Lucy Worsley teams up with Zoe Laughlin in an ambitious attempt to recreate one of the earliest and most spectacular fireworks displays in England, designed for Queen Elizabeth I.
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They've been enthralling us Brits for centuries.
But the use of fireworks for entertainment really got going
during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
By far the most spectacular of these displays
took place at Kenilworth Castle in 1575.
Onlookers described seeing thunderbolts and lightnings of fire
that surged the waters and shook the earth.
So, it was certainly a night to remember.
In this programme, we're going to return to Kenilworth Castle in an
ambitious attempt to recreate that display
in all its Tudor glory.
The fireworks were part of a three-week extravaganza,
including bear-baiting and dancing and feasting,
but the fireworks were the centrepiece.
It was all designed for one very special member of the audience -
Queen Elizabeth I.
THEY SHOUT AND CHEER
For Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester,
the fireworks were his last throw of the dice
in his attempt to win the Queen's hand in marriage.
To pull off our re-creation of what his lavish display of love
and affection might've looked like,
I'll be scouring historical documents for clues.
And I'm enlisting the help of artist and materials scientist
Doctor Zoe Laughlin.
-Oh, look at it go!
-Wow! We put too much!
Her job is to rebuild the Tudor fireworks that no longer exist,
using 400-year-old techniques.
-Ooh, a stiff Christmas cracker.
-It's a Christmas cracker from hell.
From the manufacturer of Elizabethan gunpowder from buckets of urine...
It was incredibly valuable.
..to the construction of a huge dragon that spits fire
from every orifice...
-He's got flames gushing out of his bottom!
..the display has the potential to be as dangerous
as it is spectacular.
It's made out of gunpowder, after all.
I also want to look under the surface of the spectacle to discover
why fireworks played such an important part in Tudor life.
They wouldn't have been used to seeing lavish fireworks,
so they would've caused a bit of wonder and awe and fear.
We're trying to reconstruct an event that had the potential to change
the history of England,
with the help of scattered evidence
and some very experimental science.
If we get it wrong,
our display will just be a smouldering hole in the ground.
If we get it right, though,
we'll have recreated one of the most magnificent nights
in Tudor history,
and a firework display fit for a queen.
The firework display at Kenilworth Castle
put on by Robert Dudley in 1575
has gone down in history as one of the earliest
and most impressive ever seen.
Unfortunately, direct evidence for what the firework display looked
like is a bit thin on the ground,
but we aren't completely out of luck.
This is what claims to be an eyewitness account
by somebody who was there in the audience with Queen Elizabeth I.
A friend of Robert Dudley's called Robert Laneham.
"Lightnings of wildfire shoots at the thunderbolts
"and it was all so terrifying and violent that the heavens thundered,
"the waters surged and the earth shook."
Sounds like we've set ourselves quite a challenge.
But this isn't the only piece of evidence for the display,
and we need to go searching for clues.
To track down these scraps of evidence,
Doctor Zoe Laughlin and I are going on an historical treasure hunt.
We'll be grilling historians of science
and experts in historical pyrotechnics.
That is a wheel of fire. What the Italians called a girandole.
Where we don't have the answers, we'll be relying on the expertise
of Zoe, with her skills as both scientist and artist,
to formulate experiments of her own, in our attempt
to recreate a night to remember.
And what I also hope from this journey is something more -
a chance to have a better understanding
of the Elizabethan mind.
I want to find out why fireworks
were such a vital part of Tudor life,
and why this particular display at Kenilworth
was the pinnacle of power and pageantry in the Elizabethan era.
To set Zoe on her way, I'm taking her to the British Library.
Tucked away in its vaults, there's a very special book.
Look at this!
Now, what you've got there is the first edition of a book called
Pyrotechnia, which is the first proper English book
about how to make fireworks.
"By John Babington, gunner and student."
-He's a man who knows how to make things go bang.
Not only is Pyrotechnia packed with scientific detail,
it contains something even more useful.
Oh, what a treat.
Every area has something sparking or fizzing.
This is the earliest plan of a British firework display
fit for a monarch,
and historical records suggest it probably had the same attractions
as the display put on for Elizabeth's visit to Kenilworth.
-I like the wheels.
-Do you think these whizzed around like that?
I do think... Yeah.
In fact, this one's even got sparks coming out of it,
implying that it's going round and round.
This one's really important...
The plan laid out in Pyrotechnia is full of fireworks forgotten
in the mists of time.
There are gerbs, which produced fountains of sparks,
locket boxes that launch fireworks simultaneously
and terrifying-looking horizontal spinning wheels.
I love this. Look, there's a ginormous...
-Look at the front.
-He's a whopper! He's massive!
-What a big boy.
So, here's the big question -
do you think you can make something along these lines?
Will it work? Will it be safe?
Are we all going to die? Will it be spectacular? ZOE GIGGLES
This is really exciting. This is a great starting point.
This is something that we can use as a master plan.
While Zoe's getting to grips with Babington's instructions,
Laneham very usefully tells us how the display kicked off.
He says that there was "a great peal of guns,
"and lightening by firework."
He says that "the noise and the flame could be heard
"and seen 20 miles off."
Sounds like we're going to need some cannons.
As this is the only major element of our display that Zoe isn't planning
to reconstruct from scratch,
I want to source one for myself.
It turns out that it's not that easy to get your hands on
a working Elizabethan cannon.
I'm hoping that these gentlemen might be able to help.
A MAN SHOUTS INDISTINCTLY
Surviving cannons, and even period replicas, are something of a rarity,
as their antiquated design means they have a tendency to explode.
HE SHOUTS AGAIN
Let's hope experts in Tudor artillery,
Nat Bond and Alex Compiani, have a solution.
Lots of guns you've got here.
What we've actually got is a kind of timeline of guns, showing the
evolution. This gun here is what's referred to as a gungeon gun.
This is a copy of one that was recovered off the deck
-of the Mary Rose.
-Ah! So that's 1540s.
-That's a bit early for me, is it?
-Well, this period
is a transitional period where these guns are becoming
obsolete, where the new corned powder is coming into use,
and the corned powder burned much faster, with much more power.
What happened if you put the new powder into the old gun?
Chances are it would explode and kill you and your crew.
Moving on the line, though, you've got what is called a rabonet.
These were just coming in in the Elizabethan period,
so this is fairly new technology for the Elizabethan period, because it's
-a cast iron barrel.
The longer the barrel is, the more room there is for those gases to
expand and the faster the ball flies.
And would you be able to hear the sound of it 20 miles off,
which is in the description of the entertainment at Kenilworth?
You would. This one actually has quite a sharp crack to it.
-Gunners refer to it as the voice of the gun.
So, if you were 20 miles away,
you could hear that it was your gun talking to you?
-An experienced gunner who'd fired the gun a lot, yes.
Did the guns have names?
This one's called Jennifer.
I named it after my wife!
What about this one, then?
Big Red fires a large six pound cast-iron cannonball.
You could just about touch the two-mile range with this gun.
By the time you heard it, you'd already be hit.
-If you want to impress people, this one.
The big bazooka.
-If I was hosting Elizabeth I...
..I'd want to show off just how wealthy and how well-armed I was.
-Is he more expensive than her?
This is the equivalent of having a gold-plated Aston Martin
on your driveway.
-Search the piece.
So, if we're talking Tudor bling, there's really only one choice.
Place the charge.
And if you're going to invest in the Elizabethan equivalent
of a gold-plated Aston Martin...
HE SHOUTS A WARNING
..you might as well give it a test drive.
That at the end.
It's OK, everybody jumps!
Brilliant! So, it's this cannon, Big Red,
which is set to open our festivities.
