A new Tudor heroine!

Mary Fox has arrived! 

I am pleased to announce that my new novel has been been published on Amazon.

Mary Fox and the Broken Sword introduces a new heroine to Tudor England – at a time where young girls are expected to marry the man their father decides…

Mary Fox is a rebellious teenager who needs to escape from the evil Sir Reginald de Courtney, the older man her stepfather says she must marry.

From desperate swordfights to daring escapes, Mary battles to keep one step ahead of Sir Reginald. Will he catch her? And will he stop her in her quest to return the mysterious Broken Sword to its rightful home – and so lift a centuries-old curse?

For readers from 12 to adult, Mary Fox is a new heroine for any age!

How Did the Tudors Stay Clean?

Bodily Hygiene in the Tudor Age

Guest Post

by

Bethshistoricalblog

In a year of viruses and disease, personal hygiene has never seemed so important. Handwashing, bathing and teeth-brushing seems second-nature to us in this modern society, and we all understand the importance of soap. Walk down the hygiene aisle at your local supermarket and you’ll see a torrent of fragranced, antibacterial soaps, gels, pastes, and creams. But for the Tudors, nipping down to their local store just wasn’t possible. So, how did they stay clean?

Contrary to popular belief, the Tudors were a lot more hygienic than we give them credit for. Soap would have been used in every household, regardless of status or wealth. For the upper classes, soaps made from natural oils or vegetable fats would be used to cleanse the skin, and more often than not they would have been fragranced with sweet smells such as lavender or sage. The poor would have had to make do with soaps made from cruder materials, such as animal fats, but it still got the job done. 

Soaps consisting of these types of fats were also often used within the household, as a form of Tudor laundry detergent or washing-up liquid.

As well as sweet-smelling soaps, fragranced water would have been regularly used by the upper-class Tudors to rinse their hands, especially before they dined. The Tudors did not use cutlery as we would today, and instead they (even the royals!) often ate with their fingers. Having clean hands was therefore of utmost importance, and even the Tudors recognised that eating with grubby fingers was not the most pleasant thing to do. Although the Tudors were not entirely clued-up on germ theory (that wasn’t discovered until the 19th century!), they still knew how important washing one’s hands were against dirt and the sicknesses that were so rife in the Tudor Age. Indeed, both Anne Boleyn and her daughter, Queen Elizabeth I were inflicted with life-threatening diseases at one point in their lives.

In the Tudor times, there existed a belief that bathing in warm water led to the pores of the body opening up and letting in ‘miasmas’, or air that was believed to be dangerous to the body. Thomas Moulton, a physician writing in the mid-1500s, wrote that people should avoid bathing in hot temperatures, for they “openeth the pores of a manne’s body and maketh the venomous ayre enter for to 

infect the blood”. Many people believed in Moulton’s advice and avoided bathing in hot, soapy water. But did this mean that the Tudors did not bathe at all?

No! In fact, standards of hygiene greatly improved in the Tudor times, and regular bathing was encouraged and was considered essential to a healthy lifestyle. Water scented with citrus peels and herbs (such as mint and sage) were cheap, commonly found ingredients that not only gave off a delightful smell, but also had medicinal purposes. It was for this reason, therefore, that the sick were encouraged to bathe as regularly as possible to keep their illnesses at bay.

Bathtubs in the Tudor times were not permanent, but could be moved around and used whenever one desired a bath. They were large, barrel-like tubs that were, quite frankly, an ordeal to fill. Typically, women would go back and forth with pails of clean, fresh water (which was often difficult to find in rural villages!) to fill up the bath, which would then need to be heated by a fire. Hot linens would line the tub, and clean towels would be ready and waiting for the bather to use once finished. After the bath, all of that water would have to be poured away. No wonder people were dissuaded from bathing regularly!

More often that not, baths would be used by more than one member of the same family. It could also be a social affair, with more than one person bathing at the same time, with some even sharing a meal whilst they washed! If one could not be bothered for such a laborious bath, they would have sponged themselves down daily with clean water to wick away sweat, dirt and grime. Historian Ruth Goodman goes one step further and suggests that the Tudors would have had a “dry” bath if they did not fancy the full routine. “Dry” bathing consisted of people scrubbing their skin with a dry cloth to remove dirt and grime, and, by all accounts, it worked extremely well!

Of course, the Tudor monarchs would not have had to draw their baths themselves. Instead, King Henry VIII had installed personal bathrooms at Hampton Court Palace, Windsor Castle and Whitehall Palace, that were all complete with a sophisticated plumbing system that allowed both hot and cold water. Henry appears to have had an obsession with keeping himself clean. He was deathly afraid of illness, and so he indulged in a regular hygiene routine to stay healthy. His daughter Elizabeth, however, was not as easily convinced. Famously boasting that she only took one bath per month, Queen Elizabeth I was not exactly the model of good hygiene that her father had been.

