Friday 31 August 2012

Women as Angels and Devils: Every Sixteenth Century Man's Nightmare

Check out my guest blog on On the Tudor Trail.

Read how women were depicted in literature in the medieval and Tudor period and how this may have affected perceptions of queens like Anne Boleyn, Katherine Howard, Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I.

While you're there, explore Natalie's fascinating "On the Tudor Trail" blog. Her forthcoming book "In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn" will be published by Amberley in 2013.

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Tudor Women United: Birth, Misogyny and Female Space.

                                           “Gossips are frogs, they drink and talk.”[1]

Tudor men were deeply suspicious of Tudor women. What they did and said, particularly behind their husband’s backs, caused considerable concern and gave rise to a degree of misogyny that permeated all aspects of popular culture. The dialogue exchanged in the birth chamber, at the market place and in the tavern constituted a supportive female culture, which was in turn, reduced to the status of damaging gossip by men. After all, what else could Tudor women have to talk about except the failings of their husbands ?

The rituals, practices and superstitions of birth remained a traditional female preserve throughout the Tudor period. This automatically made it suspect, a source of fear and insecurity amongst those excluded from its secrets. Placed within the wide-spread mistrust of women, childbirth highlighted the tensions that permeated every aspect of women’s lives, although it provided one of the few opportunities where female supremacy was grudgingly acknowledged. Irrepressibly, women found outlets for expression and mutual reliance in those domestic spheres that punctuated their days and life-cycles. That is not to suggest any sort of proto-Feminist consciousness in Tudor England, rather a solidarity forged through common experience or suffering. Women did band together to share chores and objects such as nursing duties and childcare, childbed linen and medicinal herbs, as well as emotional support. When some were mistreated by their husbands, others stepped in to offer shelter and even physically interposed themselves between husband and wife. Female identities were a complex function of their relations with other adults, their children, the church, the neighbourhood and its social codes. As such, there seems to have been an almost floating, oral female culture invoked whenever occasion arose, in and out of which women moved, dependent on need.

The childbirth month was the epitome of male exclusion from the female sphere, involving friends, relations and neighbours from the pregnancy stage through the lying-in, to the subsequent ceremonies of upsitting, gossips’ feasts and churching. In urban centre and larger networks of villages, birth would have been a regular event, with its associated practices and perils forming a backdrop to the lives of girls growing into adulthood. Birth could overturn usual social demarcations between mistress and servant, nobility and yeomanry: frequently ladies of the manor were present as a social courtesy, bringing cordials, medicine and advice. The role of the gossips during lying-in and labour were to cheer the mother and keep up her spirits, to distract her from boredom and pain, whilst bringing whatever maternal wisdom they possessed from experience and traditional wisdom.

Tudor women were also denigrated in oral and printed forms of popular culture, where they formed a very clear underclass as the subjects of jokes, fables and scorn. Criticism about them, associating women with animals, appear in ballads, songs, epigrams and pamphlets, identifying them with noisy, silly geese, deceitful and insatiable cats, slippery eels, angry wasps and inflexible swine. It is clear that not all women deplored this subjection: the reverse was also true; women could be each other’s closet allies or their bitterest enemies, as the courts attest. Some were active participants in the perpetuation of the worst female stereotypes by making their enemies the targets of attack. Such cases arise in the social disputes over sexual immorality and paternity which appear in Tudor Assize court records when women are called to vouch for each others’ reputations or “common fame”. Gossip was thus elevated to the level of legal evidence. Women did play a part in this self-denigratory culture, by retelling stories, jokes and anecdotes that reaffirmed their low status, perhaps as a way of distancing themselves from the worst extremes of femininity, aligning themselves more with male than female characteristics as a way of rejecting those stereotypes. It was a form of self-protection in a society with a high level of permitted patriarchal violence.

In the eyes of the law, most Tudor women were powerless. Their social definition came through marriage, yet ironically it was the spinsters and widows, the femme seul, who had most autonomy, exercising control over their lands and goods and running their own businesses. Providing they had the necessary funds though, these remained the minority. In comparison, the married woman or femme couvert was considered to be little more than an extension of her husband’s possessions. Women did not even have control over their own bodies, with husbands allowed to use physical “discipline” and rape wives without repercussions. Religious debate continued to rage through the sixteenth century as to whether women even possessed souls and any signs of intelligence were repackaged as “cunning”. They were considered to have a particular talent for being subversive: feminine intelligence was often presented proverbially as deception: “women in mischief are wiser than men,”[2]they were “necessary evils” and were “made perfect by men.” The fear of female disobedience to male authority was apparent in popular maxims: “a woman does that which is forbidden her,” “women are always desirous of sovereignty” and “all women are ambitious naturally.” A group of women was greatly to be feared, when they could share ideas and plan ways to deceive their menfolk, as do the women in “Wives in the Tavern.”

