Thursday 27 September 2012

Henry VIII: the Celibate Years ?


The romance of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn has endured in the popular imagination. Its details are well known, from the arrival of the young, unconventionally attractive Anne, with her foreign upbringing, through to the passionate letters he sent her at Hever Castle and their secret marriage six years later. Presenting himself as a lover in the chivalric tradition, as “Sir Loyal Heart,” Henry’s devotion to Anne before their wedding is unquestionable, as was his desire to father a son to inherit his throne, long after his first wife Catherine of Aragon had failed to bear one. But did that devotion automatically mean he did not look at another woman? As I have argued in my recent book “In Bed With the Tudors,” featured in the Daily Express (26/9/12- see link below), we are anachronistically applying modern standards of romance to the past if we think it does.

Catherine’s menopause occurred around 1525, the year of her fortieth birthday. Henry himself was five and a half years her junior and had already indulged in extra-marital affairs, most famously with Elizabeth “Bessie” Blount, who bore him a son and with Mary Boleyn. Anne’s older sister may have conceived a daughter by the King but the evidence for this is inconclusive. Such behaviour was expected at the time although, most often, men at court sought satisfaction elsewhere. Upper class men would not be condemned for seeking sexual gratification with lower class women, who were seen as more physically pleasing than their aristocratic wives. This made an interesting division, along class lines, of women who were primarily seen as for procreation and others who were purely for pleasure. Gentlemen of Henry’s court would have little trouble finding available females, either in the corridors of power at Westminster or Greenwich or Whitehall, or else in the brothels, or stews on the Southbank. Henry’s courtiers, in particular, Sir William Compton, helped facilitate his affairs, possibly arranging meetings in his London home. Henry also possessed a wealth of small properties and hunting lodges where such liaisons would have been easy.
 The behaviour of Thomas Culpeper is also explainable in this context. As the cousin and lover of Henry's fifth wife, Catherine Howard, Culpeper met his death late in 1541. However, he already had committed worse offences than possible adultery with the Queen. As a young man he had desired a woman he had casually encountered, then raped her when she refused him and murdered her husband. For this he was pardoned, which seems inexplicable to us now and difficult to accept as consistent with the teenage Queen's love for him. However, in the context of sexual relations between the classes, Culpeper's actions indicate a sense of entitlement to possess women of lower station no matter what. Happily, this does not seem to have been the norm. It is a case of modern sensibilities clashing uncomfortably with the realities of the past.

These sexual expectations were actually out of synch with the image Henry VIII desired to project. There appears to be a tension between the sexually active man and the ideal romanticised lover of jousts and court masques. He was notoriously secretive about his affairs, in comparison with other European leaders of the day, or perhaps because of them. His great rival Francis I of France was well known for his many conquests and his subsequent infection with the horrific syphilis. Henry, in contrast, tried to conceal the existence of his lovers and his encounters with them, making them harder to trace. This may have been out of respect for his first wife, who was greatly upset by Henry’s first affair with Anne, sister of the Duke of Buckingham early in the marriage while Catherine was pregnant. Henry did take a more modern approach to the women he slept with; his wives were chosen by romantic criteria, as he wanted a companionate partnership, rather than the union of dynastic expediency his parents had entered into. This did not place him above conforming to the sexual expectations of his era though. In a further departure from past tradition, his weddings were conducted in secrecy. He did not favour vast court celebrations, opting instead for simple and small occasions, often taking place early in the morning in the chapels of his palaces, with a few witnesses. The only exception was his ill-fated union with Anne of Cleves, which proved that such old-style arranged marriages were not for him.

When Henry fell in love with the entrancing Anne Boleyn in around 1527, all this changed. It would have to, if he was to make her his wife. At first, the pair was discreet but soon, Henry’s infatuation became obvious to everyone, including Catherine. The court held at Blackfriars examined the royal marriage but failed to provide the King with the decisive answer he needed; the Pope could not be more help, dreading Henry’s letters and remaining loyal to his aunt, who happened to be Catherine of Aragon. The Queen was removed from court in 1531 and rusticated to various houses in the country but refused to grant Henry the divorce he wanted. Henry and Anne’s liaison was the subject of rumour and gossip throughout Europe but it appears that Anne maintained his interest by withholding her affections, gradually realising she had the opportunity to become his wife, instead of just his mistress.