In fact, not only was Elizabeth adverse to bathing, but also, it appears, dental hygiene. The queen was known for her rotten black teeth that had deteriorated through her excessive love of sugar. To her credit, Elizabeth I is believed to have brushed her teeth on some occasions, but what she used to clean them with actually furthered the decay. In a time before minty toothpaste, Queen Elizabeth I rubbed honey and sugar-paste over her gums with either her fingers or a cloth rag! Paul Hentzner, a German traveller visiting the Elizabeth Court, commented in disbelief about Elizabeth’s teeth, and cruelly remarked that the queen had to rely on dentures. Elizabeth’s grandfather, King Henry VII may have also relied on fake teeth, as the chroniclers recorded him as having “teeth few”!

Thankfully, from archaeological excavations and contemporary chronicles, we know that the majority of the Tudors had perfect pearly whites. In an age before excessive sugar consumption, teeth did not quickly decay, and instead many people went through life with a row of straight, perfect teeth. The skeleton of Princess Mary Tudor, the younger sister of Henry VIII, was found to have a “good set of teeth” for example, and Anne Boleyn, who, aside from a supposed protruding tooth, had a perfect, healthy set of teeth. Still, all this aside, I’m glad I live in the modern age of soaps and toothpaste!

Click for more blogs from Bethan
Click for more on the Tudor novels by Jonathan Posner

Sources:

Hugh Plat, 
Delightes for Ladies (14th Century).

Goodman, R., Getting Clean, the Tudor Way. 2016. Available online at: https://newrepublic.com/article/129828/getting-clean-tudor-way.

Goodman, R., How To Be A Tudor. (Penguin Publishing: 2015).

On The Tudor Trail, Tudor Hygiene Part 1 – Bathing. 2010. Available online at: http://onthetudortrail.com/Blog/resources/life-in-tudor-england/tudor-hygiene-part-1-bathing/.

Sherrow, V., For Appearance’s Sake: The Historical Encyclopaedia of Good Looks, Beauty, and Grooming. (Greenwood Publishing: 2001), pp. 20 – 37.

Be the first to meet Mary Fox!

My new novel is an all-action adventure set in Tudor England featuring a teenage heroine called Mary Fox.

The first draft of the book is complete, and I would love to get some feedback before I have it finally edited and published.

If you’re interested to read it, I am making it available on the following basis:

  •  You read it in full (it is quite a quick read) and respond with your comments – specifically what you liked, didn’t like, didn’t understand, and overall impression. 
  • I would also be interested in your views on the current cover design (left).
  • You come back with your comments by the 8th November, as I aim to publish in time for Christmas.
  • In return, you will get an acknowledgement (and my thanks!) at the front of the published book, plus a free signed copy in the post when it is published.
Mary Fox is aimed at Young Adult readers – primarily 12-18 years old, but I hope it will also appeal to older adults of all ages, too!
 
Please complete the form below if you are interested in becoming an advanced reader.

The Time-Traveller’s Dilemma

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to time-travel back to Tudor times, then try to explain 21st century technology to the Tudor people? How would you find the terms that are understandable to 16th century minds?

This was the subject of a very interesting post recently on a Tudor history group page on Facebook, with some well thought out comments. The gist of these was that if one did go back in time, then it would be good to take some modern items like medicines or cosmetics back, in order to provide a practical demonstration of our technology. But the main conclusion, agreed by many contributors, was that any such time-traveller would most likely be deeply misunderstood, and would probably be accused of witchcraft.

All these challenges are exactly the ones I set myself when writing my first book The Witchfinder’s Well, so I feel well placed to add my thoughts on the subject. In the book, my time-travelling heroine, Justine, has to explain 21st century technology to a 16th century mother and daughter. I tried to think what imagery would resonate with them, particularly for things like a mobile phone and a television. I decided on the idea of a ‘polished black stone’ for a screen that shows pictures; “smooth, like the surface of a still pond”, as that seemed to be the nearest equivalent a Tudor mind would grasp. But naturally, the two women thought such things were made by magic – so Justine explains it in terms that would have been as normal to them as the manufacture of a TV is to us – the making of bread:
“You know that if you grind the wheat into flour then add yeast and cook it in the oven, you get a loaf of bread?” They nodded. “Then turning wheat into bread is not magic?”
“No, that it is not,” Sarah’s mother replied.
“So the people who make the black stones know that if they take all the right pieces, and put them together in the right way, then the stones will show the pictures. That is not magic.”

