The Tudor Travel Guide

Your Visitor's Companion to the Aristocratic Houses of the Sixteenth Century

Christmas is fast approaching and after the end of a difficult year for most of us, some feasting and merriment will be most welcome. Well, in this month’s Great Tudor Bake Off, Brigitte Webster, our Tudor chef, here at The Tudor Travel Guide, treats us to a savoury Tudor dish for the dinner table: Tudor venison pie. We hope you enjoy reading this blog and have a go at recreating this dish for yourself. At the very end, you will also find a link to a video, where you can learn more about Tudor food at Christmas from Brigitte and follow along as she prepares the venison pie in her kitchen at the Old Hall in Norfolk. Merry Christmas!

Feasting at a Tudor Christmas

Before the Reformation, Advent, or the forty days of St Martin, was a period of fasting which ended on Christmas Eve, 24 December. Celebrations and festive food started to be served for twelve days known as Christmastide. Advent fasting meant no meat, cheese, milk or eggs. After such a long time of food restrictions, the first feast on Christmas Day would have been a very welcome arrival. The custom of eating high-value meats and other luxurious foods continued at Christmas and survived the test of time and the influence of the Reformation movement.

The staple dish of a Tudor Christmas was meat.  If Christmas fell on a fasting day such as a Friday, the Church gave special permission that meat, instead of fish, could be eaten. (No such dispensation applied to New Year’s Day.)

Ingatestone Hall, Essex

Household accounts give us precise quantities of just how much meat was consumed.  On Christmas Day 1551, at Ingatestone Hall in Essex, Sir William Petre’s family consumed six boiled and six roast joints of beef; a neck of mutton; a loin of pork; a breast of pork; a goose and four coneys. For supper, the feast continued with five more joints of mutton; a neck of pork; two coneys; a woodcock and a venison pasty.

Henry Willoughby gave a feast for all his tenants on Christmas Day in 1547 and his household accounts show the purchase of 4 pieces of beef; a whole mutton; ten geese; nine pigs; six capons; a swan; sixteen coneys; three hens;  two woodcocks and sixteen venison pies! The Earl of Rutland was quite well known for having his baked stag and deer pasties sent from Belvoir when he was in London.

Venison and the Tudor Table at Christmas

Venison was the meat of the nobility and generally could not be purchased – you either were ‘gifted’ it or you had your own deer park (= forest), which supplied you with both hunting, fun and venison. Christmas fell right in the hunting season and so venison was clearly a popular choice. Most recipes call for it to be boiled or roasted and baked as venison pie. A sixteenth-century English physician and former Carthusian monk esteemed it ‘gentlemen’s food’ and felt that nowhere in the world was venison so esteemed as in England.

Some meat, such as chicken and rabbit (coney), were subject to price hiking in the run-up to Christmas before dipping to well below average during Lent. At Ingatestone Hall, rabbits featured prominently both at dinner and supper over Christmas 1551-52. This may indicate that household heads treated their servants and labourers to rabbit meat at Christmas.

Accounts between 1500 and 1600, reveal that sausage was also becoming more popular with the gentry at Christmas.  Also, it has to be also that some vegetables were increasingly popular in the late sixteenth-century. This is reflected in household accounts and cookery books aimed at the well to do. A popular one was the turnip, which could be purchased during the cold season. Food (such as capons and oranges) was a popular and welcome Christmas gift.

Henry VIII received six kinds of cheese from Suffolk on New Year’s Day 1538, witnessed by Master John Husee.  In 1544, Mary received sweetmeats, amongst many other gifts.  Elizabeth I was the lucky recipient of a pair of quinces and a chessboard made from marchpane from the master Cook, as well as boxes of sweetmeats and crystallised fruit from the Clerk of the Spicery. In 1577-8, she also received a pot of green (fresh) ginger and orange flowers from Doctor Maister; a few marchpane from the Master Cook; a great pie of quinces and wardens from the Sergeant of the Pastry, while Morgan, the Apothecary, sent three boxes of ginger candy, another of ginger and a third filled with orange candy.

A chessboard made out of marchpane in black and gold
Chessboard made of marchpane

Christmas was a time when, by tradition, the wealthier members of society were supposed to extend their hospitality to those less fortunate. In December 1555, diarist Henry Machyn, recorded that he and his neighbours were guests at a great feast and offered marmalade, gingerbread, fruit and jelly.

Neighbours expecting an invite to the party at the ‘Big House’ would send anything from preserves, fruit, pies, cakes, eggs, cheese, spices, meats or brawns.  From most of the records available, it seems that gifts were given in the hope either of a return of money, gold or an invitation from the local lord of the manor or sometimes as a bribe. It was also the custom for tenants to send presents to their landlords such as capon, brawns, pigs, geese, rabbits, partridges, sugar loaves, nutmeg or baskets of apples, eggs or pears.

The most iconic and beloved Tudor dishes served at Christmas were:

Mince pies made from shredded leftover mutton (shepherds), suet, sugar, dried fruits, and spices, were supposed to contain thirteen ingredients, symbolising Christ and the Apostles. Sometimes these pies were gilded. That and the spices used, proclaimed the status of the host and also harked back to Magi. It was apparently considered unlucky to cut a Christmas pie with a knife.

Plum porridge, later called Plum Pudding or Christmas Pudding and served as an appetiser, was a thick broth of mutton or beef with plums, bread, spices, dried fruit and wine. (In the Elizabethan period, flour was also added.)

Figgy pudding was a kind of sweet dish made from almonds, wine, figs, raisins ginger and honey.

Brawn was very salty pork or boar served with mustard and was available to most people.

Turkey started to appear in England during the sixteenth-century.  The earliest record relates to six birds imported and sold in Bristol for 2d in 1526. The new arrival started to be recognised during the 1530s, was being sold in markets in 1540s and, by the end of the 1500s, it had started to appear as a Christmas food.  William Strickland, a navigator, was granted a coat of arms in 1550 showing a turkey.

A drawing of a turkey.

Stuffing, known as forcemeat, containing egg, currants, pork and herbs, was first recorded being served with poultry in 1538.

Brussels sprouts were first recorded in 1587. As there is no English recipe from the sixteenth-century featuring them, it is very doubtful that they would have been part of a Tudor, Christmas dinner.

Twelfth Night Cake was a type of sweet bread with spices and dried fruit. Sadly, no original recipe for this survives.

Bean cake appears to have been some kind of gingerbread and was also known as peppercake. Inside there was a coin or bean and sometimes also a pea. The couple who received the slice containing the bean and the pea, were made King and Queen of the Bean. They then lead the singing and dancing.

Lambs Wool & Wassail Bowl (= I give you health) are both spiced, ale based seasonal Christmas drinks with roasted crab apples swimming on the top. The word wassail occurs in extracts from Spenser, Shakespeare and Ben Johnson.

A bowl of Tudor food, baked wheat and currents decorated with small purple flowers

Boar’s head is mostly associated with Queen’s College in Oxford (where it has been served since 1341).  Boar’s head is a true status symbol and the King of France sent Henry a Christmas gift of wild boar pate.

Frumenty was an extremely popular side dish served with venison. Frumenty is wheat boiled in milk or ale with eggs, fruit, spices and sometimes sugar, cream or almond milk.

No feast day went without its banquet – and that was especially true of Christmas.  Banqueting stuffe was a dessert course with a variety of treats on offer: sweet meats (canapes) such as suckets (fruit in syrup, marmalades etc); comfits (sugar-coated seeds & spices); marchpane; sweet breads such as Twelfth Night Cake and biscuits (or jumbles).

An array of different, colourful Tudor dishes in decorative bowls and platters.
Banqueting Stuffe

Tudor Venison Pie

As our main ingredient this month is venison, which we will bake as venison pie, here is an anonymous poem of the fifteenth century:

“Then comes in the second course with mickle (much) pride,

The cranes, the herons, the bitterns, by their side

To partridges and the plovers, the woodcocks , and the snipe.

Furmity (Frumenty) for pottages, with venison fine,

And the umbles (entails) of the doe and all that ever comes in,

Capons well baked, with the pieces of the roe,

Raisins of currants, with other spices mo(re).

The Recipe for Venison Pie:

“To Bake a Red Deare” from The Good Huswife’s Jewel by Thomas Dawson; 1585/96/1610

A venison pie on a green plate and decorated by herbs and edible flowers.
Tudor Venison Pie

“Take a handful of time, a handful of rosemarie, a handful of winter savorie, a handful of bay leaves and a handful of fennel. When your liquor seethe and you perboyle your venison in it, put in your hearbes also, and perboyle your venison until it be halfe enough. Then take it out and lay it upon a faire boorde that the water may runne out from it. Then take a knife and pricke it full of holes and while it is warme have a faire traye  with vineger therein and so put your venison in from morning vntill night, and ever nowe  and then turne it upside downe. Then at night have your coffin ready. This done, season it with synamome ginger, and nutmegges, pepper and salte. And when you have seasoned it, put it in your coffin and put a good quantitie of sweete butter into it. Then put it into the Oven at night when you goe to bedde. In the morning drawe it forth and put a saucer full of vineger into your pye at a hole in the toppe of it, so that the vineger may runne into everie place of it, and then stop the whole againe and turne the bottome upward. And so serve it in.”