Male fears concerning the malevolent power of collective female gossip could take disturbing turns. “Scolds,” denounced by husbands, were fined or punished for their inability to keep quiet and undermining of male authority. The grisly metal bridles that survive in medieval castles and dungeons were illegal by this time but the ducking of women in ponds survived into the 1560s, although rare. It provided an opportunity for a man to reassert his dominance and regain a little social credence in the public eye. One court roll of High Roding in the early Sixteenth century, requested the removal from the village of a woman named Agnes for being a “common scold” and “disturber of the peace to the great annoyance of her neighbours.”[3] At Barking in 1581, the wives of Edmund Body and Geoffrey Wood were reported as common scolds,[4] as was Matilda Glascock of Becontree in 1575,[5] although no punishment was recorded. Bald’s Leechbook, an early medieval collection of recipes, contained a cure for men against a woman’s chatter. The advice was to eat a radish at night whilst fasting and one the next day, to ensure the chatter cannot harm you, suggesting a real belief in the possibility of tangible harm being done through speech to a man’s reputation. The potential overlap of female disobedience, secrecy and witchcraft becomes even more apparent in the pseudo-religious advice of receipt books and almanacs. Men might make a salve against women with whom the devil copulated, using hops, wormwood, lupin, vervain, garlic, fennel and other ingredients. They should place these in a vat under an altar, sing nine masses over it, boil it in butter and sheep’s grease, add holy salt and strain the liquid through a cloth into running water. The man who anointed himself with this salve would be saved from evil temptation.

Tudor misogyny was exacerbated by the difference between the lives of men and women. Given the constant threat of death and disease, poor medical understanding of female conditions, the rigours of childbirth, child rearing and infant mortality, coupled with the similarity of daily experience, it is little wonder that women sought each other’s help and support. Without the modern labour saving devices and opportunities that later transformed domestic duties, greater amounts of women’s time were spent in regular social activities. Networks of women came together at female-dominated locations such as the market place, dairy, bake-house, laundry and in childbed, churching and christenings. Through their work routine and life-cycle events, an oral female culture flourished, giving rise to male suspicion about subversive gossip. Men feared the contents of their wives discussions, believing them obsessed with their husbands’ sexual performance and constantly critical of their behaviour; husbands would complain of wives deliberately broadcasting arguments to draw in female neighbours. In their absence, though, women could supposedly enjoy unregulated freedom of speech, abandoning decorum and good taste when the boundaries came down.

Undoubtedly, then as now, when a group of women talked together, men might be discussed, but male fears about the dominance of women suggests insecurity and arrogance. What else could their wives find to talk about but the men ? No doubt they were comparing notes, broadcasting men’s misdeeds and performances. The doggerel poem “Tittle-Tattle, Or, the Several Branches of Gossiping,” was a satire on women’s idle and continuous chatter, although it also highlighted the regular formation of female groups at the moments of key events and rites of passage. Women were an unruly force that men had to tolerate for their role in essential social ritual such as childbirth.

Nor did the association of female gossip and defamation end with the Tudor period. In fact, it has remained a feature of gender division until the present day, although the potential harm of “gossip” has undergone a shift with the advent of differing forms of media. Well into the seventeenth century though, gossips were still targeted as manifestations of masculine fears; in a 1674 ballad “The Gossip’s Meeting,” a man overhears women in a tavern criticising their husband’s sexual prowess:

“My husband doth sit like a Mome (mummy?) all the day

And at night in the bed he is cold as the clay

I would rather he would go and drink a pot or two

And come home and night and do what he should do.”

As if this was not enough to stir up trouble, they plan to deceive their husbands and use their pregnancies to explain their absence from home:

“Pretending our Burthens hath tired us sore

As if we were ready to fall on the flore

And so by that means they will patient remain

And pitty us too, when they hear us complain.[6]

Such depictions, typically by male authors, exploit and fan masculine suspicions of women’s rapacious sexuality, allowing them to uphold the common stereotypes with some sense of justification, according to this “evidence” from the mouths of fictional characters. The women’s manipulation of their pregnant condition in order to deceive, emasculates their husbands and equates childbearing with familial disharmony.

Many common elements to women’s lives excluded men, not least their domestic space, work and bodily experiences. Female spaces within houses were demarcated by gendered roles, by the routines and tasks of the average day. Their work of cleaning, washing, cooking, caring and nursing, created small safe pockets of personal space within the wider male preserve of the household; female self-definition was enhanced through the creation of locations and tasks from which men were barred. The derogatory term “cotquean” was applied to a man who meddled in women’s domestic concerns but certain females were also excluded:  not even high status could fully assimilate a childless woman into the rituals of motherhood, although women of all ages and experiences participated in the sharing of domestic objects, clothing, linen and knowledge.

Many tensions existed between Tudor men and women, exacerbated by an imperfect understanding of each other. The polarised expectations of their lives contributed to this, by excluding males from key areas which created suspicion. This was apparent in many areas of popular and legal culture, which was used by both men and women to perpetuate these stereotypes. Yet in a pre-Feminist world, little sense of organised female solidarity existed; men were essential to women and vice versa. Whilst many women shared their experiences and resources, many others opposed each other within this tradition. By the end of the sixteenth century, the rule of Elizabeth would go some way to challenging these ideas but women would have to wait many hundreds of years before any sense of female equality and rights began to emerge.

