Book Review: “Of Blood Descended” by Steven Veerapen

60293344._SY475_The year is 1522, and London is in a jovial mood. King Henry VIII and his wife Catherine of Aragon are to play host to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V as he visits England. As one of King Henry VIII’s most loyal advisors, Cardinal Wolsey had the great honor of hosting a grand masque featuring King Arthur and the Black Knight for the distinguished company. Unfortunately, as preparations for the luxurious masque are in full swing, Wolsey’s historian is horrifically murdered. The only one who can solve the case is Anthony Blanke, the son of John Blanke, the trumpeter before the masque is ruined, and Henry VIII discovers the truth. The story of this case is told in Steven Veerapen’s latest novel, “Of Blood Descended.”

I want to thank Steven Veerapen for sending me a copy of his latest novel. I am always in the mood for a good Tudor mystery, and when I heard that the main character was the son of John Blanke, I was intrigued to see how Veerapen would portray his story.

Veerapen begins this novel by introducing Pietro Gonzaga, Cardinal Wolsey’s historian, and his family as Gonzaga is on the cusp of revolutionary discovery. We then cut to Anthony Blanke returning to London after his father, John Blanke’s death. He is reluctant to go back to court and all of its intrigues, but it is necessary as Cardinal Wolsey himself summoned him. Wolsey is hosting a grand masque in honor of King Henry VIII and the Imperial Emperor Charles V; the theme is King Arthur and the Black Knight, and he has decided to cast Anthony as the titular Black Knight.

Progress with the masque goes smoothly until someone discovers Signor Gonzaga’s body after being brutally slain. Gonzaga’s murder sets the stage for a whirlwind chase to find the murderer, but the monster leaves a trail of blood behind him, and no one is safe. The action, intrigue, and mysteries will keep you guessing until the final pages to figure out who the mastermind was behind it all.

I loved the mystery behind the murder and how Veerapen was able to weave the Arthurian legends and prophecies with the story of the Tudors. I enjoyed the cameos from Thomas Boleyn and Anne Boleyn, but my favorite cameo was Henry VIII’s historian Polydore Vergil, who does not appear that often in Tudor historical fiction. I thought Anthony was such a fascinating protagonist as he gave a different perspective on the diversity of London life. Even though characters like Anthony Blanke, Sister Jane, Mark Byfield, and Harry Gainsford are entirely fictional characters, they feel like they would fit exceptionally well in the Tudor world.

I thoroughly enjoyed every twist and turn that Veerapen included in this novel. I hope to see more stories with Anthony, Jane, Mark, and Harry. If you enjoy Tudor murder mysteries, you will be enthralled with “Of Blood Descended” by Steven Veerapen.

Book Review: “Queen’s Gambit: A Novel of Katherine Parr” by Elizabeth Fremantle

18950719To be married to a king may seem like a dream, but reality can be cruel. Take the wives of Henry VIII. After saying ” I do,” each wife had to deal with complex challenges after saying “I do.” We all know the poem; divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived, but does that define these queens? After the death of her second husband, Katherine Parr must choose between Henry VIII and Thomas Seymour, the man who has captured her heart. She must navigate love, court intrigues, and the treacherous religious landscape of England in the 1540s to survive. Katherine’s life as Queen of England and how close she came to a disastrous fall from grace are explored in Elizabeth Fremantle’s first novel, “Queen’s Gambit: A Novel of Katherine Parr.”

I have heard about this particular novel for years, and I have wanted to read it for a long time. Katherine Parr is my favorite wife of King Henry VIII, but sadly there are not many novels about her. When it was announced that this novel would be turned into a new movie called “Firebrand,” I knew now was the perfect time to read this book.

“Queen’s Gambit” begins with Katherine Parr at the deathbed of her second husband, Lord Latymer. Their relationship was full of love, but it was also stained with tragedy as Katherine was left alone to fend off the Pilgrimage of Grace, which scarred both Katherine and her stepdaughter Meg for years to come. With the death of Lord Latymer, Katherine returns to court with Meg and her beloved maid Dot, where she falls hard to the debonair Thomas Seymour. Their love can never be as another man has his eyes on the desirable widow, and no one ever disobeys King Henry VIII. Katherine Parr marries the king and becomes his sixth wife, a queen of England.

