Description of Tudor England: 1513


Description of Tudor England in 1513:

This letter paints an amazing image of what Tudor England was like in the beginning of 1513. Starting with what the English homes were like to the beautiful English women and what they wore and then looking at the English men and their fashion. It also touches base on the basic need of bread and how it wasn’t made in the home.

Nicol di Favri of Treviso (attached to the Venetian Embassy in London), to Francesco Gradenigo, son-in-law of Andrea Badoer (Venetian Ambassador).

[Venetian Calendar, Vol. II]

London, January 23, 1513

In England the houses are all of wood, and both rooms and corridors are of the same material. Over the floors they strew weeds called “rushes,” which resemble reeds, and which grow on the water. Every eight or ten days they put down a fresh layer; the cost of each layer being a Venetian livre, more or less, according to the size of the house.

In England the women go to market for household provisions; if gentlewomen they are preceded by two men servants. Their usual vesture is a cloth petticoat over the shift, lined with grey squirrels or some other fur; over the petticoat they wear a long gown lined with some choice fur. The gentlewomen carry the train of the gown under the arm; the commonality pin it behind or before, or at one side. The sleeves of the gown sit as close as possible; are long, and unslashed throughout, the cuffs being lined with some choice fur. Their headgear is of various sorts of velvet, cap fashion, with lappets hanging down behind over their shoulders like two hoods; and in front they have tow others, lined with some other silk. Their hair is not seen, so cannot say whether it be light or dark. Others wear on their heads muslins, which are distended, and hang at their backs, but not far down. Some draw their hair from under a kerchief, and wear over the hair a cap, for the most part white, round, and seemly; others again wear a kerchief in folds on the head: but be the fashion as it may, the hair is never seen. Their stockings are black and their shoes doubly soled, of various colours, but no one wears “choppines,” as they are not in use in England. When they meet friends in the street, they shake hands, and kiss on the mouth, and go to some tavern to regale, their relatives not taking this amiss, as such is the custom. The women are very beautiful and good-tempered.

Rowland Lockey after Hans Holbein the Younger, The Family of Sir Thomas More
Rowland Lockey after Hans Holbein the Younger, The Family of Sir Thomas More

The men are well made, tall, and stout; well clad, wearing gowns called doublets plaited on the shoulders, reaching half-way down the leg, and lined with several sorts of very fine furs. On their heads they wear caps with one or two ornaments; with short hair like the priests in Venice, the hair over the forehead being cut away.

In England no one makes bread at home; but every morning all take it at the baker’s, and keep tallies there; at present bread is dear on account of the war. The price of meat has more than doubled as a “milizia” has been salted for the army, and very great preparation is making to stand the brunt; and by day and night, and on all festivals, the cannon founders are at work.

The floors of English houses are for the most part planked. Aloft, at the window-sills (which are all of wood), they put rosemary, sage and other herbs. In England it is always windy, and however warm the weather, the natives invariably wear furs. At present is has not yet been cold here, nor is it rainy or muddy. The summers are never very hot, neither is it ever very cold.


Arthur, Frank; The Youth of Henry VIII, A Narrative in Contemporary Letters; pages 160-161

‘Venice: February 1513’, in Calendar of State Papers Relating To English Affairs in the Archives of Venice, Volume 2, 1509-1519, ed. Rawdon Brown (London, 1867), pp. 88-94. British History Online [accessed 17 August 2016].

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12 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I loved this! It contradicts a tudor food documentary I watched a few days ago, though. They said in the documentary that the average height was much shorter back then. Perhaps the author of this piece thought they were tall for the times they were living in and knew no different? Henry was certainly tall for his time! Who knows, but I’d much rather trust a piece straight from the 1500’s.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. What was the purpose of putting rushes on the wooden floors, for it would seem as if that would be a proper breeding place for all sorts of critters. Even though the rushes were changed every 10 days, things could migrate into curtains, bed clothing, etc. Just wondering. Thanks. Very interesting.

    • I believe rushes would be strewn on the ground floor, which often had earth floors. Kitchens and privies were also on the ground floor–making disposable rushes practical. I doubt that rushes would be used on the upstairs rooms, which of course had board floors.

    • There’s some evidence that rushes were not strewn freely as this writer claims but woven into mats that were regularly removed and beaten, and replaced when necessary. On top of those mats the housewife would strew sweet-smelling herbs that would also act to keep vermin at bay – this may be what he was referring to.

      • I was just reading about this as well in a book about living in the Tudor world. Surprisingly enough the rushes did not have to be changed out as often as we think. Somehow they stayed dry and could be fluffed for comfort. The name of the book is escaping me right now but the author Ruth Goodman discusses how she was surprised that after a long time of sleeping on them (even on the floor) and having ale and what not spilled on them that there wasn’t a harsh smell and it wasn’t damp at the bottom.

    • I didn’t know either- had to Google it. I got images of raised shoes. Supposedly to protect your shoes and/or feet from the messy streets.

    • Developed in the early sixteenth century and especially popular among Venetian
      women, the high-platformed shoe
      called the chopine had both a practical and symbolic function. The thick-soled, raised shoe was designed to protect the foot from irregularly paved and wet or muddy streets. But the enhancement of the wearers stature also played a role.

      The chopines height
      introduced an awkwardness and instability to a womans walk. The Venetian woman who wore them was generally accompanied by an attendant on whom she would balance. Despite the obvious expense, Venetian sumptuary laws (laws regulating expenditure on luxuries

      Commercial Exchange Diplomacy and Religious Difference between Venice and the Islamic World

      ) did not address the issue of exaggerated footwear until it reached dangerous proportions. It was once thought that very high chopines, twenty inches as seen in the example from the Museo Correr di Veneziani, were the accoutrements of the courtesan
      and were intended to establish her highly visible public profile. However, sixteenth-century accounts suggest that the chopines height was associated with the level of nobility
      and grandeur of the Venetian woman who wore them rather than with any imputation as to her profession.

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