[1] Herbert. G “Outlandish Proverbs” 1640
[2] Tilley
[3] ERO D/DU 886/3
[4] ERO Q/SR 79/95
[5] ERO Q/SR 55/1                 
[6] Anon, “The Gossip’s Meeting,” or “The Merry Market-Women of Taunton” 1674.

Tuesday 28 August 2012

You are what you eat: Food and Status in Tudor Times.

What people ate in Tudor times depended on who they were. Every aspect of the process, from the formal to the informal, was indicative of status, even before any food was actually consumed. The ceremony of service, with its rituals and strict protocol, was vital to royalty and the nobility, as were the behaviour and appearance of those who served. Elaborate manners and rules often took priority over the actual process of consumption, posing the question whether the Tudors were more aesthetes than gourmands. When it came to the food itself, the ingredients, presentation and quantity of dishes consumed varied vastly, from the labourer with a bowl of boiled vegetables, to the King at a three course banquet, his food cooked in exotic spices and decorated with gold leaf. What, how and where you ate, denoted exactly where you stood in society.

The basic ingredients marked perhaps the greatest difference. For those on the lowest rung of the social ladder, meals comprised mostly seasonal vegetables, supplemented with oats, bread and pulses. Onions, leeks, pumpkins, spinach and garlic were the most common “worts” grown, with almost all Tudor households dependent on their own small plot of land, even those living in cities. Leeks were so popular among the poor that the kitchen garden often came to be known as the “leek garden”. Peas and beans were grown in larger, field crops and formed the basis of many people’s diet throughout the seasons. Many of the herbs the Tudor housewife would have relied upon are unrecognised now and no longer used, such as herb-mercury, sorrel, wormwood and mallows. Meat would have been an occasional treat, perhaps weekly or monthly, depending on the family’s resources. Apples, quinces and pears were stewed and preserved, baked in pastry or thickened with oats or bread crumbs to make a sort of pottage, or stew. Nuts were also harvested and stored as ingredients of pies and puddings; walnuts and hazelnuts were also eaten at the end of meals, to “close” the stomach. Many of these would have been available in season across England in Tudor times, although people were rather suspicious of fresh fruit, thinking it could upset the stomach and preferring dried or preserved alternatives.

Central to the diets of rich and poor were fish and bread. Both had religious connotations and their use varied hugely by class. As a Catholic country before the 1540s, fish was prescribed in England for fast days and afterwards, was still eaten to promote the industry. As Andrew Boorde wrote in his “Dyetary” in the 1540s, the country was well served by “sea-fysshe… fresh-water fysshe and …salt fysshe.” While the rich enjoyed shellfish, turbot, whale, porpoise and sturgeon, the poor made do with salted herring or dried cod. Storing and transporting it was a problem, so the best, freshest fish could be found at the coast, although medieval monasteries were famous for their carp ponds. The bread they ate varied in colour, with the shade of it literally equated with status. The finest, white flour was baked into hand-sized loaves for the richest tables while the poorer ate brown or even black bread, made up from the flour of ground acorns, peas and beans. Bread was a staple for everyone, with even the stale crumbs used in other recipes. It formed the basis of the breakfast consumed by labourers early in the morning, to get them through until the first formal meal of the day.

The yearly consumption of the household of George, Duke of Clarence (d 1478) was recorded in detail in the late fifteenth century. Wheat topped the list of supplies, coming in at over £205 for the year’s consumption, then wines were listed, at £206 for everyday drinking plus £20 for exotic imports such as malmsey, bastard (a Portugese sweet wine), romany and others. Ale then took up the largest proportion of income so far, with £486 spent on it annually. Twelve sheep were consumed daily, either powdered or fresh and £8 was spent on “boars.” Veal and pork were also popular, to the tune of £30 and £42 respectively. Fish days were well provided for, with the high status sturgeon and salmon eaten alongside eels, stockfish, sprats and herrings. As the brother of the King, Clarence’s consumption gives an idea of the amounts required to maintain a household at the highest end of the scale.

Spices were included in many dishes, not only to improve the flavour but to demonstrate a host’s wealth. London was the centre of the spice trade, where mixtures of ginger, cloves, saffron, almonds, cinnamon and pepper could be bought from the merchant or grocer, made up to different levels of heat. Among those listed in Clarence’s account are mace, nutmeg, liquorice, green ginger, raisins, currants and rice. Spices were used in all manner of dishes, sweet and sour, from tarts and pies, to plates of meat and savoury puddings. Sugar also arrived from Cuba and Jamaica, sold in large cones or loaves and sprinkled over dishes, rather like salt. Food was highly coloured on the richest tables too, with ingredients dyed brightly to catch the eye: green colouring came from spinach, yellow from egg yolk or saffron, red from sandalwood and blue from indigo. On special occasions, dishes were presented in rainbow stripes of colours and sweets were adorned with gold and silver leaf. The wealthy could also enjoy imported treats from Spain, Italy and Portugal; marmalade, oranges, figs, walnuts, lemons and pine nuts. All these expensive ingredients were kept carefully locked away in the kitchen, to prevent their theft by unprivileged hands. They were issued in small amounts by the cook, for the kitchen staff to use in recipes. Served up with in all their glory, they must have proved a real visual feast.