As queen, Katherine’s life might seem like a dream, but dealing with an ailing husband and trying to promote her religious views without losing her head is a balancing act. I thoroughly enjoyed how Fremantle portrayed Katherine and her time as queen and eventually the wife of Thomas Seymour. Her relationships with Henry VIII, Thomas Seymour, Anne Askew, Mary, Elizabeth, and Edward are complicated but well fleshed out. I also enjoyed the additional characters that Fremantle included in Katherine’s tale, especially the loyal to a fault Dot and Huicke, the king’s physician whose friendship would become invaluable to Katherine.

This was my first time reading a book by Elizabeth Fremantle, and I cannot wait to read another story. Fremantle does a superb job of telling Katherine’s story in an engaging and thoughtful manner. It was so interesting that I did not want this novel to end.

Katherine Parr was not just the final wife who survived King Henry VIII’s last years. She was a wife, a loving stepmother, a widow, a woman in love, a caring friend, a writer, and a reformer. Her life was full of risks, tragedies, and love. If you love Tudor historical fiction novels, you will adore “Queen’s Gambit: A Novel of Katherine Parr” by Elizabeth Fremantle.

Book Review: “The House of Dudley: A New History of Tudor England” by Joanne Paul

60126565._SY475_When we think about the Tudor dynasty, we think about the monarchs who made the dynasty, but we also pay attention to those around the king or queen who sat on the throne. There were families like the Boleyns, the Howards, and the Seymours who stood on the sidelines for a short amount of time, but one family saw the majority of the dynasty through highs and extreme lows. The Dudleys have been seen as a power-hungry family who would do anything to sit on the throne of England, but is there more to their story? In her debut book, “The House of Dudley: A New History of Tudor England,” Joanne Paul explores the lives of this extraordinary family to find the truth about their ambitions and their resilience.

This is one of those titles that I heard about from friends online, and I wanted to check it out for myself. I have followed Joanne Paul for a while now, and when I heard about her first book, I knew I wanted to read it.

Paul begins her biography about the Dudleys with the funeral of Anne Dudley, the first wife of Edmund Dudley, which occurred around the same time as the death of Elizabeth of York. Edmund Dudley would go to serve as King Henry VII’s principal tax collector, which would prove beneficial to his family and the king even if he did use underhanded methods to collect the money from taxpayers. Edmund’s strategies were so ruthless that he didn’t survive long after the death of Henry VII as his son Henry VIII had him executed for treason, leaving his young son John as the heir to the Dudley name, which was now tainted with scandals.

John Dudley took the lessons from his father’s dramatic downfall and applied them to his own life. It is how he survived the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI and earned his position as one of the most influential men in the kingdom, as the Duke of Warwick. He held influence in Edward VI’s regency council, so much so that when it came time for Edward VI to name an heir, he named John Dudley’s daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey, the wife of Guildford Dudley, as his heir. The issue was this put the Dudleys in danger as Mary I marched towards the throne. There was no room for negotiations with Mary as she saw the Dudleys as a threat that must be eliminated through the executions of John, Guildford, and Lady Jane Grey.

For the remaining members of the Dudley family, the key to surviving Mary’s reign was to stay safe and make sure they had good allies, like King Philip II of Spain, Mary’s husband. With Queen Mary’s death and the rise of Queen Elizabeth I, the Dudleys were once again in the spotlight. The suave and debonair Master of the Horse, Robert Dudley, had captured the heart of the young queen, but the problem was Robert was married to Amy Robsart. Unfortunately, Amy dies under mysterious circumstances, leaving it open for the possibility of Robert and Elizabeth to wed, but it never happens.

A dazzling debut of the tragedies and triumphs of one family, “The House of Dudley: A New History of Tudor England” by Joanne Paul is one of my favorite new releases of this year so far, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Book Review: “Harry of England: The History of Eight Kings, From Henry I to Henry VIII” by Teresa Cole

52509401English kings are some of the most recognizable monarchs in all of European history, and when we think of Kings of England, a few names pop into our minds. Edward, George, and William tend to be popular, but you cannot study English history without Henry. Eight kings of England were Henry, and they would change the history of England forever. These eight kings give us an entire range of what kingship was like in medieval Europe. From men born to be king to opportunists who decided to take the throne as their own, from saints to warrior kings, the Henrys of English history were a colorful group of characters. Each king has had numerous biographies written about him, but there has never been a collection of biographies about the kings named Henry until now. This is “Harry of England: The History of Eight Kings, From Henry I to Henry VIII” by Teresa Cole.

