At the court of the Tudors

Henry VIII had many residences, it is believed that more than 60, but his favorite home was Hampton Court in London. The palace, built in 1514 for Thomas Wolsi, one of the most powerful men of his time, received a gift from the cardinal himself in 1529. The king expanded the perimeter of the palace, completed and rebuilt its rooms. The internal organization of the premises had to comply with a certain logic: the rooms were arranged in such a way as to “filter out” the crowd of people on several levels. In other words, not all courtiers were the same in their status. Someone was not allowed beyond the conventional "hallway", someone could get to the Great Hall, and only a select few managed to penetrate the holy of holies - the king's chambers. In England, the time of Henry VIII, almost every more or less noble nobleman with ambition sought to get to the court. However, those who succeeded could have spent several years without ever seeing the king, let alone having an audience or being represented in person.

Hampton Court. (

Life at the court was, in general, free of charge, guests could count on apartments corresponding to their status and food, the quantity, variety and refinement of which also depended on their situation. Nevertheless, the court had to spend money on clothes, jewelry and other external attributes - the more expensive and status, the more chances to rise higher. One suit, in which it was not a shame to appear at court, could cost as an annual rent of a house in London.

So, each guest had to know his place and strictly follow the rules. Upon arrival at Hampton Court, for example, the court turned out to be on the “lower rung”, in the so-called Base Court, from where he could either advance further if it suggested his status, or even remain among other lower-ranking aristocrats. Observance of the order was monitored by the guards, who were located in each room. Heinrich's favorite palace was so huge that it could hold up to 1000 courtiers together with their servants. By the way, the number of servants strictly regulated. Higher in position lords could have a much more extensive retinue than petty noblemen. Servants fed and placed at the court at the expense of the king and treasury.

View of Hampton Court from above. (

The most distinguished and wealthy courtiers, as well as important guests like foreign ambassadors, were entitled to count on decent apartments. In Hampton Court, for example, there were 30 posh "rooms" with which other rooms, for lower grades, could not be compared in size and interior. In addition, these apartments had their own washroom - a rarity and real luxury. Toilets were made in the form of a wooden box with a bucket inside. The “throne” of Henry himself was distinguished by a much richer decoration: the walls of the box were covered with velvet, sheepskin and ribbons. For guests who did not receive a room with their own toilet, the king built a special latrine - it was called the “Great House of Relief”. There were 14 drawers in this shared toilet.

It was considered indecent to not follow body hygiene. The courtiers bathed, as a rule, in pink water, and after the bath they covered themselves with perfumed oils, which were applied to the skin, hair and clothes. The king, of course, had a private bathroom. Heinrich watched cleanliness, loved to bathe and bathe, and also did not forget to stifle scents. To preserve the feeling of freshness longer, as well as to protect expensive clothes from sweat and dirt, courtiers wore underwear, or wide spacious blouses. The quality and quantity of underwear also depended on the financial position of the aristocrat. The best underwear wore, of course, the king himself. Laundresses were engaged in washing these blouses - it was almost the only vacancy for women at the court.

Approximately the toilet looked like Heinrich. (

Not so important courtiers were compelled to be content with modest rooms with simple furnishings, but, nevertheless, they still lived in the palace, did not pay for it, and also served them for free, and even had the opportunity, if they were lucky, to advance along the social and career ladder . As for the servants, the separate chambers were not meant for them, and therefore the retinue was arranged where it would be necessary: ​​in the halls, in the kitchen or in the cubbyholes.

Meal at the court was one of the most important events. Usually there were two of them: lunch around 10-11 am and dinner around 4 pm Tudor day began quite early, and it was supposed to be on schedule. Sometimes breakfast was also present, but it was more of a light snack, at least by the standards of that time, something like bread and butter and mugs of ale. The main meal was lunch, it could be allotted to several hours. In rich homes, dinner consisted of two shifts, the first part - a snack bar, the second - the main. And each of the shifts included a lot of dishes. Their number also depended on their rank: for example, a duke, a count, or a bishop could serve up to 7 meals at a dinner in one shift, while the cardinal - up to nine.

Tapestry from the time of Henry VIII in Hampton Court. (

The diet consisted mainly of seasonal vegetables, various types of meat and poultry, bread and other pastries, and fasting — fish. The main difference between a rich table and a poor one was, in addition to the variety and sophistication of dishes, in the abundance of meat and the way it was cooked. If low-income farmers had to be content with meat canned in any way (they stretched one or two pigs for the whole winter), then fresh game was served at the court of Heinrich. They ate from large dishes that were shared between those sitting at the table (for four of them for the less noble, for two - for the more). Before the king and queen put a personal dish, and the royal food, of course, checked for poison.

Often the monarch preferred to dine separately, in his chambers, in a narrow circle. For Henry, he was prepared by his personal chef, and the menu was more varied than for everyone else at the court. For example, Heinrich ate almond cream, quince marmalade, orange pies and artichokes. He loved fruits, especially apricots, as well as strawberries and cherries.

It looked like a Christmas dinner in Tudor England. (

It was considered in bad taste to empty the plate, leaving no crumbs. Partly because the leftovers from the table of the courtiers then gave to the servants. Each of the guests had to have their own knife and spoon, and the fork was usually brought only to the king - until the 17th century, the tradition of using the fork did not take root. It was also considered to be indecent to sit at the table, without rinsing hands in water (they should also be washed during meals, when changing dishes), it was impossible to spit and get personal appliances into a common plate. If the courtier scooped out a common dish, he did it with a piece of bread, or he would first wipe the spoon about the crumb so that his saliva would not get into what others would eat. Cutting off meat, it was necessary to use his knife and two fingers (it was necessary to clutch only for the part that you would use yourself).

Another important and favorite court affair was various performances and games. Heinrich encouraged art, in particular, painting and music, was at his court and theater. The king adored knight tournaments and participated in them with pleasure. In his youth, the monarch was actively involved in sports, was smart and very clever. Heinrich's favorite activities were hunting, dancing and tennis. The same entertainments were enjoyed by the courtiers who were fortunate enough to live in the immediate vicinity of the king. By the way, for young girls from noble families, the courtyard was the best opportunity to find a noble and rich husband, and therefore their fathers did not get tired of pushing their daughters into the Queen's maid of honor. Sometimes queens were obtained from the maid of honor themselves, as in the case of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. True, both were executed for treason.

Elizabeth I continued many court traditions of her father, she, like Heinrich, used the same “filtration” system and hid in the depths of the palace from crowds of people close to her. When the Stuarts came to power, the situation changed, Jacob I made the courtyard more open and more often remained in public. Charles I, whose treasury was devastated by the Civil War, could no longer afford to spend a fabulous state on the maintenance of the court. His son, Charles II, left only the most important courtiers at the court, as he was unable to feed and take hold of crowds of people close to him.

  1. Life at the Tudor court /
  2. Etiquette and the Court of Henry VIII /
  3. Tudor dining in the 16th century /
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Watch the video: Behind the Tudors: Hampton Court (March 2020).