Amusing, well-researched biographies of rulers from Henry VII to Elizabeth I, focused on how they were born, dressed, ate, washed, slept, played, and died.
For readers anticipating salacious surprises, Borman (The Story of the Tower of London, 2015, etc.), joint chief curator of the Historic Royal Palaces and chief executive of the Heritage Education Trust, explains that they were rarely alone, so tales of clandestine royal trysts that have come down were mostly fictional, but she does not ignore them. Privacy, a later concept, barely touched the Tudors. “Even in their most private moments,” writes the author, “they were accompanied by a servant specifically appointed for the task.” Entering a typical palace, one passed through a public great chamber into a presence chamber (throne room), where the ruler dined in state, received visitors, and chaired council meetings, and then to the privy chamber, which was both lodging and the name of the organization that governed them. It was not very private, and every royal activity, from dining to preparing the royal bed to dressing the royal person in the morning, was subject to formal ceremony. Thus, Tudor monarchs did not go to the bathroom; the bathroom came to them, led by the groom of the stool, who managed a portable privy and attended his master when he used it. An important official, he supervised the other grooms and oversaw items in daily use such as jewels, plates, linens, and the Privy Purse. Borman delivers plenty of similar tidbits on 16th-century diet, hygiene, medicine, and sport à la Ian Mortimer’s A Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England (2013). She also includes familiar (perhaps too-familiar) details of royal private lives—e.g., Henry VIII’s pursuit of wives, Elizabeth’s nonpursuit of husbands.
A mostly entertaining mixture of esoteric social history and well-known details of the personal lives of Tudor monarchs.