Everyday Life in Tudor London by Stephen Porter

I thoroughly enjoyed Stephen Porter’s book ‘Everyday Life in Tudor London’, so much so that I found once I picked it up I didn’t want to put it down! Porter explores what life was like for the people of London during the Tudor age, examining both the people and how London itself changed in terms of the buildings, streets, churches and trade.

Throughout the book Porter details the types of jobs that people did, how the Church dominated so much of people’s lives and then how the Reformation changed the way people practiced their faith. He explored what people ate, the types of entertainment they enjoyed, the epidemics that swept through London during the age and how people dealt with sickness. Porter also explores the changing laws and how the Monarch and the government affected the ruling and happenings within London.

I also really enjoyed how Porter examined the multitude of trade that went through London, to and from the ever expanding city. He discussed in detail the different people that came to London from all over the world, especially during times of upheaval in Europe and how this influx affected the common Londoner. I very much enjoyed learning about the markets in London, where people could buy different types of items and how these markets changed throughout the century.

Porter’s book also provides a large number of first hand examples from people who lived in London, looking at primary documents and letters to provide these examples. It was fascinating to read what people thought of the ever expanding city, their worries, concerns and what they enjoyed.

Well researched, easy to read I highly recommend Porter’s book. It provides a fascinating and compelling look at what London was really like during the Tudor age.

Everyday Life in Tudor England by Stephen Porter

Sir William Kingston

On the 2nd of May 1536 Anne Boleyn was ordered to present herself to the Privy Council. Standing before the Duke of Norfolk, Sir William Fitzwilliam and Sir William Paulet, Anne Boleyn was arrested for committing adultery with three men, Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris and an unnamed man.

After lunch Anne was escorted from Greenwich to the Tower of London. Common stories say that Anne entered into the Tower of London from the Thames through the ‘Traitors Gate’. However researchers and historians suggest that she would have arrived through the Court Gate near Byward Tower – which was the common entrance for people of nobility and royalty. Here she was met by Sir Edmund Walsingham, the Lieutenant of the Tower and escorted inside.

Anne was then met by William Kingston, Constable of the Tower, and taken to the very same lodgings that she stayed in on the night before her Coronation three years previously.

Sir William Kingston was instructed by Thomas Cromwell to report back on everything that Anne Boleyn said and did during her time in the Tower. To assist in this Kingston’s wife was placed as one of three ladies to serve the Queen and no one was to speak to Anne unless it was in front of Lady Kingston.

It is thanks to William Kingston’s letters to Cromwell that we know a great deal about what Anne Boleyn did and said during her imprisonment in the Tower of London. On the 3rd of May Kingston wrote to Cromwell about Anne’s arrival at the Tower…

“On my lord of Norfolk and the King’s Council departing from the Tower, I went before the Queen into her lodging. She said unto me, “Mr. Kingston, shall I go into a dungeon?” I said, “No, Madam. You shall go into the lodging you lay in at your coronation.” “It is too good for me, she said; Jesu have mercy on me;” and kneeled down, weeping a good pace, and in the same sorrow fell into a great laughing, as she has done many times since.

She desired me to move the King’s highness that she might have the sacrament in the closet by her chamber, that she might pray for mercy, for I am as clear from the company of man as for sin as I am clear from you, and am the King’s true wedded wife. And then she said, Mr. Kingston, do you know where for I am here? and I said, Nay. And then she asked me, When saw you the King? and I said I saw him not since I saw [him in] the Tiltyard. And then, Mr. K., I pray you to tell me where my Lord my father is? And I told her I saw him afore dinner in the Court. O where is my sweet brother? I said I left him at York Place; and so I did.

“I hear say, said she, that I should be accused with three men; and I can say no more but nay, without I should open my body. And there with opened her gown. O, Norris, hast thou accused me? Thou are in the Tower with me, and thou and I shall die together; and, Mark, thou art here to. O, my mother, thou wilt die with sorrow; and much lamented my lady of Worcester, for by cause that her child did not stir in her body. And my wife said, what should be the cause? And she said, for the sorrow she took for me. And then she said, Mr. Kyngston, shall I die without justice? And I said, the poorest subject the Kyng hath, hath justice. And there with she laughed.” (Letters and Papers Vol 10. 793).

