Poor Tudors: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about poor people in Tudor times.

  • During Tudor times, about half of the population lived at the subsistence level. This meant that they had just about enough food and clothing to survive.

  • Most poor people worked 6 days a week, and only had Sundays and holidays off. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, several laws were passed that helped the poor, including a fairer system of taxation.
  • Poor Tudor families lived in very basic homes, often in one or two rooms. They slept on mattresses stuffed with straw and the floors were of bare earth.
  • It was often very difficult to find work in Tudor times, particularly in years when the harvests were bad, and there were thousands of poor people wandering the country looking for work. Many of them pretended to be mad or disabled so that they could legally beg for money or food.
  • In 1550, a law was passed stating that a workhouse must be built in every parish. Poor Tudors could work at the workhouse without getting paid, in exchange for their meals and a bed. Conditions in workhouses were often very hard.
  • In London and other large cities, the poor lived strictly in certain areas. If a poor person was seen in a wealthy part of the city, it was assumed that they were breaking the law.
  • Poor people could not afford to dress stylishly in the Tudor period. Poor men wore woolen trousers and a long tunic, and poor Tudor women wore loose and baggy clothing made from rough wool.
  • Most poor Tudors only had one cooked meal every day. They typically ate bread, cheese and lots of vegetables, and sometimes they had grain mixed with thin pieces of meat.
  • Poor Tudors enjoyed watching plays at the theatre, although they often stood and watched, while the rich sat near or on the stage.

What next? Find out more Tudor facts by visiting our Tudor resources page, or discover what life was like for Rich Tudors.

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