Tudors Truths Distorted: Common Misconceptions

Are you sure you know your facts about the Tudors?

The Tudors have been the subject of much fascination for decades – since the Victorian era historians and lay people alike have attempted to discover just what life was like back in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Although many texts and documents have survived to this day, the legitimacy of these artefacts have often been called into question. Due to the dramatic nature of these years in English history, the lives of the Tudors have also been dramatised, liberties are taken with the facts and soon the ‘truth’ as it was once known spirals into absurdities.

These are just a few of the myths surrounding the Tudors and the way that they lived:

Henry VIII did not have syphilis

Out of all the Tudor monarchs it’s Henry VIII that has attracted the most attention. The marriage to his eight wives (or six, legally speaking), as well as the creation of the Church of England, makes  for a rousing story, but it’s also led to some unjust rumours being spread about the man’s morals and health. Despite what is said about him, there is no proof that Henry VIII contracted syphilis.

Tudors took care of personal hygiene

We’ve already mentioned the rather unsavoury role of the Gong Farmer, serving the stinking streets of England, however it’s worth mentioning that some Tudors did care about personal hygiene. Records from books have suggested that who could afford it bought soap and even collected plants to create fragrant bouquet garnis for their baths – if they were lucky enough to own them.

Katherine Howard wasn’t a harlot

At times working in Henry VIII’s court must have been like living in a soap opera. Over the course of his reign the monarch was involved with many women, most of whom were decades younger than himself. Despite his initial passions, Henry would often lose interest and find a new bride amongst his courtiers to lavish his attentions upon. Catherine Howard was one such victim of this process and was more or less framed for adultery, allowing Henry to move on to his next wife.

Court Fools weren’t early Clowns

A staple of court paintings and subsequent adaptations in televised works has always been the court jester. Colourfully dressed in silk with jangling bells, these were much more than royally pointed clowns.

Jesters, or fools as they were also known, were not men acting ‘foolishly’, but were usually men of low-intellect or those with learning disabilities. These ‘natural fools‘ were deemed innocent and incapable of evil acts.

‘Bloody Mary’ had nothing on Henry VIII

Lastly, history often paints a different picture to reality, especially when it comes to women. Mary I was never a popular queen, her brief reign was often marred by social unrest due to the religious upheaval that she brought about.

A return to protestant rule under Elizabeth I and a lack of historical transparency contributed to the myth that she executed more of her own people that any other Tudor monarch. Although numbers vary greatly, it’s estimated that Henry VIII might have executed up to 72,000 during his reign compared to Mary’s 37,000.