Life of Tudor Women, Part One

Life of Tudor Women, Part One

Sandra Byrd
with Kate Eaton

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a woman during the Tudor era, which is when all three Ladies in Waiting books are set? Here are some interesting tidbits about the ways a woman’s life was both different and very much the same in the days of Henry VIII and his daughter, Elizabeth.

Tudor Women Had Careers Like many of us today, some women during Tudor times worked outside the home as well as raising a family. Career choices for lower class working women in 1500s England included street vendor, baker, milliner, tailor, brewery worker, textile worker, household servant or seamstress. They were not allowed to act on the stage or work as doctors, lawyers or politicians. Noble women and members of the gentry had more genteel choices, but those still required hard work! Many were tapped to serve as ladies-in-waiting (much like a personal assistant) for a woman of higher rank. More senior ladies-in-waiting might also serve in positions such as Mistress of the Wardrobe. Imagine keeping up with Anne Boleyn’s wardrobe needs, which is what Meg Wyatt, as her Mistress of the Robes, did! Within noble households, you would also also find women working as governesses.

Tudor Women Trained to Run Households Even though many of us have careers, the responsibility today for raising families and running households still falls mainly on women. It was the same during Tudor times, with young girls of all social classes being taught how to keep household accounts, manage or perform daily household tasks, grow and use medicinal plants, and represent their husbands well. Queens sometimes stepped in to rule while the king was away at war, which is what Katherine of Aragon and Kateryn Parr did while each was married to Henry VIII. Upper class women supervising large houses were expected to know the requirements of meal preparation, food storage, spinning of yarn and weaving, brewing of ale, and making necessities such as candles and soap. They would have been expected to keep their husband’s estates running smoothly in his absence. In the merchant class, men often employed their wives and daughters, who ran the business when necessary.

Tudor Women Were Obedient In most cases the young woman in the time of Henry VIII was raised to obey her parents, her Church and her husband. In the upper social strata, young women were married to whomever would most benefit her family or monarch. Some noble women during this time, however, were educated and wielded power by advising their husbands and forming favorable alliances. During Tudor Times, women promised to obey their husbands at marriage, but Kate Middleton, The Duchess of Cambridge, did not when she recently married Prince William!

Tudor Women and Marriage Women were expected to marry and have children, no matter what social class, during the days of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Marriages were usually arranged for adolescent girls in the noble class, but most lower class women married in their teens and twenties. Sometimes early marriages were consummated years after the marriage if the girl was deemed too young, or sometimes, such as in the case of Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII, who was married for the second time by age 12 and became mother to Henry at age 13, young girls were not so fortunate. Divorce was rarely possible. When the end of a marriage was desired, the common option was for the woman to enter a nunnery, at which time her marriage would be annulled. This was the option Henry VIII presented to Katherine of Aragon when it became clear that he would not get a male heir from her.

More to come in Part Two …

{Photo credit: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. By Unknown – [2], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=825024}