I want to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. When I saw this title, I was fascinated by the concept. I have read several books about certain Henrys, but I have never read one that talks about them all in one book.

Cole begins her book with the first Henry, the 4th son of William the Conqueror. The prospects of him ever becoming king was very slim, especially when William the Conqueror passed away and the crown went to William Rufus, the eldest son. Yet destiny took an unexpected turn when William Rufus was killed in a hunting accident, and Henry was there to take the throne before his other brothers had a chance. Henry had to deal with numerous rebellions and the tragedy of the White Ship, which killed his only legitimate son and heir. This led to the period of fighting between Henry’s daughter Matilda and Stephen of Blois, known as the Anarchy, which led to the reign of King Henry II and the beginning of the Plantagenet Dynasty.

King Henry II had his fair share of family drama with his sons and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, plus a deadly confrontation with his former best friend, Thomas Becket. The following Henry, Henry III did not have the best of starts to his reign as he followed King John and had to deal with barons’ war and external threats to the throne while balancing the Magna Carta. Luckily for Henry III, he had the longest reign of any medieval English king, fifty-six years.

We enter the Hundred Years’ War with France during the reign of Henry IV, the son of John of Gaunt, who took the throne from Richard II. Henry IV’s son Henry V was the great warrior king who won a decisive victory against the French at Agincourt. Henry V’s son Henry VI became king when he was just a baby, and it was during his reign, that we saw the emergence of what we call today the Wars of the Roses. Finally, Cole tackles the Tudor kings, Henry VII and his second son Henry VIII.

Cole has done her research and given her readers a collection of biographies that are easy to read. Each king has his moment to shine, and Cole does not show favoritism as she explains important battles, events, policies, and changes to the law and religion that each king brought forth. If you want an excellent book that gives you an introductory course into the English kings named Henry, I would recommend “Harry of England: The History of Eight Kings, From Henry I to Henry VIII” by Teresa Cole.

Book Review: “The Tudor Socialite: A Social Calendar of Tudor Life” by Jan-Marie Knights

52650913The Tudor dynasty was full of colorful characters and events that defined the era. Their lives were full of love affairs, marriages, births, wars, tragedies, and triumphs. In numerous books about these monarchs and this period in history, we have seen the significant events that defined the era, but what about lesser-known social events that these monarchs participated in. The bulk of the research into this dynasty focuses on those who ruled, from Henry VII to Elizabeth I, because their lives give us a brilliant insight into what it was like to live in the glittery Tudor court. In “The Tudor Socialite: A Social Calendar of Tudor Life,” Jan-Marie Knights gives her readers a glimpse into the social calendar of the Tudor rich and famous.

I want to thank Amberley Publishing for sending me a copy of this book. When I saw the title of this book, I was intrigued. I was hoping for a book that would include different religious holidays and festivals that the Tudors would have known.

Knights starts her book by giving her readers a brief history lesson from Richard II to Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses in five pages; talk about a whirlwind of an introduction. Readers then see how Knights will format her book by looking at each Tudor monarch with a broad lens and then taking a diary-style approach to their reigns to explain the significant events of their rules. I enjoyed how Knights included more minor pageants and visits that each monarch took part in and cases that average Tudor fans do not hear about as much.

I did have a few issues when I was reading this particular title. I wouldn’t say I liked that the entries for each event were written in the present tense; I know it was supposed to be a diary of the monarch, but as a nonfiction book about a historical period, it threw me for a loop. I also wish we saw more of the liturgical calendar and how it corresponded with the other events during each monarch’s reign, especially during the reformation when the Tudors wrestled between Catholicism and Protestantism. Finally, I do wish Knights would have included either footnotes or endnotes, especially with lesser-known events, so that readers could explore the social events themselves.

Knights has done her research, but I think it needed to be refined and maybe told in a different style to better connect with her audience. Overall, as an overview of the reigns of the Tudor monarchs and the critical events that defined their lives, this book does a decent job for those new to the Tudor dynasty. If you know your Tudor history, this might not be the book for you, but you may learn about a pageant or a strange case. If you are a novice Tudor fan, you might enjoy reading “The Tudor Socialite: A Social Calendar of Tudor Life” by Jan-Marie Knights.