When it came to cars, I wanted to use the analogy of a ‘horseless carriage’. But then, I wondered what that would mean to my Tudor women. They would see a horse as the main means of travel in itself, so how could anything move without a horse? I resolved this by having Justine explain it as “a large covered cart made of iron, like a beetle’s carapace, that can travel at twice the speed of a galloping horse, yet without a horse to pull it!” My thought was that they would know how a beetle moves, so would grasp the concept of a large shiny beetle-like vehicle. 

When Justine explains these things to the Tudor women, she is already on the run from the witchfinder, having inadvertently said the wrong thing to the wrong person soon after arriving in 1565. So she tells them of her future knowledge as a means to get their understanding and help – but she knows it could easily backfire and turn them against her. I won’t say if she is or isn’t successful, as if you have not yet read it, I wouldn’t want to spoil the story, but this conversation does have a strong bearing on the final climactic scene of the book!

If you want to read The Witchfinder’s Well, you can find more details by clicking (or tapping) on the image of the cover.

Tudor Bathtime

It was while I was happily soaking in the bath last night that I got to wondering about baths and hygiene in Tudor times – and what it meant to different levels of society. There’s this perception, perhaps, that people in the Tudor period were generally dirty, and that hygiene was not high on the list of priorities. To a certain extent, our visual media plays on this – either stretching our credibility with costume dramas showing impossibly beautiful people in impossibly pristine clothes (think BBC’s The Tudors), or presenting horribly grubby peasants in horribly filthy clothes (think Monty Python). We have also been fed this regular myth that Tudors thought bathing unhealthy; for example that even Elizabeth would bathe infrequently. I have not seen evidence of this; and she would have had access to the lavish bathrooms built in the main palaces by her father Henry VIII, so I think it much more likely that she bathed regularly.

The truth, as ever, is somewhere in between the ‘pristine’ and the ‘grubby’, and is a reflection of the rigid stratification of Tudor society. The nobles and royalty would bathe regularly – because they could. Unlike our egalitarian society, where having access to a bathroom is considered a basic human right across all of society, such access was considered a privilege. Upper classes had access to a physical bath – made of wood or possibly copper – as well as herbs, soap (made of olive oil), servants to heat the water on a fire, and means of disposing of the waste water. They also had the time available to relax in a bath.

The general population, however, did not have such access, but they recognised the need to keep as clean as they could – possibly more as a means of appearing to ‘better’ themselves than for hygiene reasons. Therefore they would either bathe in a stream, or hand wash themselves down with a bowl of water and animal fat soap. There was no means of disposing of the dirty waste water, so they would take it outside and pour it away down a hole (‘sink’). Like every household task we currently take for granted, the whole process was time-consuming and hard work. For people who had demanding lives and very little ‘down time’, personal hygiene probably only made it to the top of the priority list when the smell got too bad!

The theme of Tudor bathing occurs within both The Witchfinder’s Well and The Alchemist’s Arms. In the first, our heroine Justine takes a long leisurely scented bath in Tudor England, and in the second, she bathes in a clear stream (and has an amorous encounter, too!)

Both books are available on Amazon – click each cover to find out more.

Opiate of the masses?

I thought it would be interesting to have an overview of religion as means of social control in Tudor times – and particularly the social implications of the shift from Catholicism to Protestantism.

Following Henry VIII’s break with Rome (the Reformation) and Cromwell’s Dissolution of the Monasteries, the middle of the 16th century was a turbulent time for people of faith – which was pretty much every man, woman and child in the Realm. The question was, which faith?

There were those who clung to the ‘old’ religion – Catholicism and the leadership of the Pope in Rome, with its Latin Bible and highly ritualised services. This included, interestingly enough, the King himself, who never gave up his fundamentally Catholic belief – the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the Reformation were essentially economic and political constructs to give him money and the divorce he needed from Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn. Indeed, when William Tyndale published his English Bible, he was branded a heretic.

Then there were those that embraced the ‘new’ faith of Martin Luther and Calvin – the ‘Protestants’. In England it was primarily a stripped-back version of the same faith, with the differences being more socio-political than faith-based – it recognised the King as the head of the Church, it allowed for a Bible that could be read in English and therefore understood by the common people, and it avoided the corruption and patronage of Rome. 

Martin Luther

Sure, there was more emphasis placed on elements such as transubstantiation (the bread and wine becoming the body and blood of Christ) being symbolic rather than real – but what Protestantism essentially did, was start to unpick one of the basic tenets of Feudalism – the control of the common people by the Church.

