Dr Catherine Fletcher

Photo of Catherine Fletcher


Lecturer in Public History
Ph.D. (London)
Public history; Early Modern British and European history; the Italian Renaissance and its reception.

+44 (0)114 22 22615
Jessop West 3.03
Office hours: Spring 2014-15 - Mon 3-4pm, Tue 12-1pm



I joined the History Department at the University of Sheffield in September 2012. My first degree was in Politics and Communication Studies from the University of Liverpool and I later worked for the BBC Political Unit, including as a researcher and TV producer. In 2004 I returned to full-time academic life to study for a Ph.D. in History, which I completed in 2008 at Royal Holloway, University of London.

I have held fellowships at the Institute for Historical Research, the British School at Rome and European University Institute. Before moving to Sheffield I was Lecturer in Early Modern History at Durham University.

My first book, Our Man in Rome: Henry VIII and his Italian Ambassador , was published in 2012. Written for a broad audience, it tells the inside story of Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon from the point of view of Henry’s ambassador in Rome. It was published in paperback in 2013 retitled The Divorce of Henry VIII: The Untold Story.


My research interests are, broadly, in the history of Renaissance and early modern Europe (especially Italy and England). My work to date has explored the cultures of politics and diplomacy in the later fifteenth and sixteenth century – a theme in part inspired by my own experience of working in political environments. I have a growing interest in the reception and communication of Renaissance history – in museums, popular culture, fiction, film and online – and in the uses of history in the contemporary world.

My research has explored how the system of resident diplomacy we know today developed at the papal court in Rome during the later 15th and early 16th century. I am interested in the everyday practice of diplomacy and the structures that underpinned it, and analyse ambassadors' activities in their social and cultural context, roaming into such diverse areas as the domestic environment, liturgical space and family networks. I am currently finalising a monograph on diplomatic practice in Renaissance Rome and developing the follow-up to Our Man in Rome, which will look at the life and court of papal nephew Alessandro de’ Medici, ruler of Florence in the 1530s.

I am interested in exploring both through research and in my own public historical practice how the Renaissance is presented, investigating its cultural significance in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.


Research Supervision

Nicola Walker - Industrializing Communities in South Yorkshire, 1650-1850: A Case Study of Cannon Hall.

Further information on research opportunities within the department.



Catherine Fletcher Our Man In Rome book cover Our Man in Rome: Henry VIII and his Italian Ambassador (Bodley Head, 2012). (Published in paperback in 2013 retitled The Divorce of Henry VIII: The Untold Story

1527. Gregorio 'The Cavalier' Casali is Henry VIII's man in Rome. An Italian freelance diplomat, he charmed his way into the English service before he was twenty. But now he faces an almighty challenge. Henry wants a divorce from Catherine of Aragon, and Casali must persuade Pope Clement VII of his master's case. Drawing on hundreds of unknown archive documents, Our Man in Rome reconstructs his tumultuous life among the great and powerful at this turning point for European history. From the besieged Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome to the splendours of Greenwich Palace, we follow his trail in the service of Henry VIII. Lavish ceremony and glamorous parties stand in contrast to the daily strains of embassy life, as Casali pawns family silver to pay the bills, fights off rapacious in-laws and defends himself in the face of Anne Boleyn's wrath.

Fletcher Journal book cover Italian ambassadorial networks in early modern Europe. Special edition of the Journal of Early Modern History, edited by Catherine Fletcher and Jennifer M. DeSilva. JEMH 14 (2010).


Book Chapters


'Performing Henry at the Court of Rome', in Henry VIII and the Court: Art, Politics and Performance, ed. Suzannah Lipscomb and Thomas Betteridge (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2013).

