An intimate look inside the 16th-century household.
In this natural follow-up to How to Be a Victorian (2014), historian Goodman mines advice manuals, poems, letters, Shakespeare’s plays, and even cookbooks to etch in captivating detail a portrait of life in Tudor and Elizabethan England. The majority of the population lived in the countryside, toiling from the cockerel’s crow to sunset. They rose from bed in a drafty room, emerging, if they were lucky, from a curtained four-poster and feather bed, keeping them warm even in winter; from a ruder wooden bedstead and wool mattress; or, if they were servants or laborers, from a hay mattress on the floor. Goodman has tried them all. “I can confidently state,” she writes, “why so many Tudor people gave beds a central position in their thoughts.” The author has also donned typical linen underwear, confidently debunking the myth that medieval people reeked of body odor. Even without daily baths (proscribed to prevent pores from opening to “evil miasmas or foul air”), she “remained remarkably smell-free” after three months. Goodman has also eaten Tudor food: with many farm chores begun at dawn, dinner was served as early as 10:00 or 11:00. Bread was the staple, served at every meal, taking the place of rice, pasta, potatoes, and, often, vegetables. Goodman offers recipes for breads and porridge, describes all varieties of ovens, and discloses the proper way to roast temptingly succulent beef or lamb. Tudor food, she writes, is “fresh and seasonal and cooked over wood or peat fires whose smoke is a pleasant flavor addition.” As to daily labor, the author has done enough ploughing with unwieldy ploughs to attest that it is exhausting. She has also made cheese, fashioned ruffs, shot Tudor-style bows and arrows, and learned to make silk braids, a skill at which her daughter became so expert that she was a hand double on Wolf Hall.
Fresh and illuminating history.