Here is a modernised, simplified recipe for venison pie, along with the ingredient list:

  • 1 pack of ready-made shortcrust pastry for the “coffin”
  • 1 small venison steak per person
  • 1 tablespoon of each: thyme, rosemary, winter savoury, bay leaves and fennel
  • Enough stock to submerge the meat
  • 1 cup of mild (or watered down) wine vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon of each: cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, pepper and salt
  • 1-2 spoonful of unsalted butter


First step (one day before or several hours beforehand):

  • Parboil the venison steaks in stock, together with all the herbs until they are “medium rare” but not fully cooked.
  • Remove them from the water, prick with a knife several times and put the meat into the vinegar. Leave it there for several hours or overnight.

Second step (next day or several hours later):

  • Roll out the pastry (coffin) and form a pie “coffin” (base).
  • Remove the meat from the vinegar and season it with the spices. Chop it into smaller pieces, if you prefer. Lay them out in your coffin base. Add the butter, close up with a lid and bake until golden brown at medium heat.
  • Remove from the oven and while still warm, make a small hole into the lid, spoon in some of the vinegar and turn over. Decorate and serve!

Now if you want to follow along and watch this recipe being recreated in Brigitte’s kitchen, click on the image below. If you want to read more about how Tudor Christmas traditions, you can read my blog: Hever at Christmas: Festive Traditions and Momentous Decisions : Good luck and enjoy! Have a Merry Tudor Christmas! Looking forward to seeing you back in January!

A venison pie on a green plate and decorated by herbs and edible flowers.

Sources and further reading:

A Tudor Christmas, by A. Weir and Siobhan Clarke

Christmas in Shakespeare’s England, by Maria Hubert

Festivals and Feasts of the Common Man 1550-1660, by Stuart Peachey

Food and Identity in England 1540-1640, by Paul S. Lloyd

Plenty and Grase – Food & Drink in a Sixteenth Century Household, by Mark Dawson

Food in Early Modern England, by Joan Thirsk

Food in Early Modern Europe, by Ken Albala

The Good Huswife’s Jewel, by Thomas Dawson (1585/96-97/1610)

Each month, our Tudor recipe is contributed by Brigitte Webster. Brigitte runs the ‘Tudor and 17th Century Experience‘. She turned her passion for early English history into a business and opened a living history guesthouse, where people step back in time and totally immerse themselves in Tudor history by sleeping in Tudor beds, eating and drinking authentic, Tudor recipes. She also provides her guests with Tudor entertainment. She loves re-creating Tudor food and gardens and researching Tudor furniture.

In this month’s episode of The Tudor Travel Show: Extra! Sarah is in conversation with Professor Simon Thurley, a pre-eminent architectural historian, specialising in Britain’s built environment. Sarah talks to Simon about the Boleyn properties of the early sixteenth century when the family was at the height of its power. She also explores with Simon the delights of his most recent book on Tudor buildings: Houses of Power.

Note: This blog on Tudor ‘Houses of Power’ is an abbreviated transcript of that conversation, which you can also listen to in full here.

The Boleyn ‘Houses of Power’

Welcome, Simon, to The Tudor Travel Show.  It’s a total delight for me to have you here.  As I think you know, you are one of my favourite authors in the Tudor-sphere and it would be great to be able to hear a little bit from you about the work that you are doing now. Most recently, I saw you on the Gresham College website, where you were delivering a lecture about the Boleyns property portfolio and their House of Power in the early sixteenth century. We are going to talk more about the Boleyns today. But before we dive into that, you also gave a lecture on a similar theme, but this time wrapped around the Cecil family. I was curious about why you picked those two families. Was there a particular question you were hoping to answer as you pulled together the work to deliver those lectures?

An image of Professor Simon Thurley set against part of the cover of his book: Houses of Power


Essentially, I chose families who acquired their wealth and their success in slightly different ways. The Boleyns are extremely interesting because they became an enormously wealthy landowning family with a huge number of properties and a huge amount land and, of course, their most famous child became, by default, the greatest landowner in England of them all. So it’s an aspect of a very, very well-trodden path that hadn’t really been looked at before. The Cecils likewise; although they came to power via a different route, through their skill in administration, they amassed an equally, and arguably even more impressive, portfolio of buildings and estates at a period when the monarchy was not so interested in doing that. Henry VIII, if he had seen any of the Cecil houses, would have licked his lips and probably persuaded them to give them over to him!


Well, let’s look at the Boleyns in more detail. One of the things that I found to be most interesting in your lecture was how you talked about Hever in relation to some of the larger Boleyn properties, Rochford Hall and Luton Hoo, for example. Everybody knows a lot about Hever, but maybe not so much about Rochford Hall or Luton Hoo. Can you tell us a little bit about those properties and, in particular, how they might have appeared during the sixteenth-century when the Boleyns owned them?


Yes, indeed. What the Boleyn family did essentially, was that they married into land. And, arguably, the whole story of the family dynasty is driven by women, because it’s through the female line that the Boleyns came into a series of massive houses. These aren’t small places; these are really big double or, in some cases, triple courtyard houses. Obviously, they’re not as big as Hampton Court but they are very, very substantial residences.

A reconstruction of Rochford Hall, one of he Boleyn family's Houses of Power

Rochford Hall, which is in Essex, still has big chunks surviving. The remains of the building are now on a golf course. It’s very, very close to the church and the church has a private pew in it, which I think may well have been a private pew that the Boleyn family, including Anne, would have used. So, you can get a little bit of a flavour of the size and splendour of the house and its landscape setting because, of course, although it wasn’t surrounded by a golf course in the sixteenth-century it was surrounded by beautiful, mature trees in parkland. The golf course still allows you to get a sense of that.

Now, with regard to what is left of Luton Hoo; there’s nothing, absolutely nothing! It’s very, very frustrating. The Hoo, as it was known, was another big house with a lot of land attached to it. However, in the seventeenth and eighteenth-centuries, and again in the nineteenth-century, a succession of very big building projects literally scalped the landscape clean. This is very frustrating because it’s quite clear that Thomas Boleyn, Anne’s father, spent a lot of time there; it was one of his principal residences.


I knew something of Rochford Hall and the likes of Blickling Hall, but I didn’t really know so much about Luton Hoo so, after listening to your lecture, I went away to try and research it a bit more. There doesn’t even seem to be any description of what the house actually looked like, is that right?


Yes, that is right although that doesn’t mean that it isn’t there. I think that it is quite possible that more could be found out and it’s also perfectly possible that more could be found out about Rochford Hall, as well. It might even be possible there to partially reconstruct what it was like in the Boleyn period. I doubt that you could get that far with the Hoo, but I think it is possible to get further. I did look at quite a lot of primary documentation, including all the relevant wills and inquisitions post-mortem, but I suspect with a really sustained campaign, you might be able to get further than I did.

An image of Hever Castle, one of the Boleyn family's Houses of Power
Hever Castle


Thinking about the trio of properties we’ve already been talking about (Hever, Luton Hoo and Rochford Hall), I was left with the impression that Hever perhaps wasn’t used so much as a family home during the Boleyn children’s childhood. No doubt it was used, but I’d always thought that was the principal residence in which the children grew up. Would it be more accurate though to imagine that they would have moved equally between those three or four properties, or more?


Yes, you’re quite right. Hever is very, very small and I was able to reconstruct in great detail the plan of the house in the time that it was owned by the Boleyns. It is a very, very small house and Thomas Boleyn was a very, very great man and there’s no way that his whole family (and there were a lot of children, plus all their servants and attendants), could have stayed there for any serious length of time.

There was very good hunting in the High Weald and I think it was very much used as a hunting lodge but also, and this is absolutely crucial to understanding it, it was close to Greenwich. In the early part of Henry VIII’s reign, when the fatal attraction between Henry and Anne began, Greenwich was the headquarters of the monarchy and it’s a very straightforward ride from Greenwich to Hever. So, there were a lot of reasons why Hever was geographically very convenient and, during that period, when Anne really had to keep out of the way because it was all very difficult, it was the ideal place to retreat to because there were hardly any servants there; it was a very, very private location, surrounded by a double moat in the middle of a hunting park. If you didn’t want people to bother you it was the obvious place to go.

An old woodcut map of Tudor London showing streets in the city.
Section for the Agas map of Tudor London from 1520, showing Old Jewry in the City of London (highlighted). This area was one of the known locations of a Boleyn London home. Note: ‘Old Jewry’ lies just off London’s main thoroughfare: Cheapside.
Taken from: The Agas Map of Early Modern London

That’s really interesting; it sheds a whole new light on the subject. And I guess the closeness to Greenwich would perhaps explain why she retreated there when she fell ill with the Sweat. I think they were at Greenwich when they were when the king first received news of the outbreak in London. Now I’m also curious about the Boleyn properties in London. I know that Anne occupied certain properties, I think Durham House was one when she was in her ascendancy, but do we know of any specific London properties like, for example, we know of Austin Friars for Thomas Cromwell?


