How to be a Tudor is a book written by a re-enactor about the nuts and bolts of everyday life for Tudor-period people. It is not an all-encompassing encyclopedia, but rather a personal tour through what I suspect are Goodman’s favorite parts of Tudor life.
There is a little something in here for any DIY geek. CW’s recommendation came in reference to homemade beds– Goodman covers them, and she has made them all and slept on all of them: straw, wool and feather, and has some good insights into the different materials. Turns out that maybe you don’t actually have to choose one, but you could use all three to make an ideal bed! This is a definite read for the bed-obsessed, and she conveniently covers beds right at the beginning, too.
But beyond that, there’s so much fun stuff in here. If you’re into brewing, baking, sewing, the practice of apprenticeship, archery, table manners, dance, sewing…whatever….there will be tidbits to please you.
My favorite might be her description of rush floors. You may have noticed that in historical and fantasy novels the floor of the great hall is always “strewn with rushes”– leaving the modern reader imaging a tangled cesspool of greenery underfoot. Apparently it was actually quite pleasant floor treatment. Reading her description, I realized it was deep bedding for people!!!! It all makes sense now!
Oh! And I almost forgot. Hygiene! Her thoughts on Tudor bathing/non-bathing and resultant stinkiness/non-stinkiness are worth the price of admission alone. Spoiler: no-pooers will feel vindicated.
Also, they cleaned their teeth with soot. And yes, I’m going to try it.
Sometimes she goes off in idiosyncratic directions, such as a lengthy section on how to sew, starch and form your own lace ruffs using heated rods and some judicious dabs of glue. Where else would you ever see that described? Yet somehow, I feel better for understanding the making and maintenance process of these things. Now the ruff seems less like the inexplicable product of an alien civilization.
Did you know folks could change the color of their ruffs in and out by treating them different colored starches? Or that there were colored ruffs at all? (And yes, she tells you how to make starch, too.) Prostitutes wore blue ruffs. Honestly, who knew?
To go off on an idiosyncratic tangent of my own, a short aside she made about her daughter is really sticking with me. As a child, the author’s daughter learned a craft called finger loop braiding, which produces decorative silken cord. Tudors used this stuff a lot as trim on their garments. She started doing it for fun, as some girls get into weaving friendship bracelets, but she really took to it and sold some to a costumer. Thus encouraged, kept doing it, and as an adult she produces this stuff for high end theater and film production.
Because she has been doing it since she was a child she has tremendous speed and dexterity with the weaving which allows her to not only produce cord much faster than any hobbyist, but also make weaving moves which would seem awkward if not impossible to someone not raised to the craft. Once she was filmed weaving and they had to ask her to slow it down because the eye could not follow what she was doing. (I believe those are her hands weaving in Wolf Hall Episode 4, 55:51)
This made me think about the value inherent in the kind of deep, traditional craft production that starts with the apprenticing of children. We look at old quilted silk waistcoat in a museum or an intricately carved wooden balustrade or a silver tea pot or any number of graceful surviving mementos of past ages and we shake our heads and say, “We don’t make things like that anymore.” It occurs to me that in some areas we don’t because we don’t employ children to these tasks as we used to.
I’m not saying we should set kids to fiddly work so they can end up stooped and half blind by age 15! I’m just thinking about the idea of mastery, and the kind of work and time that takes. As well as just raw hours spent at the task, there is the advantage of asking a body, muscle, nerve, bone and brain, to grow into the craft, to develop into that specialty. We’ve kept up the practice of early apprenticeship in just a few areas, like music, dance and sport–but in the world of craft, we generally adopt our crafts in adulthood, and bounce from one craft to another, because few of us make our living from them–so of course we will not become masters.
Master craftspeople are rarities now, but imagine the streets of London in Tudor times. Every other doorway must have held a master of some craft: blacksmith, brewer, rope maker, dyer, tanner, painter, tailor, bookbinder. And heck, every good housewife had to know how to do a whole lot of stuff, from sewing to cheese making to brewing, and was a master of those crafts as a matter of course. How wonderful it would be to walk those streets and watch it all going on! For those of us who like to engage in this kind of wishful thinking, Goodman’s book is a close second to a long visit.
Note: She’s also written How to be a Victorian. There’s another rabbit hole for you!