The feasts of the wealthy comprised many dishes and courses. One fifteenth century banquet, to celebrate the appointment of the Bishop of Ely, had three courses including dishes of venison, swan, pheasant and peacock all cooked in thick, spiced sauces, mixing sweet and sour. Custards and jellies were served alongside meat, which seems odd to the modern palate but typical of the fruit and meat combination that prevailed in many surviving dishes such as mince pies. Subtleties, carved from marchpane (marzipan) or sugar, came after each course, sometimes also before, when they were called “warners:” for the bishop of Ely, an impressive white lion was carved, as well as a scene of the nativity of St.John, God as a shepherd and various saints. Hours of labour must have gone into these, merely for the pieces to be briefly on show. Huge quantities of supplies were called for, running to thousands of deer, sheep, pigs, chicken and other varieties of meat. One Cardinal’s installation feast at Canterbury in the fourteenth century called for 36 oxen, 200 pigs, 100 hogs, 200 sheep, 973 capons, 1,000 geese, 9,600 eggs, 600 rabbits and 24 swans, all to feed 6,000 guests! The kitchens at Hampton Court, which Henry VIII obtained from his minister Wolsey in the late 1520s, give an impression of the scale of the operation, with the separate departments for baking, boiling, brewing and cooking, along with the sections dedicated entirely to the making of waffles and storing of spices. Different forms of food were kept in the wet or dry larders and large pieces of meat turned on spits in the huge fireplaces. Servants were often paid in kind; Clarence’s spicer received no fee except boxes of comfits and green ginger, while those in his scullery and saucer were allowed to keep the “garbage” of swans!

Since before the advent of the Tudors, kings had been regulating when and how they should eat. The fifteenth century saw a rash of household books on this, epitomised by Edward IV’s Black Book ordinances inspired by the Burgundian model. Manuals outlined the behavioural expectations for children and those in service: the right table manners could take you far while the wrong ones could ruin your chances! Henry VIII ruled in 1526 that his meals should be taken at eleven in the morning and six in the evening. All those in attendance needed to be clean and tidy, well-mannered and skilled at their jobs: the carver of meats was one of the highest respected positions and required knowledge of an exact science. The King and Queen sat on a raised dais in the Great Hall, looking down over their court and used the best gold plate, eating with spoons and knives encrusted with jewels. A set featuring rubies and pearls belonging to Henry VIII survives. Richard III dined off silver and gold at his 1483 coronation and drank from a cup of gold, covered in cloth of the same colour. At Henry VIII’s coronation feast in 1509, the King’s champion rode through the hall on horseback, wearing a plume of ostrich feathers, to challenge any who disputed his claim. At other times, royalty might dine quietly alone in their chambers, or invite special guests to join them in their apartments; in summer, or on special occasions, feasts were often eaten out of doors in huge tents and arbours. Not everyone was so fortunate.

One anonymous fifteenth poem, “Good Ale,” exposes the practices of those providing bad quality food for the poor. The narrator rejects brown bread as being made of bran and beef as being full of bones. Bacon is too fat for them, while mutton is too lean and tripe is “seldom clean.” Their eggs are full of shell and their butter contains hairs. The flesh of capons is too expensive while ducks are rejected because they “slobber” during life. Instead, the poem insists the only safe thing to consume is ale!

The poor man at his table, or eating in the fields as he worked, would have used his fingers and perhaps, one sharp knife of his own. At home, he would have eaten from iron, brass or pewter dishes; the wills written by lower class Tudors are full of bequests to friends of such tableware, as are accounts of their theft. Court records list how such items were often a target, giving an indication of what the average household possessed. In 1593, a Christopher Wood of East Ham, stole four pewter pots and eight pewter dishes from one Thomas Harrold. In 1600, two men were hung for stealing two dozen pewter dishes worth 10s from the house of Thomas Patch. Such items were clearly prized by the poor. They would have laid their table with them as proudly as the King with his gold and silver. If he was eating at home, there would be no one to serve the poorer Tudor man, except his wife and family. Etiquette must have given way to hunger and necessity, as the family dined in a room that was probably multi-functional. Pieces of dried meat were often hung from the ceiling in poor homes to smoke and herbs as well as other items were stored in main living rooms, high up, out of the reach of animals. To own and use a room specifically for eating was a significant social step up. Meals among the poor were more likely to fit in around working hours and take less time than the hour-long banquets enjoyed by the monarchy.

