The Tudors. They produced two of our favourite monarchs, King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I. I've always wondered whether I'd enjoy residing in this particular period. OK, maybe not as a peasant. Why? Well have you ever been enjoying a good day out, maybe been shopping had a spot of lunch in a quaint little restaurant? Had a lovely little chit chat, maybe seen a film, when all of a sudden it hits you! No, not another 'cunning plan' but the contents of a pigeon's bottom! We've all been there haven't we? If however, you have not had that particular pleasure yet, then I hope you do very soon! Three times I tell you (once it was not even a pigeon, a bit bigger) during a trip to the tower of London, need I say more?
Now imagine walking through a Tudor village, you've just had your monthly wash, feeling a bit tired and cold perhaps? Then it hits you, oh no not the pigeon poop, you wish it was the pigeon poop! How about the week old contents of a privy belonging to a family of four? Ahh yes, I must admit the corsets, 'Green Sleeves' and Olde English tongue is more than a good enough convincer for me! Not to mention eight course banquets, court jesters, and four poster beds…. sorry drifted off for a while there. Then I realised that I am female! Yes, Very funny, thou art the natural fool I see! Life as a Tudor woman was a very hard one indeed.
Let's start with the health issues. It was believed that the perfect woman was one of pale complexion, coupled with pale hair. To achieve this, females of this time would don make up. Sorry? Nothing wrong with that I hear you cry. Think again. The best example of the sought after paleness, is present in none other than Queen Elizabeth I. We see her in portraits with a strange ghostly white complexion. This was achieved by the application of vinegar mixed with white lead. We are now all too aware of the dangers of lead poisoning. Sadly they were not so well informed in the Tudor age. This she used not only to uphold her reputation as the virgin queen but to cover facial scars that had been a result of small pox, and later to cover signs of aging. Aging however, was not a problem most women had to face as the average life expectancy in the Tudor times was merely 35! It was even known for a woman to be bled in hope of obtaining this much desired pale look.
Childbirth was also a very large contributor to fatalities amongst Tudor women. Whilst they would prepare a nursery for the final result of pregnancy, it was common practise to make arrangements for childcare should the mother die in the birthing process! That would make me think twice about putting a bun in my oven! But in those days women did not have a choice. They were made for one thing alone and that was for producing children! They were very much their husband's property! During childbirth there was little awareness of basic hygiene, let alone forceps, C-Section and the precautions we now make without even thinking. The mother would often die from things as simple as a tear, if not during birth, then later due to infection! Should the child miraculously survive, it had little chance of seeing out the week. Many also did not survive to become adults. They had no idea of the nutritional needs let alone correct treatment for infant illness.
As a woman belonged to her husband, they were also subjected to domestic violence. It was, in the eyes of the Tudors, perfectly fine to beat one's spouse. If a woman were to commit adultery, the husband could then (on consent of the King) put her to death! Women were constantly reminded they were none but the work of Lucifer himself. They were not entitled to learn. It was thought skills such as reading and writing would be wasted on the writing of love letters alone.