Tudor Crime and Punishment: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about crime and punishment in Tudor times.

  • In Tudor times, there were no police, and crime was widespread. However, punishments were harsh, in the belief that it would stop others from committing the same crime.

  • Public executions were extremely popular and people would wait for hours to watch them, often taking their children with them. Some historians have estimated that about 70,000 people were executed during the reign of Henry VIII.
  • Having the head cut off (beheading) was the most common form of execution for serious Tudor crime. Often, the severed heads were displayed along London Bridge or other crowded places, as a warning to others.
  • The Star Chamber (a type of court) was set up to hear cases of political treason, and heresy. It became feared, as being tried here meant no jury, witnesses or possibility of appealing.
  • Vagrancy was a common crime and was punished by being whipped, or even hanged. Many people were afraid that all vagrants, or homeless people, were criminals and murderers.
  • Stealing was considered a serious Tudor crime, and people could be punished just for stealing a bird’s egg. Stealing even a small amount of money could mean the death penalty.
  • Because most people did not travel far in Tudor England, anyone who did was often treated with suspicion. Traveling actors had to have a license, otherwise they would be breaking the law.
  • The brank or scold’s bridle was used to punish women who gossiped or told tales. It was a metal cage that fitted over the head and was extremely uncomfortable to wear, and would let everyone know that the wearer was a gossip.
  • Tudor London experienced some of the worst crime, as it attracted many vagrants and people looking for work. The Tudor rich and Tudor poor lived apart, and a poor person in a wealthy area was often thought to be a criminal.

What next? Learn more facts about the Tudors by visiting our Tudor resources page.

Facts About Rich Tudors

Here some facts about rich people in Tudor times.
  • During the Tudor period, there was a clear divide between poor Tudors and rich Tudors. Just like today, the wealthy could afford bigger homes, better furniture and finer clothes.

  • In Tudor society, the nobility were the wealthiest people, all of whom owned large areas of land. Below them came the rich merchants and gentry, who had their own coat of arms and rarely did any work.
  • Most people in Tudor times did not earn much money, but noblemen and noblewomen didn’t need to work for a living, and they could afford to live a life of luxury.
  • Rich Tudors enjoyed much better food than the poor. Popular foods among the wealthy included: venison (meat from a deer), fish, robins, badgers, otters and good French wine. (Find out more about Tudor food.)
  • The wealthy also enjoyed various sports and pastimes that the poor could not afford or weren’t legally allowed to play. These included hunting, jousting, falconry, tennis and bowls. (Find out more about Tudor sports and pastimes.)
  • Most Tudor homes did not have glass windows, and, as a result, glass was one of the status symbols of the wealthy. In addition, rich Tudors could afford decorative carpets and tapestries, although these were hung on the walls, rather than put on the floor.
  • Henry VIII was very wealthy and he wasn’t shy about showing this off to the rest of the world. He had numerous palaces, a large collection of paintings, hundreds of books and a vast array of lavish clothes and pieces of jewellery.
  • Rich Tudors often used gold or silver plates, and silver or pewter spoons. There were no forks in Tudor times, and both the rich and poor alike ate with their fingers (and a knife and spoon).
  • The rich enjoyed various board games, some of which are still played today several hundred years later. Especially popular were chess and a form of backgammon, as well as card games.
  • Rich Tudors enjoyed fighting in make believe tournaments. Even though knights in armor were a thing of the past, rich Tudors would dress in armor and fight with wooden or blunted swords.

What next? Discover more Tudor facts – visit our Tudor resources page.

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.

Tudor Clothes, Costumes and Fashion

Here are some facts about the clothes and outfits worn by the Tudors.

  • Wearing stylish and attractive looking clothes was very important to the wealthy during the Tudor period. Clothes were a form of status symbol and the rich demonstrated their wealth by wearing clothes made from expensive materials and fabrics.