As a cannon, it's, of course, different to the other,
more spectacular, fireworks we're hoping to reconstruct
for our display, but it does have one vital element
in common with them - gunpowder.
Learning about the secrets of gunpowder
is Zoe's first step on her quest
to recreate our Tudor fireworks.
According to some of the old text,
lesson one in becoming a successful pyrotechnician
is know your gunpowder.
In its day, it was considered a bit of a dark art, but today
I'm going to unravel some of the mysteries.
Also, it's the same composition we use now.
Nowadays, we think nothing of buying our own ready-made fireworks from
the supermarket, but in Tudor times,
owning a firework began with the process
of sourcing and refining the ingredients,
which could take years.
-Wood and heat.
And as a job, it was potentially lethal.
With the help of chemist Andreas Tretiakov
in the safe confines of the science lab, I'm going to explore
the process, and make gunpowder to the Elizabethan recipe.
So, I'm done on the gas.
Firstly, we're turning wood into charcoal
in our home-made micro-kiln.
That's what you can see burning orange now, are the gases coming out
-of the can.
-Yes. Those gases are toxic, like carbon monoxide,
-carbon dioxide and methane.
-It's really going some now.
-Really going, yes.
Restricting the oxygen as it burns produces almost
pure carbon in the form of charcoal.
Beautiful, pure nuggets of carbon.
This is the first element in our recipe.
Here's our charcoal.
The most important ingredient in gunpowder was saltpetre,
but we now know that as potassium nitrate.
To the Tudors, saltpetre was really difficult to make,
and required this ingredient - urine.
It was incredibly valuable.
They had to get whole households peeing into buckets
and gathering the stuff up.
Tudor gunpowder-makers combined the urine with soil and manure,
and hoped for a bacterial reaction over 18 months,
leading to an end product of saltpetre.
Nowadays, we can take a short cut,
mixing premade industrial chemicals.
Right, so we're making an ice bath so that we can rapidly cool this,
and help the potassium nitrate crystals form.
-Oh... I can see something.
-I can see them! OK.
Look at that.
This is potassium nitrate that would have been produced
from hundreds of people's urine.
This is the Tudor saltpetre.
Now we're refining raw sulphur.
I can now see a thick tier
of red sulphur
trickling down the nozzle.
-Look. It is rubbery!
It's almost like something you'd find in the sea.
With time, this plastic sulphur
will solidify, and can be crushed into a fine powder.
So, now, we have the three ingredients we need for gunpowder.
The charcoal, the sulphur,
the potassium nitrate.
All that's left for us to do now is grind them into a fine powder.
The magic comes from how these three ingredients
all work together when mixed.
The charcoal is the fuel.
-Right, next up, potassium nitrate.
The potassium nitrate provides the oxygen for the fuel to burn.
And finally the sulphur.
The main role of sulphur is to be a catalyst,
lowering the temperature needed to ignite the mix.
-Is this the dangerous part?
Right, glasses on. Right.
Mixing them will give us gunpowder,
and that's when things get really dangerous.
Right, 15% charcoal.
A tiny spark could literally blow the whole lot up.
I feel a bit nervous.
It's really important that we're using a wooden stick for this,
because we just do not want to generate anything
that will ignite this mixture.
It's very soft.
THEY CHUCKLE SOFTLY
Let's give it a test.
SHE LAUGHS NERVOUSLY
Are you going to light one end and I'm going to light the other?
That's a very good idea.
-One, two, three.
-Oh, look at it go!
-Quite a lot of smoke.
-And it's still burning.
-We made gunpowder!
-We did it!
What's incredible is I was expecting a bang,
-but obviously it's not in a confined space.
So it's not going to create a kind of classic firework bang,
but that has got some oomph to it.
Following an archaic recipe,
we have created Elizabethan gunpowder.
And quite a lot of smoke!
So this is the first step on the road to recreating
those Tudor fireworks, and we've proved it's possible.
We've now created gunpowder,
the power behind the first element in our display, the cannon.
Together, these two elements played a vital role
in the wars fought by Tudor England.
From sea battles with the Spanish Armada
to fighting in the Netherlands on behalf of the Protestants,
the Elizabethan era was an age of conflict.
And it was here, within the walls of the Tower of London,
where you'd find the marriage of pyrotechnics and the art of war.
There's really a lot at stake in this period.
It's very, very tense.
There would have been thousands of people around here,
all trying to make this work to get these ships supplied,
to get the army supplied and fight these battles.
Makes you think of Bletchley Park in World War II or something.
-Everybody working together.
-Exactly. It's a really crucial centre.
It's like an arsenal and a Ministry of Defence all rolled into one.
Who were these gunners, then?
There were about 100 people who were referred to as gunners, and they
were the people who learnt how to shoot this new technology,
which is gunpowder,
fireworks and cannon,
and some of the first books on gunnery and fireworks
appear at this time. This is a fire lance,
a rocket attached to the end of a pike,
and you fire it in the face of the enemy close-up,
so it's really nasty.
What's a ball of wildfire?
Well, they would put metal balls filled with gunpowder
and incendiary liquids into a crossbow and fire them at you.
That's not something you want to be hit by.
Do you think once they'd finished their serious business of inventing
new weapons, the gunners thought,
-"Right, let's have a bit of fun now"?
So, they're not just going out and shooting and firing the cannon,
they're also creative artists.
They were interested in using fireworks for peaceful means,
for pageants and plays and festivals, from very early on.
This is quite a pattern throughout history, isn't it?
Like battlefields turning into jousting.
Something very serious and deadly becomes ritualised
and made into a sort of play version of itself later on.
Yes, that's right.
That's something that the gunners are really proud of.
So, one of them wrote a book where he included a self-portrait,
and there's a little motto at the top
and it says "Arte et Marte".
So, art and war, and the idea is that these are two sides
of what he does - the peaceful and the military.
So, it was at the Tower of London,
home to the endlessly inventive gunners,
where firework-making for entertainment really took off.
They had everything they needed to experiment and create their own new
and exciting pyrotechnics.
It's now up to Zoe to see if she can match them and come up with
some magic of her own.
But firework-making is a specialised and dangerous art,
so Zoe's going to need some expert help.
-Hi, are you Don?
-I am, indeed.
-Hi, I'm Zoe.
-Hello, Zoe. Nice to meet you.
-Hello, Zoe, I'm Mike.
-And this is John.
-Hi, John. Nice to meet you.
-Nice to meet you.
I've heard you're the crack team that I should come to
if I want to get some bespoke fireworks made.
Don, Mike and John are artisans,
devoted to handcrafting pyrotechnics for modern-day events,
with a sense of adventure to take on any pyrotechnical challenge.
And so this is the kind of display that we're attempting to recreate.
There's obviously these fantastic rockets.
I love the fact that there's an absolutely giant beast of a rocket
-at the front.
-A huge one there, yeah.
-That's going to be taller
than me, probably. And then these kind of Catherine wheel type ones.
-Is that something we can have a go at?
-Yeah, we'll certainly have a go
at it. I mean, horizontal wheel,
we don't really use in displays that much any more.
It throws up tonnes of sparks. So, if you imagine,
you've got fireworks all around you, the last thing you want
is tonnes of sparks flying around your display site and setting fire
to everything else, so not ideal.
Creating a truly authentic display is going to expose us to the risk
that it could all go up in flames,
but our best hope is working with these experts,
who are willing to take on this challenge,
all in the name of history.
The display that Zoe and these chaps will be attempting to put together
was part of a three-week pageant said to have cost Robert Dudley,
Earl of Leicester, the modern equivalent of £24 million.
But who was this man who was willing to spend a fortune
in his attempt to woo his queen?
Well, he was her adviser, friend,
very possibly lover.