By the Elizabethan era, food had become even more impressive for the rich. The discovery of the New World and opening up of new trade routes brought more produce to England. The consumption of sugar rose. Noble women used their still room to create jams, jellies and “suckets” or candied pieces of fruit or flowers. Cordials were also popular as were preserved treats that could last through the long winter months. Elizabeth’s own teeth were supposedly blackened by her sweet tooth and the range of dishes available at her court reflected this. The main meal was often followed by a banquet consisting entirely of sweet foods, wafers, fruit and other delicacies that showed the expense the host had gone to. The more luxury and waste incurred by such a banquet, the greater the status displayed. Luckily for the poor, many of the left-overs were passed on to the Almoner, whose job it was to redistribute them among those who came to beg at the gates. This made the gap in status even more apparent, with the poor waiting for the scraps from his lord’s table.

The Tudors were very status-conscious. Throughout the period, food was a powerful visual tool used to re-enforce social position, along with clothing and housing. The diets of the rich were varied and exciting, both to eat and to look at. Eating was a ritual, with food on display to assembled guests, dressed in expensive sauces and spices. However, the meals of the poorer Tudors, eaten informally, with their emphasis on vegetables, were probably healthier and far closer to today’s ideal.


Saturday 25 August 2012

A Prince’s Household in life and death: the worldly goods of Henry Fitzroy, England's illegitimate Tudor heir.


 Henry VIII is well known for his desperate attempts to father a son. His first two wives failed in this respect; Catherine of Aragon’s short-lived Prince Henry died at six weeks old in 1511 and Anne Boleyn’s promised “son” turned out to be a daughter, in spite of what the prophets predicted. It was only with his marriage to Jane Seymour that the King finally became the father of a boy, Prince Edward, born after a difficult labour in October 1537. It was a Pyrrhic victory for his mother though, who paid with her life only days later. However, through the years of his long wait for a male-child to inherit the throne, Henry already had a son.

Some time in the second decade of his reign, while he was still young, athletic, chivalrous and attractive, young Henry’s eye was caught by a young, blonde gentlewoman in the household of his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Her name was Elizabeth Blount, or Bessie, and she was probably aged between 12 and 14 when she first came to court, in around 1514. The chronicler Edward Hall describes her as winning the King’s heart by exceeding all others in “syngyng, daunsyng and all goodly pastimes.” Accomplished in many fields, she became Henry’s lover and fell pregnant with his child in the autumn of 1518, retreating from court soon after. She was not his first mistress but was the first to conceive out of wedlock and proved to the already anxious king that he was capable of fathering sons. Henry’s capable minister, Thomas Wolsey, oversaw the arrangements for Bessie’s lying-in, which took place at a priory known as Jericho, near Chelmsford, in Essex. In the summer of 1519, probably in June, her son was born. He was named Henry Fitzroy, both names alluding to his royal parentage. For the duration of his life, he would be the King’s only son and as such, a potential heir and King of England, even though he was illegitimate. When he died in 1536, at the age of seventeen, his household accounts showed that he lived a life equal to that of his royal sisters, as befitted a future monarch.

Elevated to the Dukedom of Richmond in 1525, when he was only six years old, Fitzroy was based in the North of England, resident at Sheriff Hutton and Pontefract Castles, with a significant staff to attend his every need. The list of servants for his kitchens alone numbered over sixty people, based in the pantry or cellar, the boiling house and scalding house, the spicery and wafery, or simply turning the spit over the fire. Henry took his son’s education seriously, engaging a series of impressive tutors, one of whom, the chancellor of Durham, William Frankeleyn, described the boy as “ a chylde of excellent wisdom and towardnes… good and quyk capacitie, retentive memorye, vertuous inclinasion to all honour, humanitie and goodness.” It seemed Fitzoy had all the qualities of an excellent future king. Later, he attended Parliamentary sessions and was at Henry’s side on state occasions; he was also with his father during personal tragedy. The King notoriously wept before Fitzroy in May 1536, claiming he had feared that Anne Boleyn was attempting to poison the youth. Ironically, Fitzroy did die about two months after Anne’s execution, on July 22 or 23. This may have taken place at Collyweston, once home to Margaret Beaufort, his paternal great-grandmother, whose property he had inherited along with his title, or at St James’ Palace. His funeral was held in Westminster and his body transported for burial to Thetford Priory, Norfolk. During the eighteenth century it was reinterred at Framlingham.

On July 25, an inventory was made of Fitzroy's worldly goods. It gives a fascinating insight into the life of this pampered Prince, whom Henry clearly considered as his possible heir in the event of his failure to produce a legitimate son. It gives us as record of his lifestyle, as if he had simply gone out and left his possessions as they were, as if we were able to enter his home and have a sneaky look around while he was out!  Among his clothes were gowns made of crimson damask, black and gold velvet, green and yellow satin and white velvet. These were decorated with Venice gold, a silver fringe, “swelling welts” and embroidery. Touchingly, one purple velvet gown was sewn with “grete buttons of golde,” one of which was missing. Fitzroy also owned a “rich dagger” trimmed with silver and gilt and a gold brooch featuring a naked woman. His dining table must have been splendidly decked out, with expensive ceremonial pieces; a number of golden salt cellars feature on the list, decorated with pearls and sapphire, in the form of dragons and unicorn horns. His golden spoons were engraved with roses and pomegranates, ironically the symbol of Catherine of Aragon, whilst his cup of gold was topped with a red flower, possibly another allusion to his parentage. An impressive array of jewels is included in the lists. He had golden ceremonial garters set with diamonds, bracelets of gold set with rubies and pearls, diamond rings, enamelled white roses and a chain of gold and black enamelled Paris work. Particularly poignant though, were the pair of slipper he left behind, which did not merit any further description.