We do know where their houses were in the City of London. We know that and, in fact, one of the consequences of me giving my Gresham lecture on the Boleyns is that someone who is making a study of various aspects of this got in touch with me.  She has managed to identify a Boleyn property in the City that I hadn’t found. So, there were a number of houses in the City but, of course, by that stage, these big aristocrats were moving West. They were moving out of the city and colonizing swanky residential areas, such as The Strand. We should also remember that Thomas and Elizabeth had lodgings in every single royal place, indeed quite extensive lodgings in some of them. So they were well provided for in London.

Do we know exactly where the Boleyn properties in London properties were?


Well, for example, at one point there was a house near Lincoln’s Inn and at another time there was a house in Old Jewry, right in the centre of the City. These were probably pretty substantial masonry houses, but no house in the City was very big because it was very constrained space. The occupants would have spent most of the time at court and the moment that the ‘end of term’ came they’d be out of London. In the case of the Boleyns, this would have meant going to the larger houses, to Rochford or Hoo, in particular, and then also little trips to Hever to entertain themselves.

An old woodcut map of Lincoln's Inn Fields, part of Tudor London
Lincoln’s Inn: another known location of a Boleyn property in London. This time, the property lay outside the city walls, closer to the fashionable Strand district of Tudor London.
Taken from: The Agas Map of Early Modern London


Great, I’m looking forward to it! Now, I want to talk now about your book ‘Houses of Power’. What an absolutely amazing book it is! It’s so packed with illuminating detail. I keep going back to it, having forgotten what I’ve read and going, “Oh my goodness!” all over again. Please can you tell us about what stimulated you to write it and if somebody was buying it, what could they expect?


Well, I’m really someone who writes history through buildings and through places and this book is about buildings, but it is also about places. It’s about urban space and it’s about the countryside as well as individual buildings. It’s really trying to help us understand the Tudor court through the places in which it spent its time. Obviously, there is a considerable amount of information on Whitehall and the Thames Valley houses. This is where the court resided in the wintertime: Greenwich and Richmond etc. However, there’s also quite a lot about what happened elsewhere, including the progresses of Henry VIII and Elizabeth. The book also explores how those progresses worked; where they went; the houses they stayed in and what happened if you were unfortunate enough to be an aristocrat and Queen Elizabeth turned up on your doorstep!

Book cover of Simon Thurley's Houses of Power : The Places that Shaped the Tudor World.

Henry VII’s Houses of Power


When you wrote the book, were you collating all the knowledge you’d already acquired over the years or were you trying to research something else? And also, my second question, if I may, is did you learn anything through writing ‘Houses of Power’?


‘Houses Of Power’ really came out of my very first book, that was published in 1993, and which was called ‘The Royal Palaces of Tudor England’ and that was essentially my PhD. That book had a number of flaws. The two principal flaws were, firstly, that back in 1993, I hadn’t really properly understood Henry VII and, secondly, that the book didn’t go on to explore the residences of Edward, Mary and Elizabeth. Both of those shortcomings made quite a big difference to the sort of the picture I was able to paint; particularly in relation to not really fully understanding Henry VII.

So by the time I started writing ‘Houses of Power,’ I thought I knew everything about the subject. Then, I found to my complete horror that I really didn’t and I had got it quite muddled up and misunderstood. And so certainly the material on Henry VII is very original; I don’t think anybody previously understood the interrelationship between Henry VII and the places in which he lived. I think that is a very new insight. Also, the Elizabethan stuff; by that, I mean properly understanding Queen Elizabeth I’s attitudes to architecture and to the places in which she lived and how she used them. Everyone says she wasn’t interested in building, but actually, she built some pretty important things. So, I think the book did surprise me. Having worked in this area for more than 30 years, I realised how much I really didn’t know and didn’t understand. I felt that it was very important to try to get it all together in one place as a coherent narrative.

Bust of Henry VII
Henry VII


I was really fascinated by what you were saying there about Henry VII. Can you talk a little bit more about that; about what you learned about him and the places he occupied and what that reveals about him?


I think the single most important thing that one has to remember is that it’s been very, very unusual in English history for a monarch to come to the throne who had really never stepped inside a royal palace before he became King. On one occasion, for a matter of hours, Henry VII came to London, went into Westminster Palace, saw King Henry VI and that was it.

So, when he became King, every single royal house he went into was completely new to him. He had been in Westminster as a teenager 20 years before he came to the throne, but he’d never been to Windsor; he’d never been to Woodstock; he’d never been to any of the big palaces. So there’s a real sense of a reinvention that takes place and that reinvention can only really take place when he feels a bit more secure on the throne.  

For the first part of his reign, he’s looking over his shoulder in every direction for rebellions. He could have lost the throne at any moment. But the moment he feels secure on the throne, after about 1500, you do see him taking a completely different course. He’s able to reinvent things in his own image. There is a sense then that Henry VII starts afresh. One of the reasons he can do that is that he’s not encumbered by a huge back history of tradition, because he didn’t know what it was like being at court before he got there.

A reconstruction of Greenwich palace, one of the Tudor's Houses of Power
Reconstruction of Greenwich Palace by Peter Kent.


Do you think that reinvention you’ve referred to was evident in his development or rebuilding of what was the Palace of Placentia, Duke Humphrey’s old palace, which became Greenwich? Was that his first major building project, and can that building at Greenwich tell us anything more about his aspirations, tastes and so on?


Yes, I think it definitely can. Placentia or Greenwich (depending on what you want to call it, it’s called different things at different times) is a very particular type of palace because it is one that has a physical division between a sort of pleasure area and a more public area. I think what’s very important about Henry VII is that he’s involved in a break with tradition, whereby he more or less insists on having a private and safe environment after he discovers a plot in which his Lord Chamberlain and his Lord Steward are implicated. It’s pretty horrific. He is determined to create an environment within the royal houses where he could be safe and secure and that leads to the whole new concept of private residences within these places.


That’s very interesting! Now, one of the aspects on which I completely resonate with you is my love of seeing history through places. What I have found out is that when I understand more about a Tudor building, I understand more about the history and the events and the people that lived there. I know you share that feeling; can help me explain why that might be the case?

Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire


Well, imagine you’re thinking about the Reformation and you live in Bolivia (assuming anyone in Bolivia is remotely interested in English history) and you’re reading textbooks. You can appreciate that there was a big moment that happened in English history. Then imagine that you get on an aeroplane and you go to Fountains Abbey and you see this huge magnificent building of stone for yourself. You begin to understand the investment in bricks and mortar and money that went into the whole of monasticism. Then you begin to understand that there were reasons why the monastic life was not fulfilling its original purposes; that there was corruption and there were abuses; that there was a process of reform and a greedy king who wanted to liquidise its assets for himself.

That visit to Fountains Abbey will tell you an awful lot more than reading four or five books because you’re actually there and you can see the physical impact. You can replicate that with the Tudor world; you can visit the Tower of London or Hampton Court – there are all sorts of places you can go to – and suddenly you begin to get it. I think that’s it – you step into a place where you can touch the very brick that was touched by the people you are reading about and studying. Obviously, things will have changed, but without going to a place it’s very hard to understand.

When I write about places I never ever write about them unless I have been there and really properly studied the place as much as I can in its physical sense. When writing ‘Houses of Power’, I had visited them all before, but I went back to dozens and dozens of places to look at them again to make sure I was really understanding their landscapes and setting; how the parks related to the houses; where the rivers were; where the roads were; how you’d get to them – all of that you need to get your teeth into.


I know it’s a bit of a clichéd phrase, but it absolutely does bring it all to life when you can understand how people would have arrived at the place and how they would have used the rooms. Anybody that follows this show will recognise the expression that I use with my co-author of the ‘In The Footsteps’ books, Natalie Grueninger; that is that ‘it is that it’s only time and not space that separates you’ when you visit a historic site. I think that’s exactly what you’re referring to there about being able to touch the bricks – and that’s very special.


Yes, very neatly put.

A reconstruction of Whitehall palace from the river front, one of the Tudor's Houses of Power
Whitehall Palace from the Thames

Simon’s Top Tudor Places


Sadly, we’re coming towards the end of our chat. I have a couple of slightly whimsical questions for you now, if I may, Simon. First, of all the places you have studied over the years, is there a particular place, house or chamber from the Tudor period that you would love to see recreated in all its former glory and why would you choose that one?


There is one building that I’ve researched more than anywhere else and really thought about more than anyone else and gone back and back and back to – and that is Whitehall. Whitehall is really such an important and influential building and, despite all my efforts over 30 years, it is still fundamentally misunderstood. People call it a jumble of buildings, a pile of disorganised structures hurled together – but that simply isn’t the case.

