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Episode 100! The Tudors: Just Like Us

Episode 100 of the Renaissance English History Podcast is The Tudors: Just Like Us! Listen below, or read the transcript, and check out the links for more information.

Remember, if you like this show, there are two main ways you can support it. First (and free!) you can leave a review on iTunes. It really helps new people discover the show. Second, you can support the show financially by becoming a patron on Patreon for as little as $1 episode. Also, you can shop at my online store filled with Tudor-inspired products like the popular Six Wives leggings!



The book recommendation is Everyday Life in Tudor London: Life in the City of Thomas Cromwell, William Shakespeare & Anne Boleyn, by Stephen Porter.

Other Podcast Episodes mentioned
David Skinner links

Episode 086: Tudor Food, Dining, and Sumptuary Laws


Hello and welcome to the Renaissance English History Podcast, a part of the Agora Podcast Network. I’m your host, Heather Teysko, and I’m a storyteller who makes history accessible because I believe it’s a pathway to understanding who we are, our place in the universe, and being more deeply in touch with our own humanity. This is Episode 100, and I want to do something fun for this big milestone. Seriously, a hundred episodes – thank you so much to all of you who have been with me from the beginning, and a big warm welcome to those of you who are newer to the show. I can’t wait to see where the next hundred episodes take us! I’ve got a list of about 35 shows already, and it seems like every week I add more to that.

Anyway, for this show I want to do something fun, which is to look at how the Tudors have influenced our lives today, and how in many ways they are still around with us. We’ll look at cultural aspects like music and language, as well as government, technology, and religion.

But first, I need to thank my patrons who help keep this show independent. I have amazing patrons – thank you to Elizabeth, Kathy, Cynthia, Juergen. Also Sarah, Megan, Melissa, Lady Anne – Jessica – Diane, Olivia, Al, Ashleigh, Kendra, Cynthia, Judith, Katie, Maura, Emily, Celayne, Laura, Ian, Barbara, Char, Keeva, Amy, Allison, Joanne, Kathy, Kristine, Annetta, Susan, Andrea, Katherine, Rebecca from Tudors Dynasty, Sandor, Philip, and John.  Thank you, you guys. If you want to be part of this group of very intelligent people with exceptional taste, please go to patreon.com/englandcast to sign up.

I also need to mention the Agora Podcast of the Month for March which is American Biography by Thom. American biography is a podcast that looks at American history by following the course of human events and examining the lives of important, if less discussed, Americans who have exerted great influence upon the nation’s development. It’s the American story told through Americans’ stories. Check it out on your podcatcher of choice.

One final thing – if you like treats – and who doesn’t, really, I invite you to check out the Treasures from Bess Subscription Box that I’ve recently launched. It’s a monthly box filled with Tudor treats like books, jewelry, and special spa-like items, all inspired by Tudor history. $39.99/month including free shipping in the continental US. Check out TreasuresfromBess.com for more information, to see sample boxes, and learn more.

So let’s hop in now, shall we?

I want to start with music, because as we all know, it’s the particular aspect of Tudor history about which I am the most passionate.

In an episode a few years ago I interviewed Dr. David Skinner, a noted musicologist, and he talked about the big shift in music in the 16th century, which was the change to having liturgical music in English rather than Latin. This not only made it possible for the masses to understand the music, and made it more accessible, it also opened the door for composers to play with the lyrics of their music. So you see word painting in the madrigals, like the one by Thomas Weelkes, As Vesta was from Latmos Hill Descending. Take a listen here, and pay particular attention to what the notes do during the lyrics descending, and ascending.

This technique is still used today in popular music – listen to the chorus of Justin Timberlake’s What Goes Around. See what he does there? Also listen to Rufus Wainwright’s Vibrate, where he talks about his phone being on vibrate for you. Catch that? See, this word painting popularized by the Tudors, and made possible by this newfound freedom to write music in English is still with us today!