As a Catholic, Fitzroy owned a large amount of religious artefacts, including chalices and other items necessary for the celebration of Mass. His ceremonial crosses were decorated with images of Mary and John, the Virgin, St.Peter and St. Dorothy, as well as other saints that he particularly favoured. A number of heavy gilt candlesticks were listed, to light an altar, as well as altar cloths and other vestments of velvet and cloth-of-gold. He also owned a “grete Mass book” with silver clasps and hangings for his chapel, depicting the Passion. Other, secular hangings for his household bore the images of the Lady Pleasaunce and the Virtues, Moses, Paris and Helen and hawking and hunting scenes.

The thirteen great beds to be found in Fitzroy’s home were dressed appropriately. The young man may have slept under a tester of gold, green tinsel and red velvet, with a multi-coloured fringe made of silk. Alternatively, he may have lain awake looking up at a tester of yellow and blue damask, with a panel of crimson velvet down the middle, fringed again with silk. His cushions were of quilted damask cloth-of-gold and he would have walked on three great carpets and twelve smaller ones. His royal status is made explicit with the existence of a chair of estate, under a cloth of gold, fringed with red silk, among other gold items of soft furnishing that speak of luxury and expectation.

A glimpse behind the scenes of his life is given in the items listed from the kitchens and stables. Simple described as “kechen stuffe,” Fitzroy’s meals would have been cooked in one of three brass pots bounded by iron and eaten off one of seventeen dishes. Pans, racks, gridirons and mortars were listed, common to most households of the time. On venturing out of his home, the youth would have travelled in style, on saddles made of green or black velvet, trimmed with buff leather and gilt work studs or great gilt buckles. He owned four large horses, six geldings, a little mule, three more mules for his carriage and three “nags,” some of which had already been given away.

The inventory of Friztroy’s goods, taken only three days after his death in 1536, allows us the closest possible opportunity to peep through the keyhole of his home. It is rather like a little time capsule of a Tudor household in its descriptions of colours, fabrics and quantities, which enable us to picture his goods and chattels in detail. It indicates a life of luxury, status, ceremony and devotion, quite representative of the upbringing expected of a Prince, even an illegitimate one. Up until his premature death, either of the lung complaint that had laid him low that spring, or of consumption (TB), he could potentially have stepped into his father’s massive shoes. By all accounts Henry was proud of his son, even introducing him to the French, King Francis I. He must have felt his loss keenly.

A further irony in Henry’s quest to father a son followed. Only six months after the youth’s death, Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour fell pregnant. The following October, she was delivered of her son, the future Edward VI. He was also to die young, at a similar age to Fitzroy but Henry could not have known this; he finally had the legitimate male heir he had so longed for. It was some compensation for the loss of Fitzroy, whose death was another of those turning points in Tudor history at which one possible future vanished and another materialised. What sort of king would Henry IX have made, if events had turned out differently ? We can never know. The details of his splendid household, however, can serve as a sort of imagined mausoleum to a reign that never was.

Friday 24 August 2012

Medieval wives' night out !

Relations between men and women in the late fifteenth century were shaped by contemporary stereotypes about the sexes. This stretched into all areas, from daily life, intellect, medical and legal proceedings, to expectations of gendered behaviour. While men were perceived as noble, powerful and strong (by themselves), women were their counterparts and opposites. Although they were essential for the running of a home and the creation of children, women were seen as temptresses, seeking to seduce men, weak-willed, gossiping and inconstant. Hundreds of lyrics, ballads, broadsheets, songs and contemporary jokes survive about women that demonstrate just how deep this misogyny ran. However, no concept of feminism or equality existed. Women wouldn't have considered themselves to be down-trodden or slandered. Many appeared to have accepted this definition of their sex and some went as far as to deliberately perpetuate it or to exploit it for their own use. Refreshingly, a number of strong females emerge through the stereotype, to prove that many women of the era were strong, powerful, intelligent, witty and successful. Who would have thought it ?

One surviving anonymous poem from the late fifteenth century plays on many of these issues. Its positive representation of women almost suggests a female authorship, although this is unlikely. Elightened men could and did, write sympathetically and generously about their "enemies"; Chaucer's portraits are full of affection and glee as cunning women triumph over men, yet they also re-enforce the masculine fears of the smart woman, that persist even into the modern era. (Think of Sherlock Holmes' horror at being outwitted by Irene Adler!) The poem "Wives at the Tavern" re-creates the fears men entertained at the time, of the gossip that women exchanged when they met unsupervised. Women would have met regularly at domestic locations, such as market places, rivers and ditches. shops, churches, streets, fields and fair grounds, as they went about their daily business. This group of women usurp the masculine preserve of the tavern, in order to drink together. This was strictly warned against, as unfeminine behaviour by other manuals and poems like the other late fifteenth century poem "How the Goodwife taught her Daughter."