Whitehall is really such an important place; to understand how it worked explains how politics worked and how the government worked at the time. So, if I could have my day in the past, unquestionably I would want to spend it in Whitehall. Incidentally, I was reading seventeenth-century diarist, Robert Hook, the other day and was fascinated to learn that Christopher Wren apparently played exactly the same game in the 1670s, asking where would you go back to if you could go back in history. So, it’s an old game, but it’s a really nice one, isn’t it?


It is. For me, it would have to be the Royal Apartments at The Tower, simply because Anne Boleyn is my historical heroine, as many listeners will know. To be close to the place where she saw her moments both of triumph, and of tragedy, would be incredible. Anyway, enough about me and my whims! My next whimsical question is: if there is one so far unanswered question about Tudor houses of power, to which you would really love to have the answer, what would it be?

Drawing of the river front of Greenwich Palace, one of the Tudor's Houses of Power


Well, there are a number of very important houses of power about which we still don’t know as much as we want to. There are some quite specific things I’d like to know. For example, I would love to do a bit more digging at Greenwich. If someone were to say ‘Okay, you can do a really massive archaeological dig at Greenwich’. That would be great. The lawns are all there ready and just waiting for my spade! I think the question I’d want to answer would be about the inner court there, which Elizabeth I remodelled. I’d really love to see if I could find some big chunks of stucco or terracotta to understand exactly how classicizing that courtyard was. I think it was rather an amazing courtyard and because it is lost to history, people believe that Elizabeth I didn’t do anything, but I think that she did something there that was pretty amazing and we just don’t really know about it.

Well, my final question is about up and coming projects. I’ve mentioned, of course, your Gresham lecture coming up on the Cecils that everybody should make a beeline for. Are there any other projects you can tell us about?

I’m in the process of completing a sequel to my ‘Houses of Power’ book which, you’ll be disappointed to hear, is about the seventeenth-century and the Stuarts. So, I can’t really mention that in this environment! But I do actually have a project about Tudor merchants’ houses in the City, which will see the light of day as a book in due course. I think that will be interesting and revealing for people because only one of them survives and that is Crosby Hall, which is now in Chelsea, and which was owned by Thomas More. That will be the centrepiece of the book.

That sounds marvellous, I can’t wait! In the meantime, I just wanted to thank you so much for taking the time out and talking to us today about these wonderful houses of power.


You are welcome! It was really nice to talk to you.

The 30 November (2020) sees the 490th anniversary of the sad demise and death of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey at Leicester Abbey. This followed his arrest for treason at Cawood Castle in North Yorkshire earlier that month. To commemorate this event, The Tudor Travel Guide team are holding a virtual summit over the weekend of the 28-29 November 2020. It will celebrate, and remember, The Rise and Fall of Cardinal Wolsey. One aspect that we will be exploring in the summit is the notion of Wolsey as a patron of the arts. Nowhere does this remain more evident than in the bricks and mortar of the greatest surviving palace of the Tudor age, Hampton Court.

You can tune in to the summit to see me in conversation with Dr Jonathan Foyle, who has extensively researched Wolsey’s early palace. Jonathan describes how Hampton Court became a physical expression of the Cardinal’s status, wealth and power. You can click on the image below, or at the end of this blog to register. But for now, let’s go back in time, to before the great palace we know today took shape, and explore its earliest origins.

The Origins of Hampton Court Palace

When we think of Hampton Court Palace, most of us immediately associate it with the court of King Henry VIII. We recall the pivotal events of his reign that unfolded within its russet-coloured walls: the stillbirth of Anne Boleyn’s second child in 1534; the birth of the future Edward VI in 1537 and death of his mother, Jane Seymour, shortly thereafter; the arrest of Katherine Howard in 1541 and finally Henry’s marriage to Katherine Parr in 1543. Much credit is given to Henry for the building we see today, but in recent years, architectural historians such as Jonathan Foyle, have begun to shed light on the role played by Thomas Wolsey in the genius and glory of the building.

Although it wasn’t my original intention, it turns out that this blog will be the first of three. The second will focus on the development of Hampton Court by Wolsey after 1515, and the third will describe the changes that Henry VIII subsequently made to the palace during his extensive refurbishment of the building after 1529. As far as this blog is concerned though, I had some gaps I needed to fill in about the earliest origins of the greatest Tudor palace in England, so I went on a quest to find out more…

The Birth of a Palace: Location, Location, Location…

It is no accident that Hampton Court Palace it sited where it is today, although urbanisation has obscured some of the original attributes of the surrounding landscape that made the building of the initial grange and manor house an attractive prospect. Today, the palace is engulfed by suburbia. A busy road runs to the west of the palace gates and the adjacent town of East Moseley brings a hum of twenty-first-century living. But to enjoy Hampton Court as it was meant to be appreciated, we must allow all such trappings of modern-day life to dissolve away into time.

An old watercolour of Anne Boleyn's Gateway at Hampton Court Palace
Anne Boleyn’s Gateway, housing the stairs leading up to the Great Hall

Hampton Court, as it was known from the beginning of its history, was established in the heart of the Surrey countryside, on the north bank of the River Thames. Clearly, there was a settlement on-site even before the Norman Conquest of England in 1066: the name ‘Hampton’ originating from Anglo-Saxon, with Hame meaning home and Ton signifying a cluster of houses fortified with a hedge and ditch.

The building lies 13 miles from central London in a westerly direction. Here the ground is flat, gravelly and therefore, well-drained. An account of the palace, written towards the end of the nineteenth century captures an image of the surrounding countryside, much as it might have looked some 300 years previously before relentless urban sprawl swallowed up the surrounding countryside. Ernest Law’s History of Hampton Court Palace, first published in 1889, describes how the stretch of riverbank across from Hampton Court was even then ‘studded with eyots [small river islands], and bordered with luxuriant meadows fringed with willows’. He goes on to describe how the meadows beyond were ‘crowned with flowers’ with ‘clusters of trees, flowery hedgerows and broad undulating heath-clad commons’. Beyond that, when houses did not obscure the view, you could see the ‘dim blue outline of the Surrey Hills’. All very pleasant, and a far cry from the dirt, filth and pestilence of Tudor London!

Of course, there was another critical factor in Wolsey’s interest in developing the modest, existing medieval manor into a grand and palatial building: it lay roughly midway between London and another major royal palace at Windsor (20 miles upstream from Hampton Court). It was also in easy reach of Richmond Palace eight miles downstream. The river connected them all via ‘the silent highway’ of the Thames, thereby avoiding the relative lawlessness of England’s overland road network. The river provided an easy and pleasant way to travel – and thus, Hampton Court became a convenient stopping off point for royalty, visiting dignitaries and ambassadors. However, Wolsey was not the first substantive owner of the manor of Hampton.

A watercolour painting of Base Court of Hampton Court
Base Court looking towards Anne Boleyn’s Gateway

Records stretch back to 1086, with early owners including Walter de St Valerie, whose family owned the manor for around 150 years thereafter. During the early thirteenth-century, Hampton Court was passed to Henry de St Alban, who in turn either lent or gave the land to the Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem. They had their English HQ at St John’s Priory in the City. During the early fourteenth century, wealthy local landowners bestowed further lands upon the manor, such that by the beginning of the 1400s, Hampton Court had augmented to an estate of considerable value. This estate included a ‘preceptory’ (monastery of the Order of the Knights Hospitallers), ‘a small mansion’ (which Law states was probably on the site of the current palace) and ‘a garden with a dovecot’, alongside around 1000 acres of pasture and arable land.

Another 150 years go by before we hear more of Hampton Court. In 1503, the manor was visited by Elizabeth of York. At the time, the property was being leased from the Knight’s Hospitallers by Lord Daubeney, who had risen to become Lord Chancellor under Henry VII. It is perhaps, therefore, not surprising that the queen should be a guest of one of the most influential men in the land at the time.

The queen’s privy purse expenses reveal that she was rowed by 12 oarsmen upstream from Richmond to Hampton Court by barge. The occasion of the visit was a retreat to the then religious foundation to pray for the safe delivery of a child, for Elizabeth was heavily pregnant at the time. Elizabeth stayed at the manor for eight days, before being conveyed back to Richmond with her ladies in a ‘grete bote’. Sadly, she would die from puerperal sepsis just one month later. The use of Hampton Court in this way is not surprising given the contents of a letter from Richard Fox, Bishop of Winchester, to Wolsey around this time. Fox describes how Henry VII used Hampton Court as a ‘cell’, or subsidiary house, within easy reach of Richmond.

A Reconstruction of Hampton Court
Wolsey’s Great Hall by Jonathan Foyle

One more royal visit was to grace the manor of Hampton Court before it was acquired by Cardinal Wolsey. A young and virile Henry VIII arrived there with Katherine of Aragon on 20 March 1514. During the visit, a Venetian called Giovanni Ratto presented the king with an incredibly valuable Mantuan ‘barb’ or racehorse on behalf of the Marquis of Mantua. Apparently, the Marquis had been offered his weight in gold for the horse but had instead decided to gift it to the King of England, who clearly appreciated the value of the gift, later writing a note of thanks to the Marquis that it was ‘the most beautiful, high bred and surpassing steeds’.