There were lots of rumours at court about this,
despite the fact that he was married.
This is what the Spanish ambassador had to say.
"Her Majesty visits him in his chamber day and night.
"People talk of this freely.
"They go so far as to say that his wife has a malady
"in one of her breasts,
"and that the Queen is only waiting for her to die
"so that she can marry Lord Robert."
Dudley's wife, Amy, did die.
She fell down some stairs in mysterious circumstances.
Some people said that Dudley was responsible.
But even once they were both free,
the Queen didn't take the final step of agreeing to marry him.
You can see the three weeks of festivities and fireworks
at Kenilworth Castle as a sort of last roll of the dice
for Dudley in this long-running game of trying to get
the Queen to marry him.
But why was it that Dudley put so much faith in fireworks
as a way to win the heart of his queen?
Well, he was living in the Golden Age of English history,
with a flowering of music, literature and theatre.
Perhaps I can get to the bottom of the emotional power of our display
from the greatest dramatist of this, or indeed of any other, era.
Farah, what can the Globe Theatre tell us about Tudor pyrotechnics?
Well, in Shakespeare's original Globe of 1599,
he would've staged plays, like Julius Caesar and Macbeth,
which actually had stage directions that call for fireworks.
Set off within this wooden thatched building?
Yes, and, miraculously, it didn't burn down, at least not until 1613.
They were that committed to fireworks
that they actually burned down their theatre and destroyed it?
I think the most famous scene with a storm is the opening of Macbeth,
isn't it? Act I, Scene I?
Yes. There's a stage direction there that calls for...
"Thunder and lightning."
"And then enter the witches."
So, how did they actually do that?
You can see there's a trap in the heavens there,
and there's a reference in the period to sort of stagehands
being up there lighting squibs so that it looks like you get flashes
of lightning coming out of the heavens.
Or they might have used swivels to create other kinds
-of storm or cosmic events.
Well, there were manuals that instructed people how to make
fireworks in that time period.
So the example that I have here is The Mysteries Of Nature And Art
by John Bate, published in 1634.
But a lot of the techniques he talks about in here would have been around
for a long time. Medieval theatre
used a lot of these techniques, as well.
And a swivel is simply a rocket that sits on top of a rope
that's tied between - here it's showing two trees but, actually,
-it could be the two pillars on the stage.
-Oh, it could have
-zipped across here, then?
-It travels along, does it?
Yes, once you light it, it just zings across,
and it looks like some kind of flying fire,
like a comet or some kind of lightning effect.
-So, if I were a Tudor person sitting out there...
..I live in a very quiet world, there are no cars or loud noises.
I live in quite a dark world,
-lit mainly by candlelight and firelight...
..and then I hear this amazing rolling, rumbling thunder,
I see a flash of lightning coming out of there, then I see possibly
-three witches coming up from the underworld.
-Yes, in a puff of smoke.
-It must've been terrific!
-It would've been, it would've been.
So, if members of the audience for our display at Kenilworth
had been to the theatre, seen a Shakespeare production,
they would already have this in their minds
that when you hear or see thunder and lightning or flashes of light,
it's a very powerful moment.
It's like the universe is moving in some way.
Absolutely. And Shakespeare knew this very well,
which is why it becomes part of the poetry of his plays as well.
And what's the significance in Shakespeare's plays
when something like that appears, a comet, a shooting star?
Well, often, it is about prophecy.
In that time period, they read the heavens or the cosmos as having
great meaning. And, so, God was trying to send them messages.
So, one of the messages of Robert Dudley's display to the Queen
could have been, "Our love is written in the stars."
Coming back to the Globe at night,
it's hard to appreciate what London must have been like
4.5 centuries ago,
to the people walking along the banks of the Thames after having
experienced one of Shakespeare's masterpieces.
It was a very different world,
compared to how it's all lit up today.
I think, in Tudor times,
we'd have to picture the sky being pitch-y black,
maybe just the moon picking out the rooftops,
maybe the occasional gleam of a candle in a window.
Which means that the pyrotechnics
that the original audience would have seen at the Globe
must have made a profound impression upon them.
And it's that impact that I hope to experience,
if we manage to light up the night sky over Kenilworth Castle.
If we can evoke these emotions of awe and wonder,
then we will have got to the heart and soul
of a genuine Tudor firework display.
It will all come down to how well we manage to recreate the fireworks
that have been lost to history.
And Zoe's getting down to work,
beginning with the most versatile of the fireworks in our plan,
the fountain, or the gerb, as it's known in the trade.
The gerb is the unsung hero of any Tudor display.
It produces a beautiful fountain of sparks,
and I'm determined that every step I take in building it
is as authentic as it can be.
In Babington's guide, the old firemaster offers us
a series of instructions on how to make the tools for the job.
Mike and I are making them out of wood,
according to our Tudor specifications.
So, what's the first step?
Right, so we need to turn it down into a cylinder shape.
Our gerb tool comprises two wooden cylinders.
One is used to create the shape of the firework's paper tube...
I've used a lathe lots of times but I've never made a firework on one.
This is exciting.
..the other cylinder has a spindle on it.
When the paper tube is packed with gunpowder,
the spindle leaves a small void
in which combustion takes place.
There we have it, our first gerb tool.
Excellent, that's absolutely perfect.
-That is a perfect nipple.
-Thanks very much!
Precision is everything.
These tools must fit together perfectly
if they're going to be used to make fireworks in Babington's style.
So, this is like the rammer?
Exactly, this is the drift that's going to compress all the powder
into that gerb tube, so that should match up.
So, does your thing fit in my slot?
I can't when you say that!
Armed with the right tools for the job,
we can now start to roll the paper casing
that will house the gunpowder in our first firework.
-No, I mean lots of pressure.
It's like baking meets...
some sort of cigarette-making process.
Actually, this is going...
-This is really good.
-This is going quite well!
Modern firework-making is a simpler process using wet paper,
which is more manageable.
But we're staying authentic to Babington's guide.
So dry rolling is the Tudor technique?
-Yeah, that's right.
When you've dry rolled the tube, what we're going to do
-is we've got to crimp this tube.
-So, to make a kind of collar in it?
-Exactly, that's going to be our choke.
in Babington's guide,
there's this picture here of a tube with this collar.
-So, is that the choke?
-That's the choke, yeah.
The choke helps the gerb produce its spectacular fountain effect.
So, in use, it'll be that way up.
You want a fountain of sparks coming out of the top?
Yes, very much so.
And this collar helps you produce, you know, a nice arc of sparks?
Yes. Think of a garden hose squirting water out.
If you've just got the hosepipe, the water just wells out,
but if you then restrict the end of that hose and tighten it,
it turns into a tight jet and goes harder and faster,
so that's exactly what that's doing.
We're going to get some string, and we've got to pull it
really tight around that cardboard,
and the only way to do this is body weight.
-That's what's happening here?
-That's exactly what's happening there.
People are using their body weight to pull on the string?
Right, if you want to...
Thank you. That goes onto one end.
I'm going to tie you onto a post so that you can pull against...
-He's stood there?
-So, he's got that higher,
and he's sitting into it.
-Keep going, keep going, that's it.
Oh, I'm making... It's like a really...
-stiff Christmas cracker.
-The Christmas cracker from hell.
-And another bit there.
-And then you can pull out your...
-There we have it.
There's our choke hole.
All that's left now is to fill it with gunpowder.
-Funnel goes on top.
-Literally that much is plenty.
And, unfortunately, it's at this point you're going to
-have to walk away.
-Oh. This is the dangerous bit?
-This is the dangerous bit.
-Fair enough, OK!