The term "gossip" in itself, was and still is, emotive. It derived from "good sister" or God sib, companion or godparent, referring to women who supported each other in the exclusively female preserve of the birth chamber. The women of the poem come together as friends, calling each other "gossip", emphasising their female solidarity. The anonymous narrator promises us "full good sport" by relating how women meet "in a lane or street" to "comfort their sick bodies." However, he dares only tell "half the substance" for fear of their "displeasure." One woman tells another that she knows the best place to find a draught of "merry-go-down" (a drink or a euphemism?) but would give her "gown" that her husband did not know about it. The women are summoned by name... Elinor, Joan and Margery; Margaret, Alice and Cecily and all come bringing food to share. This meeting is about nourishing the body and soul! They go on ahead, two by two, "wisely that ye be not seen," to know where their husbands are. One woman says she could expect " a stripe or two" if he should see her, although Alice replies that she fears no man!

In the tavern, they begin to drink, with little thought for the debts they might incur, "for we will spend, till God more send." Their talk revolves mainly around the appreciation of their food; food which they have brought from home, otherwise intended to feed their husbands: flesh, fish, wine and junkets. The drink does them good: "sweet wines keep my body in heal (health)," implying that they need to be fortified before returning to their homes and duties. One woman, who looks miserable confesses that her husband "beateth (her) like the devil of hell," becoming more violent as she begs for mercy. Alice curses him, saying that any man who beats a woman, especially his wife: "God give him short life!" Meek Margaret then adds that any man who beats he, receives five blows in return, even though she is a weak woman. She is not afraid but gives as good as she gets "though I have no beard!"

The women then reckon up how much they owe for what they have drunk. Their individual contributions of 3 pence is considered cheap for "such a sort and all but sport." While some fear discovery, Anne says they only came for a good drink and should go home and with a cheeky wink. The narrator tells us they will meet again, once a week to make merry. A few will return to the tavern every day "or else they will groan and make them sick." He concludes by asking the female audience, "is it not so ?" and requests that they raise their drinks to him. The poem concludes on a positive note, a jolly sense of women enjoying themselves and experiencing a small outlet from the routines of their lives, although the fears and experiences some express, like the beaten wife, indicate a darker truth. At the end, the narrator refers to the drinking women as "good fellows," givng them a masculine identity in line with their masculine behaviour, suggesting the fenale desire to equal or usurp a male position without their knowledge. It is never stated what happens when the women get home or whether the husbands learn of their outing. The jolly tone belies a more sinister reality about gender relations in the late fifteenth century, however the poem has a timeless feel.

The poem "Wives at the Tavern", from an anonymous fifteenth century manuscript was published in the Victorian T.Wright's "Songs and Carols."

Wednesday 22 August 2012

What was it like to be a child in Tudor times ?

Today we value our children's early years as a time of innocence and important formative experiences. A huge market exists for furniture, clothing and toys specifically designed with our small people in mind and increasingly, their needs dictate the family's routines and choices. But this was not always the case. The concept of childhood, as a separate, sentimental and idealised period of development, is a relatively modern invention. Whilst now, children have rights and laws to protect them from harsh working hours and promote their health, safety and education, the survival of young people in the past was less certain and they were expected to adapt and conform to adult expectations more early.

In the Tudor period, average life expectancy was shorter and the likelihood of premature death by disease, infection or accident, place childhood mortality within a predictable framework. Yet, understanding of childcare differed greatly. Think of the modern home with its stairgates and safety plugs, with all sharp or dangerous objects removed and locks on the cupboard doors. When we read that Tudor babies spent the first year of their lives tightly swaddled in their cots, it seems contrary to our beliefs in their developing needs and the process of learning to walk. However, the unsupervised toddler, ranging free about the Tudor home with its uneven surfaces, open fires and boiling pans, was far safer when restricted to its bed. Court records are full of poor infants meeting with accidents when they ventured out of doors and windows, or toddled off down the street and fell in ditches. A heart-breaking amount of cases seem to have been readily preventable if a child had been supervised in the way they would be today. This isn't to suggest the average Tudor mother was negligent- and I do say mother rather than parents, as fathers were not directly involved in the care of small children. Then, mothers seemed to have different ideas and priorities and perhaps, fewer options. One upsetting tale recounts a baby left swaddled in a cot, all alone whilst the mother went out. On her return, she found it had been fatally injured by a scavenging wild pig that had entered the house !

