101 Tudor Facts

  1. The first documented use of fireworks in the UK was at the wedding of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York in 1486. They became more popular under Queen Elizabeth I. In 1572 an area on the island at Warwick Castle was set up to host the first firework display to celebrate the queen visiting the castle.
  2. When King Henry VIII fell out with the Catholic Church he made himself the head of the Church of England. He ‘dissolved’ all of the monasteries, taking the buildings, land and property for himself.
  3. Poor people washed their linen underwear but did not wash their outer clothes. The smell of wood smoke from their fires acted like a deodorant to help mask their bad smell.
  4. Rich people slept in strong wooden beds with a canopy over the top and curtains around the bed to help keep the warmth in. Poor people slept on a bed of straw.
  5. Cardinal Wolsey was to be tried for treason because he failed to secure the divorce between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. Luckily for Wolsey he died before going on trial!
  6. Spoons were set on a table face down to “keep out the devil”.
  7. If the Lord invited you to dinner then you would probably be sitting at a table lower down than him so he could quite literally look down on you. You would have to wait until the Lord was served first before you were served and might even have to share your meal with one or two others! And of course you’d have to wait until a servant tasted the food. If they weren’t ill then it hadn’t been poisoned!
  8. Spinning was done nearly entirely by women to make clothing. Many single women were able to earn a living this way and this is where the term ‘Spinster’ (an unmarried woman) comes from.
  9. Henry VIII is crowned King at Westminster Abbey on 24th June 1509.
  10. Music was an important part of everyone’s lives. Sea captains would make room for orchestras on their small boats whilst King Henry VII never travelled without his harpists, trumpeters, fiddlers and pipers.
  11. Henry VIII married Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of the Spanish King and Queen. She was the widow of his older brother, Arthur.
  12. Punishment was harsh. If you were caught stealing and were whipped through the streets, this was considered a mild punishment.
  13. In 1533 Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon was annulled meaning he was free to marry Anne Boleyn the same year.
  14. When King Edward VI died (Henry VIII’s son), his cousin, Lady Jane Grey was crowned Queen in 1553 aged just 17. Henry’s eldest daughter Mary insisted she was the rightful heir to the throne and had Jane beheaded after just nine days as Queen. Jane had spent her childhood living at Leicestershire’s Bradgate Park. It was said that her servants were so upset after she was executed that they cut off the tops of the oak trees in the park. There are some trees that look like they may have been beheaded but no one knows if this is actually true.
  15. The first Tudor King was Henry VII. He was crowned King in Westminster Abbey on the 30th October 1485 after winning the War of the Roses. This was a civil war between rival families of York and Lancaster. Richard III died in battle, allowing Henry Tudor to claim the throne.
  16. Christopher Columbus travelled across the Atlantic and discovered America.
  17. In 1503 King Henry VII’s oldest son Arthur died and Henry VIII became heir to the throne.
  18. Blood sports such as hunting, bear baiting and cockerel fighting were all enjoyed by everyone. Football however was said to be ‘nothing but beastly fury and extreme violence’!
  19. Books were first printed in the Tudor times.
  20. A knight wore a full suit of armour. Armour joints were designed to allow a large amount of movement, even when wearing the heavy armour.   A knight’s horse would also have armour for protection.
  21. In the early years of being on the throne, Henry VIII was not motivated to govern the country. He gave that responsibility to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey whilst he could take part in hunting, games and music. He hadn’t prepared to be King as he thought his brother, Arthur would be doing that job!
  22. More than one in three babies died, usually from disease.
  23. I’m not sure it’s a record to be proud of but Henry VIII holds the record for being the most married of all the English kings.
  24. Anne Boleyn was executed in 1536 meaning Henry was free to marry Jane Seymour. In fact he did this just 10 days later … he didn’t want to hang about when he only had two daughters and no male heir to the throne!
  25. Chainmail armour was cleaned with sand and vinegar to stop it going rusty.
  26. Henry VIII had a lot of ships built to add to the navy including The Mary Rose, which unfortunately sank!
  27. Jane Seymour died in 1537 due to complications in childbirth. She gave birth to the future King Edward VI. It is thought that Henry VIII genuinely cared for Jane. He needed to be persuaded to remarry and didn’t do so until over two years later. (That’s a very long time for Henry.)
  28. Windows were often made from animal horn due to glass being so expensive.
  29. Whilst his father was good at saving money, Henry VIII was good at spending it and he died with a huge debt.
  30. Ruffs (a collar worn around the neck) became more fashionable and increased in size throughout the Tudor times.
  31. Anne of Cleves married Henry VIII in the January of 1540 but the King had this marriage annulled in July of 1540 … she wasn’t pretty enough for him!
  32. When people first found potatoes they didn’t know what to do with them so tried to smoke them…! They should have been told they were for making chips!
  33. The word ‘idiot’ meant commoner and wasn’t an insult … be careful who you try that out on though!
  34. Henry VIII married Catherine Howard in 1540. He claimed that she was having affairs with other men so had her executed two years later
  35. Guns were used on the battlefield more than historians previously thought. They were mainly named after birds of prey.