  • Although fashions changed and evolved during Tudor times, some popular items of clothing included dresses with long flowing trains, tight coats known as doublets, and a variety of different hats and cloaks.
  • From the 15th century onwards, laws dictated what rich or poor people must wear. One law specified that on Sundays, all men except noblemen must wear a woolen cap.
  • Tudor clothes were usually held together with lace or pins, and buttons were used only for decoration.
  • Wigs were also popular with women, and when Mary, Queen of Scots was beheaded, it is said that her wig fell off.
  • Neck ruffs (high frilly collars) were extremely popular throughout the Tudor period. Rich ladies also wore extremely tight fitting corsets to make their waists look as thin as possible.

Tudor Clothes

  • Make up was popular among rich Tudors and members of the Royal family, to indicate status and wealth. However, it also had a more practical use as it covered up scars caused by smallpox and other diseases. Queen Elizabeth I famously used make-up to whiten her face.
  • The Tudors did wear underwear, but it was often uncomfortable and difficult to get on and off. During the reign of Henry VIII, the codpiece, was very popular with men.
  • Women often had long hair long and they often wore it in a head-dress. Brides used flowers in their hair.
  • A high forehead on women was regarded as a sign of beauty and intelligence.

Tudor Costume

  • Tudor Kings and Queens wore clothes made from the most expensive materials, including satin, silk and velvet. They also liked clothing in gold, purple, and crimson and these colors were not allowed to be worn by the ordinary people.
  • Rich Tudors wore jewellery made from silver, gold and various precious stones.
  • Queen Elizabeth I apparently had a really sweet tooth and, as a result, some of her teeth went black. It is thought that some Tudor ladies painted their own teeth black so that it would appear that they too could afford to eat sugary items of food.
  • Poor people in Tudor times wore simple woolen clothes. Men wore trousers (hose) and a tunic and women wore long dresses. The clothes worn by the poor were much more practical than those worn by the rich Tudors.

Have a look at this video clip which provides details about some of the clothes worn by Henry VIII.

What next? Discover more Tudor facts by visiting our Tudor resources page.

Facts About Tudor Ships

  • Tudor ships were able to travel across oceans and seas, and they were used for trading, fighting and exploration. Most ships had 3 or 4 masts with triangular or square sails and they were quite easy to steer. The ships were constructed from timber.

  • King Henry VII started to develop England’s navy by building ships and King Henry VIII was responsible for increasing the size of the English fleet. In addition to being used for defense, the huge ships were used for exploration, with voyages of discovery often lasting years.
  • Tudor ships were powered by the wind, and were extremely slow moving. When cannons were added, the ships became even slower because of the extra weight of the guns.
  • There was not much room for sailors to sleep in the ships, and most of the time they were cramped or slept on the deck. Most sailors also wore the same clothes every day. Click here to learn more about the conditions on board a Tudor ship.
  • The food on most ships was not very good and consisted of bread, fish, biscuits, cheese and salted beef. The water was usually stale and the food often full of maggots.
  • Despite the dangerous and uncomfortable conditions, sea voyages were popular with many people. They were attracted by the sense of adventure and the prospect of finding great wealth.
  • The Mary Rose was one of the most famous Tudor ships. She sank in 1545, while attacking the French fleet and today, the remains of the ship, along with many artifacts (such as cooking utensils, games and clothing) can be seen in Portsmouth, England.
  • About 500 men died when the Mary Rose sank. The ages of the sailors ranged from as young as 12 to about 40, and most of them could not read or write. To discover more Mary Rose facts, click the link.
  • One of the greatest Tudor ships was called Henry Grace a Dieu. It weighed almost 1,000 tons and could carry almost 1,000 men.
  • In one of the great sea battles, the small English Navy defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588. The Spanish invading force was much larger than the English fleet. Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh were both involved in conflict.

What next? Discover more Tudor facts by visiting out Tudor resources page, or learn why Tudor sailors went on voyages of discovery.

Tudor Houses and Homes: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Tudor houses.