Thomas Wolsey Acquires Hampton Court

Then, on midsummers day, 21 June 1514, an indenture was granted from Thomas Docwra, prior of the Knight’s Hospitaller to ‘the most Rev. Father in God Thomas Wolsey, Archbishop of York’ for the lease of Hampton Court for a term of 99 years at a rent of £50 per annum. A copy of the lease is described in Law’s account; it confirms the presence of a small manor house, which was apparently moated. It seems to have been sparsely furnished at this point; a hall is described containing only two tables and a cupboard. A parlour, tower chamber, chapel and kitchen are also mentioned.

The following year, 1515, saw the commencement of Wolsey’s ambitious project to convert a modest, medieval manor house into one of the most impressive and sumptuous buildings in England. It was so majestic that Henry VIII would come to covert it for himself but first, Wolsey would create a building that was unique on English soil: a very English palace with an Italianate twist. It was a palace that would dazzle visiting European dignitaries and cement Wolsey’s status as the most powerful and influential man in England, next to the king himself.

In a subsequent blog, I will describe Wolsey’s grand design and recreate the palace he built before Henry VIII seized it from the Cardinal. In the meantime, you can hear more about Wolsey’s Hampton Court from Jonathan Foyle in my up-and-coming summit: The Rise and Fall of Cardinal Wolsey. Just click here to find out more and save your FREE place.

Many of you will have been as sad as I was to learn that, here in the UK, we have just lost one of our most ancient pear trees to a new railway project. In honour of this tree, and as pears are currently seasonal and easy to obtain, I have chosen the pear as our main ingredient for this month’s Tudor food blog.

Although the pear has never been as popular as the apple, these long-lived trees have a long history in England. Probably not indigenous, the wild pear arrived on our shores in Saxon times – and most probably even earlier than that. The Saxons called the fruit the “pere” or “peru hu”. This was probably the ancestor of the domesticated pear, which were introduced to many parts of Europe by the Romans and later, during the medieval period, by monks (in England by the Cistercians, in particular). On several occasions, the Domesday Book of 1086 mentions old pear trees being used as boundary markers.

There have been a variety of domesticated pears since the Romans, but identification can be tricky as names changed all the time. England’s best known and still available early pear is the WARDEN, which was first mentioned by the English poet and theologian, Alexander Neckam, in the thirteenth century. A warden is basically a firm-textured cooking pear that keeps well over the winter, a property highly appreciated in times when food preservation was limited.

In 1530, Cardinal Wolsey is reputed to have been eating roasted wardens at Sheffield Manor at the moment when he was first seized with his fatal illness. One of the earliest entries relating to the pear in an English herbal can be admired in ‘The Grete Herball‘ which was published by Peter Treveris in 1526.

Pear, P. Treveris

Harris, a fruiterer to Henry VIII, introduced pears from France and the low countries in 1533 for the orchard at Teynham (Kent). In 1548, William Turner lists the wild pear and its various names. He also mentions a revival of interest in orchard management as part of his Herbal of 1568.

In 1580, Harrison said that “pirrie’ (pear cider) was made from pears in Sussex, Kent and Worcestershire. The pear’s importance was recognized by the incorporation in Worcester’s city arms. The image below shows the three pears sable, included in the coat of arms of the city on the direction of Queen Elizabeth I, when she visited Worcester in 1575.

Worcester’s 3 Pears Sable

The Elizabethan herbalist, John Gerard, showed in his Herbal of 1597, that the number of pear varieties had increased since the beginning of the century. He illustrated eight pears: the Jenneting; the Pear Royall; the Quince Pear; the Katherine; the Saint James; the Burgomet; the Bishops and the Winter Pear. He lists several wild hedge pears and states that they taste too harsh and bitter for consumption and should be used instead for making ‘perry’ cider.

William Shakespeare does not appear to have enjoyed pears, as most of his references to them are not favourable.

‘…… as crest-fallen as a dried pear (Merry Wives of Windsor)

……I must have saffron to colour the warden pies (Winter’s Tale)

…. Your old virginity, is like one of our French withered pears’ (from “All’s Well that Ends Well”).

Pears came in different sizes, tastes, textures and colours. In his Five Hundreth Pointes of Good Husbandrie (1573), English poet and farmer, Thomas Tusser, is one of the first to mention the different colours. General storage advice was given in the Second Book, Entreating the Ordering of Orchards (1577) by Conrad Heresbach. The pears should be stored in sand, flocks (scraps of wool), covered with wheat or chaff, or by dipping the stalks in boiling pitch and then hanging the pears up. Keeping the pears in freshly boiled wine was another option.

The earliest record of a garden design incorporating an orchard of Warden trees dates to the late sixteenth-century. it was commissioned by devout Catholic, Sir Thomas Tresham, at his lodge at Lyveden in Northamptonshire. Lawson’s New Orchard and Garden (1597), advised that “hard winter fruit and wardens” were not fit to be gathered until Michaelmas (29 September).

Pears were a popular gift to the nobility by commoners, as recorded on the 15 December 1534, when Thomas Cromwell received Wardens from Sir Henry Penago. On 2 April 1539, the accounts show an entry of 12d given to a poor woman for bringing Wardens. Tudors were not yet convinced that eating pears raw was a good thing, due to their ‘cold and wet’ properties, but they did recognize their health benefits eaten cooked with the addition of sugar and spices. Boiled with honey in wine made them ‘agreeable and wholesome’.

Pears are often depicted in Renaissance religious paintings and frequently feature in Flemish flower and fruit paintings of the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries. The pear gives rise to metaphor – mostly sexual in nature – and invited comparison to the shape of the womb.

A picture of Madonnna and child
Madonna with pear, Hoefnagel’s pear and Jan Steel’s painting

The health benefits of the (cooked) pear and Wardens were acknowledged by the Tudor physician, Andrew Boorde, who said in his Dyetary of Health, published in 1542, that they were nutritious roasted, stewed or baked and comforted the stomach – especially if enjoyed eaten with other preserved fruits. A view shared by Christopher Langton in his Introduction to Physicke (1545); William Bullein in his Book of Simples (1562) and Thomas Cogan’s The Haven of Health (1584).  John Harrington’s message of 1607 is clear, ‘Raw pears a poison, baked a medicine’.

And, on that note, we will follow their advice and make full use of this delicious fine fruit and prepare a dish which frequently featured at the tables of the nobility as part of their banquet. This recipe is also so easy to replicate you can’t go wrong. The aroma and taste are divine and will not disappoint even the fussiest eater.


To make Wardens in Conserve from A Proper Newe Booke of Cokerye, a recipe collection gathered by Matthew Parker, Master of Corpus Christi College in Cambridge, published in 1545/57/75.

The ingredients for Tudor pears in conserve

This recipe is one of a variety that existed for this pear based ‘sweetmeat’.  The earliest we know of in England dates to 1390, under the name of ‘Peers in Confyt’. It is believed that at Henry IV’s wedding feast in 1403, pears in syrup were served together with venison, quails and sturgeon.

Modernised version:


Hard pears – one per person

Red sweet wine (for Romney, which was a Greek wine popular between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries) – around 250 to 500ml for 4 pears

Clear honey – 100-200ml

Sugar (quite a lot)

Cinnamon (to taste)

Ginger (to taste)


  • Boil the wine with the honey.
  • Wash and peel pears but do not remove the stalk or cut the pears.
  • Place the pears into the wine, cover and allow them to simmer gently until soft (around 20-40 minutes).
  • Mix in the spices and sugar and stir over a low heat to dissolve then allow it to boil up for a few minutes to produce a ‘syrup’ type consistency.  Add more sugar for thickness, if required.
  • Turn and check frequently.
  • Remove the pears from the wine, place in dishes and cover with the syrup.
  • Serve hot or cold. Decorate with borage flowers, rose petals or cinnamon and then enjoy your posh banqueting dessert – fit for a Tudor king or queen!

Video of How to Make Tudor Pears in Conserve…

If you wish to listen to Brigitte talking about pears in Tudor times and watch her making the ‘Pears in Conserve’ recipe, click on the image below.

Tudor pears in a pot covered in conserve
Click on the image above to watch Brigitte’s video

Thomas Dawson’s recipe alternative: (1597)

You may also bake the pears without liquid in a dish in the oven. Then remove, allow to cool slightly and peel. Use juice created during the baking process to create a syrup with sugar, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and some wine. Note: Pears were advised to be reserved until after the main meal, to ‘ease the stomach’ acting as a digestif.