William Kingston was appointed to Constable of the Tower on May 28th 1524. As well as Anne Boleyn, Kingston was responsible for a number of high profile prisoners such as Thomas Cromwell and escorting Thomas Wolsey to the Tower. As Constable of the Tower Kingston was responsible for the general running and maintenance of the Tower of London as well as the prisoners held within the Tower walls. An added bonus of being Constable of the Tower was that Kingston could lay claim all debris from boats and ships found in the Thames!

William Kingston’s origins are murky at best. He was born sometime before 1476 and was married three times, although the order of his first two marriages remains unclear. By 1534 he had married his third wife Mary, daughter of Richard Scrope. Kingston had one son named Anthony.

Although little is known about his early years or personal life there is some information available about his life at court. William Kingston began to make a name for himself in his early twenties when he was appointed as a Justice of the Peace for Gloucestershire around 1506. He was then granted the title of Sheriff of Gloucestershire. Kingston was a yeoman of the chamber to Henry VII from 1497 to 1509. He was also present at Henry VII’s funeral as a gentleman usher.

Kingston moved on to serve the late King’s son, Henry VIII. He served in the young King’s military campaigns in 1511, 1513 and 1523. In 1513 he fought in the Battle of Flodden Field against the Scots and was knighted in October for his services. He was also selected as one of four knights of the body in the privy chamber with an annual salary of £100. However in May 1519 the privy chamber was reshuffled and Kingston lost his position. Records show that after this time he was responsible for the King’s jewels and plate and in 1521 he was one of the King’s carvers.

In 5121 Kingston was part of the Grand Jury which found the 3rd Duke of Buckingham guilty of treason and sentenced him to death. Upon Buckingham’s execution Kingston was created steward and bailiff of Buckingham’s belongings in Gloucestershire, as well as being created the Constable of Thornbury Castle and Master of any hunts that took place in Gloucestershire.

When the dissolution of the monasteries swept through England Kingston obtained the site and possessions of the Cistercian Abbey of Flaxley in Gloucestershire. In 1539 Kingston was made Comptroller of the King’s Household and on the 23rd April of the same year he was installed as a Knight of the Garter, the highest order of Chivalry in England. Then in 1540 when Thomas Cromwell was arrested for treason and sentenced to death, Kingston purchased Cromwell’s manors at Painswick and Morton Valence for £1000.

Sir William Kingston attended his last Privy Council meeting on the 1st of September. He died at his manor at Painswick on the 14th of September 1540.

William Kingston


Ives, Eric 2005, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.

Kirk, L.M and Dale M.K  Kingston Sir William 1476-1540, The History of Parliament Trust 1964-2015, viewed 7th April 2016, <http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1509-1558/member/kingston-sir-william-1476-1540&gt;.

Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, 1509-47, ed. J.S Brewer, James Gairdner and R.H Brodie, His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1862-1932.

Weir, Alison 2009, The Lady in the Tower The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Jonathan Cape, London.

Historic Royal Palaces 2015, The Constable of the Tower of London, viewed 7th April 2016, <http://www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/history-and-stories/past-uses-of-the-tower/the-constable-of-the-tower-of-london/&gt;.



I would like to say a very big thank you to Melanie V. Taylor for her kind review of the talk I gave on Mary Tudor, dowager Queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk…..


On Thursday 9th August, St Mary with St Peter’s Church, Bury St Edmunds, was the setting for a talk on Mary Tudor, dowager Queen of France & Duchess of Suffolk (1496-1533) by author Sarah Bryson.

