By Tim Lambert
Many people born in Tudor Times did not survive childhood. Perhaps 25% of children died before their 5th birthday and as many as 40% died before their 16th birthday. When a child was born it was washed in warm water and then to keep it warm it was rubbed with butter or rose oil. The baby was then swaddled (wrapped in cloths like bandages). Normally the baby was baptized within a few days because the risk of it dying was so high.
Ordinary Tudor women breastfed but upper-class women gave their baby to a wet nurse to be fed. Babies were swaddled until they were 8 or 9 months (sometimes longer) and most of the time they were laid in a wooden cradle and allowed to sleep. Children were weaned between 1 and 2 years old and if their parents could afford it they were given a stick of coral to chew on when they were teething. Tudor Children often learned to walk with a wooden frame on wheels.
Little boys wore gowns or skirts but when they were 6 or 7 they were given their first breeches (short trousers).
Tudor boys usually went to a kind of nursery school called a ‘petty school’ first then moved onto grammar school when they were about seven. The school day began at 6 am in summer and 7 am in winter (people went to bed early and got up early in those days). Lunch was from 11 am to 1 pm. School finished at about 5 pm. Boys went to school 6 days a week and there were few holidays.
In Tudor times many children learned to read and write with something called a hornbook. It was not a book in the modern sense. Instead it was a wooden board with a handle. Fixed to the board was a sheet of paper with the alphabet and the Lord’s prayer (the Our Father) written on it. The paper was usually protected by a thin slice of animal horn.
Discipline in Tudor schools was harsh. The teacher often had a stick with birch twigs attached to it for hitting boys.
Of course, many Tudor boys did not go to school at all. If they were lucky they might get a 7-year apprenticeship and learn a trade. Some craftsmen could read and write but few laborers could.
As for Tudor girls, in a rich family, a tutor usually taught them at home. In a middle-class family, their mother might teach them. Upper-class and middle-class women were educated. However, lower-class girls were not.
Tudor children who did not go to school were expected to work. They helped their parents by doing tasks such as scaring birds when seeds were sown They also helped to weave wool and did other household tasks.
Children from rich families usually had their marriages arranged for them. If they refused to marry the person their parents chose they were beaten until they changed their minds. Children from poor families had more choice over whom to marry. Yet girls usually married young. Many were married when they were only 15 or 16. Boys often married between the ages of 18 and 21.
Tudor children played with wooden dolls. (They were called Bartholomew babies because they were sold at St Bartholomew’s fair in London). They also played cup and ball (a wooden ball with a wooden cup on the end of the handle. You had to swing the handle and try and catch the ball in the cup). Tudor children also played with yo-yos.