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.
More about the author
What was it like to live as a royal Tudor? Why were their residences built as they were and what went on inside their walls? Who slept where and with who? Who chose the furnishings? And what were their passions?
The Tudors ruled through the day, throughout the night, in the bath, in bed and in the saddle. Their palaces were genuine power houses - the nerve-centre of military operations, the boardroom for all executive decisions and the core of international politics. Houses of Power is the result of Simon Thurley's thirty years of research, picking through architectural digs, and examining financial accounts, original plans and drawings to reconstruct the great Tudor houses and understand how these monarchs shaped their lives. Far more than simply an architectural history - a study of private life as well as politics, diplomacy and court - it gives an entirely new and remarkable insight into the Tudor world.