Fireworks factory manager Don Mansfield is going to use
the cylinder from the gerb tool
to compress the powder into the tube,
which will make it burn evenly.
Can we watch?
The problem is, compressing the gunpowder with the mallet
introduces energy which could ignite it.
-And this is dangerous because...?
-It could explode.
After all, a firework is, essentially,
a bomb with a paper casing rather than a metal one.
As a pyrotechnician with years of experience,
Don knows that every strike of the mallet is potentially lethal.
-Right, so that's that full, you can come in now.
Twist that and pull that off.
There we go.
-There's our gerb!
-It's all ready for use.
Now is a milestone moment in our mission.
Our first firework, made to Tudor design.
-We're pretty close.
-We are. You'll be fine.
Will it work?
I'll just go here.
-How are you firing it?
-Just a normal battery.
Three, two, one, firing.
What a great colour. Really rich orange.
-I love it!
-It's very pretty, isn't it? The iron's lovely, it sparkles.
Our first firework! Yes!
-Oh, I'm really pleased.
-We're on our way.
-More to make.
-Yeah. Better get hammering.
So, we've successfully made a firework fountain,
or gerb, as Babington called it.
Next are the frightening-looking horizontal spinning wheels.
-Zoe is off making fireworks...
..but she's given me this page from Babington's book,
and she's set me the task of finding out a bit more
-what that one is there.
-Right. Well, that's a fantastic firework,
so that is a wheel of fire, what the Italians called a girandole.
And it's basically a cartwheel,
it's a big wheel that's got fireworks
put around the perimeter, and then you put it on to a pole,
and you either put it horizontally or vertically,
and then it spins around,
and it shoots out flames and sparks, and stars,
and it's really exciting to see.
It shoots out sparks into the crowd?
Well, yes, exactly. So, it's, quite close, you know,
you're quite close up to these fireworks, and, uh,
so it's a really impressive effect.
And then it could be quite dangerous.
Do you think that these English gunners writing about fireworks
perhaps read this Italian book?
They may well have done.
One of them refers to these wheels as girandole,
so they use the term that the Italians used,
and the Italians were famous then, as now, for their fireworks,
so it's quite possible the English gunners might have looked
to them as a model for how to do their practice.
And then they reproduced them in their displays.
But if you want to find out about it,
-you're going to need to go to Italy.
-Oh, do I need to go to Italy?
-What a shame!
-Well, someone's got to do it.
As per Simon's strict instructions,
I'm in Italy -
firework capital of Europe in the Middle Ages.
Now, this might not be your idea of the gently rolling
but there's a reason that you might very well build
a fireworks factory in the middle of a desolate plain,
with no other houses nearby.
There's a risk that it might blow up.
You must be Paola!
-Oh, very lovely to meet you.
I've come here to just outside Pisa
to meet a small, family-run fireworks firm
that's been going for four generations.
And girandole, things that go round, are in their blood.
Now, I hear you've been researching the girandole firework?
-For many years?
No way! That's 17 children?
Three wives? He had three wives, he had 17 children!
He was a pyrotechnical man, in his work, in his life. PAOLA LAUGHS
He had the world's biggest mortar,
and this is his notebook of firework recipes.
-So, this is the recipe to make the fountain of the girandole?
That's the light part?
-You push it down?
The girandola. Vecchia.
Firework from the '60s.
OK. And where does...? Are these the fireworks?
So they go?
I think we want many.
-Multi, multi, multi!
-OK. What sort of shape is it supposed to make?
What's it supposed to look like?
That's rather beautiful. It's supposed to look like
-a white weeping willow tree?
I can't wait to see you burning it up later on!
The anticipation, as Paola and her team use the skills
that have been in her family for four generations,
to resurrect a firework from history,
is really rather overwhelming.
How will this antique perform?
There's a reason you don't see so many of these girandole in displays
any more, because sparks literally fly.
They come whizzing out in this horizontal plane,
right into the spectators.
-So, when we press fire, we're going to run?
Are we ready?
-Shall we go?
-Three, two, one...
Seeing the girandola in action,
it's not quite such a mystery why you don't see them any more.
Any show with a girandola risks setting off everything else
with its huge arc of beautiful sparks.
So, in our display, we'll have to handle this rare firework
with extreme care.
The next star of our show is the rocket.
These were the flying favourites of the Tudor firework display.
-How are we doing, Mike? Are we all set up?
It's all set up and ready for you.
The rocket is essentially an upside-down gerb,
but with one slight difference.
It's made with a long channel running through the gunpowder.
This creates a greater combustible area inside the tube.
More powder burns more quickly,
generating thrust to drive the rocket upwards.
To make that channel, we need the help of a Tudor tool
with an extra long spindle.
So, we're just going to make a sort of pointy stick, aren't we?
A pointy stick, exactly right, out of brass, so it's non-sparking.
And that's the spindle?
That's the spindle, that's right.
So, we put the spindle in first and then pack the gunpowder
-in around it...
-And then take it out to leave that void?
-Yeah, that will do for the first cut.
-That's enough? OK.
Here it comes.
Yes! Look at that, what a beauty!
Our perfect spindle, love it.
So now we have the spindle, the rest of the process
is identical to making a gerb.
Dry-rolling paper to fabricate a tube.
-There we go.
-Ta-da, a tube!
And this is where our spindle comes in.
So this is what makes the difference between the rocket
-and the gerb?
So, when we pack this in and take it out,
we'll leave a void that will increase the surface area inside,
and then create more gas.
-A perfect stick for you.
Right. How do we know if this is the right length?
Right, so there's a balance point, and the balance point is always
-where the exit of the motor is.
So, if you put your finger on there, is it balanced?
-Not in the slightest. So, we need to chop some of the stick off.
Yeah, more, please. Without a perfectly balanced stick,
the rocket could careen out of control.
There we have it, a perfectly balanced rocket.
And, in theory, this should fly straight and true.
There's only one way to find out - testing in the field.
No, literally, a cow field.
We've set up our first Elizabethan rocket to put it through its paces.
Right, a firework we've made following Babington's
design and referencing other manuals of the day
is now primed and ready to go.
It's about 30 metres from us, that way.
Rockets with sticks are now considered too dangerous
for public displays in the UK,
so safety goggles and a 30-metre exclusion zone
are absolutely essential.
After all, we are making what is effectively an Elizabethan missile,
based on a 400-year-old instruction manual.
The honest truth is we don't know what's going to happen.
This is a test, and the only way we're going to find out
-is by setting it off.
-Great, so, I've armed it, it's ready to go...
-..all you have to do is press the button.
Right. Three, two, one...
Oh, my God!
-It blew up!
-It didn't lift much.
-Nothing went up!
It didn't even make it off the launchpad.
Luckily, we rigged multiple high-speed cameras
so we could figure out the science behind what went wrong.
This is a thousand frames a second,
and, within about a second, it was...
-Blown to smithereens.
You can see, it ignites, and then it starts to lift,
-it's literally two inches off there. Boom.
-And it goes, yeah.
The pressure was just building up so much in that case.
We think the rocket blew up because the channel made by the spindle
was just too long. This means that too big a surface area
of gunpowder was exposed,
resulting in an excess of hot, expanding gases,
vainly attempting to escape through the tiny choke.
The rapidly expanding gases
simply blew the casing to pieces.
To counteract this, we need to make the channel shorter...
exposing a smaller surface area of gunpowder inside the rocket.
The last one was, let's face it, a bit of a disaster.
So, we've made some adjustments and, hopefully,
this one will hit the spot.
-Let's give it a go.
-Give it a go.
Three, two, one...
And it's still going!
-I think that was a big improvement.
With our design modifications,
we've achieved our goal and created a rocket
that flies straight and true.
Now, that's a confident takeoff.