  36. Sumptuary Laws, rules governing fashion, meant your class could be determined easily from what you wore.
  37. Tudor lives revolved around farming. The seasons would determine what jobs you were to do next.
  38. Many people used their hands to eat but everyone also carried a knife on his or her belt. Forks had been invented in Italy but were rare in Britain at that time.
  39. Henry VIII’s last wife was Catherine Parr. They married in 1543. Henry thought she would make a good stepmother for his children.
  40. Henry VIII and the rest of the royal family were the only ones allowed to wear the colour purple!
  41. Tennis was called Royal or Real Tennis. It looked more like our present day game of squash with the ball bouncing off walls and roofs within a courtyard.
  42. Girls could be married from about the age of 12, often to much older men, with arrangements being made by their parents.
  43. Tudor medicines were based on Ancient Greek ideas, dating back to the great doctor, Hippocrates. Common folk couldn’t afford a doctor, which may have been for the best as they weren’t very reliable! Herbal remedies from ‘wise women’ were a typical alternative.
  44. If it wasn’t for Catherine Parr then Elizabeth I may never have been Queen. While Henry VIII was still alive Catherine advised him to change his will. This meant that if Edward were to die young then the throne should go to Henry and Catherine of Aragon’s daughter Mary. If Mary were also to die young then the throne would pass to Henry and Anne Boleyn’s daughter Elizabeth…. That of course is exactly what happened.
  45. Girls didn’t go to school. Rich boys would be tutored from home. Henry VIII set up what became grammar schools. He called them King’s Schools and these were for ‘clever boys’ who could be useful to the country in some way.
  46. When Henry VIII’s daughter Mary became Queen she wanted everyone to follow the Catholic Church again. She was known to burn Protestants to death in the hope that she would scare others into obeying her Catholic laws. This is how she got her nickname Bloody Mary.
  47. If you were having dinner with the King or even a lord then you wouldn’t be able to go to the toilet until they had gone first…. Let’s hope they had a weak bladder!
  48. Henry VIII considered himself to be a composer. Some people even think he may have composed Greensleeves but evidence suggests this to be unlikely.
  49. Duelling was common with the very rich. If someone got into an argument with you they could demand a duel … to the death! This often involved swords called rapiers. A knight would suggest a duel by throwing down his gauntlet (his metal glove). If the other knight were to pick up the gauntlet he was accepting the challenge. We still use the phrase today: ‘throwing down the gauntlet’.
  50. Royal prisoners condemned to death had the option of being beheaded by using a sword rather than an axe like the commoners. This was seen as being more dignified but would have also got the job done quicker!
  51. The Royal College of Physicians was first established in Henry VIII’s time. Before this physicians were killing as many people as they were saving. It helped regulate the practice of medicine across the country. The college were allowed to have four bodies belonging to hanged criminals for anatomy lessons and even went on to do public dissections! This is how the circulation of blood was first understood.
  52. After claiming the throne in 1485, Henry VII found he had a few enemies who would like him killed. For protection he had bodyguards at the Tower of London. These Yeomen Warders (or Beefeaters as they’re commonly known) can still be seen today at the Tower wearing the same scarlet uniforms.
  53. One of the largest and heaviest cannons (or bombards) used in the Tudor times was called Mons Meg. It could fire a cannonball up to 2 miles or 3.2 km. It can still be seen today at Edinburgh Castle.
  54. Wives were expected to obey their husbands and could be punished for nagging them! Women would also wear the Brank, an uncomfortable metal cage over their heads if they were caught gossiping!
  55. The Tudor times were not equal and women were not allowed to have a profession unless it was nursing or midwifery. Instead they were expected to help in the fields, cook, clean and look after the children.
  56. Poor children started work as young as six!
  57. Only one person in ten was expected to make it to old age … and that meant making it to 40!
  58. Queen Elizabeth I had baths more regularly than others. As often as four times a year if she needed one or not!
  59. Pendants were often used to ward off ill health and evil.
  60. Card games were popular and the Tudors loved to gamble. The modern day pack of cards is based on the clothes worn in court from Elizabeth I’s time.
  61. Women were not allowed to act on stage so young boys would often play the female roles.
  62. When football was allowed to be played it was played using a pig’s bladder for a ball. Two different villages would start playing in the middle of their villages. The team that managed to get the ball back to their village won.
  63. Board games were popular and a Backgammon board (the game was then called Tables) was found on board the Mary Rose.
  64. London’s Globe Theatre was built and William Shakespeare owned an eighth share in it. He put on most of his plays there.
  65. Some alcohol was cheap. Poor people would often drink a large amount to help ease the misery of poverty. If you were caught drunk in the streets though, the punishment was to wear the ‘Drunkard’s Cloak’. The drunk would stumble around in a barrel whilst people laughed at them or throw rotten food at them.
  66. Game such as deer, pheasant or rabbit would be hung in cold rooms for several days before cooking to improve the flavour. It would be left until it had started to get maggots in it as it sweetened the taste!
