RICH AND POOR TUDORS
By Tim Lambert
In the Middle Ages rich people's houses were designed for defense rather than comfort. In the 16th century life was safer so houses no longer had to be easy to defend. Rich Tudors built grand houses e.g. Cardinal Wolsey built Hampton Court Palace. Later the Countess of Shrewsbury built Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire. Chairs were more common than in the Middle Ages but they were still expensive. Even in an upper class home children and servants sat on stools. Chimneys were also a luxury in Tudor times, although they became more common.
In wealthy Tudor houses the walls of rooms were lined with oak paneling to keep out drafts. People slept in four-poster beds hung with curtains to reduce drafts. In the 16th century some people had wallpaper but it was very expensive. Other wealthy people hung tapestries or painted cloths on their walls. In Tudor England carpets were a luxury only rich people could afford. Usually they were too expensive to put on the floor! Instead they were hung on the wall or over tables. People covered the floors with rushes, reeds or straw, which they strew with sweet smelling herbs. In the 16th century rich people lit their homes with beeswax candles. However they were expensive. Wealthy Tudors had clocks in their homes. The very rich had pocket watches although most people relied on pocket sundials. Rich Tudors were also fond of gardens. Many had mazes, fountains and topiary (hedges cut into shapes).
The rich ate vast amounts of meat. However they rarely ate vegetables. The Tudors were also fond of sweet foods. However in the 16th century sugar was very expensive. In the 16th century new foods were introduced from the Americas. Turkeys were introduced into England about 1525. Potatoes were brought to England in the 1580s but at first few English people ate them. Tomatoes came to England from Mexico and apricots were introduced from Portugal. Rich people liked to show off their gold and silver plate. The middle classes would have dishes and bowls made of pewter. There were no forks in Tudor times. People ate with knives and their fingers or with spoons. Wealthy people had silver or pewter spoons.
From the mid-16th century some rich people rode in carriages. They must have been very uncomfortable because they did not have springs and roads were very bumpy. In Tudor times you would be lucky if you could travel 50 or 60 kilometers a day. It normally took a week to travel from London to Plymouth. However rich people deliberately traveled slowly. They felt it was undignified to hurry and they took their time.
Although the days of armored knights were over rich Tudors still enjoyed tournaments. The contestants dressed in armor and rode horses. They fought with wooden lances and swords. The rich also enjoyed hunting. They went hunting deer with bows and arrows. After it was killed the deer was eaten. The rich also went hawking. Falcons were trained to kill other birds. However in Tudor times rich people did not hunt foxes.
The Tudors also liked wrestling and 'casting the bar', which was like shot-putting but with an iron bar. They also played billiards (but not snooker, which is a 19th century game). The rich also played board games like chess and backgammon (a backgammon set was found on the wreck of the Mary Rose. It is the same as a modern one). They also tennis with a leather ball stuffed with hair. They also played bowls and skittles. Playing cards were also popular. Music and dancing were also very popular. The printing press made books much cheaper so reading was a popular pastime for the wealthy.
For rich Tudors fashion was important. For the poor clothes had to be tough and practical. Only the rich could afford cotton and silk. Rich Tudors also embroidered their clothes with silk, gold or silver thread. Rich Tudor women wore silk stockings.
Homes for poor people in Tudor Times were very uncomfortable. They lived in simple huts with one or two rooms (occasionally three). Smoke escaped through a hole in the thatched roof. Floors were of hard earth and furniture was very basic, benches, stools, a table and wooden chests. The poor slept on mattresses stuffed with straw or thistledown. The mattresses lay on ropes strung across a wooden frame.
Poor Tudors lived on a dreary diet. In the morning they had bread and cheese and onions. They only had one cooked meal a day. They mixed grain with water and added vegetables and (if they could afford it) strips of meat. In Tudor Times everybody ate bread but poor people ate coarse bread of barley or rye.
Everybody wore wool. However rich Tudors wore fine quality wool. The poor wore coarse, scratchy wool. Linen was used to make shirts and underwear. Many workingmen wore a loose tunic. It was easier to work in. Some workingmen wore a leather jerkin called a buff-jerkin. Men also wore stockings or woolen socks, which were called hose.
Tudor women wore a kind of petticoat called a smock or shift or chemise made of linen or wool and a wool dress over it. A woman's dress was made of two parts, a bodice or corset like garment and a skirt. Sleeves were held on with laces and could be detached. Working women wore a linen apron.
In the late 16th century many women wore a frame made of whale bone or wood under their dress called a farthingale. If they could not afford a farthingale women wore a padded roll around their waist called a bum roll. In the 16th century women did not wear knickers. However men sometimes wore linen shorts.
In Tudor times everyone wore hats. Poor women often wore a linen cap called a coif. After 1572 by law all men except nobles had to wear a woolen cap on Sundays. This law was passed to give the wool cap makers plenty of work! The Tudors used mostly vegetable dyes such as madder for red, woad for blue or walnut for brown. Poor people often wore brown, yellow or blue.