However, as I suggest in “In Bed with the Tudors,” (Amberley 2012), something about this doesn’t add up. Henry admitted to Cardinal Campeggio that he hadn’t slept with Catherine since 1526. Anne Boleyn did not submit to him until late in 1532.  It is really possible that Henry VIII was celibate for those six years? I think this is a ludicrous assumption, although historians have largely accepted this as fact. Although Henry was in love with Anne, this should not be confused with modern concepts of romance or fidelity. We know it was expected that men would have other sexual partners: at this time the marriage oath only required the fidelity of the wife. To condemn this as a double standard would be anachronistic and unrealistic. Clearly aristocratic women did have sexual relations for pleasure and many made second marriages based purely on affection, as in the case of Mary Boleyn. Many took lovers at court; some them may have slept with the King.

 Although Henry was in pursuit of a legitimate son, these six years represented a significant part of his dwindling fertility. In 1527, he could not have known how long the process would take but as the years passed, was he really true to the construct of romantic chivalry he liked to project and stay celibate all that time ? Considering that he used the motto of “Sir Loyal Heart” to profess devotion to his first wife, while indulging in affairs, it does not seem that romantic devotion necessarily precluded encounters with receptive women of the lower classes. He famously claimed that he was "a man like any other," so we should expect consistency in this area too. In 1537, while Jane Seymour was pregnant, Henry “claimed” a lower class woman he saw on one of his rides and rumours of illegitimate children dating from the period suggest an oral tradition of the King’s promiscuity. Even for Anne, Henry’s romantic veneer was soon tarnished.  Early in their marriage, when Anne was upset at Henry’s infidelity, he told her that she should hold her tongue as her betters had done. This suggests Anne was unaware of any liaisons Henry may have had in the years 1527-32, or that she attributed them to his frustration and hoped they would cease after the ceremony. These possibilities may dispel the romantic image of Henry’s court as projected in the popular imagination but it should not damage Henry’s reputation nor his genuine desire of Anne. It merely redefines concepts of loyalty and romance in line with sixteenth century standards, instead of twenty-first century ones.
Link to the Daily Express article, 26/9/12:

Friday 21 September 2012

A Hard Day's Night: Medieval Women at Work

The roles played by medieval women in society were many and varied. Socially, they were defined by their marital status and ability to produce healthy children, but it appears that many were engaged in useful work of the type more associated in the modern mind with their male counterparts. It is well known that women were involved in assisting childbirth and running the home but beyond that, their activities encompassed a range of tasks from the physical to the intellectual. The types of work undertaken by the medieval woman has often been underestimated but studies made by the economic historian Elieen Power, at Cambridge in the 1920s, began to challenge such assumptions. As part of my ongoing research in this area, I wanted to share some of the images I have found which give a flavour of the types of employment women were engaged with, alongside men.

It is difficult to differentiate though, exactly what status this work afforded women. It is quite likely that much of it was undertaken on an informal basis, as seasons dictated or as part of a family business: how many were considered professionals or received a salary outside the home is unclear. Midwives were one distinct female role and other waged women were engaged in the businesses of brewing and hospitality. Most were widows or married women, whilst the unmarried were to be found engaged in tasks such as spinning, cooking or sweeping within the home, although this was also done by the majority of women. Widows could inherit businesses and apprentices, whom they often went on to marry, or else could remain financially independent, even entering a few of the London guilds. Social class obviously played a key role in their labour. Leisure was a luxury: upper-class women also performed tasks in the home as various contemporary images and manuals make clear but these were directed more towards the luxury end of production, such as the making of special dishes and medicines, as well as the overseeing of accounts and organisation of servants and hospitality. Poorer women had little choice but to roll up their sleeves and help with the harvest or in the workshop.

There was a clear division between those working professionally and those engaged in labour within their own home about daily tasks, often alone.

Other women clearly accompanied their men to work, or else worked in close proximity with them where workshops were established within the home. This was common for many urban businesses, where the front room or ground floor of a house was given over to trade and the back, or upstairs (or cellar) was the family's living space.


It appears that groups of women collected together to engage in tasks such as spinning and weaving. This was more likely to have been for the benefits of their family, charity and friends rather than a collectively owned female business, as the manuscript images depict almost exclusively upperlcass women in this way, suggesting it was more of a leisure activity.


Other upper-class leisure activities included music:

Poorer women feature most commonly in the images of work outside, particularly engaged in harvesting or tasks to do with the seasonal cycle. The necessity of their involvement is highlighted by the presence of the heavily pregnant woman in the second image.