Sources used and recommended for further reading:

  • Cultivated Fruits of Britain: Their Origin and History, by F.A. Roach
  • The Herball, by John Gerard, 1597
  • The Grete Herball, by Peter Treveris, 1526
  • The Names of Herbes, by William Turner, 1548
  • The Booke of Simples, by W. Bullein, 1562
  • The Haven of Helth, by T. Cogan, 1584
  • Four Bookes of Husbandry, by C. Heresbach, 1577
  • The Englishman’s’ Doctor, by J. Harrington,  1607
  • Five Hundred Points of Husbandry, by T. Tusser, 1573/1812
  • Food and Health in Early Modern Europe by David Gentilcore
  • A Proper Newe Booke of Cokerye, 1545/57/75
  • The Original Warden Pear by Margaret Roberts

Each month, our Tudor recipe is contributed by Brigitte Webster. Brigitte runs the ‘Tudor and 17th Century Experience‘. She turned her passion for early English history into a business and opened a living history guesthouse, where people step back in time and totally immerse themselves in Tudor history by sleeping in Tudor beds, eating and drinking authentic, Tudor recipes. She also provides her guests with Tudor entertainment. She loves re-creating Tudor food and gardens and researching Tudor furniture.

The tragic and untimely death of Jane Seymour 483 years ago today devastated Henry VIII. Although Jane died at Hampton Court Palace, as we shall hear in this week’s guest blog from Sylvia Barbara Soberton, Henry retreated to grieve at nearby Esher Place to mourn his loss. Now you can learn more about this narrow window in time as part of Sylvia’s virtual book tour to celebrate the launch of her new book: The Medical Downfall of the Tudors: Sex, Reproduction and Succession.

The Death of Jane Seymour

Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife, died on 24 October 1537 following complications from childbirth that arose after her long and arduous labour. Only two weeks before, Jane had given birth to Henry VIII’s longed-for male heir, Prince Edward, who would become Edward VI. Jane’s death was a painful moment in Henry’s life: after two marriages that ended in heartbreak and scandal, he finally had a wife who gave him the son he had craved since his accession in 1509. And yet Jane died shortly after their son’s birth. Many people wonder, if Jane was Henry’s true love, was he at her deathbed? In this article, I’m going to answer that question.

A portrait of Queen Jane Seymour

Jane Seymour established her birthing chamber at the newly refurbished Hampton Court Palace, breaking with the tradition of royal children being born at Greenwich. She took to her chamber on 27 September while the King left for Esher Place, a few miles from Hampton Court, to enjoy hunting there. His presence at Esher is confirmed on 30 September.[1] On 10 October 1537, the Queen went into labour that dragged for longer than anticipated, and on 11 October a solemn procession went through London “to pray for the Queen that was then in labour of child”.[2] Finally, at two o’clock in the morning of 12 October 1537, Jane succeeded where her predecessors had failed and gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Three days later Prince Edward, named after the saint on whose feast day he was born, was baptised in the royal chapel at Hampton Court, with the nobility and the King’s daughters present for the occasion. 

Yet soon after the christening, the Queen’s health deteriorated. Day by day she grew increasingly weak until, on 23 October 1537, she had “a natural lax” after which it looked like she was on the road to full recovery.[3] This “natural lax” was not “heavy bleeding”, as suggested by Edward VI’s biographer.[4] “Lax”, in the medical context of the era, meant diarrhoea. But Jane’s condition worsened at night, and in the morning her confessor administered the extreme unction. She died on 24 October 1537 at Hampton Court Palace, aged about twenty-nine.

Was Henry VIII at Jane’s deathbed? On 24 October, shortly before Jane’s death, Sir John Russell wrote to Thomas Cromwell informing him of the King’s whereabouts:

“The King was determined, as this day, to have removed to Esher; and because the Queen was very sick this night, and this day, he tarried; but tomorrow, God willing, he intended to be there. If she amends, he will go; but if she amends not, he told me, this day, ‘he could not find it in his heart’; for, I assure you, she hath been in great danger yesternight and this day. Thanked be God, she is somewhat amended; and if she escapes this night, the physicians be in good hope that she be past all danger.”[5]

Sadly, Jane didn’t escape death’s clutches. It appears that Henry was at Hampton Court when Jane breathed her last; whether he was at her deathbed remains possible but unlikely, considering his inherent dread of sickness and death. It may be that Jane’s premature death reawakened unpleasant memories of the death of Henry’s beloved mother, Elizabeth of York, who died in similar circumstances thirty-four years earlier. Hampton Court was now the place where Jane Seymour died and Henry didn’t want to stay there. Where did he go? A document in the Herald’s College recorded that following Jane’s death, the King “retired to a solitary place to pass his sorrows”.[6] Chronicler Edward Hall wrote that Henry departed to Westminster Palace “where he mourned and kept himself close and secret a great while”.[7] However, as we will see, this is not correct because on the day of Jane’s death Henry returned to Esher Place.  

The King Mourns at Esher Place

The Gatehouse of Esher Place

Before the end of October, Henry met with his councillors there and, according to Cromwell, was convinced to remarry. The King apparently “took pleasure” at Esher, and Cromwell implied that Henry could request it as a gift from Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester. Esher was the property of Gardiner’s see, and the bishop ceded the estate to the King, albeit reluctantly and not without regret.[8] Gardiner wrote plainly to Cromwell that he didn’t want to part with Esher, but Cromwell chided the bishop, saying that the King’s sojourn there wasn’t merely for fun and games; it was a place “where there is a grief”, implying that the King closeted himself away from court at Esher to mourn Jane Seymour’s death.[9]

Esher Place is a Grade-II listed country house since 1953 used as a college by the trade union Unite in Esher, Surrey. In the fifteenth century, William Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester and Lord Chancellor, tore down the original building dating to the thirteenth century to make way for a large and luxurious brick residence. The so-called Waynflete’s Tower still stands today. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey owned Esher Place and withdrew there following the disastrous Blackfriars trial in 1529 when he failed to secure the annulment of Henry VIII’s marriage to Katharine of Aragon. He penned a series of letters to the King and Thomas Cromwell “from Asher”, as Esher Place was then spelt, from October 1529 to February 1530.[10] Following Wolsey’s disgrace, Esher transferred to Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, and then in 1537, it became Henry VIII’s property. When Henry VIII’s elder daughter became Queen, she gave Esher back to Gardiner, who became her Lord Chancellor. Queen Elizabeth I granted Esher to her Norfolk kinsman William Howard, Baron Howard of Effingham, and he, in turn, granted it to Sir Francis Drake’s cousin Richard Drake.

Jane Seymour was buried on 12 November 1537 at St George’s Chapel at Windsor with great pomp and solemnity, with her ladies-in-waiting and household officers present. The King’s presence is recorded at Windsor on 12 November. In a joint letter to Cromwell written from Windsor, John Russell and Thomas Hennege informed Cromwell that they had received his letter “and shown it to the King”.[11] It is evident from their letter that the King didn’t attend Jane’s funeral but was present at Windsor Castle for that occasion. Russell and Hennege informed Cromwell that “your lordship’s suit is that the lords, after the business done at Windsor, may repair hither to see his Grace’s health.”[12] It is an interesting insight into the King’s frame of mind during this period and Thomas Cromwell’s ability to read his moods. Jane’s death came unexpectedly at a time that should have been filled with celebrations of the birth of the heir to the throne. Instead, it was a time of mourning. The King was in need of consolation from his subjects.

Now Buy the Book!

Book cover showing Henry VIII and other Tudor monarchs

If you want to buy a copy of Sylvia’s book, check out this link to Amazon (UK), or Amazon (US) search on your local Amazon site.


[1] Letters and Papers, Volume 12 Part 2, n. 802.

[2] Wriothesley’s Chronicle, Volume 1, p. 65.

[3] State Papers, Volume 1, p. 572.

[4] Jennifer Loach, Edward VI, p. 7.

[5] Agnes Strickland, Elisabeth Strickland, Lives of the Queens of England, from the Norman Conquest, Volume 2, p. 285.

[6] Letters and Papers, Volume 12 Part 2, n. 1060.

[7] Edward Hall, Hall’s Chronicle, p. 825.

[8] Roger Merriman, Life and Letters of Thomas Cromwell, Volume 2, p. 98.

[9] Ibid.

[10] State Papers, Volume 1: Correspondence Between the King and Cardinal Wolsey, pp. 347-361.

[11] Letters and Papers, Volume 12 Part 2, n. 1063.

[12] Ibid.

If you want to explore a Tudor ‘house of secrets’ then the subject of today’s blog, Harvington Hall in Worcestershire, is going to be right up your street. As you will hear, this incredibly raw and authentic Elizabethan moated manor house was designed with the utmost subterfuge in mind. In exploring the history of the house, we dive into the dark and dangerous times of Elizabethan England when Catholics, and the priests who served them, had to risk their lives to practice their religion.

Today’s blog accompanies this month’s Tudor Travel Show podcast. We will be enjoying an introduction to the house from House manager, Phil Downing. A link to listen to the rest of our adventure in time will follow at the end of this blog. So, let’s get going!

Introducing the Enigmatic Harvington Hall

Today, I am at Harvington Hall. While COVID has slowed down progress, I’ve finally got here! Let me introduce our guide today: Phil Downing, House Manager here at Harvington.

Two people outside Harvington Hall
Phil Downing with Sarah (The Tudor Travel Guide)


Hello, Sarah! Welcome to Harvington Hall!

Thank you so much. Phil, we are standing in front of a beautiful, Elizabethan, moated manor house. Would that be an accurate description?

