Just a Drop's annual lecture for 2018, 'Secret Lives Exposed: If Walls Could Talk' saw leading historians and authors reveal history's secret stories and hidden lives.

Acclaimed authors and historians Sarah DunantBettany Hughes and Suzannah Lipscomb - and an audience who had braved a freezing, snow-covered London - joined us on 1 March 2018 for Just a Drop's fifth annual lecture at the Royal Geographical Society.

Our three speakers brought warmth and life to one of the coldest March evenings on record with their wit, insight and intelligence. A week ahead of International Women's Day, their stories shone the spotlight on some of history's most incredible women.

Sarah Dunant spoke animatedly and passionately about life as a nun in Renaissance Italy - the fate of half of the middle and upper-class women in the country at that time. Life as a cloistered nun was on one hand a prison of sorts for these women, but on the other allowed them to explore their talents - whether in art, medicine or music - in what was essentially a mini republic. This freedom was certainly not open to 'free' women, who instead were their husbands' property.

Sarah Dunant at 'Secret Lives Exposed: If Walls Could Talk'. Photograph: April Lauder

Bettany Hughes told us the incredible stories of her favourite women in history. The impressive Byzantine Empress Theodora rose from an actress-prostitute to become the treasured wife and partner of the Emperor Justinian I. Theodora undertook many sweeping reforms with her husband, which protected women and foreigners living in the county, and worked to bring harmony between those of differing religions. We also learnt about Safiye, a girl from an Albanian village who was picked to be part of the Turkish Sultan's hareem, rising to become his favourite wife and later giving birth to his first son, becoming 'mother of the future Sultan', a revered position. Safiye struck up a friendship with Queen Elizabeth I, and Bettany argued that between the two of them they managed to sort out many international affairs.

Bettany Hughes at 'Secret Lives Exposed: If Walls Could Talk'. Photograph: April Lauder

Suzannah Lipscomb's fascinating talk added a shocking twist to what we all think we know about Henry VIII's private life and the legend of the man as a virile womaniser. Suzannah argued that this was a lie - as in fact Henry was often impotent, and was described by Anne Boleyn as inexperienced with women. Poor old Anne of Cleves may have been badly misjudged as Suzannah believes she saw Henry for who he was - so he disliked her from the outset - when in fact she was an attractive women and he was the repulsive one, as opposed to what Henry said at the time.

Suzannah Lipscomb speaking at 'Secret Lives Exposed: If Walls Could Talk'. Photograph: April Lauder

Stephen Sackur, Just a Drop Patron and presenter of HARDTalk made the perfect host for the evening, and led our most lively audience Q&A yet! All three authors signed copies of their books afterwards and chatted to many an enthusiastic audience member inspired by what they had heard.

All proceeds from the evening will support Just a Drop's safe water and sanitation projects. A huge thank you to all of our wonderful speakers and brilliant audience!


Audience Q&A, author book signings at 'Secret Lives Exposed: If Walls Could Talk'. Photograph: April Lauder

Sarah Dunant is an acclaimed novelist and journalist whose recent novels including In the Name of the Family and Sacred Hearts are set within the Italian Renaissance, and weave cutting edge historical scholarship into fast-moving popular fiction. They have become international bestsellers, translated into thirty languages.

Professor Bettany Hughes is an award-winning historian, author and broadcaster, who has devoted the last 25 years to the vibrant communication of the past. Her first book Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore has been translated into ten languages. Her second, The Hemlock Cup, Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life was a New York Times bestseller.

Dr Suzannah Lipscomb is Reader in Early Modern History at the University of Roehampton and has presented historical documentaries for the BBC, ITV, Channel Five, and National Geographic Channel. Her books include 1536: The Year that Changed Henry VIII and The King is Dead! The Last Will and Testament of Henry VIII.

This year’s Just a Drop lecture follows on from the success of 2017’s ‘Danger, Deadlines & Frontlines: a Glimpse into the Lives of Foreign Correspondents’, which featured award-winning journalists Jeremy Bowen, BBC and Christina Lamb OBE, The Sunday Times; and 2016’s lecture, ‘Life Behind the Lens’ with wildlife producers Patrick Morris, BBC, and Huw Cordey, Silverback Films.