The lowliest appear in images of the most physical work, perhaps earning money in areas their social superiors had rejected:

A few appear to have penetrated what could have been considered traditional male areas of work: here, teaching geometry, sculpture, medicine, portraiture and writing.

There are so many manuscript images of women engaged in work during the medieval period that it was clearly an everyday occurrence for women of all classes. What they did and where and why, were factors determined by their status and need, but employment was clearly desireable even when it was not necessary. The involvement of women in male industries is apparent, although less well represented: the polarisation of "men's" and "women's" work was not as clear cut in the medieval period as might have been assumed.

Sunday 16 September 2012

Don't Get Your Medieval Knickers in a Twist!



What did medieval and Tudor men and women wear under their clothes ? For a large percentage of the population, clothes were laboriously handmade and passed down in wills and bequests. Few people outside the aristocracy had extensive wardrobes, which suggests early forms of underwear were also fairly homely and plain. Given the strength of the English wool market in the fourteenth century, spinning and knitting were very common; such garments could be easily made and repaired at home. Much depends upon climate too; while wool would be suitable for cold, wet winters, lighter fabrics such as linen would be more suitable for warmer times and affordable for the wealthy. Even for royalty, though, keeping themselves clothed could be pricy: Elizabeth of York paid 6d for a pair of socks in 1502, when a labourer might earn a daily wage of 4d. However, while the twenty-first century bra with all its technology and varieties seems strikingly modern, may be considerably older than we think.

Excavations in an Austrian castle in 2008 turned up a vault filled with medieval textiles, including what appear to be some early examples of underwear. Many were made from linen but some also had outer layers of colourful wool. The bras comprised shaped cups and straps, with decorated borders of a form of lace and a possible back strap. Another had a longer body section, giving it the appearance of a modern corset with eye-holes to be laced together with ribbons. Radio-carbon dating has confirmed these items came from the fifteenth century. Larger breasts may have been bound, as Shakespeare has his cross-dressing heroines do, although this was likely to have been more practical when manual labour was being undertaken. With many working women of childbearing years breastfeeding though, this would have been impractical and suggests the existence of long-perished garments in the model of those discovered at Lengburg Castle.

 men's pants from Lengburg Castle

Knickers were quite a different matter though. In the late medieval and Tudor periods, they were more likely to have been worn by men! A pair found recently in Austria resemble a modern white bikini bottom, with ties at the hip. These old pants were considered to be signs of dominance and power; men required them for support and protection, emphasising their superiority over women, who wore layers of skirts but no other underwear. This must have made life difficult during menstruation, which was absorbed by the traditional rags. Some sort of early girdle or belt must have been required to hold these in place!

The thirteenth century Maciejowski Bible depict both men and women in hose and the exclusively male braies or breeches. These come close to a baggy sort of long knickers, loose about the bottom and rolled over at the waist, while hose were three-quarter length stockings which were tied up to a waist band. Manuscript illustrations show workers stripped down to this bottom layer when labouring. Women’s hose and socks are far less visible in these images, with usually just the foot showing, although these are often striped. They could be tied in the same way as the men’s, creating a complicated system of knots under the outer layers of clothing, although many were shorter and held in place by garters. The quintessential codpiece, from “cod” or scrotum was originally a soft flap or pouch, again tied in place, which may have been an integral part of the braies or else a separate attachment. With this as the only covering, male genitals were left vulnerable and exposed as hem lines rose; correspondingly, the cod piece became more substantial. By the time of Henry VIII’s famous groin-centric portrait of 1537, it was a symbol of potency and virility. They were shaped and padded for emphasis, with some even made of metal but died out towards the end of the sixteenth century.
                                              Men in braies from the Maciejowski Bible

So little early underwear survives that any comprehensive theory on its use and existence must be ruled out. For women, with their long dresses, the situation is even less certain, although practicality, budget and climate must have dictated whatever solutions they found for everyday wear. No doubt what appears elusive and fascinating now was commonplace then; is it too hard to imagine scholars in the twenty-fifth century getting excited over the lingerie of the present? At least there will be plenty of documentation.

                                                     Henry VIII's codpiece

Saturday 8 September 2012

Fifty Shades of Lady Jane Grey

Sexual Pleasure, Opportunity and Pornography in Tudor Times.

