By Tim Lambert
Houses of the Rich
In the Middle Ages, rich people’s houses were designed for defence rather than comfort. In the 16th century, life was safer so houses no longer had to be easy to defend. It was an age when rich people built grand houses e.g. Cardinal Wolsey built Hampton Court Palace. Later the Countess of Shrewsbury built Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire.
Chairs were more common than in the Middle Ages but they were still expensive. Even in an upper-class home children and servants sat on stools.
Chimneys were also a luxury in Tudor times, although they became more common.
In wealthy Tudor houses, the walls of rooms were lined with oak panelling to keep out drafts. People slept in four-poster beds hung with curtains to reduce drafts. In the 16th century, some people had wallpaper but it was very expensive. Other wealthy people hung tapestries or painted cloth on their walls.
In Tudor England carpets were a luxury only the richest people could afford. They were too expensive to put on the floor! Instead, they were hung on the wall or over tables. People covered the floors with rushes, reeds, or straw, which they covered with sweet-smelling herbs. Once a month the floor covering was changed.
In the 16th century, prosperous people lit their homes with beeswax candles. However, they were expensive.
In the 16th century, the rich had clocks in their homes. The very rich had pocket watches although most people relied on pocket sundials.
Food for the Rich
Rich Tudors were also fond of gardens. Many had mazes, fountains, and topiary (hedges cut into shapes).
The rich ate vast amounts of meat. However, they did not eat many vegetables.
The Tudors were also fond of sweet foods. However, in the 16th century sugar was very expensive.
In the 16th century, new foods were introduced from the Americas. Turkeys were introduced into England about 1525. Potatoes were brought to England in the 1580s but at first, few English people ate them. Tomatoes came to England from Mexico and apricots were introduced from Portugal.
Rich people liked to show off their gold and silver plate. The middle classes would have dishes and bowls made of pewter. There were no forks in Tudor times. People ate with knives and their fingers or with spoons. Wealthy people had silver or pewter spoons.
From the mid-16th century, some rich people rode in carriages. They must have been very uncomfortable because they did not have springs and the roads were very bumpy.
In Tudor times you would be lucky if you could travel 50 or 60 kilometres a day. It normally took a week to travel from London to Plymouth. However rich people deliberately traveled slowly. They felt it was undignified to hurry and they took their time.
Games for the Rich
Although the days of armored knights were over the rich still enjoyed tournaments. The contestants dressed in armor and rode horses. They fought with wooden lances and swords.
The rich also enjoyed hunting. They went hunting deer with bows and arrows. After it was killed the deer was eaten. The rich also went hawking. Falcons were trained to kill other birds. However, in Tudor times rich people did not hunt foxes.
The Tudors also liked wrestling and ‘casting the bar’, which was like shot-putting but with an iron bar. They also played billiards (but not snooker, which is a 19th-century game).
The rich also played board games like chess and backgammon (a backgammon set was found on the wreck of the Mary Rose. It is the same as a modern one). They also tennis with a leather ball stuffed with hair. They also played bowls and skittles. Playing cards were also popular.
Music and dancing were also very popular. The printing press made books much cheaper so reading was a popular pastime for the wealthy.
For rich Tudors fashion was important. For the poor clothes had to be hard-wearing and practical. All classes wore wool. However, it varied in quality. The rich wore fine quality wool. The poor wore coarse wool.
Linen was used to make shirts and underwear. However only the rich could afford cotton and silk. Rich Tudors also embroidered their clothes with silk, gold, or silver thread. Rich Tudor women wore silk stockings.
In Tudor times everyone wore hats. After 1572 by law all men except nobles had to wear a woolen cap on Sundays. This law was passed to give the wool cap makers plenty of work! The Tudors used mostly vegetable dyes such as madder for red, woad for blue, or walnut for brown. Poor people often wore brown, yellow, or blue.