Book Review: “Becoming Anne: Connections, Culture, Court” by Owen Emmerson and Kate McCaffrey

278021206_976866119687329_5395301118592288697_nWhen we study the past, the stories of queens often begin when they marry their prince or the king. We don’t see their formative years unless they are extraordinary. One of the more extraordinary queens in English history was Anne Boleyn, a woman who was able to capture the heart of King Henry VIII, divide her nation, and gave birth to the legendary Queen Elizabeth I. We all know how the story of Anne Boleyn ends, but how did she become the woman who would one day be Queen of England? Hever Castle currently has an exhibition about Anne Boleyn’s formative years. This corresponding book, “Becoming Anne: Connections, Culture, Court” by Owen Emmerson and Kate McCaffrey, gives readers an in-depth look into her early years.

“Becoming Anne: Connections, Culture, Court,” the exhibition to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Anne Boleyn’s debut at the English Court on March 4, 1522, is currently running at Hever Castle until November 9, 2022, for anyone interested in attending. For those who cannot participate in this exhibit, like me, “Becoming Anne: Connections, Culture, Court” by Owen Emmerson and Kate McCaffrey is perfect for celebrating this momentous event in Tudor history.

We begin our exploration of Anne Boleyn’s formative years by looking at how the Boleyn family rose to a prominent position at Henry VIII’s court. Thomas Boleyn rose through the ranks and married well to Lady Elizabeth Howard. The Boleyn children were given the best possible education to secure great marriages. Anne’s education inside England and throughout Europe defined her as a captivating figure in history. Her international education included stays at the court of Margaret of Austria in Mechelen, Queen Mary Tudor, and Queen Claude in France, Louise of Savoy, and Marguerite of Angouleme.

Emmerson and McCaffrey have written a book that combines the latest in Boleyn research from the top experts, including Lauren Mackay, Elizabeth Norton, Tracy Borman, and Claire Ridgway, to name a few. For a companion book for an exhibit about Anne Boleyn, I found this book informative and was complemented by the gorgeous images that the authors included. If you want a delightfully informative and beautifully illustrated book about Anne Boleyn’s formative years, I recommend reading “Becoming Anne: Connections, Culture, Court” by Owen Emmerson and Kate McCaffrey.

Book Review: “The Last White Rose: A Novel of Elizabeth of York” by Alison Weir

58735042During medieval wars, one’s fate is often determined by the spin of the Wheel of Fortune, even for those who did not fight a single battle. One could be living a life of luxury, stability reigning supreme, and is destined to marry a foreign king or prince, but when the wheel begins to spin, all seems lost, and the things that once were as good as guaranteed fall by the wayside. This description could fit any number of stories from the past. Still, the one highlighted in this particular novel is the story of the eldest daughter of King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville and the first Tudor queen. In the first book of her latest book series, “The Last White Rose: A Novel of Elizabeth of York,” Alison Weir shows how one woman was able to ride the highs and lows of life to secure her family’s legacy and transform English history forever.

I want to thank Penguin Random House- Ballantine Books and NetGalley for sending me a copy of this novel. I am always thrilled when a new Alison Weir book is announced, whether fiction or nonfiction. I thoroughly enjoyed the Six Tudor Queens series, so when I heard that there would be a new book series with the story of Elizabeth of York being the first novel, I knew I wanted to read it. Of course, I had read her biography of Elizabeth of York, so I wanted to see how her research would translate into a historical fiction novel.

Elizabeth of York was born and raised to be a queen. As the eldest daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, it was her destiny to be married to a king or a prince to strengthen England through a foreign alliance. However, her life took a drastic turn when her father tragically died. Her brothers disappeared when they were in the Tower of London awaiting the coronation of Edward V, which never occurred. Richard III, Elizabeth’s uncle, became king, which forced Elizabeth Woodville to seek sanctuary with her daughters. A daring plan was crafted to unite the houses of York and Lancaster through marriage; Elizabeth of York was to marry a young man in exile, Henry Tudor.