Yes, the house that you can see today is predominantly a 1580’s manor house, although we do think that the centre section of Harvington Hall actually dates back to the fourteenth century. Behind the brickwork that you’re looking at here, you will find lathe and plaster and some medieval walls. However, it is, arguably, a unique Elizabethan house. It is rare because it is still largely in its original, Elizabethan state. It has seven remaining priest hides (which is more than any other house in England); a plethora of Elizabethan wall paintings that are pretty much intact; a lot of wood panelling, which is original. Some of the floorboards are also original, which makes it a very higgledy-piggledy house.

Phil shows sarah one of the most ingenious priest holes at Harvington, hidden underneath a set of steps

It looks it from the outside, so I can’t wait to get in and explore! Let’s go inside the courtyard and maybe you can tell us a little bit about the history before we start exploring those priest holes. Perhaps you can tell us about the early house, how it evolved and who owned it?

The original, medieval house was owned by the de Harvington family. Adam de Harvington, who lived here back in the 1300s was the Chancellor of the Exchequer for a few years. When he died, the land then passed into the hands of the Earls of Warwick. Eventually, the house was bought by a wealthy man during the reign of Henry VIII; his name was Sir John Packington (or John Packington as he wasn’t knighted at that point). He was a wealthy lawyer of the Inner Temple. He didn’t live here but he owned the estate together with another thirty estates across the Midlands, so clearly this man had a lot of money. It is said that he was given the special privilege of being allowed to wear his hat in Henry VIII’s presence!

Oh, wow! A privilege indeed!

Yes, interesting. Moving forward a couple of generations, his great-nephew, Humphrey Packington, inherited the estate in 1578. He’s the man who built the house that we can see today. However, Humphrey Packington was a Catholic at the time of Elizabeth I which, as I’m sure people will know, was a very dangerous time for Catholics. This is where you have to hide priests in your house because the Catholic Mass was outlawed.

So, Humphrey Packington built this house and built a series of priest hides as well. Now, Humphrey Packington was what they called a recusant. In Latin, that’s recusare, which means to refuse. Humphrey Packington refused to attend the Church of England service on a Sunday and was fined a whole £20 a month for not going to Church.

Opening to priest hide at Harvington Hall
Another Nicolas Owen priest hole in the library at Harvington Hall

Every month?

Every month! He wasn’t fined every single month although some Catholics were having to pay the fine every month. Unsurprisingly, families were finding themselves in financial difficulty, but Humphrey was a bit shrewder than that. He was clearly attending the Church of England service but, nevertheless, was fined on a number of occasions. Now, £20 pounds a month doesn’t sound a great deal to us but in those days it was the equivalent of £4,000.

So, this guy is basically forking out £4,000 when he’s not going to church. Consider the fact that you can be fined from the age of 16. Imagine being a 16-year-old and trying to find the equivalent of £4,000 a month – you’re going to struggle a little bit. So, some Catholics at that point, known as the ‘Papists’ or the ‘Church Papists’, did attend the Church of England service, but they would often try to do anything to not to hear what was going on in that service. So, one man was known to plug his ears with wool. One lady was known to spit the bread out on the floor and tread on it. Some of them would leave their hats on etc. Afterwards, they would then go to houses, such as Harvington Hall, and hear Mass there, which was illegal.

Well, we’re going to explore those priest holes and hear much more about the Catholic history of the house in a moment, but we have now come into the central courtyard and there is what appears to be the entrance range behind me and on my left, there’s the main block. Was this how it originally looked?

As you rightly said, you walk in through under the gateway room and into the courtyard. You have the main building on the left. In front of you, you can see a brick wall and trees on the other side of it. However, in those days you would have had a building directly in front of you. We think that this was probably the great hall with a long gallery above, alongside the family bed chambers. While the tower to our left survives, there would likely have been another building directly opposite that on our right. This measn we would have been standing in a courtyard which was surreounded by four ranges: a typical single courtyard house

However, this particular courtyard would have probably been very dark, because the surviving tower is a tall building, comprising effectively of four storeys. So, yes, in around 1600 it would have been very dark in here but we know the house was definitely finished in 1595; at the time, it became known as ‘Humphrey’s Mansion House of Harvington’.

Figure of a priest in Elizabeth dress kneels in front of a Catholic altar
One of the rooms in the hall, decorated with Elizabethan wall paintings


Let’s now talk a little more about the history of religion in England at the time; a history in which Harvington Hall is so inextricably entwined. Can you tell us a little bit about that and how there came to be so many priest holes here?

You could be here all day talking about this topic, but I’ll do my best to cut a long story short! We need to start with Henry VIII’s break with the Church of Rome. Then you have his son and heir, Edward VI, who is a staunch Protestant. Under his influence and that of the Regency Council, England becomes, for the first time, a Protestant country. Edward, of course, dies young, leaving his Catholic half-sister, Mary to inherit the throne. Mary does everything she can to bring England back into the Catholic fold. But we are not done, because, as we all know, when Mary dies in 1558, her half-sister, Elizabeth, is protestant and undoes much of the changes Mary has tried to reintroduce! However, initially, she tries to create a ‘middle way’ in terms of religion under the now flourishing ‘Church of England’.

Thus, the first 10 years of Elizabeth’s reign are peaceful. Then everything changes with the arrival of Mary, Queen of Scots in England in 1568. As we know, she is swiftly placed under house arrest. Whether she wants it or not, Mary soon becomes a figurehead for English Catholics, who seek to see the restoration of a Catholic monarch upon the English throne. This forces the government’s hand; they have to become more strict with them. This only gets worse with the arrival of the seminary priests in the 1570s. Then, in 1580s, the Jesuit priests begin to arrive.

Now, the Jesuit priests are the ones that the government are really scared of. These are young, enthusiastic priests: anti-protestant, anti-Elizabeth. Naturally, Elizabeth’s government respond by enforcing tougher sanctions on English Catholics. So, from 1585 it’s illegal to be a Catholic priest or even for one to set foot in England. The Catholic Mass, of course, has already been outlawed at this point. But families like Humphrey Packington’s, here at Harvington Hall still need to hear Mass. Therefore, they have to house priests in the house secretly, but if the priest hunters come knocking, then there’s trouble. They could be here searching from as little as four hours to as long as 12 days. So, you’re going to have to have a well-concealed priest hide that’s not going to be found if the searchers linger for more than a couple of days.

Woman inside one of the priest hides at Harvington Hall
Sarah tries out one of the more ingenious priest hides at Harvington, originally hidden behind the wall of a bookcase

So, were the priest hunters appointed by the central council and that was their full-time job to move around the countryside, searching known Catholic houses for hidden priests?

Not entirely. Of course, the signed warrant would come from the government in London originally, but it would normally be the local sheriff (in our case likely the Sheriff of Worcester) that would come to a house like Harvington Hall. However, it is oftentimes tricky for the priest hunters, because a lot of them are local neighbours and would have been known to the family. Consequently, some of them are a bit reluctant to search the house thoroughly – or they might simply turn a blind eye.

Having said that, there was a priest hunter called Richard Topcliffe. He was basically a sadist, who really enjoyed his job. He liked to torture priests. Incidentally, we also know for a fact that Elizabeth I agreed to the torture of priests. In fact, under Elizabeth I, around 130 Catholic priests were executed. The number varies when it comes to the recusants or the refusers, but probably around 60 or so recusants were also executed, three of which were female.

I find that surprising because we associate torture and religious persecution most frequently with Mary I; but 130 priests? That’s a lot of people!  So Elizabeth is not untainted by accusations of religious persecution, even though I think generally we tend to see her as being much more tolerant.

Elizabethan wall painting at Harvington Hall
Elizabeth wall painting at Harvington

And the tolerance was there, particularly at the start. But, as things went on, there were plots to assassinate Elizabeth. History, as we know, is always written by the victors and this tends to paint all Catholics in the same light when, in actual fact, that’s not strictly true. A lot of Catholics were peaceful, loyal subjects but, unfortunately for them, they followed the Catholic religion.

Well, I think with that, we should go inside and start exploring some of these priest holes. So, let’s make our way in and you can show me where you would like to take me first.

Let the Adventure continue…

If you would like to go on that adventure with me and Phil, as we explore the priest hides of Harvington Hall, you can tune into the podcast here. If you want to find visitor information on Harvington Hall check out their website here.

Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond, was a force of nature. The youngest daughter of the 3rd Duke of Norfolk, she was at odds religiously with most of the rest of her Howard family, went head-to-head with Henry VIII in a battle for money and flatly refused to be pressured into remarriage when three of the most powerful men in the land plotted her future with Thomas Seymour. Mary, came alive for me when I was writing my novel about Anne Boleyn. She served Anne and was probably deeply influenced by the queen’s reformist leanings. If you are unfamiliar with her story, read on to find out more about this fascinating woman.

Note: This blog is based on an interview with Nikki Clarke, Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Chichester, made for my podcast, The Tudor Travel Show.

