What could the Tudors tell us about fake news?

You might think of fake news as a phenomenon of the internet age. But Joanne Paul’s research shows that it’s a problem tangled up with history, politics and power.

Have you ever wondered how advisers in the Middle Ages influenced power without losing their heads? Dr Joanne Paul has been examining the tactics of ‘speaking truth to power’, exploring how people in power today can be – and are – influenced. ‘I want to point out not only the parallels between the Middle Ages and where we are today, but also the important differences, highlighting what we can learn from the past,’ she says.

Her research shows that fake news and information leaks aren’t just a 21st-century phenomenon. They were widespread more than 400 years ago – used by advisers who sought to influence the powerful. Joanne investigates the strategies used by counsellors and advisers of Henry VIII, such as Thomas More, and those of Elizabeth I, including William Cecil, Robert Dudley and Sir Francis Walsingham, the Tudor queen’s spymaster.

Joanne hopes that her work will not only illuminate the past but also prove useful for our current political period. ‘For me, the past can be a refreshing vantage-point from which to view the present. If the past is a foreign country, I hope to show people that a visit there can make us see our own situation – such as issues in modern politics – in a whole new light.’

The BBC are using Joanne's work to create a nationwide radio programme, which will feature her research into the culture and conflicts of the Tudor and Stuart courts. It will highlight how modern strategies for swaying both ordinary people and the powerful have their roots in the conflicts of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Dr Joanne Paul is a lecturer in Early Modern History. Her research covers Early Modern cultural and intellectual history, especially themes of rhetoric, counsel and temporality. Her work includes research on Machiavelli, Shakespeare and Hobbes.

There were many strategies used then that are used today, including techniques for ‘speaking truth to power’ and forms of resistance including political satire and the ‘leaking’ of private documents.” Dr Joanne Paul
Lecturer in Early Modern History

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