COMMON MYTHS ABOUT TUDOR ENGLAND

By Tim Lambert

There are many myths about the Tudors! Here are a few of them.

In the 16th century 9 out of 10 people died before the age of 40

We do not know exactly what average life expectancy at birth was in Tudor Times but historians think it was about 35 years in the 16th Century. (So 50% of the people born reached that age). However that does not mean that people dropped dead when they reached 35! Average life expectancy at birth was around 35 but a great many of the people born died in childhood. We don't know exactly what percentage died but if we say about 25% of people died before they were 5 years old we are probably not wide of the mark. Perhaps as many as 40% died before they reached adulthood. However if you could survive childhood and your teenage years you had a good chance of living to your 50s or your early 60s and even in the 16th century there were some people who lived to 70 or 80.

A History of Life Expectancy in England

A history of Washing

Henry VIII had syphilis

This is unlikely to be true. In the 16th century the standard treatment for syphilis was mercury. Lists of money spent on medicines for Henry VIII exist but mercury is not listed. Therefore it is unlikely he had syphilis.

A brief biography of Henry VIII

Anne Boleyn had six fingers

This is almost certainly a myth. She may have had a small extra fingernail growing at the side of one of her fingers. If the story is true that may be the basis of the rumor.

However nobody who lived at the same time as Anne or shortly afterwards said anything about six fingers. It was not till almost 50 years later that the story that Anne Boleyn had six fingers appeared.

Moreover it is very unlikely that any Tudor king would marry a woman with such an obvious physical deformity.

Sirloin got its name because an English king once knighted a piece of meat and called it 'Sir loin'

In reality sirloin is a corruption of the French sur (above or on top of) loin.

The Mary Rose sank on her maiden voyage

The Mary Rose was a warship built in Portsmouth in 1509-1511. She did not sink till 1545, by which time she was quite an old warship.

The Mary Rose

In Tudor times if you had an operation the barber-surgeon hit you on the head with a wooden mallet to knock you unconscious

This is not true. You could kill or seriously injure somebody if you hit him or her with a wooden mallet. There is no evidence that a barber-surgeon hit people over the head with a mallet. Detailed instructions for barber-surgeons survive but there is no mention of such a procedure.

A history of medicine

Walter Raleigh introduced smoking into England

The Spanish learnt to smoke tobacco from indigenous people. It is believed that English sailors adopted the habit about 1564 (Walter Raleigh was born in 1552). At any rate smoking tobacco in clay pipes was already quite common in England by the time Walter Raleigh was an adult.

When the Tudors ate meat at feasts they threw the bones onto the floor for dogs to eat

In the 16th century such behavior was unacceptable. In the 16th century dogs were not allowed at feasts and when you ate meat you placed the bones in a special dish.

Tudor Food

Tudor Clothes

Tudor Children

Tudor Medicine

Tudor Women

My Youtube video about 16th century myths

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