The Tudor era has enchanted generations of history lovers with its interesting monarchs and scandals. The beautiful outfits, the political drama of the age, the legendary marriages of King Henry VIII, the children of Henry VIII, and how England grew into a dominant force in European politics. These are the things that people tend to focus on when studying the Tudors, yet this is a very narrow view of the time period. We tend to focus on the inner workings of the court system, but we don’t focus on the common people who lived in England during this time. What was it like to live in Tudor England for the common people? This is the question that Ruth Goodman explores in her book, “How To Be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Everyday Life”.
In her introduction Ruth Goodman explains her journey into studying the lives of ordinary Tudors and why she chose to write this particular book:
There are many books and studies based on the lives of the Tudor elite, upon the powerful and well-documented, but my interest has always been bound up with the more humble sections of society. As a fairly ordinary person myself who needs to eat, sleep and change the occasional nappy, I wanted from the beginning to know how people coped day to day, to know what resources they really had at their disposal, what skills they needed to acquire and what it all felt like. Twenty-five years ago I could find no book to tell me, and even now when social history receives far more academic attention than before, information is still thin on the ground. So I set out to try and work it out for myself: hunting up period recipes and trying them out; learning to manage fires and skin rabbits; standing on one foot with a dance manual in one hand, trying to make sense of where my next move should be. The more I experimented, the more information I began to find within the period texts that I was looking at. Things that I had just skimmed past in the reading became quite critical in practice, prompting more questions and very much more intense research. (Goodman, xii-xiii).
Goodman has taken her research and her adventures in trying to live like a common Tudor and has written a book that everyone can enjoy. This book explores daily activities of the ordinary Tudor family, from morning to night, in order to give her readers a better understanding of this remarkable time period. It is a book that provides a plethora of information from which Tudor bed is the most comfortable to how normal Tudors bathed, to how to brew your own ale and how to make your own bread and cheese.
All of this information is rather interesting, but Goodman takes it a couple steps further. First, she explains her own experiences attempting to replicate what she found in manuals and sources from the Tudor time period. It is one thing to read primary sources, which Goodman does include, but by including experiences from the author herself, it adds another level of depth and credibility to the book and to her research. Another step that Goodman takes in her book to add depth is explaining the reasoning behind why the average Tudor did what they did. Some of it is because of religion and some had to do with how they understood how the human body operated through the four humours. By taking the time to understand these elements, the reader can understand why the Tudors did things a certain way, which may seem a bit foreign to a modern audience.
Ruth Goodman gives the lives of ordinary Tudors the attention they deserve. The Tudor dynasty was not just about the flashy monarchy. The majority of the people were common farmers and craftsmen. In order to understand this period of time, one has to look at the lives of the royalty and the regular people. “How To Be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Everyday Life” by Ruth Goodman is a stunning example of how living history can help explain the past and should be on anyone’s booklist who is interested in seriously studying the Tudor dynasty. This book is an absolute delight to read.