An enrapt audience learned how Mary was brought up and educated and expected to obey the male head of her family. In this instance the head of Mary’s family just happened to be the king of England. We learned how as a young girl Mary was first betrothed and married by proxy to the much younger Prince Charles of Castile (later the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V). This marriage was later annulled. Then at the age of eighteen Mary was married off to the fifty two year old Louis XII, King of France. Ms Bryson brought the luxurious extravagance of the English court to life with her description of Mary’s journey to her French husband and revealed how Henry VIII spared no expense on Mary’s gowns and jewels for her trousseau and also her dowry.  The analysis of Mary’s journey through the French countryside gave us a glimpse of what it must have been like to have been present at a sixteenth century European royal wedding. The sums of money lavished on banquets and tournaments were eye watering even for those days.

Louis died on 1st January 1515: this marriage had lasted a mere eighty-two days.

The widowed now French queen was required to go into seclusion for forty days, during which time she was obliged to wear white hence the soubriquet of La Reine Blanche, and forty days being sufficient time to prove whether or not she was pregnant.  If Mary had been pregnant and had produced a boy, then he would have been the next king of France.  As it was, the French crown passed to Francis I a member of a cadet branch of the Valois family and heir presumptive since 1498 on the death of Charles VIII and the accession of Louis XII, and also the husband of Louis’s daughter, Claude, by a previous marriage.

Before embarking for France Mary had made her brother promise that should Louis die before her, then she had the right to choose her next husband. This story has long thought to be apocryphal, but Ms Bryson has found a letter from Mary to her brother reminding him of this promise, thus proving the veracity of the myth.

Henry VIII’s best friend, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk (plus two further aristocratic companions), was sent to France to bring the widowed English Tudor princess back to England. Before leaving England Henry VIII told Brandon specifically not to think of marrying Mary without royal permission, which seems an odd thing to say. Ms Bryson’s analysis of the letters from both Mary and Brandon to Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey reveals that a secret marriage took place some time between 27th January and 3rd February 1515.  So secret that not even Francis I knew about it and despite long hours of research, no record has yet been found.

These letters reveal just how Mary was a very accomplished and educated woman, very able to play politics at a high level and how Brandon realised he had to plead for his life for going against Henry VIII’s direct instruction. Unfortunately, in the absence of any letters from Henry VIII we have to decide for ourselves whether or not he was planning to renege on his dockside promise to allow his sister to choose her next spouse and was indeed planning to marry her off for another advantageous political alliance. By the time the couple returned to England, they had first been married in secret, then shortly after wedded in a more public ceremony in Calais – we should remember that Calais was still English at this point. Then in addition, on their return to English soil were married for a third time in front of Henry VIII and his wife Queen Catherine of Aragon. Clearly there was no doubting that this couple were married in both the eyes of the Church and the English king.  However, the couple had to ‘punished’ for their ‘crime’ of being marriage without royal sanction, and a massive fine was imposed on them. This debt was never repaid, and certainly Henry did not pursue them for regular payments, but nevertheless payments were made now and again.

The Brandon marriage lasted eighteen years and as well as living in Suffolk Place, Southwark, they built Westhorpe Hall, only a few miles from Bury St Edmund’s, at a sixteenth century cost of £4,000 – approximately £4million in today’s money. It was here they raised their family. If their son Henry had survived to adulthood he would have had a claim to the English throne after the death of Edward VI.  As it was it was their grand daughter Lady Jane Grey who would go down in history as England’s Nine Days’ Queen.

