The Unprecedented Case

In October 1545, Sir Ralph Sadleir learned that his wife and the mother of seven surviving children, Ellen Mitchell, had been married before. In order to save his reputation and legitimise both his marriage and his children, he wrote a letter to his employer and close friend Henry VIII, asking for help. The Act of Parliament that followed annulled Ellen’s first marriage on the grounds that her husband, Matthew Barre, had abandoned her, saved Sir Ralph’s family as well as his career. It was a truly unprecedented case.

‘The Unprecedented Case’ project brought together 21 SEND and Pupil Premium Year Six pupils from three Hackney primary schools, musicians Almost Credible Music, long-time Hand Of collaborator Joe Snape, and puppeteer Rachel Warr. The result was a fascinating, complex and playful exploration of Hackney’s history, delving into the disgusting habits of the Tudors, the influence of politics on our lives (and of our lives on politics), and the deeper meaning of the word ‘unprecedented’.

Thanks to our partnerships with the National Trust and the Parliamentary Archives, the children were able to spend six full days at Sutton House, exploring literacy, music and puppetry through artist-led workshops. They also enjoyed a trip to the Houses of Parliament, which included a full tour as well as an unprecedented exploration of the Parliamentary Archives – where we saw the 1545 Act that saved Sir Ralph’s marriage to Ellen.

The final performance included home-made flutes, drums, xylophones and harps, clucking chickens and pheasants, a cast of puppets including Sir Ralph, Matthew, Ellen and King Henry VIII, graffiti, and poo. We’re immensely proud of our stellar group of young artists, and wish them all the best of luck as they begin secondary school in September!