                                        A surviving selection from Raimondi's I Modi

What did the Tudors get up to in bed ? Or out of it ? While the answer may seem obvious, the sexual practices of five centuries ago were not necessarily the same as those today. The basic act remains the same, as testified by the proliferation of Tudor births and continuation of the human race, but the choice of partners, location, timing and issues of sexual etiquette, may indicate historical differences.

As might be expected also, experiences in England did not necessarily match those in Europe. The court of Francis I of France, Henry VIII’s great rival, was renowned for its debauchery, while Henry himself was consistently discreet and secretive about his liaisons. In 1524, the Italian Marcantonio Raimondi published “I Modi,” an explicit, illustrated manual of 16 different sexual poses. These were based on a series of paintings for a Mantuan palace but provoked condemnation because they were publicly available, rather than confined to the privacy of the walls of the Palazzo Te. It provoked such a scandal that Raimondi was imprisoned by the Pope and almost all copies were destroyed. This highlights key aspects of sixteenth century sexuality, in terms of its acceptability, exclusivity and the survival of printed material. In England, lewd images appear to have been used more as a deterrent, coupled with a religious message, as in sexual depictions of naughty pilgrims, or a literary satire, as found in Chaucer, rather than for overt sexual purposes. Arguably, the evidence of a culture of temporary sexual images, is unlikely to have survived anyway and, then as now, the discrepancy between the idealised and the reality, is difficult to measure.

One key difference between past and present views of sex was that of pleasure. Technically, this was defined at every level by men. Of course, we are looking back through the feminist lens, but that does not mean that women in the past were not sexually active or fulfilled. That fulfilment may have come about within specific perimeters, though. Women were considered to be desirous of sexual activity at all times; to deny them it could cause them extreme ill-health and even prove fatal. Virginal females would suffer the terrible green sickness alluded to by Shakespeare,  with vapours rising from the womb and causing dizziness or fitting; the obvious cure was marriage, as an end to lawful sexual satisfaction. In the modern mind, it creates a comic impression of rampant predatory females seeking to alleviate their symptoms whenever or wherever possible. Some of the contemporary cures outlined in leechbooks and medical works of the era suggest that for some medieval and Tudor males, this was considered a real danger. It also sheds light on the nature of medieval and Tudor attacks upon unpopular or transgressing women; slurring their sexuality, often in connection with witchcraft practices, was a predictable method of  attack.

 The exercise of female sexuality lay within male hands, metaphorically and literally. A man had to be wary of women using witchcraft or subtle means of seduction in order to get them into bed. The reason for this was partly religious, derived from their inheritance from Eve but also physiological. As "imperfect men", their wombs required the balancing presence of a male member and seed in order to be complete; their imperative was to produce children and this necessitated the sexual act. It was up to the man to resist and control these impulses in their wives and dependent females. Suitable marriages should be made for daughters, sisters and other relatives, for the benefit of their health. The female orgasm was understood in the context of this “completion” of a woman by a man; female pleasure was deemed essential for conception to take place. In this sense, the Tudors appear more enlightened than the Victorians, in promoting the enjoyment of both parties, even if the patriarchal definition and control of the act appears rather draconian to a modern reader. However, the reverse side of this could produce dire consequences for women. In cases of rape, men could claim to be “incited” to act by a desperate female, while any act of violation that resulted in pregnancy immediately invalidated itself. If a woman had conceived, she must have enjoyed herself, therefore no rape had taken place. Few cases of rape appear in the late Sixteenth century Assize court records and these are usually of minors or spinsters. Successful convictions for the violation of a married woman, or of a man’s own wife, hardly ever appear. In the 1558 case heard by the East Greenwich Assizes, William Norris was indicted for the rape of Edmund Dalton’s wife Joan, but frustratingly, the verdict is illegible!

The age of consent in Tudor times was fourteen for girls and twelve for boys, although this was not enforced by any law. Few eyebrows were raised when the children of the aristocracy were betrothed at the ages of three or four, or were raised in the households of their in-laws. Consummation would not take place until the pair had reached puberty, although this, like fertility, could differ vastly. Equally strange partnerships were made at the other end of the age bracket: one of Elizabeth Wydeville's brothers married a wealthy Duchess in her eighties, when he was only in his twenties. History does not record what happened on their wedding night. Question marks also surround the consummation of some notorious teenage marriages. Did Catherine of Aragon sleep with her first husband, Prince Arthur ? Some historians are convinced she did, while others are equally convinced otherwise. Only two people knew for sure. The closest we can come to the truth is Catherine’s later admission that they shared a bed on about seven occasions but that “full” consummation had not taken place, assuming the virginal fifteen-year-old was fully versed in these areas. Perhaps there was some sort of foreplay or fumbled teenage attempts at intercourse that barely constituted the act. After all, they had reason not to believe they had time on their side: neither could have known Arthur would die only six months later and Catherine would go on to marry Henry VIII.