The Reformation and shift to Protestantism therefore gave people the chance to question the rights of the religious leaders to control social behaviour; and by allowing the people to engage in the church service in English, it gave them the chance to start thinking more for themselves.

John Calvin

This meant that the common people started to become more socially and politically curious – a movement that gathered more and more momentum and led, in part, to the Civil War in the 17th century.

Tudor Religion drives dramatic narrative

Not surprisingly for books set in the 1560s & 70s, the theme of religious fanaticism recurs throughout both The Witchfinder’s Well and The Alchemist’s Arms. 

Both are available on Amazon – click each cover to find out more.

Clothing maketh man (and Woman)

We tend to focus so much of our historical spotlight on the Kings, Queens and nobles of the Tudor period – that we can perhaps be forgiven for thinking that Tudor costume was defined by the ladies and gentlemen who populated the Tudor Court.

But this is to miss the wide range of clothing styles and colours worn by the rest of the population. But, you ask, could they not wear similar clothes, or whatever they wanted? The answer is that they couldn’t – and this was governed not by social customs, but by the law!

And it was not just the clothes they wore, but also the food they ate, their jewellery and the furniture in their houses that were legally controlled.

The legislation was collectively called the Sumptuary Laws and it was designed to govern the amount people were allowed to spend on such things (the name derives from ‘sumptus’ – the latin for ‘expenditure’). But in truth, it actually enforced the strict stratification of society, keeping the ‘lower orders’ firmly in their place by ensuring they could be visually marked out by their clothing and food.

So, for example, nobody under the rank of Baron could line his hose with velvet or satin; nobody below a Knight wear a double ruff, carry a gilded sword or dagger. The penalty for breaking this law? At very least the confiscation of the offending item, but more likely a fine or imprisonment.

 

Most of these laws seemed to relate mainly to the very highest echelons of society – for example, Elizabeth’s Statute of Apparel in 1574 states that only a King, Queen and close Royal family could wear purple silk, cloth of gold and sable (although some Dukes, Marquises and Earls could use these as detailing on their outfits). Many other items of clothing and colours were also specified, together with the rank that could wear them.

So what did this mean for the common people? For the worker in the field it was largely irrelevant; they could not have afforded such fineries anyway. No, the people it really impacted were the aspiring Merchant class, becoming rich from trade, able to afford fine materials, but kept from wearing them through these rigid laws.

 

So ultimately, these were laws designed to keep the new middle class firmly in their place – and this they continued to do, with varying degrees of compliance, until English Civil War in the 1640s created a new kind of social order.

The sumptuary laws and clothing restrictions play a part in my series of Tudor time-travel historical novels.

Both books are available on Amazon UK:
The Witchfinder’s Well 
The Alchemist’s Arms
Also available on Amazon.com:
The Witchfinder’s Well 
The Alchemist’s Arms

Got it covered?

For the second time in as many months, I have entered the AllAuthor Cover of the Month contest. In June I entered The Alchemist’s Arms and got down to the last 100 – which pleased me as it seems the contest is about how many votes you can gather, rather than any intrinsic artistic merit in the cover design itself. 

The original design for
The Witchfinder’s Well

The original design for
The Alchemist’s Arms

This month I have entered The Witchfinder’s Well – but not the cover I launched with the book (above), rather a new design recently uploaded to Amazon. It was, I admit, quite a wrench to move away from the original ‘moody girl in profile’ design – as I was quite emotionally attached to it. However, it has become increasingly clear to me that the genre my books are in – Tudor fiction with female lead – needs to have a woman in Tudor costume on the cover. So I have had both covers redesigned (below).

So what do you think of the new covers? Do they draw you in more? Do they make you want to buy / read each book more?
Are they now more readily identifiable in their genre of Tudor fiction with female lead? 
Please do let me know.
And while you’re at it, please do vote for the cover on AllAuthor. It would be really great to make the last 100 again! 

Here’s a short video I made for the new covers!

Both books are available on Amazon UK:
The Witchfinder’s Well 
The Alchemist’s Arms
Also available on Amazon.com:
The Witchfinder’s Well 
The Alchemist’s Arms

What is it about Tudor Royalty…?

When I look through the posts in the Tudor Facebook groups, as well as the novels covering the period, I am amazed how much of the content is about the royalty and the court. Just as today, the likelihood that we would have been titled nobles or even royals are extremely small, yet  we are endlessly fascinated with the intrigue of the court and the behaviour of kings and queens.