That's a confident takeoff, that's a nice jet of gas coming out.
I think that's quite a good effort.
I think we've cracked it. We have a working rocket.
And very much in the spirit of the traditional Babington firework.
That is an entirely handmade Tudor-style rocket.
It's a spectacular achievement,
and it must have delighted and terrified
Dudley and his audience to see something flying so high
into the skies above.
What was the meaning of a rocket to the Tudor viewer?
Rockets are what they called artificial meteors.
These effects are considered to be portents,
they're considered to be signs sent by God.
I learnt about this from Shakespeare.
If you see a shooting star or a comet,
it means that something very profound is about to happen.
Exactly. Now, imagine taking that outside
and putting it into a display on a huge scale.
This is a combination of the theatre and the military,
so you go in the field, you have rockets,
you can send these things up, you know, high up into the air,
and that's going to have a really big effect on people.
So, I think that's something that Elizabeth might have appreciated
from her suitor.
The elements of our display are coming together.
We've built our first rocket,
we've found our cannon,
we've made the gerb
and tracked down the girandola.
Now, here, at the centre of Babington's plan,
are some rather ambitious-looking fireworks.
The name says it all.
It's a simple but effective idea.
You take a rocket, then fire a box of them all at the same time.
As with the girandola, details of how it works are scarce,
at least in the UK.
To find out, Zoe has travelled to the other side of the world,
to South Korea.
It's the only place where you can still find the Hwacha,
a multiple rocket launcher,
developed in the Far East over 600 years ago.
And it's remarkably similar
to the rocket boxes in our Tudor display.
For its time, it was an exceptionally advanced piece
of military weaponry,
firing up to 200 rocket-powered arrows simultaneously.
I've come to an explosives factory
in a remote western province.
..where I tracked down one of the best authorities
on ancient Korean rockets.
So, we're making a traditional rocket, is that the singijeon?
It's been used since the 1400s? Wow.
And this is a weapon more than a firework.
-This is to fire at your enemies.
Look at these tools. These tools are amazing. Are they steel?
The spitting image of the tools
we've seen in Babington's manual.
Yet they're made of steel.
We are now thousands of miles from Britain,
and the same objects are being used,
albeit in a different material,
but the principle is the same.
These are the tools you need for making fireworks,
and they have been so for hundreds of years.
You're making me nervous!
OK, so, here comes the gunpowder.
Uh-huh, this is gunpowder.
This is when I stand back.
OK. That's good idea.
This is the dangerous part,
when they start filling the rocket with the gunpowder and compacting
it down. Now, they are using steel tools,
this is something we would never do in Britain because steel tools can
generate a spark and that spark can ignite the gunpowder.
But they have assured me it's safe because we are in 80% humidity
and that means the gunpowder is slightly damp and can't set on fire.
But...I'm still going to stand back.
It's like an instinct, just to feel anxious at this moment.
That hammer just tapping that metal rod then,
that could set the whole thing alight
and we would have an explosion on our hands.
So it would have had a large arrowhead on the end,
but we're using smaller,
blunter tips for these arrows.
Imagine a snooker cue coming at you at 100mph.
That's... Yeah, deadly.
So, now we're using string to bind the engine,
the gunpowder-filled chamber, onto the arrow.
Here we have it, our singijeon.
And these are going to fly out of our hwacha.
So this is where fireworks cross over to the battlefield.
Doctor Chae's team have one of just 20 working hwachas in existence.
So now we're privileged to see what the enemy would have faced four
When the hwacha deploys, it's a fearsome sight.
I definitely want these in our display,
although I'm getting rather nervous.
If a stray spark finds its way into the rocket box,
our entire arsenal of Tudor fireworks could go up in flames.
Both Zoe and I know this is going to be a challenge,
but we aren't deterred.
Halfway through our quest,
there's still plenty to do to create a display fit for a queen.
To recreate the celebrations put on for Elizabeth I as faithfully as
possible, we need to do it at the castle
where it all happened in 1575.
It's time to base ourselves near Kenilworth Castle itself,
the grand backdrop to arguably the most high-profile marriage proposal
in history. It was gifted to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester,
by the object of his affections, Elizabeth I,
so it was fitting that he should choose it as a backdrop for his most
extravagant attempt to win her hand in marriage.
Remember that £24 million that Robert Dudley spent on his party?
Well, he didn't blow it all on the fireworks.
He spent the few years running up to the event transforming his castle.
He completely remodelled a four-storey tower
for the Queen to stay in
and he added this magnificent garden that's been lovingly recreated
to his original specifications.
During three weeks of celebrations,
Dudley laid on some truly elaborate entertainment to try and woo
Elizabeth - notably, bear-baiting, Tudor dancing and, of course,
the spectacular fireworks.
Reports are quite sketchy as to where exactly the pyrotechnics
took place, but it's highly likely that the Earl would have framed them
in the striking silhouette of Kenilworth.
It's here where we will watch our Tudor fireworks,
as Elizabeth may have viewed them herself over 400 years ago.
But first a chance to catch up with Zoe,
who I know has got big plans for our display.
Now, I've always been intrigued by the utterly gigantic rocket at
-the front here.
-I'm really up for having the big rocket
front and centre as the climax of our display.
I've done some rocket making...
-Have you now?
And I have not made something this big.
You don't make rockets this big.
-Why not? Because it's dangerous?
-Because it's dangerous.
-Oh, really? Perfect.
It is true that at a firework display in 1572,
a stray firework set fire to somebody's house, killed two people
and the village had to be compensated to the tune of
£25 by the Queen.
Well, that's what we face if this...
What, a bill of £25? THEY LAUGH
One of the unusual features of Tudor displays is that the set itself
would have been viewed as a work of art.
As you can see on the chequerboard floor, there's contrast there.
I'll go off and do a bit of research, then.
It needs to look good
by daylight, before it gets blown up, basically,
-so you can see what it is that's about to be destroyed.
So what colours might Robert Dudley have painted his Tudor fireworks
set in order both to make a personal statement
and to impress Elizabeth I?
Searching for clues at Kenilworth is a challenge, as most of Dudley's
personal possessions have long been lost
and the castle was destroyed in 1649,
so I'm meeting an authority on Robert Dudley, Elizabeth Goldring,
on the trail of the few scraps of evidence about his life,
which could lead me to the solution.
So, Elizabeth, it's a tapestry.
What is it showing?
Well, in the centre is
Dudley's coat of arms
and it is surmounted by a muzzled
bear holding a ragged staff.
The colours of the tapestry are a little bit faded.
I'm interested in the colours.
-Can I see your...
-..sort of freshened-up version?
The dominant colours are blue, red and gold, or azure, gules and ore.
-Oh, OK, the language of heraldry.
-I believe so.
-I think so, yes.
-He's very well colour-coordinated, isn't he,
because he's got his blue Order of the Garter...
-..he's got his red and gold earl's cap...
..and then his family colours are the same.
-Yes, it's very striking.
-They're blue, they're red,
-Very striking, isn't it?
If I were Robert Dudley putting on a fireworks display and I wanted to
paint my set, then I might do it in my own colours.
Might to be a good idea.
That's a pretty good steer.
But the Tudors loved a broad mix of bright colours,
so I wonder if there are any more clues hidden in these exhibits.
So here we've got some stained glass from the castle
-and this is an interesting colour. We haven't seen it this far...
..and it's not a standard Tudor colour, by any means, is it?
In Dudley's Circle, orange, as a colour,
was sort of code for William of Orange.
Dudley was absolutely obsessed with getting the Queen to send him to the
Netherlands as the head of an English expeditionary force to help
-out the Dutch.
-So he's saying, "I'm on your side, Dutch people.
