Guest article by Rose Rylotte
The Tudors are often depicted as messy or ill-mannered ruffians. However, they were impeccably dressed and carried themselves with honor and dignity.
Starting off with personal hygiene, since they believed disease entered the body through open pores of the skin they did not bathe as regularly but thought it important to rinse their hands and face before every meal. This was done in clean cold water to wash off surface dirt.
Rinsing mouth out with clean water first thing in the morning was imperative as sweet smelling breath was a highly prized attribute. Using a cloth was equivalent to a toothbrush and brushing with salt and charcoal to clean and deodorize was equivalent to toothpaste.
Perfume water and oils were popular to mask any unpleasant smells. They often used lavender, rosemary, thyme, lemon, cloves, rose and other sweet scents and aromas.
Some rules of polite behavior were similar to today’s such as, avoiding talking with mouth full, resting arms upon the table (the tables at that time would have been an unstable board sitting on top of wood which would topple over), standing with arms crossed was considered foolish which is possibly why the king’s fool – William Somers is seen this way in the famous painting; The Family of Henry VIII.
As the Tudor’s eating style was a communal affair, each person brought their own knife and spoon to the table except in the very grandest of houses where it would be provided. It was important to keep your mouth and spoon as clean as possible using a napkin for your mouth and a piece of bread for your spoon. Aside from remembering to drape your napkin over your left shoulder or wrist, keeping the table cloth impossibly clean, avoiding leaving your spoon in the communal dish, only touching the piece of meat you are eating, keeping the salt cellar clean by dipping the tip of your knife into the salt and putting it on your plate, picking the food out of your teeth with a toothpick after dining, you were expected to keep up a stream of suitable polite conversation.
Not to mention the hat rule which could be confusing at times. The higher the rank, you kept your hat on. If you were to be introduced to someone new and you put your hat back on before them, it was almost an insult saying you were a higher rank than them, unless you actually were, then, it would be custom.
In court, the way you ate, dressed, stood, acted and danced were all areas which manners and etiquette were practiced. It was potentially a great way to propel you to a promotion so it was vital to know how to behave.