  67. Wealthy parents would dress their children in the same clothes as adults as soon as they were out of their baby clothes.
  68. The great hall was the main room in a lord’s home. It was two storeys high with a staircase leading to a gallery. Sometimes musicians would use the gallery to perform or ladies would sit up in the gallery watching the gentlemen at dinner!
  69. Due to glass being very expensive, rich folk would take out the whole window frame and move it with them when moving to another house.
  70. Carpets from Eastern countries were so expensive that they were hung on walls or over tables. They were too valuable to walk on.
  71. Mazed gardens became popular in large houses. Due to the Tudors enjoying a joke there were fountains hidden in them. As guests became lost around the maze they could get water squirted on them as they passed by.
  72. Servants usually dressed in blue and wore their master’s badge in silver on their arm.
  73. Dresses became larger and were made to go over a hoop or frame, which fastened around the waist. Elizabeth I favoured this style and the skirt was stretched over a whalebone frame called a farthingale.
  74. Roads in Tudor times were in a bad state. Sometimes farmers ploughed across the road and holes in the roads could be deep enough to turn over a cart or carriage. They could even be deep enough to drown in! No one thought to mend the roads unless there was to be a royal procession.
  75. There were no signposts or milestones so travellers had to hire guides from the local area to tell them or show them where to go.
  76. A traveller could hire a horse at an inn and ride for about ten miles to the next inn. They would leave the horse at the inn and hire a new one for the next part of their journey. A fun taxi ride!
  77. Salt was very expensive. If you had salt at a meal then you knew the host was rich.
  78. Urine was used to get out tough stains in clothes and tablecloths when washing them!
  79. In Tudor times you were unable to rise above the rank you were born into. This meant that if you were born poor you would stay poor.
  80. The most important servant to the king was called the ‘Groom of the Stool’ or the king’s toilet attendant. They obviously liked the job as Henry VIII only had four different servants for this role during his reign.
  81. By the time Henry VIII was an old man he was overweight and had health issues which meant he needed a hoist to get him in and out of bed and a crane to get him on to his horse … poor horse!
  82. If a Tudor teacher thought a boy was misbehaving then they could cane them. If the boy was rich enough then his family may arrange for another student to take the beating for him. This is where we get phrase: a ‘whipping boy’!
  83. Very large houses were often designed in symmetrical shapes such as the letters ‘E’ or ‘H’.
  84. Tudors waited until New Years Day to swap gifts.
  85. Sugar was so expensive it was almost worth its weight in gold … literally! Privileged households could buy cones of sugar, which they would keep wrapped up and used gradually over weeks or months. Royal households had sugar plate decorations on the table for special occasions.
  86. Due to royalty and the very rich being able to afford sugar their teeth were often rotten and black. Ambitious but less wealthy people would try to blacken their teeth to make it look like they were wealthier than they really were.
  87. Tudors enjoyed having pets such as dogs and birds. Cats were less popular as pets but were still used on farms to keep down the mice. Some royalty had exotic pets such as parrots and monkeys!
  88. Just days before Anne Boleyn’s execution, her marriage to Henry was annulled, meaning that the marriage was considered to be invalid. Her crime was supposedly adultery and she was executed for this even though in the eyes of the law she was never married and therefore couldn’t have committed adultery. No one bothered to point this out to the king!
  89. Rich Tudors were much taller than common folk. Whilst most men were averaging 5 foot, 8 inches, Henry VIII was actually over 6 foot and Catherine Parr was thought to be about 5 foot, 10 inches.
  90. As Henry VIII got older he became more paranoid and thought that people were out to kill him. He would have servants build a brick wall against his bedroom door each night and take the bricks away the following morning so he could get out!
  91. Dentists would use human poo and honey to remove rotten teeth!
  92. Con artists would sell live chickens that looked plump and healthy when actually they had just sewn up their bottoms so they were actually just full of poo!
  93. Even though Henry VIII was a large man he had a high-pitched voice.
  94. Masked Balls have been popular in England since Henry VIII’s time.
  95. Superstition was rife amongst the populace. One cure for a headache involved rubbing your forehead on a rope used to hang someone. To cure baldness, just use a shampoo made up of the juice of crushed beetles!
  96. Even though the Tudor toilet was called a privy it wasn’t private at all. Tudors were quite happy to go whilst others were in the room.
  97. When Henry VIII banned holy pictures in church the artists changed to painting portraits so they weren’t out of a job. This is why we start to get more portraits in the Tudor times.
  98. The wealthy would clean their teeth with a paste made from sugar!!
  99. Physicians claimed that tobacco was healthy and could cure toothache, bad breath and even cancer!
  100. If you had pale skin it was thought you were wealthy as it demonstrated you didn’t have to work outside and would have servants and slaves to do that for you. To look as pale as possible some women would use a paste on their skin made from poisonous lead!
  101. Henry VIII did not like eating vegetables and considered them to be food for the peasants.

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