Given the obvious significance, in retrospect, of Henry VIII’s break with Rome in 1533, it can be easy to forget that for the first 24 years of his reign England was a part of Catholic Europe and Henry was one of the Christian princes who contended symbolically for precedence at the papal court. An examination of Henry’s representation in Rome offers a means to rediscover his early persona as Defender of the Faith and to track developments in Tudor diplomatic practice. This chapter discusses what ‘performing Henry’ entailed in practice for the king’s ambassadors in Rome, focusing on two symbolic aspects of diplomatic representation: the liturgical ceremonies of the curia, and princely gift-exchange.

‘The altar of St Maurice and the invention of tradition in St Peter’s’, in Old Saint Peter’s ed. Carol M. Richardson, John Osborne and Joanna Storey (Cambridge University Press / British School at Rome monograph series, 2013).

This chapter considers the intersection of diplomacy and liturgy in the context of Old St Peter’s, and aims to shed light on a significant use of the basilica. Among the most interesting features of St Peter’s in this regard is the altar of St Maurice in the south transept, where the Holy Roman Emperor would be anointed prior to his coronation. The manoeuvrings around this altar highlight the basilica’s role as a theatre of power and as a space where ‘antique’ traditions might be invented to suit the political climate of the day.

‘Uno palaço belissimo: town and country living in Renaissance Bologna’, in The Early Modern Italian Domestic Interior, 1400-1700, ed. Stephanie Miller, Elizabeth Carroll Consavari and Erin Campbell (Ashgate, 2013).

‘The city of Rome as a space for diplomacy,’ in Atti del convegno Early Modern Rome 1341-1667, ed. Portia Prebys (Ferrara: Edisai, 2012).


Journal Articles


'War, diplomacy and social mobility: the Casali family in the service of Henry VIII', Journal of Early Modern History, 14(6), 2010.

By employing Gregorio Casali as his permanent representative at the curia from 1525, King Henry VIII of England acquired a diplomatic structure not uncommon in sixteenth-century Europe: the family consortium. This article illustrates the functioning of that structure, presenting new evidence relating to Casali's background and career, and assessing both the benefits that accrued to the English crown as a consequence of his employment, and the advantages that Casali and his family acquired through their service to a foreign prince.

'"Furnished with gentleman": The ambassador's house in sixteenth-century Italy', Renaissance Studies, 24(4), 2010.

This article investigates an important subset of Renaissance diplomatic practices: those related to the house, household and hospitality. It considers treatises on the office of ambassador by Ermolao Barbaro and Etienne Dolet, in light of the practice of a small number of diplomats active in the 1520s and 30s. It asks why the authors of these treatises were preoccupied by the proper conduct of members of the ambassador's household, arguing that contemporary conceptions of the household as a microcosm of the polity have a particular resonance in the case of the Renaissance ambassador.

'”Those who give are not all generous”: Tips and bribes at the sixteenth-century papal court,’ EUI Working Papers, Max Weber Programme 2011/15.

Ambassadors in early modern Europe were frequent disbursers of tips, rewards and bribes, and usually expected something in return for their liberality. This paper considers the conventions, both written and unwritten, that governed such activities in Renaissance Rome, setting them in the context of the extensive literature on gift-giving.


Full list of publications by Catherine Fletcher


Module Leader - Course Assignment (Historical Practice), HST299 (Level 2 optional module)

This extended project is an opportunity to undertake independent study and present results in an alternative format to the traditional essay. You will work as part of a group of students, receiving feedback from each other and from a supervisor. The project will enable you to develop your research and presentation skills, as you:

  • define a subject area in conjunction with your seminar Tutor.
  • identify relevant primary and/or secondary literature to frame your research question and support your arguments.
  • convey the results of that research in a format agreed by the Tutor which may include film, radio, web or exhibition.
In 2013-14 this module will be open to students taking HST2029 (Inventing the Tudors) and will focus on the production of short films on topics related to Tudor England.