In addition to the details of Mary’s life, we learned much about her loyalties and character; how she played the political game and was as wily in many respects as that other Suffolk worthy, Cardinal Wolsey. In an age when women were supposed to be subservient, meek and more importantly, silent in the presence of their menfolk, Mary made her presence and her opinions known and most importantly, got her own way.  Mary remained loyal to her sister-in-law Katherine of Aragon, and was an opponent of her brother’s marriage to Anne Boleyn. While her husband officiated at the marriage celebrations of Henry VIII to Anne at the beginning of June 1533, Mary was conspicuous by her absence. This was not because of her opposition to her brother’s second marriage as is often thought, but because she was seriously ill, possibly suffering from some form of kidney complaint. Mary Tudor died on 25th June 1533 aged thirty-seven and was much mourned by the people of Suffolk. Her original resting place was in the abbey church of Bury St Edmunds, but at the dissolution of the abbey in 1539 her body was removed to its current resting place on the north side of the altar of the parish church of St Mary and St Peter’s. Clearly the king’s Vicar General and general all round administrator, Thomas Cromwell, thought it good policy to remove the body of the beloved sister of the king to a suitably high status church rather than leave it to become forgotten and untended.

Ms Bryson’s book, La Reine Blanche: Mary Tudor, a Life in Letters, is the culmination of her ten years of research into the life of this often neglected Tudor princess and is rich with details of Mary’s life before and during her marriages. What becomes apparent is that the story of the marriage of Mary, Queen of France & Duchess of Suffolk and Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, was clearly a love match.


Sarah Bryson’s book, La Reine Blanche: Mary Tudor, A Life in Letters, is published by Amberley and is available through bookstores and of course, online at Amazon.  ISBN 978 4456 7388 2 (hardback). If you are in Bury St Edmunds there are some signed copies available for purchase at the church.

Mary Tudor suffered several bouts of illness after her return to England. In 1518, Charles Brandon wrote to Thomas Wolsey to tell him that Mary could not leave court because she had an ague (an illness that involved a fever and shivering). Then, in 1520, he wrote to Wolsey again to inform him that “her olde dissesse in her side” (Sadlack 2011) was bothering her and asking if she could come to London to get treatment. Brandon’s letter would suggest that the pain in Mary’s side was a recurring problem. Mary died on 25 June 1533, between seven and eight o’clock in the morning at her home, Westhorpe Hall in Suffolk. In his book Mary Rose, David Loades suggests that the cause of Mary’s death may have been angina. Other theories include tuberculosis. kindney failure and cancer. Another suggestion for the cause of Mary’s death is grief over her brother’s dismissal of Katherine of Aragon and his subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn. However, it would seem that despite the events of 1533, Mary still loved her brother. She wrote him a letter stating that she “Will be glad to see the King, as she has been a great while out of his sight, and hopes not to be so long again” (Letters and Papers vol. 6, 693).

As Dowager Queen of France and sister of the king, Mary Tudor’s funeral was a lavish affair. Her body was embalmed and for three weeks Mary’s coffin, draped in deep blue or black velvet, lay in state at Westhorpe, candles burning day and night. On 10th July, Henry VIII ordered a Requiem Mass to be held for his sister at Westminster Abbey. A delegation was sent from France and joined the English delegation for Mary’s funeral on 20th July 1533. Mary was interred at Bury St Edmunds and her chief mourner was her daughter Frances, who was accompanied by her husband and by her brother Henry, Earl of Lincoln. Also attending the funeral was Mary’s youngest daughter, Eleanor, and Suffolk’s ward, Katherine Willoughby.

For the journey from Westhorpe to the Abbey Church at Bury St Edmund’s, Mary’s coffin was placed upon a hearse draped in black velvet embroidered with Mary’s arms and her motto “the will of God is sufficient for me”. The coffin was covered in a pall of black cloth of gold and on top of this was an effigy of Mary wearing robes of estate, a crown and a golden sceptre which signified Mary’s status as Dowager Queen of France. The hearse was drawn by six horses wearing black cloth and the coffin was covered by a canopy carried by four of Suffolk’s Knights. Surrounding the coffin, standard bearers carried the arms of the Brandon and Tudor families.

At the head of the procession, walked one hundred torch bearers who comprised members of the local community who were paid and dressed in black for the funeral. Next, came members of the clergy who carried the cross. After them, came the household staff followed by the six horses pulling the hearse. Behind the hearse, came the Knights and other noble men in attendance followed by one hundred of the Duke’s yeomen. Lastly, came Mary’s daughter Frances, the chief mourner, and the other ladies including Eleanor, Katherine Willoughby and Mary’s friends and relatives. Along the way, the funeral procession was joined by other members of the local parishes.

At two o’clock in the afternoon, the coffin was received at Bury St Edmunds by the abbot and the monks. The coffin was then placed before the high altar and surrounded by the mourners in order of precedence, and a mass was said. Afterwards, a supper was held for the noble members of Mary’s funeral entourage.

Eight women, twelve men, thirty yeomen and some of the clergy were appointed to watch over Mary’s body overnight. The next day, a Requiem Mass was sung and Mary’s daughters, her two step daughters, her ward Katherine Willoughby and Katherine’s mother brought forward palls of cloth of gold to the altar. The funeral address was conducted by William Rugg, and the officers of Mary’s household broke their white staffs before finally Mary was interred. Mary’s body lay at peace at Bury St Edmunds until the Abbey was dissolved and she was moved to St Mary’s Church, Bury St Edmunds. In 1784, her remains were disturbed again when her altar monument was removed because it obstructed the approach to the rails of the communion table. Her resting place is now marked by a slab on the floor.

Mary was greatly loved by the people of Suffolk and after her funeral alms of meat, drink and money were given to the poor. As was custom, neither Mary’s brother Henry VIII or her husband attended the funeral. We do not have any record of Suffolk’s feelings regarding the death of his wife of eighteen years. He risked treason charges and the possibility of death by marrying a member of the royal family without the King’s permission, so surely Suffolk must have felt something for his wife. Mary was also remembered by the people of France, who had loved her greatly. Mary Tudor was a fascinating woman, princess, sister of a King, Queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk. She achieved extraordinary heights throughout her life but sadly passed into relative obscurity.

Mary Tudor Grave from Nathen Amin

Mary Tudor’s grave at St Mary’s Church, Bury St Edmunds. Photo by Nathen Amin.


‘Henry VIII: June 1533, 21-25’, in Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 6, 1533, ed. James Gairdner (London, 1882), pp. 306-313 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol6/pp306-313 [accessed 31 March 2015].

Loades, David (2012) Mary Rose, Amberley Publishing, Gloucestershire.

Loades, David, ‘Mary (1496–1533)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/18251, accessed 31 March 2015.

Sadlack, Erin (2011) The French Queen’s Letters: Mary Tudor Brandon and the Politics of Marriage in Sixteenth-Century Europe, Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

On 30 June 1514 Derard de Pleine wrote to Margaret of Austria regarding Mary’s appearance and personality:

‘Madame the Princess [Mary], until I had seen her several times. I can assure you that she is one of the most beautiful girls that one would wish to see; it does not seem to me that I have ever seen one so beautiful. She has a good manner, and her deportment is perfect in conversation, dancing or anything else. She has no melancholy, but is very lively. I am sure that if you could see her you would never rest until you had her with you. She has been well brought up, and it is certain that Monseigneur has been spoken of favourably to her, for by her words and her manner, as well as by what I have heard from those about her, it seems to me that she loves Monseigneur marvellously. She has a picture, which is a very bad likeness, of him, and there is not a day passes in which she does not wish to see him ten times over, so I have been told; and it appears that if one wishes to please her, one has only to talk of Monseigneur.

I might add that she has a good figure, is well grown, and of medium height, and is a better match in age and person for Monseigneur than I had heard before seeing her, and better than any other Princess whom I know in Christendom. She seems quite young, and does not show that in two years she will be far enough advanced for Likerke and Fontaine.’

De Pleine goes on to say that,

The Princess is so well qualified that I have only to say again that alike in goodness, beauty, and age there is not the like in Christendom.’ (Mumby 1913 p. 254-255).

