-1700, Ashgate, pp. 67-82
  • 1995 'Regnum Cecilianum? A Cecilian perspective of the court', in John Guy (ed.), The Reign of Elizabeth I: Court and Culture in the Last Decade, Cambridge, pp. 46-64

Edited book

Journal Article

Newspaper/Magazine Article

  • 2009 'Praying for Britain', BBC History Magazine 11, pp. 46-51

Teaching Areas

  • Popular political participation and the 'public sphere' in early modern England (Special Subject)

  • Selling the Tudor Monarchy (Level 2)