A day in the life of a Tudor Courtier By Simon Thurley

Few royal dynasties hold as much fascination as the Tudors. But what were their lives really like? Houses of Power author Simon Thurley takes us through a day in the life of one of their many courtiers

Being a Tudor courtier has its ups and downs. On the up side, you are in the top 0.01% of the population, in an incredibly privileged position. You are fed and watered at royal expense and given rooms in all the royal houses. On the down side, you are trapped in the great machine that is the court, obliged to follow rules and regulations, and always at the mercy of the royal whim…


Rise, shine and avoid the WC

The more senior courtiers have a two-room lodging where they sleep (you can still see these at Hampton Court). You’ve brought your own furniture by cart and your servants have hung your tapestries, set up your bed and arranged the furniture. In your inner room is your close stool where you can relieve yourself rather than going to the grisly communal facilities used by the lower courtiers. 

It is here that you wake and are dressed by your servants, who sleep in the outer room. As the court gets going in the morning, everyone is interested in what the monarch is going to do. This very much determines today’s activities. Each day will dominated by hunting or religion – perhaps both.

Eat, hunt and lose money

You eat two meals a day: a sort of brunch mid-morning and dinner in the late afternoon. These are set moments and the senior courtiers eat in the outer rooms of the royal lodgings, summoned by trumpets when food is ready.

After brunch it is time for activities. If you are lucky you might be invited to hunt (all the Tudor monarchs hunted fearlessly and well: Henry VII and VIII also played tennis, bowls and liked to cockfight). Courtiers join in these sports and make heavy wagers. Losing money at these, and at cards and dice, is an occupational hazard for you. 

See and be seen

Sundays are the biggest day at court. The monarch attends chapel in huge splendour, the rooms of the royal lodgings lined with bodyguards. All Courtiers dress up for the day, foreign ambassadors turn up, and townspeople crowd into the courtyards to see the spectacle.

As everyone practices their faith, the chapel is full. Afterwards, you take the an opportunity to meet people and gossip – today we would call it networking. 

Be ready to party... every night

It’s before the Reformation, so there are many religious feast days at court. On these occasions, the outer rooms are set up and eating and drinking goes on into the night.

After eating there will be a play or dancing – sometimes into the small hours. Under Queen Elizabeth, plays took on a more formal and elaborate aspect and came to be performed at regular times of the year. 

Crawl into (yet another) bed

This might all sound like fun. It probably isn’t. It is very expensive being at court, despite the fact that you get free board and lodging. Appearances have to be kept up and, what with gambling, tipping and maintaining your horses and servants, many courtiers end up financially ruined.

Continually moving from house to house as the monarch perambulates round the country is exhausting and disruptive. There are long days when you never see the sovereign and have to hang around with other, equally bored, courtiers. On these days, you often long to be in your own house with your family, rather than killing time at court.

On busy days like this, you might look forward to retiring to your inner chamber at night with candles and a good book, hoping that the next day brings something worthwhile.

Sign up to the Penguin Newsletter

For the latest books, recommendations, author interviews and more