"I'm a hot Protestant.
"Come on, Queenie, how about it?
"Send me over to help them."
From the few clues still in existence from Dudley's life,
we've managed to pinpoint
some of what would have been his favoured colours.
Our set will be made up of the colours
from the Earl's coat of arms -
And to show his political support for the Protestant Dutch against the
Catholic Spanish, we're adding a touch of orange.
As I told Lucy over tea,
one of the most exciting elements in the show,
which I'm really looking forward to testing, is Babington's big rocket.
Positioned at the front of our display, it's simply bonkers.
Judging from the scale, it's ten times the size of the normal rockets
and we've seen how unpredictable they can be.
Very few have been mad enough to make gunpowder rockets this size
Babington never specified just how big a rocket could be,
so we're going to test his principles and just scale it up.
We've got some great big cardboard tubes,
an old broom handle as the stick
and we're using more gunpowder than we have in any of our fireworks so
far, and we're going to see how it flies.
We're significantly further back than last time, aren't we?
A lot further back. So it'd be really dangerous if I pressed
the button right now, yeah?
-Don't do it!
All eyes on the rocket.
Why are you standing behind me, then?
Yeah, let's do it. OK.
Look at that tube.
-The broomstick hasn't moved!
-The top came off.
-Shall we go and have a look?
-I think it's clear.
-Let me turn this off.
Look at that fantastic cloud of smoke.
-It's lovely, isn't it?
-Look at that.
It smells like November the 5th.
-It's blown the top clean off.
I think it's back to the drawing board if we want to make a big one.
Right. Workshop, here we come.
Scaling the rocket up meant we needed to add more gunpowder to help
it take off.
This is a careful balance of the thrust to weight ratio.
As the rocket gets bigger, you need more gunpowder.
But that increases the weight.
And with all that gas being produced at once,
it couldn't escape fast enough and...
Not only is the display just days away,
we've also invited a select audience of people who have helped us.
The last thing we want is a pyrotechnic disaster like this.
But I'm hopeful that, with a bit more experimentation,
we'll nail it in time.
It's some journey we've been on
and we've almost all the elements we need for our display.
We've sourced gerbs and girandole.
We've found the secret to flying rockets.
In Korea, Zoe tracked down a lethal version of the rocket box.
We've tested Babington's big rocket
and I've found a cannon from the correct period to set off the
celebrations with a bang.
But there's one last challenge I've got for Zoe.
I came across it in a proposal for the display,
written by an Italian pyrotechnician,
that describes something on a very different scale
to all other challenges.
Farah, this is a list of ideas for Robert Dudley.
So we think this was actually under his nose and he went through this.
And this catches my eye.
It looks like he was considering, in his display, having a dragon.
"A dragon as big as an ox which will fly twice or thrice as high as the
-"tower of St Paul's."
There's St Paul's. SHE LAUGHS
We're talking about the old St Paul's, but, nevertheless,
-that's pretty high...
-..for a dragon to fly.
-So I'm thinking this would be a great thing for us to include,
a flying dragon.
Have you got any Shakespearean
references that'll help us to plan it?
Yes, actually, there's a play by another playwright
named Robert Greene, which was written around 1594,
known as Friar Bacon And Friar Bungay.
And in it, the stage direction reads,
"Bungay utters his spell and a golden tree rises from the ground,
"with a dragon in its branches, spitting out fire."
So, hang on, this is crazy.
A golden tree arises from the ground in the theatre with a dragon in its
branches spitting out fire.
-And have you any idea how they would've put that together
-at the Globe?
-Well, a dragon spitting out fire
is another firework effect
which they might have used in the theatres of the time.
In John Bates' instruction manual, he actually gives you instructions,
how to make flying dragons.
-How to build a dragon.
-How to make a flying dragon.
-A flying dragon, even better.
Fantastic. Oh, and he's spitting out fire, isn't he?
He's spitting out fire. He's got fire coming out of his mouth
and out of his tail, and it's on a similar thing to a swivel.
And what's he made out of, then?
Zoe's going to need to know the details.
Well, he's made out of wood or whalebone.
-It says, "Thin whalebones..."
-"..covered with glass."
-With glass, yes.
-And painted over.
-And then painted,
so he would be quite spectacular and colourful.
-He would look like a lantern.
-Look at this.
-It says that he is, "Somewhat troublesome to compose."
-Yeah, good luck with that.
-I'll take that as a challenge.
Yeah, there's this display and we've been looking at this one...
As I suspected, Zoe wasn't going to be put off.
My proposition is that we take this dragon and we incorporate it to then
make this kind of display,
where we have our dragon entering in down a zip wire.
And what happens if he catches fire and burns up?
-Is that a problem?
-I think that could be part of the drama of it.
You know, the dragon should be destroyed at the end.
I was only half joking with Lucy,
this is a unique challenge that combines sculpting skills with
pyrotechnics. But where can you find this unusual skill set?
The annual Bonfire Night celebrations in
Lewes, East Sussex, are undoubtedly the craziest in Britain.
Effigies are paraded through the town and burnt
in a broad celebration of political satire.
So I've asked members of the Lewes Borough Bonfire Society and artist
Bec Britain to add their know-how to the dragon's design.
We've taking a more practical approach than John Bates' whalebone
and glass that Lucy discovered at the Globe,
but I hope it's as effective.
-This is all willow.
-Lovely, smooth finish,
which is so good for sculpting.
Bec has constructed the skeleton by bending willow,
a technique that has been used for thousands of years.
And the team from Lewes Borough Bonfire Society are helping to apply
the skin. So these are sheets of paper impregnated with glue
and water, which makes them very malleable.
That's right. It's a wet strength tissue,
it's the kind of thing you'd find in an '80s perm,
because it can get wet and not fall apart.
The dragon is less controversial than the effigies or tableau that
they usually make.
Obviously, we want to wow the crowd,
very much like this dragon would've absolutely knocked them for six
in Tudor times, yeah. And the tableau is a bit of a black art.
It can represent anything.
Last year, Humpty Trumpty.
He was sitting on a wall.
-I can imagine who that was.
If you take the top two corners.
-Go up there?
-Yeah, try up there.
-We're going to do a layer
of French enamel varnish, which is going to give it really
Once we've applied the skin,
a coat of paint in Dudley's colours will complete the look.
So this is the cage in which we're going to put a gerb or
maybe a fountain.
And then that leaves the fireworks to be inserted into the dragon's
I've always wanted to light a fart!
Now for the final touches.
We're going to sprinkle some stars on proceedings.
Stars were one of the features mentioned in the accounts
of the original Kenilworth display.
They describe an explosion of beautiful sparks that rained down
from the night sky after the rockets exploded.
So are these going to be stars?
Yes. We want these stars to be...
You don't want them to just disappear quickly,
you want them to sort of like flitter and come down,
so by making it burn a bit slower, that's how you'll start to do that.
-It's like your aniseed ball in your mouth.
It slowly but surely disappears.
Tudor stars are made out of compressed pellets of gunpowder.
And you'll be pleased to hear this is a nice, safe technique,
because it is wet, this is something that you can have a go at.
What we're doing is we're ramming that compound into the tube.
It's a lovely thing, isn't it?
It's lovely, yes. Proper old-fashioned tooling.
Now, you can feel when it gets full,
then it's a couple more once it's full.
That's it. And then just rub it against your palm
and that flattens it.
You don't want to drop the stars excessively high...
-..because they're still soft at this stage.
-Yeah. Still fragile.
-There it is, my first star. That's a lovely thing.
Beautiful little pellets.
-How many do we need?
-Well, we need a lot
and that's why you then start to use tooling like this.
-Which is where you now have six.
-There we go.