We know the stories, such as how Anne Boleyn was so treasonously indiscreet with Henry Norris – “you look for dead men’s shoes; for if ought came to the King but good, you would look to have me.” Or how King Henry burst in on Anne of Cleves at Rochester disguised as Robin Hood, assuming that his natural kingliness would shine through, rather than appearing to be what he was – a lecherous and rather smelly old man.

Which leads me to the main point of this post – why is it that royalty and the court seems so all-pervasive in Tudor-era novels? Even in novels ostensibly set in the general population, the Court makes an appearance – in the Shardlake novels of C.J. Sansom, for example, we meet Cromwell and Katheryn Parr as well as the King himself, and in the Bruno novels of S.J. Parris we meet Philip Sidney, Francis Walsingham and Elizabeth I. Even my books fall into this trap – my second Lady Mary de Beauvais novel The Alchemist’s Arms, features Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leicester in support roles, while the third (currently in planning) will make Elizabeth one of the main characters.

I think that if any of us were to have been born and raised in the period of 1485 to 1603, the chances are we would have been part of the general population – yeomen, labourers, or maybe part of the emerging middle / merchant class – so we would never have got near the court and royalty. Which is perhaps what makes it so fascinating – with the benefit of historical hindsight, we can get close to people we would never have had a chance to meet if we lived in the time ourselves. We can be part of the intrigue and the machinations of courtly life, and see how the rich and powerful lived in this endlessly fascinating era.

That’s not to say that the ‘ordinary’ people weren’t equally fascinating – just read The Winchester Goose by Judith Arnopp to see what I mean. Such stories balance out the multitude of tales of kings, queens and courtiers with stories that immerse you in the everyday world of Tudor life. My soon-to-be-published YA novel, Mary Fox and the Broken Sword, is set mainly in the Essex countryside, so I think – I hope – I am contributing to the body of literature that features stories set in a more down-to-earth Tudor world, and avoids the temptation to bring Henry VIII charging in like the proverbial bull in the china shop.

But then the next Mary Fox book will be Mary Fox and the Tudor Prince… Ahh well…

For more on Mary Fox  and to sign-up for advanced publication info, click here.

The challenge of bringing Elizabeth I to life in fiction

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to meet Queen Elizabeth I in person?

Imagine you’ve fallen back 450 years through time. You’re presented to the famous figure in the lavish gold gown and red wig. You bow low, then look up into those famous dark eyes. What would you see? An imperious, aloof, demanding woman? Or perhaps you would catch her in a softer mood; curious, intelligent and challenging? Either way, it would be fascinating to see if the real woman is ever revealed from behind the queenly mask.

This was the challenge I faced when I decided to have Lady Mary, the 21st century time-travelling heroine of The Witchfinder’s Well, meet the Queen. When this occurs in the sequel, The Alchemist’s Arms, Lady Mary has a number of conversations with Elizabeth, some of which occur in highly-charged dramatic situations. As I sat down to write these scenes, I had to decide what kind of person Elizabeth should be. We all know the dramatic portrayals of her in film – by actresses such as Cate Blanchett, Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Margot Robbie and Glenda Jackson. Should she be like the impassive white-faced Margot Robbie? Or the thoughtful Helen Mirren? A political operator like Cate Blanchett? Or maybe she’s a flawed lover, as in Susan Kay’s epic biopic novel Legacy?

But then I realised that, just as every portrayal of Elizabeth is by definition a work of fiction, I was as free as any author to make her the character I wanted her to be. Yes, she should be every inch a queen and by 1575, well settled into her role; and yes, she should be confident, authoritative and decisive – but within those boundaries I could shape her into the three dimensional character I wanted her to be.

So my Elizabeth is a woman first and a queen second. She is outgoing, witty and engaging, with a wry sense of humour. I wanted to bring out the warmth of a woman who has faced real hardship – the death of her own mother and a succession of stepmothers; being locked in the Tower with her own execution likely; sycophantic courtiers vying for her favour as queen, or even for her hand in marriage – and come through even stronger. I felt sure that all of these would have made her outer shell very hard and almost impenetrable, but underneath the heart of a real woman would still beat. This outer shell  is so often what we are presented in films and novels, but my Elizabeth is frequently in dialogue with Lady Mary alone, so maybe her true warmth could shine through.

In the end, I have created her as I would like to think she was in private – a passionate, caring woman, able to be herself without all the sycophants and politicos trying to manoeuvre their way under her defences. In all, I rather like her; and if it was me that raised my eyes to hers, I like to think we would have got along famously.

Jonathan Posner

May 2020

The Alchemist’s Arms, and The Witchfinder’s Well (the book where we first meet Lady Mary), are both available on Amazon. Click below for more information: