Tudor Christmas Food

During the Tudor period the four weeks leading up to Christmas was known as Advent and consisted of fasting and a limited range of foods which were allowed to be eaten; a tradition that is still practiced by some today. Christmas Eve was particularly strict and people were not allowed to eat eggs, cheese or meat. However when Christmas day came around the Tudors were allowed to cast off the food restrictions and enjoy a lavish feast!

Lavish feasts were generally only held by the wealthy and may have consisted of a rather extraordinary meal which was a pastry pie containing a turkey stuffed with a goose which was stuffed with a chicken which was stuffed with a partridge which was then stuffed with a pigeon!! In addition to this the pie would be served with hare, wild fowl and game birds… as well as a range of other delicious dishes! (No wonder only Royalty and the wealthy could afford such a lavish and expensive feast!!) Another tradition was to skin a peacock, cook it and then insert it back into its skin. The peacock was then presented in all its stunning feathers but inside it was ready to eat! Wild Boar was also a popular choice and the cooked head was often used as a table presentation. Other meats consumed consisted of goose and swan. Turkey not brought to England from Europe until 1523 and would soon become a regular at Christmas meals.

On Twelfth Night, the last day of The Twelve Days of Christmas a fruitcake would have been shared amongst the guests. Inside a coin or a dried bean was hidden and whoever found the object would become the King or Queen of the celebrations for the night. This tradition is still carried on in many homes on Christmas Eve or Christmas day and often consists of a coin hidden in the fruitcake.

Another popular tradition during The Twelve Days of Christmas was the “minced pye” (minced pie). The Tudor’s minced pies were not small and round as they are today but rather rectangular or crib shaped to represent the crib of Jesus. They contained meat and included thirteen ingredients which represented Jesus and the twelve apostles. The 1545 cookbook ‘A Proper newe Booke of Cokerye’ instructed the reader how to make minced pyes:

“To make Pyes – Pyes of mutton or beif must be fyne mynced and ceasoned wyth pepper and salte, and a lyttle saffron to coloure it, suet or marrow a good quantite, a lyttle vyneger, prumes, greate raysins and dates, take thefattest of the broathe of powdred beyfe, and yf you wyll have paest royall, take butter and yolkes of egges and so tempre the flowre to make the paeste.”

It was also common during The Twelve Days of Christmas for family and members of the community to visit one another and the minced pie was a delicious, filling meal to share.

Wassailing and the Wassail bowl was also a common drink and tradition during The Twelve Days of Christmas. There is not a great deal of information about this tradition but it is believed that the word came from the Anglo-Saxon period and means “your good health” or “be whole”. The Wassail bowl was a communal wooden bowl which could be filled with up to a gallon of hot ale, apples, spices and sugar. At the bottom of the bowl was a crust of bread. People would take turns drinking from the Wassail bowl and then when finished the crust of bread was presented to the highest ranking person at the meal. This may be where our modern day tradition “to toast” comes from.

After eating such lavish and filling food, as in today’s modern times, many Tudors did not feel like participating in physical activities. (I certainly know after a large Christmas meal I can barely move let alone think about playing sport!) So in 1541 Henry VIII introduced the Unlawful Games Act which forbade any sports being played on Christmas day except the traditional sport of archery.

Food and drink was an important part of the Tudor’s Twelve Days of Christmas and although some traditions may have died out over the centuries many, such as minced pieces, can still be seen in some form in today’s modern Christmas celebrations.


(Image from http://b-c-ing-u.com)


Grueninger, Natalie Tudor Christmas and New Year Celebrations, On The Tudor Trail, viewed 28 November 2015, <http://onthetudortrail.com/Blog/resources/life-in-tudor-england/tudor-christmas-and-new-year/&gt;.

Johnson, Ben A Tudor Christmas, Historic UK, viewed 28 November, < http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/A-Tudor-Christmas/&gt;.

Trueman, C. N. Tudor Christmas, History Learning Site, viewed 28 November 2015, <http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/tudor-england/tudor-christmas/&gt;.

The History of the Mince Pie, Mince Pie Club, viewed 28 November 2045, <http://www.mincepieclub.co.uk/mince-pie-history/the-history-of-the-mince-pie/#more-112&gt;.

The Proxy wedding of Mary Tudor and Archduke Charles

On Saturday the 17th of December 1508 at just twelve years of age, Mary Tudor, youngest surviving daughter of King Henry VII, was married by proxy to Archduke Charles, grandson of Maximillian I and the future Charles V.

The lavish ceremony took place at Richmond Palace, just before midday. For the occasion no expense was spared. The great hall of Richmond was draped with silk and decorated with expensive plate and ornaments. In the chapel, where the mass was to be held, the altar was decorated with gold and silver guilt statues of saints all studded with gems. To prepare for the proxy wedding Mary was allocated a chamber in which cloth of gold was hung and expensive furniture was set out.

The entire event was recorded by Pietro Carmeliano, the king’s Latin Secretary, in his work ‘The spousells of the Princess Mary, daughter of Henry VII, to Charles Prince of Castile, A.D. 1508’,

‘And thus, the kinges highnes beyng under his clothe of estate, the Ambassadoure of Aragon and the lordes spirituell sy ttynge on his right hande downewarde, and my lorde the Prynce with other  Lordes temporall syttynge in like wyse on the lefte hande, and the sayd Ambassadours syttynge also directely before his grace, the president of Flaundres purposed a proposicion contaignynge the cause of their commynge ; which was for the parfect accomplissement of all thynges passed and concluded for the sayde amitie and Mariage at the towne of Calays.’

Mary arrived escorted by her former sister-in-law Katherine of Aragon and followed by other noble ladies. She was led up to an elevated dais where she stood under a canopy of cloth of gold. Katherine stood close by on a lower platform.

An attendant of the wedding recorded of Mary,

‘Now to declare and announce in words the splendid beauty of this princess, the modesty and gravity with which she bore herself , the laudable and princely gestures, befitting no great a princess, which, at that time, were found in her, would be out of my power to make comprehensible by any word or page. I will pass it by therefore, only saying that never could there be any, or only the most splendid, comparison with any other virgin princess, in so tender an age; for she was about eleven years old; her regal courtesy, and noble and truly paternal gravity were shown before all. Such was the composure of her dress, habit, and manners, that I may truly affirm that no princess, exercised in these great mysteries, would show so many splendid and royal virtues. Whatever in short of reverence, or humble subjection, of gravity, and respect was due to her most serene father, whatever of courtesy and affability to the orators, that she showed forth, like a most wise princess.’

Standing in for Archduke Charles was Sieur de Berghes. After an address by the Archbishop of Canterbury in Latin, both Mary and de Berghes exchanged vows under the canopy of cloth of gold. De Berghes recited the vows on behalf of Charles and then placed a ring on the middle finger of Mary’s right hand. Mary did likewise, taking de Berghes by the hand and reciting her wedding vows,

‘I, Mary, by you, John, Lord of Berghes, commissary and procurator of the most high and puissant Prince Charles, by the grace of God Prince of Spain, Archduke of Austria, and Duke of Burgundy, herby through his commission and special procuration presently read, explained and announced, sufficiently constituted and ordained, through your mediation and signifying this to me, do accept the said Lord Charles to be my husband and spouse, and consent to receive him as my husband and spouse. And to him and to you for him, I promise that henceforth, during my natural life, I will have, hold, and repute him as my husband and spouse; and herby I plight by troth to him and to you for him.’

After this Berghes stepped forward and pressed a kiss to Mary’s lips. With the wedding now performed all that was left to do was to ratify the marriage. This ratification was signed by both Berghes and Mary was well as a number of foreign dignitaries whom had attended the wedding, the Archbishop of Canterbury, four bishops, one duke (either the Duke of Norfolk or Buckingham), nine earls and eleven barons.

Following this the members of the party went to the Chapel Royal where they attended high mass performed by the Bishop of London. Afterwards a lavish and expensive feast was held and once again Henry VII spared no expense. Meals were served on plates of gold and silver gilt. Other dining items were made of precious metals and encrusted with pearls and fine stones. Wine flowed and it was reported that ‘delicate and sumptuous’ meats were served.


Carmelianus, P. ed Gardiner , James, “The spousells” of the Princess Mary, daughter of Henry VII, to Charles Prince of Castile, A.D. 1508 (London: The Camden Society, 1893).

Everett Green, Mary Anne, Lives of the Princesses of England, from the Norman Conquest (Loondon: Longman, Brown, Green, Longman, & Roberts, 1857).

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



Mary Tudor, Dowager Queen of France

On the 18th of March 1496 Queen Elizabeth of York, wife of King Henry VII, gave birth to a healthy baby girl at Sheen Palace. The little girl was named Mary and her birth was recorded by Elizabeth’s in her Psalter. Margaret Beaufort, the King’s mother, also recorded Mary’s birth in her stunning Book of Hours. By the 18th of March she wrote “Hodie nata Maria tertia filia Henricis VII 1495.” Although Margaret recorded the date as 1495 it is believed that due to the modern day Gregorian calendar, which was not introduced into England until 1752, Mary’s actual year of birth would have been 1496. Mary was the fifth child of Henry VII and his Queen. Elizabeth would give birth to two more children after Mary however both would tragically die in infancy.

There are no recorded details of what Elizabeth’s pregnancy or labour was like however looking at her previous pregnancies and the rules surrounding childbirth at the time we can make some educated guesses. Lady Margaret Beaufort had laid out a set of detailed ordinances which dictated the protocol and necessities for her daughter’s lying in chamber.

The Lying-in chamber was a series of rooms that the Queen would retire to approximately a month before her child was due to be born. The rooms would have been hung with thick tapestries depicting images of happy scenarios as not to upset the mother or harm the baby. These tapestries would have covered the walls and windows, with only one window being left open to let in fresh air. It was believed that the room needed to be free of bright light so that no evil spirits would harm the mother or unborn baby. Thick carpets would have been spread over the floors and a fire would have continuously burned. A large bed was provided full of pillows and covered with crimson satin. This choice of colour may have hid any blood stains or it also possible that this large bed was for the mother’s comfort and the actual process of giving birth was conducted in a smaller bed.

The purpose of a lying-in chamber was to recreate the womb, warm and blocked off from the world. It was here that Elizabeth of York would have retired after attending a church service to pray for the safe and healthy delivery of her child. As Queen she would have been conducted to her lying-in chambers with full dignity and shut away from the world with her female servants. Her mother, Elizabeth Woodville, supported Elizabeth’s previous pregnancies however shortly before Mary was born Elizabeth Woodville had died.

Elizabeth of York would have relied upon her Catholic faith during her labour. Unfortunately there are no records to state how long Elizabeth was in labour for with Mary or what the actual delivery was like. It is most likely however that Elizabeth would have prayed and called upon the Saints to support her during this most dangerous time. She may have called upon St Margaret who was the patron said of pregnant women and childbirth or even held religious relics which were believed to help a mother during labour.

Several days after her birth the new little Princess, would have been christened according to the Catholic rituals at the time. While there are no records of Mary’s actual Christening, as a Princess it is most likely that her Christening would have been similar to that of her older siblings, which again followed strict guidelines set out by Margaret Beaufort. A large stage would have been set up at a Chapel on which a silver gilt font would have stood. The font would have had a rich circular canopy above it but there would have been no drapes to cover the font as it was vital that all within the Chapel witnessed the Christening. Little Mary would have been carried up the steps to the font by a Duchess, while a second Duchess held the chrisom cloth. A countess would carry the richly decorated and ermine furred train which would have hung from baby Mary’s shoulders.

The christening would have been attended by all the highest members of nobility and afterward Mary would have been returned by a formal progression to her mother who sat in elegance in her chambers.

As was the custom of the time Mary would not have been breast fed, but given to a wet nurse to be fed. It was of vital importance that the wet nurse was of good health and excellent disposition as she was feeding a member of the royal family.

Unlike Mary’s older brother Arthur who was heir to the throne, there has sadly been little recorded about the young Princesses life. She would have spent a great deal of time at Eltham with her older siblings Henry and Margaret. Household records show that Mary’s governess was Elizabeth Denton who would have been in charge of a number of attendants which included a doctor, teacher, wardrobe keeper and an unknown number of gentlewomen. Mary was always lavishly dressed, her rich clothing paid for by the Great Wardrobe as well as from her mother’s privy purse.

Mary also travelled to such places as Richmond and Greenwich where her parents held court. She would have been educated in French and Latin as well as learning to read and write. She would have also been strictly educated on the roles seen as vital to a female at the time including singing, dancing and learning to play a musical instrument. By the age of thirteen it was reported that Mary was quite an accomplished musician being able to play both the lute and the clavicle (an early stringed instrument like a piano).

Mary’s world would be cast into shock when at just the tender age of just six years Mary’s older brother and heir to the English throne, Arthur, died. Worse was to come when less than a year later Mary’s mother died on the 11th of February 1503. Not only had Mary lost her brother but she had also lost her mother and worse her older sister Margaret, whom she had grown up with, left in June for Scotland and marriage to the Scottish King James V. In the span of a year Mary had lost in some form, three members of her family. It is believed that through losing their mother and siblings Mary and her older brother Henry became closer.

When Mary was just fifteen years of age Erasmus wrote that “Nature has never formed anything more beautiful; and she excels no less in goodness and wisdom”.  The Venetian Ambassador to the court of Henry VIII described Mary as “a Paradise—tall, slender, grey-eyed, possessing an extreme pallor.” It is not surprising to hear that Mary was described as such a beauty, after all her mother Elizabeth of York and her grandmother Elizabeth Woodville, were both known for their majesty and beauty.

Mary would go on to have an illustrious yet somewhat scandalous life. On the 21 December 1507 at age just eleven she was contracted to marry Charles of Castile who would later become Charles V, Holy Roman emperor. The contract was called off in 1513 and in 1514 at age eighteen years Mary would marry the fifty two year old King Louis XII of France. After his death just three months later on the 1st January 1515 Mary scandalously went on to marry Charles Brandon, newly created Duke of Suffolk. This marriage, far beneath Mary’s station, caused quite uproar back in England however the Duke was Henry VIII’s most beloved friend and Mary his favourite sister. Despite a huge fine being levied upon both (of which hardly any was repaid) Mary and Charles returned home and were married in a third, public ceremony on the 13th May 1515 at Greenwich.

Mary would have four children with her second husband, two sons and two daughters. Tragically her first son Henry would die before her at the age of just six years. Throughout her life Mary continued to style herself as Dowager Queen of France and continued to receive her Dowager payments from France on and off until her death.  Mary died at Westhorpe Hall in Suffolk on the 25th of June 1533 aged just 37. She had been in poor health for some time leading up to her death although the exact cause remains unknown. Mary was buried in Bury St Edmunds Abbey and then after the Dissolution of the Monasteries she was moved to St Mary’s Church in Bury St Edmunds.

Mary Tudor by Joannus Corvus - Colour

Mary Tudor, Dowager Queen of France by Joannus Corvus

If you would like to lean more about Mary Tudor and her fascinating letters then you can pre-purchase my book on Amazon: La Reine Blanche: Mary Tudor a Life in Letters


Gregorian Calendar, Encyclopaedia Britannica, viewed 22 February 2016, <http://www.britannica.com/topic/Gregorian-calendar&gt;.

Licence, Amy 2012, In Bed with the Tudors: The sex lives of a dynasty from Elizabeth of York to Elizabeth I, Amberley Publishing, Gloucestershire.

Loades, David 2012, Mary Rose, Amberley, Gloucestershire.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Brandon, Mary Tudor, 2016, Oxford University Press, viewed 22 February 2016, < http://www.oxforddnb.com/&gt;.

Perry, Maria 2002, Sisters to the King, Andre Deutsh, London.

Sadlack, Erin 2001, The French Queen’s Letters, Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

I am very honoured to receive a copy of the ‘Tudor Book of Days’ by the Tudor Times. The dairy is just stunning. Without providing a year this diary is able to be used for the rest of 2017, 2018 and beyond. As well as large spaces provided for each day to write notes, events etc. there is a monthly planner so you to jot down birthdays, anniversaries, reminders, special events or any other important details. At the end of each month there is also a large note section which any extra pieces of information can be noted down.

As well as a functional and versatile diary the ‘Tudor Book of Days’ acts as a day to day guide of the Tudor age; detailing important events, births, deaths, Feast Days and more. As well as daily snippets of Tudor information there is an Index of People at the back of the diary which details a brief biography of over a hundred and fifty Tudor people. In addition to this there is an Index of Events and Entries which is outlined by month and provides even more information about social and political events during the Tudor age.

Made from high quality materials, a hard cover and an absolutely stunning design, this ‘Tudor Book of Days’ by the Tudor Times is an absolute must have for any Tudor enthusiast!

To purchase your own ‘Tudor Book of Days’ for only £15, (bargain! You can also purchase if you are from another country), then please follow the link: Tudor Book of Days


My review of the fascinating and captivating book ‘The Truth of the Line’ by Melanie V. Taylor.

The Truth of the Line by Melanie V. Taylor

In 1572, the good looking and talented Nicholas Hillyarde paints the first of many portraits of Elizabeth I, England’s “Virgin Queen”. His ability to capture the likeness of his patrons makes him famous and his skills are much sought after by the rich and powerful members of the Elizabethan Court. His loyalty to Elizabeth even leads him to becoming part of Sir Francis Walsingham’s information network. One day he is approached by a young man with an intriguing commission. Hillyarde is to paint the man holding a lady’s hand – a hand which descends from a cloud – complete with a puzzling motto: “Attici Amoris Ergo”…
There is something familiar about this young man’s face, and Hillyarde is led down a dark path of investigation to discover who this young man may be.
Who is the young man? Has Hillyarde stumbled across a dark royal secret, and, if so, is there evidence hidden elsewhere?

The Truth of the Line is the story of Nicholas Hillyarde, goldsmith and renowned miniature painter during the reign of Elizabeth I and the early years of King James I. Melanie V. Taylor follows Hillyarde’s life from his early entry into the courtly world of Elizabeth I to the final hours of Glorianna.

Taylor’s story is a fascinating and thought provoking look into what life was like during the reign of the last Tudor monarch. Through Hilliard the reader is able to explore what life was like at Elizabeth I’s court, the many intrigues and plots that so often surrounded the Queen and the diplomatic and legal system that always worked behind the scenes. The reader is able to be witness to the execution of Mary Queen of Scots as well as the threat of the Spanish Armada all through the eyes of Hillyarde. In addition to this through Hillyarde the reader is presented with a more personal look at Elizabeth I, breaking away from the portrayed image of the Queen to a far deeper and sensitive side of a woman who fought many great battles in her life, both public and private.

Although a fictional novel this book is deeply rooted in fact. Nicholas Hillyarde was a real, living, breathing person who indeed painted Elizabeth I on multiple occasions as well as other esteemed members of the Queen’s court. Hillyarde is a very compelling man, his miniatures still live with us today and we are able to examine these detailed and breathtaking miniatures to draw deeper conclusions about people that lived hundreds of years ago. Taylor’s book uses a wealth of research to bring the people of the Elizabethan era to life through the eyes of Hillyarde.

During his life Hillyarde stumbles upon a dramatic discovery which could have changed the very course of English history! The reader is shown this discovery and then presented with many pieces of information to support such a shocking discovery – what exactly that is and how it affected Hillyarde and Elizabeth I, I shall let you discover when you read Taylor’s book!

I was drawn to Taylor’s book through her use of imagery and language to describe in great detail portraits, events and people. While reading I felt at times as though I was Hillyarde, looking out through his eyes to see and explore the world in which he lived.

The Truth of the Line is a captivating, well written and moving book which explores the life of renowned artist Nicholas Hillyarde. I thoroughly enjoyed it and would strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in Tudor or Art history or simply anyone that wants to read a gripping tale of a very fascinating man.

If you are interested in Melaine’s book you can purchase it from her website: Melanie V. Taylor

Or you can visit her facebook page to learn more about visual history and Melanie’s current research.


De La Cloche coat of arms