Lady Jane Grey and Guildford Dudley, two other na├»ve teenagers, were married on 21 May 1553. Jane was then pronounced Queen on 9 July, hardly giving them any time to discover their sexuality, if the marriage was consummated at all. There is also the first marriage of Anne Neville, Queen of Richard III, which was probably consummated when she was left a widow at fourteen in 1471, as was the match of Henry VIII’s illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy to Lady Mary Howard in 1533, also aged fourteen. Then there was the widowed virgin Christina of Denmark, whom Henry VIII wanted to marry in 1538. The teenager refused him, rumoured to have said that if she had two heads, she would gladly spare him one. However, as a rule, remarriage for those widowed in their teens was considered vital for their health. Christina took a second husband at the age of twenty and bore him three children.

Sex was also dictated by the cycles of the year. For the religious Tudor, certain dates were off limits, such as Sundays, saints’ days and the forty days of Lent: those who transgressed were supposed to do penance and not receive communion. But just how could a priest know, looking out over the faces of his flock, exactly what they had been up to the night before? Sex during menstruation was frowned on as this was supposed to produce children who were red-haired and puny and “depraved” practices between man and wife could result in birth abnormalities. Restraint was counselled, but in reality, withdrawal and folkloric methods of birth control were employed, although as the baptismal records attest, restraint was often thrown to the wind! The relaxation of the usual routine could promote sexual encounters.

Fairs and festivals provided many couples with an opportunity for intercourse, when the carnival attitude and possible higher consumption of alcohol fuelled behaviour. Listed in the Essex Assize court records, in 1582, the promiscuous and pregnant Susan Babye lay with a John Fletcher at Witham fair and a William Dagnett on Lady Day. She then went on to sleep with Richard Howe at Midsummer, when the warm longer nights allowed for outdoor encounters. In 1589, Alse Mathews had sex with a servant named Davie Cox at a gate in a field, at the Feast of Pentecost. Agnes Parette and John Eavens of Earl Colne slept together twice at the start of the harvest season; by the end of it they were probably too tired ! Parish records in Essex confirm that fewer live births took place nine months after the harvest period, during May and June. The peak time for conception was early summer, with the highest percentage of births following next spring, in March and April. The cycles of the church and land certainly had an impact on when the Tudors had sex!

For the unmarried, finding the opportunity posed a problem. Sleeping habits were determined by class and dictated sexual practices. Tudor spouses of high class did not usually share beds. It was a sign of status that a Lord and Lady had their own household under the same roof, which meant separate bedrooms. The Lord would usually take the initiative and visit his wife in her chamber for sex, before returning to his own bed. However, this seems rather formal and it is pretty unlikely that the rule was always followed; encounters must have taken place in other locations such as hunting lodges, inns or whenever opportunities arose. Perhaps they were even initiated by women and perhaps some men even enjoyed this!! The high concentration of servants in Tudor households made for little privacy but lower down the social scale, there may have been fewer prying eyes.

Undoubtedly sex took place in shared spaces, such as the dormitories of apprentices and servants, such as in the early teenage experiences of Catherine Howard., resident in the large household of her grandmother. In another story from the Assize Courts, Joan Collen was a travelling servant who sold butter in the 1590s. Drinking one day in the King’s Head tavern at Limehouse, she met a William Rothman, who desired her and wanted to take a room in the inn in order to bed her but the time and place “would not serve.” Later, they slept together in a field, an orchard and a stable. This came to light when she conceived an illegitimate child. Among families sharing bedrooms and small houses, the couplings of adults must have been a routine matter of biology, just as communal and public as washing and defecating. The act must have taken place with less embarrassment, than in our post-Victorian era.

