The Tudor Period In England

Description of life in the Tudor period of England.

Many people regard the Tudor period in England as an exciting and romantic time. They think of picturesque timber Tudor mansions and cottages; beautiful music like Greensleeves; poetry and prose from the likes of Shakespeare; great feasts; fancy, frilly fashions; sailing ships and heroes like Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh.

All true. It was an exciting time, especially with the discovery of the New World, later named America.

But there was another side to life in Tudor times. This included tyrannical kings and queens, high taxes, a low life expectancy, filth, squalor, disease, war, religious persecution, barbaric criminal punishments and cruel blood sports.

Tudor times lasted 118 years from 1485 to 1603. The Royal Tudor line included King Henry V11, King Henry V111, King Edward V1, Queen Mary 1 and Queen Elizabeth 1. The family is believed to have originated in Wales.

Despite the finery of the royal and the rich, city and town living involved stinking open sewage in the streets and polluted water. People drank beer, wine, mead or cider because water was not fit to drink unless boiled. Even rivers were polluted.

Having a bath was considered unhealthy. Instead, people used perfumes to kill smells. Queen Elizabeth 1 was regarded with awe because she had four baths a year.

The basic diet of the many poor people was bread, plus things like turnips, beans and cabbage. Meat was mostly for the rich and was heavily salted to preserve it. A typical poor person's breakfast would be ale and bread or pea and bean porridge.

The rich, however, gorged themselves on luxuries and were famous for their big feasts. Every type of meat was eaten, including larks, peacocks, seagulls and swans. Sugar, honey and herbs were regularly used in recipes. Pastry was popular, especially for pies. At long eating orgies it was common to go to the next room to vomit before continuing courses.

Poor people lived in dirty squalor and freedom was limited. Royal laws, for example, decided how much money people were allowed to earn and how long they had to work, like from sunrise to sunset. Laws even told people what to wear.

Crime rates were high even though punishments for crimes were harsh. For stealing, a man would have his hands and ears cut off, his nostrils slit and his cheek branded with an "F". A man who poisoned another was boiled in water, even if his victim did not die. A woman who poisoned her husband was burned alive, as were many so-called witches.

Hanging often included having your entrails taken out while you were still alive. Then your body was cut into four pieces and your head put on a pole for public exhibition.

These cruel events were often viewed by the public as entertainment and the cruelty of the times extended into blood sports like baiting bears and bulls. The poor creatures were tied to stakes while packs of dogs attacked them for people's enjoyment. Cock fighting was another popular entertainment.

Depending on the religion of the king or queen of the day you could be heavily fined or executed for your religious beliefs. Catholic Queen Mary 1, for example, persecuted Protestants. Queen Elizabeth did the same to Catholics.

If you did not get executed, murdered, killed in war or die from a disease or food poisoning, you would probably die early anyway. General life expectancy in Tudor times was low and only about one in 10 people reached 40 years of age.

If you got sick you would not want to visit a Tudor doctor. Treatments included delights like swallowing frogs, eating human skull, blood letting and being thrashed. A better alternative might have been to try some of the many "kill or cure" herbal remedies available.

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