Now I want to talk about food. I did an episode on Food a few months ago, which was pretty popular, and it had people thinking about what kinds of foods the Tudors ate. Much of their dining experience was very different to ours, especially at court with set courses, lots of meats, and few vegetables. But there would have been some foods we recognized, and even the utensils were becoming more familiar. Forks come to us in Europe through Italy, and the theory is that it’s easier to eat pasta with a fork. In the 1560’s, Catherine de Medici as queen of France brought the fork into wide use there, but it was still seen as a suspicious eating utensil in the Tudor era. The travel writer Thomas Coryate talked about forks for the first time in England when, in 1608, he went on a trip through France, Italy, Switzerland, and Holland. In 1611 his travel memoir was published, and he said:

I observed a custom in all those Italian cities and towns through which I passed, that is not used in any other country that I saw in my travels, neither do I think that any other nation of Christendom doth use it, but only Italy. The Italians, and also most strangers that are cormorant in Italy, do always at their meals use a little fork when they cut their meat. For a while with their knife, which they hold in one hand, they cut the meat out of the dish, they fasten their fork which they hold in their other hand upon the same dish, so that whatsoever he be that, sitting in the company of others at meal, should unadvisedly touch the dish of meat with his fingers from which all at the table do cut, he will give occasion of offence unto the company, as having transgressed the laws of good manners, in so much that for his error he shall be at the least brow-beaten if not reprehended in words. This form of feeding I understand is generally used in all places of Italy, their forks being for the most part made of iron or steel, and some of silver, but those are used only by gentlemen. The reason of this their curiosity is, because the Italian cannot by any means endure to have his dish touched with fingers, seeing that all men’s fingers are not alike clean. Hereupon I myself thought good to imitate the Italian fashion by this forked cutting of meat, not only while I was in Italy, but also in Germany, and oftentimes in England since I came home.

So, forks coming to England in this period. But what about foods? What foods do we still eat that the Tudors would have had? One is a staple in our household, which is largely vegan, and that’s almond milk. The Tudors didn’t drink it so much, but they used it as a base for creams. Speaking of creams, the famous Elizabethan Snow was the forefather of our ice cream, and was made of literal snow, mixed with flavorings and dairy to make a cold creamy dessert. In that episode I did on food I talked about early refrigeration practices, and the way the Tudors would have been able to make ice, so check that out if you’re interested in how they could have made snow pre-electricity.

Let’s talk about government. Of course Henry changed the role of Parliament and Kingship forever when he broke from the church in Rome, and took powers that had been reserved for the clergy for himself. This is also linked, of course, to religion. England still has a state church, the Church of England, which was founded by Henry VIII. When we worship in an Anglican, or in the US in an Episcoplian, church, we are using a liturgy largely developed by Thomas Cranmer. The Church of England was such a dominant force that until the mid 19th century Catholics couldn’t sit in Parliament.

Something else we use all the time – the post office – was founded by Henry VIII. The Royal Mail – called the King’s Post, was the first official government post office.Created by Sir Brian Tuke and commanded all towns to have a fresh horse available for anyone carrying mail from the Tudor Court. This royal mail system became available to the general public to use in 1635 by King Charles I – the start of the postal systems we use all over the world today.

The whole Sun Never Sets on the British Empire bit started in the Tudor period when Henry VII began building a dry dock, and then Henry VIII built up the navy with his flagships like the Mary Rose, and the Henri Grace a Dieu. Elizabeth would take this to a whole other level, taking the fight against Spain to the seas, and wreaking havoc on Spanish trading routes with the new world, taking much Spanish gold in the process. Of course it all came to a head with the defeat of the Spanish Armada, and English naval superiority would remain unquestioned until the late 19th century.

The navy is also linked closely to exploration. When we drink our morning coffee, or enjoy some evening chamomile tea, we can directly thank the Tudor explorers who brought those foreign goods to England. The first coffee shop opened in London in the 1660’s, so it’s still not quite Tudor, but the foundations for coffee and tea were certainly set in the Tudor period. One product that was definitely Tudor, and is still with us, unfortunately for our lungs, is tobacco. The early Tobacco plantations in the new world made not only lung cancer possible, but also drove the slave trade that would remain active in the US until we fought a Civil War to decide it. One early explorer, John Hawkins visited Florida in 1565 and wrote, “The Floridians have a kind of dried herb that they smoke… they say the smoke satisfies their hunger, and they can live for four or five days without meat or drink.” Hawkins also has the unfortunate distinction of being the first Englishman to engage in the African slave trade, capturing slaves from Sierra Leone, and selling them to the Spanish in the Caribbean.