The marriage created the Tudor dynasty, but that does not mean Elizabeth and Henry’s married life was full of sunshine and roses. The road to securing their dynasty was full of heartache and plenty of pretenders. The love between Elizabeth and Henry and Elizabeth’s love for her family allowed the dynasty to survive the turbulent times.

I loved the relationship that Weir was able to craft between Elizabeth, Henry, and her family. However, there were elements of the story that I disagreed with; they were minor, like her portrayal of Elizabeth’s relationship with Richard III and the idea that Arthur had been very ill since his birth. These elements did not take away from the joy I had reading this novel.

Overall, I found the first novel of the Tudor Roses series engaging and a delight to read. Alison Weir has brought the tragic yet triumphant story of the first Tudor queen to life through excellent prose and captivating details. If you are a fan of Alison Weir and her historical fiction novels, or just a fan of Tudor novels in general, you will find “The Last White Rose: A Novel of Elizabeth of York” an enchanting escape into the past.

Book Review: “The King’s Painter: The Life of Hans Holbein” by Franny Moyle

C1629377When we think of famous artists in the 15th and 16th centuries, we focus on the great European masters. Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Albrecht Durer tend to come immediately to mind. However, one man from Augsburg, Germany, revolutionized how we viewed the Tudor dynasty through portraiture: Hans Holbein the Younger. Many are familiar with his famous works of art and how they influenced how the Tudors have been perceived for centuries, but the man behind the masterpieces has been overlooked. His story and how art was understood in the 16th century is told in Franny Moyle’s latest biography, “The King’s Painter: The Life of Hans Holbein.”

Before I read this book, I did not know much about Hans Holbein, the man behind the art. I knew about his masterpieces like his portraits of Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII, and The Ambassadors, which I love to marvel at, but the man himself was a complete mystery. When this book was announced, I knew I wanted to read it to learn more about the master Hans Holbein.

Hans Holbein the Younger was from a family of artists; his father was Hans Holbein the Elder, and his older brother Ambrosius were also artisans, but they never reached the level of prestige as the youngest member of the family. Holbein the Younger was willing to break the mold and create art his way. Before finishing his apprenticeship, he signed his artwork and ensured that he was not in debt like Holbein the Elder. Holbein the Younger decided to move to Basel, Switzerland, to make his name. Here, Holbein was introduced to men like Erasmus and the ideas of humanism and Protestantism. It was in Basel where Holbein married Elsbeth Schmidt and started his family.

Holbein did not stay in Basel as he was destined to travel to England to be the painter for King Henry VIII. Holbein’s paintings for Henry VIII and his court are some of the most stunning images in 16th century England. The way Holbein was able to paint his subjects in such a life-like style is astonishing. However, when you pair it with Moyle’s information about Holbein’s circle of friends like More, Cromwell, Erasmus, and Cranmer, it adds depth to his work. The amount of allusions and symbolism in these works of art is astounding, and you can spend hours just analyzing one piece at a time.

It is a spectacular biography that any Tudor or art fan will adore. Franny Moyle has created a vivid image of Holbein’s world that could stand side by side with one of his masterpieces. I purposely took my time to read this book slowly to absorb every minuscule detail that Moyle included about Holbein and his world. I know it is a book that I will personally reread in the future. If you want a definitive and delightful biography about the man behind the canvas, I highly recommend “ The King’s Painter: The Life of Hans Holbein” by Franny Moyle.

Book Review: “The Forgotten Tudor Women: Gertrude Courtenay: Wife and Mother of the Last Plantagenets” by Sylvia Barbara Soberton

59617178._SX318_In any dynasty, those closest to the throne are the most at risk of dealing with suspicions and conspiracies. Those who were not next in line for the throne were seen as threats, especially those whose bloodline was a bit stronger than those who sat on the throne. The Tudor dynasty’s biggest threat was the few Plantagenets who still lived at court. The family that had the most Plantagenet blood in their veins and poised the most significant threat was the Pole family. However, one woman who was very close to Henry VIII and his family married a man who had Plantagenet blood in his veins. Her name was Gertrude Courtenay, the Marchioness of Exeter, and her story is finally getting the light it deserves in Sylvia Barbara Soberton’s latest book, “The Forgotten Tudor Women: Gertrude Courtenay: Wife and Mother of the Last Plantagenets.”