Previously on 5 February 1512, when Mary was just fifteen years of age, the great humanist scholar, Erasmus of Rotterdam, had described her,

‘But O thrice and four times happy our illustrious Prince Charles who is to have such a spouse! Nature never formed anything more beautiful; and she excels no less in goodness and wisdom.’ (Letters & Papers Vol 1. 1050)

The Venetian Ambassador to the English court described Mary as ‘a Paradise—tall, slender, grey-eyed, possessing an extreme pallor.’ (Loades 2012). Thomas More, lawyer, humanist and later Lord High Chancellor of England added to this saying that Mary was ‘bright of hue.’ (Fisher 2002, p. 21).

On 5 March, just before Mary’s eighteenth birthday, Philippe Sieur de Bergilies, ambassador to the court of Margaret of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands, had the honour of seeing Mary on the first Sunday of Lent, dressed in the Italian fashion. He wrote that ‘never man saw a more beautiful creature, nor one having so much grace and sweetness, in public or private.’ (Richardson 1970, p. 106).

Lorenzo Pasqualigo, wrote to his brothers from London on 23 September 1514 describing Mary as ‘very beautiful, and has not her match in all England, is a young woman 16 years old, tall, fair, and of a light complexion, with a colour, and most affable and graceful.’ (Mumby 1913, p 282 -283.)

Italian chronicler Pietro Martire d’Anghiera described Mary as ‘beautiful without artifice’ and saying that ‘the French couldn’t stop gazing at her because she looked more like an angel than a human creature’. (Carroll 2010).

Then on 2 November 1514, on Mary’s arrival in Abbeville, France, she was described by one observer as,

‘very handsome, and of sufficiently tall stature (de statura honestamente granda). She appears to me rather pale, though this 1 believe proceeds from the tossing of the sea and from her fright. She does not seem a whit more than 16 years old, and looks very well in the French costume. She is extremely courteous and well mannered, and has come in very sumptuous array.’ (Calendar of State Papers Venice, Vol. 2 508).

In a letter written to Antonio Triulzi, the Bishop of Asti regarding Mary’s arrival at Abbeville, the writer promises the bishop that Mary,

‘She is generally considered handsome and well favoured, were not her eyes and eyebrows too light; for the rest it appears to me that nature optime suplevit: she is slight, rather than defective from corpulence, and conducts herself with so much grace, and has such good manners, that for her age of 18 years—and she does not look more—she is a paradise.’ (Calendar of State Papers Venice Vol 2 511).

In another letter written over 8 and 9 November, she is described as,

‘The Queen is said to be from 17 to 18 years old, of handsome presence, not stout, has a beautiful face, and is cheerful.’ (Calendar of State Papers Venice Vol 2, 509).


Marco Antonio Contarini wrote to Mafio Liom, having seen Mary in March 1515 after the death of her husband King Louis XII, that Mary was ‘the most attractive and beautiful woman ever seen.’ (Calendar of State Papers Venice Vol 2 600).

In 1527, Guillaume Gouffier de Bonnivet, Lord Admiral of France, would describe Mary as ‘the rose of Christendom’. (Richardson 1970, p. 205).

Even accounting for flattery it is most certainly undeniable that Mary Tudor, daughter of King Henry VII and Queen Elizabeth of York was one of the most beautiful women of her time.

Mary Tudor by Jean Perreal

A possible portrait of Mary Tudor by Jean Perreal 


Calendar of State Papers Relating To English Affairs in the Archives of Venice
(London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1871).

Carroll, Leslie, Notorious Royal Marriages: A Juicy Journey Through Nine
Centuries of Dynasty, and Desire (New York: New American Library, 2010).

Fisher, Celia, The Queen and the artichoke: A study of the portraits of Mary Tudor
and Charles Brandon (The British Art Journal, Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 20-27, 2002).

Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, 1509–47,
ed. J. S. Brewer, James Gairdner and R. H. Brodie, (His Majesty’s Stationery
Office, 1862–1932).

Mumby, F, The Youth of Henry VIII: A Narrative in Contemporary Letters
(Boston New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1913).

Richardson, Walter C., Mary Tudor The White Queen (Great Britain: University
of Washington Press, 1970).