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.
Nicolò 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.
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 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/cal-state-papers/venice/vol2/pp88-94 [accessed 17 August 2016].
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