Early on tobacco was viewed with suspicion, but Walter Raleigh changed that. In 1586 some of the colonists from Roanoke Island came back with Raleigh, and they brought with them potatoes and tobacco. The tobacco was viewed as healthy, while the potatoes weren’t. The Spaniard Nicolas Monardes had written a report into tobacco, translated into English by John Frampton in 1577 and called ‘Of the Tabaco and of His Greate Vertues’, which says it’s good to relieve toothache, falling fingernails, worms, halitosis, lockjaw and even cancer.

Raleigh soon became addicted to smoking, and even tempted Elizabeth to smoke. Soon it became a craze – In 1614, according to George Louis Beer’s survey of the early history of tobacco, “there were said to be in London alone seven thousand shops selling tobacco.” Beer quotes the Autobiography of Lord Herbert of Cherbury–an advocate of tobacco–that tobacco shops “were kept in Townes everywhere no less than tap-houses and tauerns.

A German visitor, Paul Hentzner, visited London in 1598, and wrote: “At these spectacles (plays and bear-baiting), and everywhere else, the English are constantly smoking the nicotine weed, which in America is called tobacco.”

James I was strongly opposed to smokeing, and anonymously published a treatise against it, called A Counter-blaste to Tobacco. He questioned: “Why should we imitate the barbarous and beastly manners of the wild and godless Indians? Why do we not as well imitate them in walking naked as they do? Why do we not deny God and adore the Devil, as they do?… Smoking is… hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain and dangerous to the lungs.”He increased the tax on tobacco, and tried to encourage the American colonists to stop growing it, but all of that was unsuccessful, as tobacco use grew and grew, and continues to this day.

Let’s talk about language now, shall we? Of course with Shakespeare we see a flowering of the English language. But even before that, the theater itself set the stage for our modern TV dramas. Today’s comedians of course have their roots in court fools, but they really began to take off in Shakespeare’s plays, as did the stereotypical villain who is still with us in some way or another in any kind of drama from movies to The Bachelor.  Shakespeare is commonly credited with inventing 1,700 of our most common words. Words we use every day like discontent, elbow, summit, moonbeam, and frugal come from Shakespeare. Also blanket, circumstantial, gossip, impede, and radiance. If we took out all of the words Shakespeare invented from our language, it would be bleak indeed.

Some everyday things we use today were surprisingly invented during the Tudor period including flushing toilets – okay, so to be fair, even the Greeks had a form of flushing toilet – but Sir John Harrington invented a cistern in 1596. He installed his new toilet in his own mansion, and also presented one each to Queen Elizabeth and Robert Cecil. But the idea never really gained popularity, likely because Harington’s toilet only did half a job: the waste dropped into a pit, which still had to be cleaned out. It wasn’t until late Victorian times, after Thomas Crapper won a royal appointment to install flushing toilets at Sandringham, that modern-style toilets flushing into efficient drains became common.

Another gift Elizabeth I received was a wrist-clock – what we would call a wristwatch – and the earliest one dates to 1500. Also, the modern game of tennis comes to us from the Tudor period. It had originally been played in France, but it quickly migrated to England where it was played using kitchen sieves, and that’s where the design for rackets came from.

So I hope you enjoyed this little trip back in time with me today, and have enjoyed learning all about the ways that the Tudors still influence us today.

(Remember, if you like this show, there are two main ways you can support it. First (and free!) you can leave a review on iTunes. It really helps new people discover the show. Second, you can support the show financially by becoming a patron on Patreon for as little as $1 episode. Also, you can shop at my online store filled with Tudor-inspired products like the popular Six Wives leggings!)

The book recommendation is Everyday Life in Tudor London: Life in the City of Thomas Cromwell, William Shakespeare & Anne Boleyn, by Stephen Porter. (amazon affiliate link) 

And you can get in touch with me through the listener support line at 801 6TEYSKO or through twitter @teysko or facebook.com/englandcast. Thank you so much for making it possible for me to do 100 episodes, and for being with me through this journey! I’ll be back in about 2 weeks with another Tudor Times person of the month, and then I’m going to do a show about the Tudor Tutors – that is, the teachers who taught the young Tudors, and look also at Edward VI’s diary, which is the first diary we have of a monarch like that.  Show notes are at Englandcast.com, and don’t forget to check out TreasuresfromBess.com for your Tudor Treat fix. Talk to you soon!