Servants often slept in their masters’ or mistresses’ rooms on truckle beds, or outside their doors, in kitchens, halls, corridors or wherever space dictated. These were purely for sleep and were stored away during the day, forcing their occupants to find other opportunities for intercourse while their employers were out. In 1600, Joan Loveday conceived a child after a single encounter with a fellow servant Richard Bettes, in her master’s chamber, which was a common location for illicit sex. Sometimes masters made complaint against their servants for lewdness, as Martin Skynner did against his man Thomas Yeldham in 1582, supported by his other employees. On some cases, the master was to blame. In 1591, Bridget Hide described how her master came to her bed intent on “abusing” her although she managed to repel him; however, he later “won her to his will.” Lower class women were supposed to be more “earthy” and sexually gratifying than their high-class rivals; aristocratic women were often “off-limits” due to pregnancy and considered essential for procreation whilst short-term mistresses and casual encounters for pleasure were made with “base” women. Henry VIII may have had a number of these, now lost to history, procured by Sir William Compton in his London home. One anecdote survives from 1537, listed in  the Court Rolls, when he took a fancy to a young woman out riding with her sweetheart and established her as his mistress. Edward IV was reputed to have shared his mistresses with his son-in-law Dorset and best friend Hastings, especially the notorious “Jane Shore.”

With imperfect contraception, pregnancy was an inevitable and frequent outcome. For those who wished to become parents, contemporary manuals suggested that the best time for conceiving children was in the middle of the night, between the recommended first and second sleeps, so some must have taken a chance whilst others around them slept. However, illegitimacy may have been higher than we suspect. Examinations of parish records from the 1530s through to 1600 indicate only a couple of cases a year but the real figure, including abortions and stillbirths, must have been higher. Some women clearly took steps to ensure the pregnancy did not come to term or that the baby was abadnoned or killed. Cases of infanticide are frequent in Assize court rolls, often resulting in conviction and the passing of the death sentence upon the mother. Her only plea was pregnancy, which could delay her sentence, although justice still needed to have been seen to be enacted.

Unlawful sexual behaviour and its outcomes were considered to be the business of the whole parish. Some Tudor couples openly lived together or attempted it in secret, like the widow Rebecca Purkas and William Hyde of Thaxted, who were only "discovered" in 1592, when Rebecca gave birth. Thomas Lynwood confessed in 1576 to deserting his three children and wife of seventeen years to live “a wicked and incontinent life” with a widow named Agnes Cawsey. In many few cases, villagers, gathered together in tithings, accused such couples before the justices; the punishment was often a fine or public whipping. Immorality was not acceptable once it became public knowledge or the arrival of a child necessitated funds from the parish coffers. Financial considerations often outweighed condemnation out of prudery. The Tudors were most certainly not prudish or precious when it came to sex and bodily functions.

Pornography has been around since ancient times; fine Roman examples are particularly abundant on the walls of surviving buildings. Beyond Raimondi’s attempt in 1524, very few images of this type appear to have survived from the sixteenth century. It is unclear whether English Tudor pornography existed in the form we would understand although nudity and depravity were commonly depicted. Many images of the naked female form graced artwork, tapestries, carvings and sculptures, but were often illustrative of moral, religious or historical tales, rather than as direct titillation. When “lewd” images occur, of males and females, the individuals are usually being punished in some circle of hell and are intended as a religious warning. The very real fear of damnation would probably have put a dampener on any excitement such pictures may have aroused. Yet they clearly depict the extremes of contemporary practices, or artistic perceptions of them in the brothels and stew houses along the South bank of the Thames. The advent of the printing press, set up by Caxton in the precincts of Westminster Palace in the 1480s, could have allowed for the greater distribution of images and made them more accessible, immediate and private.  This would have allowed for the development of pornography, although almost nothing of this type survives; instead, sexual and misogynistic jokes, poems and puns appear to fill this gap, along with their illustrations of wanton or semi-clad females. The thrill appears to have been found in female naughtiness and the need for chastisement. Little changes there. Graphic descriptions in works by Chaucer, Mandeville, Boccaccio, Aretino and others, point to a culture of sexually provocative language; it was an oral rather than a visual tradition of pleasure. Otherwise, the history of surviving English pornographic imagery appears empty until the seventeenth century.  

Whilst certain codes of sexual conduct prevailed among the Tudors, it is clear that their behaviour did not always neatly conform. Where and when they gave in to their natural urges and the resulting consequences were very much a function of their class and gender. Where their practices may most differ from modern behaviour, is in the lack of privacy that must have affected attitudes towards copulation. Sex was likely to have been as commonplace in many communities as other bodily functions, although once the results of it became apparent, the participants were called to account. However, it is indicative of the Tudor attitude that this was usually in order to provide for an illegitimate child rather than to punish those engaged in the act.