-That was seven.
Rub your hand across and then pop it out into the thing.
-Look at that. Bingo bongo.
-That's nice. That is nice.
There you are, you see. What you're doing now is you're pumping stars.
These pellets will be put into the top of the rocket.
When the rocket is burnt out,
the pellets will catch light and fall freely,
giving a stream effect in the sky.
-There we go.
-Right, ready to make it fly.
-Put a stick on it.
-Put a stick on it and then it's good to go.
There we have it. A rocket with a payload of stars.
I can't wait for it to get dark and we can test it.
I'm really looking forward to seeing these stars at night.
Now, I'm not sure how bright they're going to be.
So it's all connected up with a fuse
-and then we need to connect it up to the firing system.
-You wire that in and I'll scuttle back.
Right, so I've armed it, it's all ready.
-Am I going to do the honours?
You're good to go.
Right. Three, two, one...
-We have a firework!
-We do have a firework.
Oh, I'm really pleased.
-Those stars trailed all the way down to the ground.
-Well, that would definitely set fire
-to someone's house.
-Well, I hope not, no.
-No, I'm happy with that.
The beautiful golden trails made by the slow-burning pellets will be an
extra flourish for our firework extravaganza -
should everything go to plan.
During the festivities,
the guests were also fed with the most lavish creations
16th-century chefs had to offer,
and it will be no different for the special guests we've invited.
But what would've been the equivalent of a Michelin-starred
menu in 1575?
You don't get the impression that Robert Dudley was worried about
going over the top when it came to the food for his party.
It was prepared here, in the kitchens.
I'm standing in what was a huge cauldron for boiling things.
Here's a bread oven.
And during the course of the 19 days,
some of the dishes that came out of here included swan, stag,
seagull and peacock.
One meal consisted of 300 different sugary dishes designed to appeal to
the Queen's notoriously sweet tooth.
I don't think we'll be laying on seagull or swan for our guests,
but Tudor sweets deserve further investigation.
With the help of confectionery expert Andy Baxendale,
I'm going to find out what kind would've graced
the Kenilworth banquet tables.
Andy, what is this fabulous construction
that you've brought with you?
This is a representation of the original keep of Kenilworth Castle
made out of sugar-paste icing.
And you've got the colour of the stone right and everything.
The red is from cochineal, which is made from beetles.
-Beetles, mmm, tasty.
-The black is from ash.
-From a fireplace?
-Anything burnt, yes.
What else have they got on the table that's made out of sugar?
Is this Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester's symbol?
Yes, that's the bear with the ragged staff.
This blue colour would have been azurite in Tudor times,
which is a copper mineral and quite poisonous, so...
-..you wouldn't really want to...
Do you think there were Tudor people who died of blue poisoning?
They probably didn't eat enough.
Oh, cos it was so expensive.
-You couldn't afford to poison yourself.
There's a trick going on here, isn't there?
Well, all sugar paste. All edible.
I'd expect to see sweetmeats all piled up here.
Yes, very much so. Some sort of confits, maybe.
Some seeds coated in sugar.
Elizabeth I's favourite.
-I think so.
-And then once I've eaten all of my comforts...
-Eat the plate.
It tastes... Well, it tastes of sugar, but it also tastes a bit
of wallpaper paste.
So, we now have the feast to go with the fireworks
at our Kenilworth display.
July 1575 was the date in Queen Elizabeth's diary
and she was probably quite looking forward to it.
Only a few years earlier,
she began promoting the idea of fireworks
in order to celebrate herself.
Elizabeth is creating a new holiday, Accession Day, November the 17th,
the date that she ascended the throne,
and people celebrate that
and it's a way to get people to celebrate the monarchy.
And in the course of her reign,
people start to celebrate that with fireworks.
And that's pretty interesting because that predates
the more famous public holiday fireworks of Bonfire Night,
which happened in the 17th century.
But this kind of thing is already starting to take off
-in Elizabeth's reign.
-She also did a very cunning thing,
she would do it at the expense of her subjects,
so she would set off on a progress,
then she would get her richest nobleman to put her up,
stage a magnificent feast for her - this is all at their own expense -
and to put on sort of competitive forms of entertainment for her,
outdoing each other to put on the best show for the Queen,
and she didn't have to pay.
Exactly, so it's another way for her to get around the country and be
seen by her subjects
and one might even see the nobles at this time competing with one another
to outdo themselves in the feasts and the entertainments that they
were putting on for Elizabeth. And fireworks are part of that,
so show a great fireworks display and you can impress Her Majesty.
Robert Dudley's pageant and firework display is part of this tradition,
but his is unique.
It was designed to be the biggest and the best
and it had by far the most at stake -
the hand of the Queen of England.
Now the day we've been working towards has finally arrived.
After weeks of testing and tinkering,
Zoe and the team can finally start putting things together
in the grounds of Kenilworth Castle.
These ones are going to take some knocking in, Don.
Everything rests on tonight's show.
We've done all we can to prepare ourselves, but is it enough?
As Robert Dudley may have given a preview to Queen Elizabeth
four centuries ago
to show the efforts that had gone into the preparations...
Here it comes.
..I'm going to give Lucy a sneak preview of the set of our display.
Oh, look at that!
What a beauty. He looks magnificent.
-Now, this is where we're going to put fireworks.
-Fireworks in the eyes.
-One in the mouth as well and then...
-And out of the backside too.
Yes. Come and have a look at this. There's a special hatch.
The hatch! SHE LAUGHS
-That's so sweet.
-You've got to be able to put your hand in to fuse
the firework and...
-It's going to be interesting to see whether it survives...
-Terrible end for the dragon.
-Oh, it's such a shame to burn him,
-he's so beautiful.
-Let's take a little tour.
Just like Robert Dudley would have done, I think, on the morning
-of the show, you know.
-Well, we've not quite finished.
-Getting there, getting there.
-But there are some real highlights.
-So, this will be illuminated.
-Is that gunpowder?
And they'll all... You know, the flame will go around and ignite
-each one of these.
-It will be a flaming ER.
-And what's this one?
This is the rocket box.
-The rocket box!
-Akin to the Korean hwacha.
Oh, I like the colours as well.
We've got the blue and yellow chequerboard
-from his coat of arms...
..and little bits of orange...
-..with its political message.
-I'm also excited about this.
-I know what that one is.
That's the girandole.
The horizontal Catherine wheel.
Loaded with gerbs that are going to, you know, help it spin round.
And here comes the big boy.
This is our attempt at the massive rocket for the finale.
Do you know that this is going to work successfully?
No, I don't! I don't.
Well, I really hope that this is going to work
and that the whole display is a success.
-Then I'll marry you.
It's now time to arm the fireworks.
Once they're fused, they're ready to fire from a central control.
Remote ignition is a safety precaution
they wouldn't have had in Elizabethan times.
In the Tudor period, there'd be some chap standing with
a torch or a red-hot poker, and as soon as he put it in there,
that's it, he's covered in sparks and so he's got to try and light
-all of them.
-Incredibly dangerous work.
Yeah, but it would be young children doing it anyhow
and there was plenty of them, so that's fine.
Although it's sunny now,
rain could quickly ruin fireworks made to Tudor specifications,
so we're taking no chances and covering them up as we fuse them.
And according to Don, the weather isn't the only thing that could
scupper a Tudor display.
So this is one of the rocket boxes.
-That's coming along nicely.
-It holds all the small rockets.
But you can see the risk that's within these displays.
One single spark landing from something else,
landing on one of this,
and it'll light the whole lot.
It could be an eight-minute display or an eight-second display,
depending which way the wind blows the sparks.