I want to thank Sylvia Barbara Soberton for sending me a copy of this book. I am always looking for new stories from the Tudor dynasty, especially about strong women, so I was intrigued when I heard about this title.

Gertrude Blount (later Courtenay) was the daughter of William Blount, 4th Baron Mountjoy, a distinguished humanist scholar and chamberlain to Katherine of Aragon. William would marry one of Katherine of Aragon’s ladies-in-waiting, Inez de Venegas, and was made a Knight of the Bath by King Henry VIII. As the daughter of such an esteemed gentleman at court, Gertrude received an outstanding education and served Katherine of Aragon as one of her maids of honor.

In 1519, Gertrude married Henry Courtenay, 1st Marquess of Exeter and the first cousin of Henry VIII; his mother was Katherine Plantagenet of York, the younger sister of Elizabeth of York. Gertrude and Henry would stay loyal to Katherine of Aragon and her daughter Mary through The Great Matter, even when Anne Boleyn was queen; Gertrude was a godmother to Anne’s daughter Elizabeth. Even though Henry Courtenay and his son Edward was seen as a potential opponent to Henry VIII, they continued to curry royal favor.

Gertrude’s life was by no means perfect as she was involved in several scandals, including the one around Elizabeth Barton and the Exeter Conspiracy, which resulted in the death of her husband in 1538. Gertrude and Edward would spend time in the Tower, but fate had another twist to their story as young Edward was seen as a potential husband for Queen Mary I.

The strength and tenacity of Gertrude Courtenay are nothing short of admirable. To survive so many conspiracies and scandals during the Tudor dynasty was nothing short of extraordinary. Soberton’s writing style brings to life Gertrude’s story and illuminates one of the forgotten women of the Tudor dynasty. I hope others will appreciate Gertrude Courtenay’s story as much as I did when they read Sylvia Barbara Soberton’s latest book, “The Forgotten Tudor Women: Gertrude Courtenay: Wife and Mother of the Last Plantagenets.”

Guest Post: “Did Tudors Smell Whiffy?” by Carol McGrath

Book jacket Tudor Sex and SexualityToday, I am pleased to welcome Carol McGrath to the blog to discuss Tudor hygiene as part of the Sex and Sexuality in Tudor England blog tour. I would like to thank Carol McGrath and Pen and Sword Books for allowing me to be part of this tour.

Did Tudors smell whiffy? Did they care about personal hygiene? It may surprise you that the Tudors cared about cleanliness despite the fact many did not bathe regularly. Henry VIII frequently took baths and had a new bathhouse constructed at Hampton Court for his personal use and a steam bath at Richmond Palace. This new bath was made of wood but lined with a linen sheet to protect his posterior from catching splinters. It was a marvellous feat of Tudor engineering and allowed water to flow into it from a tap fed by a lead pipe bringing water from a spring over three miles distant from the palace. Tudor engineers were clever enough to pass the pipe underneath the Thames river bed using gravity to create strong water pressure to spurt up two floors into the royal bathroom.

It was important to most Tudors not to stink and particularly important not to smell unpleasant when contemplating relations with a lover. Stinking like a beast was totally unacceptable to a Tudor because, ideally, humans should smell sweet. Of course, the Tudor world was less sanitized than our world. Even so, people were not unaware of bad smells around them, and they actually feared nasty pongs. Medicine taught that disease spread through miasma or foul-smelling airs. Importantly, Tudors also believed that sweet smells could be a key indicator of a person’s moral state, never mind that smelling sweet could help attract a lover. 

bathingBathing for most Tudors meant a dip in the river. For those dwelling in towns, bathing facilities such as bathhouses existed during the first few decades of the era. Crusaders had brought the habit of bathing back from the East, thereby making the idea of bathhouses popular.

Hygiene meant both cleaning oneself and one’s clothes regularly. Just as the Church clamped down on sexual freedoms, it had opinions on bathing: heat could inflame the senses, and washing nude was a sign of vanity, even sexual corruption, so they often wore shirts while bathing.  You could scent a bath with flowers and sweet green herbs to help cure ailments, therefore attaching a medicinal element to the practice. Exotic perfumes such as civet and musk were used in soaps, as well as rose water, violet, lavender, and camphor. For those who could afford scented soaps, they certainly were available.