  • One of the most distinctive things about a Tudor house was the black and white effect (see image below), because of their exposed wooden frames. There are many Tudor houses in England, some of which are still being lived in today. The town of Lavenham in Suffolk is famous for its Tudor buildings.

  • Many Tudor houses featured a wooden frame (joined together by wooden pegs and not nails), a tall chimney, a steep roof and an enclosed fireplace. The walls between the timber frame were made from wattle and daub, which was wood strips or sticks covered with clay and dung. The walls were often whitewashed.

Tudor Houses

  • Most Tudor houses had a thatched roof, although rich people could afford to use tiles.
  • Very rich people in Tudor times liked to have a large garden, often containing a maze, fountains or hedges shaped like animals. Poor people had much smaller gardens and grew their own herbs and vegetables.
  • Most homes had dirt floors, which were almost impossible to keep clean.
  • Even rich people did not always have a lavatory. Some castles and palaces did include a toilet, but it was little more than a raised hole in the floor above the moat. The toilet was not private as it is today, but was still called a privy.
  • During the late 15th century, glass was expensive and only a few people could afford glass windows. Most people took their windows with them when they moved.
  • Furniture in Tudor homes was often made of oak and was heavy and not very comfortable. Many people sat on benches and stools, instead of chairs.
  • Only rich people could afford carpets, although they were often hung on the wall, rather than placed on the floor.Most homes had dirt floors, which were almost impossible to keep clean.  People covered the floor with reeds or rushes and replaced them when they became too filthy.

Tudor House

What next? Discover more Tudor facts by visiting the Primary Facts Tudor resources page.

Queen Elizabeth I: Facts About the Last Tudor Monarch

Here are some facts about Queen Elizabeth I, the fifth and final Tudor monarch of England.

  • Anne Boleyn, her mother, was executed on 19th May 1536 – Elizabeth was two years old.
  • Elizabeth 1 was brought up by a series of Lady Mistresses: Margaret Bryan, Lady Troy, Kat Ashley and Blanche Parry.
  • Elizabeth received an excellent education. In addition to English, she could speak French, Flemish, Italian and Spanish, and she could write in English, Latin, Italian, French and Greek.
  • After the death of her father, Henry VIII, Elizabeth went to live with Catherine Parr and her new husband, Thomas Seymour. This arrangement didn’t last for long because the 14 year old Elizabeth was caught in an embrace with Thomas Seymour.
  • During the reign of Elizabeth’s sister, Mary I, Elizabeth was imprisoned in the Tower of London. She was accused of being involved in Wyatt’s Rebellion. Elizabeth 1 was moved to Woodstock, but was sent for when it was thought that Mary I was pregnant.
  • Mary I officially named Elizabeth as her heir on 6th November, and Elizabeth became Queen of England following Mary I’s death on 17th November 1558. She was 25.
  • Queen Elizabeth I never married nor did she have any children. She said she was married to England, and her subjects were her children.
  • It is thought that Elizabeth was in love with Robert Dudley.
  • Elizabeth I knighted Sir Francis Drake after he circumnavigated the globe.
  • After the Spanish Armada of 1588 was defeated, Elizabeth spoke to the troops and said: I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a King of England too.
  • Elizabeth I died on 24th March 1603 at Richmond Palace. She was buried in Westminster Abbey in a tomb shared with her sister, Mary I.
  • Elizabeth didn’t have any children to succeed her. James VI of Scotland became the next monarch of England, ruling as James I.

Find out more about Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, or visist the Primary Facts Tudor resources page.

William Shakespeare: Facts and Interesting Information About The Great Elizabethan Playwright

William Shakespeare is probably the most famous writer in history. Shakespeare’s plays are read and performed all over the world, even though he wrote them during the time of the Tudors and the reign of James I.

Here are some of the key facts about William Shakespeare.

  • William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-Upon-Avon in 1564. It is thought that he was born on or quite close to 23rd April.