Discipline was also far more severe for small children in Tudor times. Physical chastisement, which today would be considered abusive, was par for the course. In fact, most manuals recommended such treatment in order to train the offspring and act as a deterrent. Whilst today we understand that a baby's cries are its attempts to communicate with us or that a toddler may have a tantrum because it is frustrated, such behaviour was readily met with blows. Nor did these just come from the parents themselves; neighbours, apprentices and even strangers stepped in to discipline a child for what seem like very minor misdemeanours or even misunderstandings. This didn't create a sense of communal parenting; rather it taught the Tudor child that it had to be wary of everyone and learn to toe the line. No doubt there were many affectionate, loving parents but physical discipline was seen within that context and perpetuated through society; a mother would beat her child just as a husband would beat his wife or a master would beat his servant. It was an action that re-enforced social status and appears to have been a daily occurrence. Cases only appear in the courts when people went too far, as they often appear to have done.

The Tudors did recognised different developmental stages in their children. Whilst they were not exactly seen as small adults, it was understood that there were certain tasks they could not perform and certain rites of passage through which they must pass. Seven was a key early stage. Until then, boys were very much in the care of their mothers, dressed and treated the same as girls. From their seventh birthday onwards, their masculinity was asserted, their clothing changed and they entered male company more frequently. Poorer children were expected to work at this age: recent archaeological excavations show the effects of hard labour on the bones of children this young. The next stage was around twelve, when girls could be considered of marriageable age, rising to fourteen for boys. Some aristocratic matches were arranged well before this, in the children's infancy, after which they might be brought up in the household of their betrothed. Royalty were united young: Richard of York was married at the age of four in 1478 to a five-year-old heiress, Anne de Mowbray. Sometimes these matches did not work out but often, the pair were considered capable of consummating the union by their mid-teens, such as with Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon in 1501. Fourteen was also the traditional age for apprenticeships and service to begin. Boys and girls could be bound to a master and learn a trade for the next seven years, being sent away from home and working long hours, sometimes for little food or recompense. They had to follow strict rules of conduct or face dismissal and punishment. The bands of unruly apprentices that caused havoc on London streets must have been exploting their only outlet of freedom; small wonder these groups of repressed adolescents frequently turned to violence and mischief on feast days. The May Day riots of 1517 saw a few thousand young men causing mayhem in the streets under the excuse of xenophobia; many were captured but later pardoned by Catherine of Aragon.

Education was uneven across Tudor society. The wealthiest could afford their own private tutors. Henry VIII was taught by some of the leading thinkers of his day, such as poets Bernard Andre and John Skelton. Grammar schools did exist to instruct the sons of the middle classes in the basics, such as the one Shakespeare attended in Stratford-upon-Avon but there was no universal curriculum. Discipline was again harsh, classes large and experiences determined by the interest and character of the school master. Girls learned at home, from their mothers, who prepared them for their future lives as wives and mothers. A medieval poem "How the Goodwife taught her daughter" focuses on desireable behaviour and morals, such as modesty, charity and religion. Even Princess Mary was raised with these expectations, although she was then the heir to the throne. Other manuals, such as the fifteenth century "Babees' Book" and the poem "Urbanitantis", focused on table manners and a child's interactions with others; they were to speak sensibly when spoken to and otherwise remain silent. As the sixteenth century progressed, more noble women were taught to read, to enable them to run their own households. The survival of letters, diaries, poems and recipe books show how this skill was becoming increasingly valued. Later, when religious changes meant that people were encouraged to read the Bible themselves in English, more impetus existed for the teaching of literacy. The most prominent women set the example; Elizabeth I, Jane Grey and the daughters of Thomas More all received impressive educations and by the end of Elizabeth's reign, many more women were reading, writing and composing: the "Blue-stocking" had already been born.

Noble children's lives were strictly regimented. Aristocratic women did not breastfeed but sent out their babies to wet-nurses for the first year. Raised by strangers and frequently succumbing to illness or neglect, the survivors were sent home to a family they did not know. The diary of John Dee records the different nurses his children were sent to in the 1580s and the payments made for this service, of money, candles and soap. Children often lived in mini-establishments within their parents' own properties, with a household comprising nurses and carers, mixing with their relatives infrequently. This doesn't mean they were any less loved or appreciated but they did interact with their parents less frequently; affection must have developed between them in different ways. The old historical misnomer that Tudor parents did not love their children is disproved by the poems of loss that survive, for example, Ben Jonson's sonnet on the loss of his son. Children must have had a number of primary carers and formed attachments to those they saw frequently. Some must have retained affection for these figures all their lives, such as Henry VIII and his nurse, Elizabeth Denton and Elizabeth and Kat Ashley. Parents saw their roles as overseers of careful regimes, where bedtimes, meals, lessons and education were dictated for others to carry out. A diet containing meat was considered important for growth but milk was not safe to drink after midday; instead, children were served "small" beer. These experiences depended upon social status. Less time was allowed for "play" as we understand it today. The three-year-old Prince Arthur had a punishing regime of academic lessons in 1489, with only a brief window before bedtime to enjoy his favourite games and pet dogs.

The lives of children in Tudor times were often brutal and filled with experiences that would horrify the modern parent. Although they were recognised as different from adults, their needs appear to have been considered secondary and their education and training geared towards conformity. The early years were filled with potential dangers of illness, accident and violence although the decisions that may seem to us today to be misguided, actually represented the best efforts of Tudor parents. Much has changed in psychology and pedagogy since then.