Tudor Pomander replica

Where public bathhouses went, sex soon followed, so it is no wonder the ever-critical Church complained. Tudor brothels were called ‘stews’ and ‘to lather up’ was an early sixteenth-century slang phrase for ejaculation which came from the notion that one could stew in hot water and steam within a bathhouse. As recently as the previous century, the City of London officially recognized the borough of Southwark as having the highest concentration of bathhouses in London. Ironically, this was an area owned by the Bishop of Winchester, and since many bathhouses were also brothels, their sex workers acquired the alternative name of Winchester Geese.

As the sixteenth century continued, bathing fell into decline as new medical advice suggested it weakened the body. Cleaning the skin left it open to infection. This was considered an outside agency that drifted in the air like spores and which rose from places of putrefaction. The skin’s pores were one body area through which these nasty spores could enter, so medical advice determined that the skin needed to be preserved as a barrier. Pores were a secondary route into the body, and the filth produced by the body must be removed completely and quickly to avoid reabsorption. It became important to wash your shirt and change it frequently to keep clean.

Linen shirts, smocks, under-breeches, hose, collars, coifs, and skull caps allowed the total body coverage. As a fabric, linen was very absorbent. It drew sweat and grease from the skin into the weave of the cloth. Since linen acted like a sponge, the Tudors thought it would draw out waste products from the body and improve the body’s circulation, strengthen the constitution and even restore the balance of the humours.

laundress

Laundresses were popular during Tudor times, not just to keep linen washed but because the washerwomen were easily connected with sex. They were badly paid, so sex work was a way to subsidize their income in many cases. Washerwomen sometimes became known as ‘lavenders.’ The word lavender comes from the Latin lavare to wash, and the word to launder derives from these sweet-smelling flowers. Lavender grows all over Europe, and as it was cheap and readily available, it was used widely when washing clothing. The sixteenth-century poem Ship of Fools contains the following lines:

Thou shalt be my lavender Laundress.

To Wash and keep all my gear

Our two beds together shall be set

Without any let.

People used linen to scrub the body. The Tudor Gentleman, Sir Thomas Elyot, wrote a book in 1534 called The Castel of Health. He suggests an early morning hygiene regime to ‘rubbe the body with a course lynnen clothe, first softly and easilye, and after that increase more and more, to a hard and swift rubbynge, untyll the flesh do swelle and to be somewhat ruddy and that not only down ryghte, but also overthrart and round.’ Rubbing vigorously after exercise could draw the body’s toxins out through open pores, and the rough linen cloth would carry them away. Most people only owned two or three sets of underwear. Listed underwear occasionally turned up in Tudor inventories, and linens would often be recorded in wills as bequeathed to others.

Ruth Goodman, a well-known social historian, once followed a Tudor body cleansing regime for a period of three months while living in modern society. No one complained or even noticed a sweaty smell. She wore natural fibre on top of the linen underwear but took neither a shower nor a bath for the whole period. When she recorded The Monastery Farm for television, she only changed her linen smock once weekly and her hose three times over six months, and she still did not pong. Tudor England was not a place where everyone smelled as sweetly as most people who shower daily today, but its people generally managed not to stink. Of course, the past did smell differently. Even so, being clean and sweet-smelling did matter to many Tudors. 

C McGrath twitterCarol McGrath 

Following a first degree in English and History, Carol McGrath completed an MA in Creative Writing from The Seamus Heaney Centre, Queens University Belfast, followed by an MPhil in English from the University of London. The Handfasted Wife, the first in a trilogy about the royal women of 1066, was shortlisted for the RoNAS in 2014. The Swan-Daughter and The Betrothed Sister complete this highly acclaimed trilogy. Mistress Cromwell, a best-selling historical novel about Elizabeth Cromwell, wife of Henry VIII’s statesman, Thomas Cromwell, republished by Headline in 2020. The Silken Rose, first in a Medieval She-Wolf Queens Trilogy featuring Ailenor of Provence, was published in April 2020 by the Headline Group. This was followed by The Damask Rose. The Stone Rose will be published in April 2022. Carol writes Historical non-fiction as well as fiction. Sex and Sexuality in Tudor England will be published in February 2022. Find Carol on her website:

www.carolcmcgrath.co.uk.

Follow her on amazon @CarolMcGrath