  • His father, John, was a glovemaker and he was an important and well-respected resident of Stratford, and his mother came from a wealthy farming family.
  • William probably went to the local grammar school at the age of about 7.
  • When William Shakespeare was about 13, his father experienced some money problems and got into debt. It is thought that William left school at this point in order to help his father run the family business and generate more income.
  • Very little is known about William Shakespeare until his marriage in 1582. Shakespeare wasn’t famous at this point, so he is not mentioned in any written sources from the Tudor period.
  • In 1582 Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway. She was the daughter of a local farmer and was eight years older than Shakespeare.
  • Anne and William had a child, called Susanna, in 1583. In 1585 they had twins, Hamnet and Judith.
  • William and Anne and their three children lived with Shakespeare’s parents in Stratford. In about 1587 Shakespeare moved to London. It is not known exactly when Shakespeare got a taste for acting, but many think he might have got to know some of the individuals involved in the scene when the Queen’s Men acting group performed in Stratford in 1586.
  • It is not known for cetain exactly when Shakespeare began writing plays, but it is thought that some his work was being performed on stage in 1591 or 1592.
  • From 1594, Shakespeare’s plays were only performed by Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later to become the King’s Men during the reign of James I), an acting company part owned by Shakespeare.
  • In 1599, members of Shakespeare’s company built the Globe Theatre, and this made William Shakespeare a very wealthy man.
  • Shakespeare bought in New Street in Stratford, the second largest house in the town.
  • William spent time in both London and the family home in Stratford.
  • The last plays written by Shakespeare were completed in 1613, in collaboration with John Fletcher, the playwright who would become the writer for the King’s Men after Shakespeare.
  • Some his best known works include: Macbeth, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing and the Tempest.
  • William Shakespeare died on 23rd April 1616, aged 52.. He was buried in the chancel of the Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-Upon-Avon. There is a monument to Shakespeare in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey.

Follow the links to find out more about the theatre in Elizabethan times and another Tudor playwright called Christopher Marlowe.

Click here to learn more about the Tudors.

Mary Rose: Facts and Information About the Tudor Warship

Here are some facts about the Mary Rose, the famous warship of the Tudor King Henry VIII.

  • Construction of the Mary Rose began in 1510, and the ship was launched in 1511. It was built in Portsmouth.
  • It was a ship built for war and it was armed with a variety of iron and cast bronze guns. The ship also carried a supply of pikes (very long spears) – to defend the ship against enemies trying to board it, longbows and a few matchlock muskets.

  • Another large warship was built at the same time as the Mary Rose. This ship was called the Peter Pomegranate, probably named in honour of St Peter and Catherine of Aragon (the pomegranate was part of her coat of arms).
  • Many people believe that the Mary Rose was named in honour of Henry VIII’s sister, Mary Tudor. This idea has been questioned by some historians. They think it is more likely that the Mary Rose was named in honour of the Virgin Mary and Henry VIII himself (the rose being the Tudor symbol).
  • In peace time it is thought that the Mary Rose was crewed by less than 20 people. In times of war, however, the number of people on board would rise to 400 or more (sailors, soldiers, trumpeters and staff).
  • The Mary Rose first experienced battle in 1512 against the French. In 1522 the ship was used to escort troops.
  • The Mary Rose led the attack on the French fleet (who were intending to land troo[s to invade England) in the Battle of the Solent on 19th July 1545. Something happened to the Mary Rose when it engaged the French ships in combat. The ship began to take on water and it quickly started to sink. Over 90% of its crew lost their lives.
  • It is thought that the cause of the Mary Rose’s sinking wasn’t any actions by the enemy, but rather a freakishly strong wind combined with the ship making a sharp turn at just the wrong moment. This lead to the gun ports on the main deck dipping underwater, and the ship taking on massive quantities of water.
  • The Tudors tried to salvage the Mary Rose a few days after it was sunk. they were only successfulin recovering some guns and rigging. Other attempts were made in 1547 and 1549.
  • In 1836 a group of fisherman in the Solent rediscovered the Mary Rose after their nets got snagged on some timbers sticking out of the seabed. Henry Abbinett, a locla diver, became the first person in nearly three hundred years to see the Mary Rose, when he dived to inspect the wreck.
  • In 1971 the exact location of the wreck of the Mary Rose had been pinpointed. Excavation work started in 1978 and the the ship was fully recovered and raised from the seabed on 11th October 1982.
  • There were many finds from the wreck of the Mary Rose. These included: over 20,000 pieces of timber, casks for food and drink storage, woodworking tools,  cannons, weapons, musical instruments, navigational equipment, surgeons tools and much more.
  • The timbers of the Mary Rose have been exposed to a high-tech conservation process. Drying watterlogged wood without damaging it and destroying its form is really hard and time-consuming. The last phase of the conservation programme takes place in 2015.

