Book Review: How To Be A Tudor

How To Be A Tudor:  A Dawn-To-Dusk Guide To Tudor Life, by Ruth Goodman

As someone who has lived in the Tudor lifestyle, by choice, along with her family for decades, the author has a high degree of credibility when it talks to Tudor life, especially when compared to contemporary reader.  There is often a sense of nostalgia when it comes to the ways of the past and the author does a good job here of discussing how that nostalgia does not quite match up with the difficulties of life in the past.  To be sure, most people imagine themselves as elites in the past, as few people ever wanted to be peasants in previous ages, but may have imagined that being part of the nobility or gentry would be somewhat more enjoyable because of the higher standard of living.  But even here the author spends a good deal of effort in this interesting book in pointing out a variety of aspects of daily life for the Tudors, some of which matter a lot to people in the present age.  Having read this book, I can see what led the author to write some of her other works, given the extensive amount of reading she did on the period and on the different directions that reading took her.

The author begins this roughly 300 page book with a short introduction and then she begins her book by exploring the sleep and early morning life of the Tudor period, comparing different sorts of sleeping arrangements as they are recorded in wills and other documents (1).  After that the author explores the dilemma of whether one should wash or not based on the then-current theory of humours (2) as well as the difficult task of dressing appropriately for the day based on class considerations (3).  The author talks about the eating of breakfast in terms of its timing and contents (4) as well as the thorny matter of education and how it was done, both in terms of professional education, tutoring, and apprenticeship as well as the sort of education that took place for very young children around the house so that they would not be entirely useless and in danger (5).  The author talks about dinner (lunch) and its contents and timing (6), and spends a chapter each examining the spheres of men’s work (7) and women’s work (8).  The author then spends some time writing about play (9) before closing the book with chapters on supper (10) and sleeping, including the subject of sex (11).

In the main, it can be said that the author accomplishes what she sets out to do.  She manages to provide a thoughtful discussion of the habits of the English as well as those of the rest of the British Isles where it can be known.  She manages to avoid writing about London despite the dominance of the historiography of the period, sometimes by comparing words in northern English and Scottish and showing their similar origin and sometimes by finding sources that deal with city life in Chester and other places outside of London.  The author has, from what can be determined, contemporary views regarding sexuality and gender views but is careful to note that which could be understood from the period, all of which should combine with the author’s discussion of the limits of the diet of the times to make us all appreciative that we live in our own time rather than the past, regardless of whether the reason is by virtue of the superior education and living standards for the common man (and woman), the quantity and quality of food, or the more relaxed attitudes towards dress and personal behavior.  This book is both a good look at the time of the Tudors for ordinary people and a reminder that we are better off dealing with the problems of the present than wishing we lived in the past.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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