Module Leader - Inventing the Tudors, HST2029 (Level 2 optional module)

From Holbein's Henry to Hollywood's Elizabeth, images of the Tudors are pervasive in popular culture. This module explores the invention of those images – tyrannical Henry, Bloody Mary, the Virgin Queen – in historical narratives from the Tudors' own time to the present day. Rather than focusing on the detailed history of the Tudor period itself, we will investigate the subsequent construction of the Tudor monarchs and their court in historical writing, art, opera, museums, film and television. How and why have the Tudors become such iconic figures in English history? What is their role in writing the English (or British) nation?

Module Leader - The Uses of History, HST3000 (Level 3 module)

This module offers an opportunity for students to reflect on their experience of studying History at university. It encourages and guides reflection on the nature of History as a discipline, and on the questions raised by representations of the past in both academic and non-academic settings. In doing so, the module provides a capstone to undergraduate study, enabling students to bring together the experience and knowledge they have gained across the degree course, to engage in debate about important questions facing historians in the present, and to consider ideas about the role and purposes of History as an academic subject. It also allows students an opportunity to look ahead to the ways in which they might continue to draw on their training as historians in life beyond graduation.

Module Leader - Presenting the Past: Making History Public, HST6042 (Postgraduate module)

The primary focus of this module is the interpretation and creation of 'public history'. The module will enable you to reflect on the issues involved in disseminating history outside academia and develop communication and presentation skills for audiences outside higher education. You will be required to (1) analyse examples of public history and (2) create an example of public history. External partners may be involved in setting briefs for your assessment, giving you the opportunity to develop relations with outside employers. The module may be of particular interest if planning to pursue careers in heritage, museums or education. Seminars will include discussion of: issues in public history; displaying objects and presenting interiors; writing for the 'public'; sound and vision; digital history.

Module Leader - History Writers’ Workshop, HST6056 (Postgraduate module)

This module gives students the opportunity to develop their writing skills for non-academic audiences and produce either one extended piece of written work or a portfolio of shorter articles for assessment. The focus is on practical work: students will prepare drafts of online/print features, prose non-fiction and radio scripts. Seminars will focus on critical reading of both professional history-writing and students’ own work-in-progress. This module may be taken as a stand-alone option or used to complement practical projects undertaken in other modules.

Public Engagement

As Lecturer in Public History, public engagement is central to my role. I’ve spoken at literary festivals, to local history groups and am now working with a tour company to lecture ‘on location’ in Italy. As an author of history books for a broad audience I try to bring complex stories of the past to life for my readers.

I have funding from the Faculty Arts Enterprise scheme to develop a series of schools workshops related to my research on Alessandro de’ Medici. You can read more about this, and keep up-to-date with new public engagement initiatives on the ‘Project Alex’ blog.

I regularly contribute to the History Department's History Matters blog where I’ve blogged on various topics including Dante and Dan Brown, the discovery of Richard III's body under a Leicester car park and the popular myths surrounding the Borgia family.

I have also contributed as a guest blogger to many other history blogs, including On the Tudor Trail and The Anne Boleyn Files.



In the Media

My research on Henry VIII’s diplomacy has been featured on BBC Radio 4's Open Book and BBC Radio 3's Night Waves programme, as well as a Q&A with the Tudor-interest blog On the Tudor Trail. In addition, I have been a historical adviser to the new BBC TV adaptation of Wolf Hall.

For more on my role as advisor for Wolf Hall please see my interviews with BBC History Extra, the Sunday Telegraph and The Conversation.

I have been a contributor to two editions on Melvyn Bragg's Radio 4 programme In Our Time, discussing the rise and fall of two brilliant but sometimes notorious Renaissance dynasties: the Borgias and the Medici. I also discussed the Invention of Italy for Misha Glenny’s Radio 4 series of that name.

In my previous career I produced TV programmes on historical topics for BBC Parliament.

Professional Roles

I am a member of the Renaissance Society of America and the Society for Renaissance Studies.



University Administrative Roles

I am currently Director of the History MA Programme. I sit on the Department of History's Postgraduate Committee and the Faculty of Arts and Humanities' External Relations Committee. I’m responsible for module allocation for second year undergraduates entering third year.