Find out more about The Tudors by clicking here.

Elizabethan Theatre: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Tudor theatre. You might know some of the information already, but hopefully you’ll learn something new as well.

  • The Tudors certainly didn’t invent acting – The Ancient Greeks and the Romans built theatres many years before the Tudors did – but they loved to watch plays and they helped to shape today’s plays and theatres.

  • In the summer months, groups of actors from London would take a show on the road. They would load up wagons and carts with all of their costumes, scenery, props and a stage, and perform plays in town squares and inn-yards. The audience was sometimes charged a fee to watch the play, or a hat was passed around to collect money (a bit like buskers do today). Inns really liked having their inn-yard turned into a temporary theatre because they could sell food and drink to the audience. Some inns became full-time theatres with plays being performed on a regular basis.
  • In Tudor times all of the actors were male. Female roles were played by boy’s whose voices had yet to break.
  • In 1572, a law was passed in Parliament making it compulsory for all actors to have an acting licence and a lord as their supporter. As a result of this law, several acting groups (or companies) were set up. James Burbage started a a company called The Chamberlain’s Men (supported by the Lord Chamberlain). Other groups included: the Lord Admiral’s Men, the Queen’s Men (supported by Elizabeth I herself), Lord Strange’s Men Acting Troupe and the Earl of Leicester’s Men.
  • The rich boys who attended schools like St Paul’s and Chapel Royal set up their own acting group called the Paul’s Children. They performed about once a week on a stage near the old St Paul’s Cathedral, and regularly acted for Elizabeth I.
  • In 1576, James Burbage (an actor who was formerly a carpenter) built one of the first theatres in London. It was constructed north of London, beyond the city walls, and was called the Theatre.
  • Philip Henslowe, a businessman who had made money by putting on plays and running bear-baiting contests, built the Rose theatre in 1587 in Southwark, south of the River Thames.
  • The Globe theatre was built in Southwark by James Burbage’s sons – they did this by taking down the Theatre and re-using the materials. Other famous Elizabethan theatres were the Swan and the Fortune.
  • Elizabethan theatres were quite a bit different to today’s modern theatres. They were mostly open air and looked like an O from above. The stage came out into the centre of the O and the audience stood all around it in an area called the yard or the pit. The rich could sit in covered galleries around the edges of the yard. A building was built to the back of the stage. This was brightly painted and used by the actors in scenes of the play they were performing.
Swan Theatre
A drawing of the Swan, showing the inside of an Elizabethan theatre.
  •  When the flag on top a theatre was flying, it meant that there was going to be a performance on that day. A trumpet blast let people know that the show was about to start.
  • Both rich and poor people went to the theatres. The rich could afford to buy seats in the gallery, whereas the poor had to make do with standing by the stage.
  • William Shakespeare was the most famous of the Elizabethan playwrights. He was born in Stratford and moved to London, joining James Burbage’s acting company. He went on to write over 30 plays, including Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Macbeth. To find out more about William Shakespeare, click here.
  • Christopher Marlowe was another popular Tudor playwright.