Factory-made fireworks modified to Tudor specifications
will supplement our prototypes,
helping to recreate the sheer spectacle
and scale of Dudley's display.
The modifications we've made, how you feeling?
I can promise you you'll be getting a big bang
at some point this evening...
whether it's up there or down here. But trust me,
it will be a spectacular finale come what may.
Oh, Don, it's not the answer I want.
It will be fine, Zoe.
-That's not the answer I wanted.
-It will be fine.
Everything is set for the start of the evening's entertainment.
The guests have arrived in the spirit of the occasion,
including some friends who have helped us along the way.
The set is complete, resplendent in Dudley's colours,
and the pyrotechnics are primed
for the start of a Tudor fireworks spectacular.
What could possibly go wrong?
Less than an hour before our start time, a torrential rainstorm hits.
It's a problem that even Queen Elizabeth I wouldn't have
been able to prevent.
Our Tudor fireworks display could genuinely be turned
into a damp squib.
The last thing we want to happen has happened
and we have rain and quite severe wind.
We have soggy Tudors but, most importantly,
I'm worried about our fireworks,
so, really, it's critical that that gunpowder stay dry.
This is a Tudor recipe -
it's not as stable as the modern stuff.
Any moisture and it's game over,
that stuff won't work.
TUDOR DANCE MUSIC PLAYS
Eventually, there's a ray of hope.
The rain finally stops
and our Tudor guests get their chance to show us their moves.
Their spirits have not been dampened.
Let's hope our fireworks haven't either.
There's no turning back now.
As night falls, the set is finally complete.
From Babington's original design, we've handmade the rockets,
the gerbs, the girandole,
and we've faithfully brought the dragon to life.
We've even made his big rocket.
They're all primed and ready to fire...
after the arrival of one final illustrious guest.
-Ladies and gentlemen, your Queen.
Thank you, my good people.
-How's your view?
-It's acceptable, thank you.
I think maybe for the display you might enjoy standing
right at the front with me.
Is it...is it perfectly safe?
-Yeah, it's perfectly safe.
-All right, then.
This is the moment of truth.
These fireworks aren't just unpredictable,
they could be filled with damp gunpowder after all that rain.
-Now that one has gone to the trouble of dressing up,
one really does hope this works.
OK, we'd like to fire the cannon. Cannons fire.
And so it begins.
OK, we're firing gerbs either side of the set.
-Oh, oh, oh!
-Here we go!
These are the gerbs. These are the first fireworks that I made.
So far, so good.
The gerbs have produced beautiful fountains of light,
setting the stage for an emotional roller-coaster for Dudley's
What a fantastic start.
To an Elizabethan,
rockets and stars would've brought to mind comets and portents of great
events. And even to me, with my 21st century mind,
they are incredibly touching.
We've added a surprise element, fizgigs,
rockets without the stability of sticks,
firing much closer to the ground than a modern display.
-It looks like they're fighting each other.
-They're sort of psychopath fireworks, aren't they?
Or as Shakespeare would have it,
artificial meteors representing signs from God.
And if Dudley wanted to create impact,
what better than the star of our show?
-Hey, the Dragon!
The Dragon is a show stopper in more ways than one.
We always feared a rogue spark could ignite the rocket box.
Oh, my God! OK, the Dragon has kicked up so much smoke...
Well, come on, Dragon, make it to the castle!
He is, he is, he's still going! He's still going.
Come on, Dragon!
That was really exciting because the Dragon set off a rocket box!
THEY LAUGH Yes! It did, didn't it?
And now the personal touch.
Just in case anyone had forgotten
who this was all designed for...
-Oh, no, the ER!
-It's the ER.
-Erm, that's me, you know.
That's my personal firework, thank you very much.
-Ooh. Here we go.
Witnessing these weeping willows of sparks must have made a profound
impression on Elizabeth I.
-Way! Oh, they're going again!
-Just a little surprise up my sleeve.
A crescendo of fizgigs and rockets builds to the finale of the show,
the most unpredictable firework of them all,
the one I know is worrying Zoe.
And then the finale rockets right in the middle.
Here comes the big rocket!
Sights like this must have been otherworldly.
I can really feel the mix of terror and wonder this spectacle would have
created in the crowd.
-What do you think?
-What do you think?
-The dragon wasn't entirely as planned, was he?
He had set off all the other fireworks on his way, hadn't he?
Yeah! There was some fantastic cross-ignition,
when the Dragon set off the fire box.
I did fear that maybe the entire display might go up,
but it created a huge amount of smoke, I loved the smoke!
And I think that things going a tiny bit wrong is very Tudor,
-that would have happened to them.
Shall we go down there and just set fire to them?
And what about the big rocket at the end?
Because we had designed it to go up and explode simultaneously,
so it didn't do a big explosion in the sky,
but happened right there, front and centre, at the end of the display.
-I'm pleased that worked.
-That was the highlight.
Apart from the dragon, we like the dragon too! Ha!
By all accounts,
the display was magnificent and captured the imaginations
of the watching guests.
But did it succeed in Dudley's real purpose,
which was getting the Queen to marry him?
Well, no, it didn't.
Elizabeth kept her nickname, the Virgin Queen,
and Dudley had to look elsewhere.
But we won't let that dampen the fact that we did manage to recreate
a truly memorable Tudor firework spectacular.
Maybe Robert Dudley's firework display didn't have quite the effect
that he'd hoped,
but I think that our recreation of it was brilliant as a way
inside Tudor people's minds.
They had a different attitude to health and safety, that's clear,
but more importantly, for them,
fireworks weren't just entertainment.
When they lit up the black Tudor sky,
they saw propaganda and storytelling,
they elevated spectacle into the realm of the gods.
We still follow in Tudor footsteps by having fireworks at big live
events today, and perhaps ours are more spectacular,
but I think that they lack dragons and comets and portents.
I think that Tudor fireworks perhaps had more soul.
Historian Lucy Worsley teams up with artist and materials scientist Zoe Laughlin to explore the explosive science and fascinating history of fireworks, using an original pyrotechnics instruction manual, and other 400-year-old historical documents, to recreate one of the most spectacular fireworks displays from the Tudor era.
Lucy and Zoe are joined by a team of top class pyrotechnicians to replicate a mind-blowing fireworks display especially designed for Queen Elizabeth I - one of the first documented firework displays in England. Lucy pieces together clues from some of the earliest instruction manuals for making fireworks in England, as well as eyewitness accounts of the display laid on in 1575. Armed with this information, the team apply their understanding of cutting-edge pyrotechnics to recreate it in the grounds of Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire, where it was originally staged.
Using hands-on experiments to test their designs, the team construct Tudor rockets, firework fountains and a fire-breathing dragon, as well as discovering the secrets of Elizabethan gunpowder.
Throughout the show, Lucy explores the history of the three-week extravaganza laid on by Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, in his final attempt to win the queen's hand in marriage - from the elaborate food the Tudor audience would have eaten, to the colours that the set might have been painted in.
She also reveals the important role fireworks had during the Tudor era - from the firework effects used on stage at the Globe Theatre to the pyrotechnical experimentation that took place at the Tower of London, the MI5 of its day.
But not all the clues can be found in England - some of the fireworks described need to be tracked down further afield. Lucy travels to Italy to recreate the mysterious Girandola - a horizontal spinning wheel of fire - whilst Zoe flies to South Korea to witness the ancient, and rather terrifying, rocket box launcher in action.
The danger and technical challenges involved in recreating 400-year-old fireworks creates a real sense of scale and event. And the detective work needed to decipher these Tudor pyrotechnic manuals, and the engineering ingenuity to recreate them, form the narrative spine of the film, culminating in a spectacular recreation of Elizabeth I's mind-blowing firework display at Kenilworth Castle.