Mary Howard: Birth and Early Years

So today, it’s all about Mary. For people who perhaps don’t know that much about Mary Howard, maybe you could outline who she was and who were some of her key Tudor relations?

Drawing of Mary Howard
Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond

Nikki: Yes, absolutely. Mary Howard was the younger daughter of Thomas Howard, the third Duke of Norfolk and his second wife, Elizabeth Stafford. That made her the granddaughter of Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, who was executed in 1521. She’s the sister of Henry Howard (who’s often called ‘the poet Earl’). He was the Earl of Surrey; he was executed in 1547. She is the first cousin of Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, Henry VIII’s second and fifth wives, respectively.

She married Henry VIII’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond, which made her the King’s daughter-in-law. This related her by marriage to the Tudor dynasty itself. His niece, Margaret Douglas, who’s the daughter of his older sister, Margaret Queen of Scotland, is Mary Howard’s best mate at court. Through the Howards as well, she’s more distantly related to a lot of other courtier families like the Shelton’s, Francis Bryan, the rest of the Boleyns and so on.

Why are you so interested in her?

I wrote about her in my book on the Howard women because she’s a bit of a force of nature! Unlike some of her other female relatives, especially her mother, she does serve in her cousin, Anne Boleyn’s, household and she’s part of that contemporary crowd at court. She gets widowed unexpectedly in 1536, and then started a bit of a fight with her father-in-law, the king, over money – and eventually won. She manages to circumvent a second marriage when all the powerful men around her are trying to marry her off for a second time. She refuses and gets away with it.

Oil painting of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk
Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk

Then, as the 1540’s progress, she also starts to hold very different religious beliefs from some of her immediate family. Her father, the Duke of Norfolk, is known for having been a strong, religious conservative, but Mary Howard began to follow the reformed faith. So, I was interested in her because she did things differently to some of the rest of her family. I was also interested in the way that family functioned in the Tudor court. We have this image of girls doing as their fathers told them, with the whole family coming together as a coherent political force, but that’s not always the case.

I love the fact that you use the phrase ‘force of nature’ because that’s how she seems to me, as well. She was a woman who knew her own mind. So, maybe we could go back to the beginning and try and understand a little bit more about Mary’s early life. Do we know much about it, where she was brought up and with whom – and did she receive that classic humanist education which was being introduced at the beginning of the sixteenth-century?

We don’t know a huge amount about Mary Howard’s early days, as is so often the case with early modern women. We do know that she’s born sometime in 1519 – the same year as Katherine Willougby, who later became Duchess of Suffolk. Interestingly, we do have a few details about her birth that may or may not be true and are a little bit harrowing.

Drawing of the Duchess of Suffolk
Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, a contemporary of Mary, born in the same year: 1519

Oh, dear, go for it!

According to Mary’s mother, Elizabeth Stafford, Elizabeth was physically assaulted by her husband, the Duke of Norfolk, during her labour with Mary. Apparently, when she’d been in labour with Mary for two nights and a day, he dragged her out bed and around the house by her hair and wounded her in the head with a dagger.

He wrote later to Cromwell specifically to deny this. Norfolk said that Elizabeth had put this story about just to slander him. He said that he could prove by witnesses that she’d had the scar on her head months before she gave birth to Mary; he thought no man would treat a woman in labour that way and he would not have done so for all that he was worth. So, we just don’t know whether that is true, whether it’s partly true, or what was going on really, but it does suggest that Mary Howard’s entry into the world wasn’t necessarily smooth.

Mary Howard Arrives at Court…


When does Mary Howard first come to court?

She probably made the odd visits to court as a child. She would have spent most of her time in childhood in the family’s houses in East Anglia. So Tendring Hall in Essex, Kenninghall a bit later and probably Framlingham Castle after her grandfather’s death in 1524. She would have been there with her older sister, Catherine, and her brothers, Henry and Thomas, at least for some of that time.

Ariel picture of Framlingham Castle
Framlingham Castle: ancestral home of the Howards in Suffolk

We don’t know anything about her education, really. We do know that her older brother, Henry, was well educated but that’s probably because he was part of her future husband’s, Henry Fitzroy’s, household, and the two were educated together along humanist lines at Sherrif Hutton Castle in North Yorkshire. The few letters that we have from Mary Howard from a little later, show that she’s able to read and write, which is usual for a noblewoman at this point. There are sources that suggest she read scripture in English herself and she also had books dedicated to her. It’s also reasonable to suppose that she probably knew some French, but beyond that, we just don’t know about her education, unfortunately.

She probably comes to court as a child here and there, but her first recorded appearance as being in service at court is not until September 1532. That’s when she attends Anne Boleyn, at the point that Anne is made Marquis of Pembroke at Windsor Castle. By that point, Mary is already betrothed to Henry Fitzroy and she’s about 13 years old.

That’s where I got entangled with Mary when I was writing about Anne Boleyn. I was curious about the relationship between the two women because, as you pointed out there, Mary was very prominent in the ceremony that elevated Anne to become Marquis of Pembroke. Obviously, she was an important person from an important family, but I kept coming across her being present in Anne’s household. What do we know anything about the relationship between Anne and Mary?

Drawing of Anne Boleyn
Anne Boleyn: possibly influence Mary’s reformist leanings.

Not a lot. It’s normal for her to have entered the court at about that age as a maid of honour. We don’t know a lot about the relationship between the two women. We do know that Mary later gave John Foxe, the martyrologist, information and anecdotes about Anne that he used in his book of martyrs. For instance, information about Anne apparently always carrying money that she gave to the poor in alms everywhere she went. That anecdote came from Mary Howard and that does suggest at least that Mary has positive memories of Anne.

So we simply don’t know whether Anne had an influence on her or on her later reformist beliefs?

We don’t have any direct evidence, but it is entirely possible that Anne does influence Mary religiously. Anne is said to have been of a reformist leaning. Her household is the most likely place for Mary to have encountered those ideas. Anne supposedly kept an English Bible in her privy chamber for anybody to go and read, for instance. So that’s something Mary would have found when she was there. It is also the case that Anne apparently arranged Mary Howard’s marriage for her before Mary came to her service.

Do tell us more about that. How involved was Anne in putting her forward as a potential wife for Henry Fitzroy?

It was a bit of a muddle to be honest, partly due to plague. Mary is the younger daughter. She has an older sister, Katherine, who was forgotten about by historians for many years because the records get a bit confused. Her older sister, Katherine, got married to the Earl Derby in 1529. The Earl of Derby was still a minor at that point; he was under 21. So Norfolk had bought the last year of Derby’s wardship and then, slightly illegally or at least questionably, because he didn’t get Royal permission, he swiftly married him off to his oldest daughter, Katherine.

Drawing of Edward Stanley, Earl of Derby and intended husband of Mary Howard.
Edward Stanley, Earl of Derby and briefly brother -in-law of Mary Howard

That is a really lucrative match for the Howards – politically, socially and economically. So it’s like, yeah, good, we got this! Great! At that point, Mary Howard was betrothed to the heir to the Earldom of Oxford which, again, was a good match. The Howards and the De Veres had married before, but that betrothal got broken in 1529 when the king seemed favourable to her marrying Henry Fitzroy instead, which was a better match politically and socially.

Her older sister, Katherine, who’s married to the Earl of Derby died very unexpectedly in March 1530, only a few weeks after the marriage of the plague. This is no doubt devastating for her parents, and for her whole family, but it also creates a political issue because that marriage that she had to the Earl of Derby was too valuable to lose. So, as well as grieving the loss of their daughter, Norfolk and Elizabeth are immediately wondering how can we hold onto this?

Mary Howard’s mother, Elizabeth, thinks the obvious choice is for Mary to take Katherine’s place and marry Derby in her stead. But, because there have been talks going on about her marrying Henry Fitzroy, Norfolk is keen to carry on with that. Anne Boleyn then gets involved. Anne is very keen to cement her own position in the royal family, by creating other connections to the Tudors by marriage. If the Howard family is already part of the Tudor dynasty, then it bolsters Anne’s own position, because it looks less bizarre when she marries the king. So she sticks her nose in and insists that Mary should marry Henry Fitzroy and not the Earl of Derby. Anne and Mary’s mother, Elizabeth, seem to have a bit of a fight about it. High words are exchanged and Elizabeth nearly gets dismissed from court, but Anne eventually gets her way. Mary’s mother, Elizabeth, later said that they didn’t even have to pay any dowry because Anne got the marriage for them by persuading the king.

Miniature of Henry Fitzroy, Mary Howard's husband
Henry Fiztroy – Mary Howard’s only husband

So that’s an interesting relationship between Elizabeth and Anne, as well. So they didn’t get on so well?

No, they are not mates. Elizabeth has been a lady waiting to Katherine of Aragon for 16 odd years, off and on.

Anne, of course, at this time was still very much in her ascendancy. So it’s not surprising really that she probably got her way by wrapping the King round her little finger.

Yes, I think so. Anne is also, I think, very anxious and quite afraid. Yes, she’s in the ascendancy, but it’s by no means a done deal in 1529/1530. So, I think anything that she can do to help herself and help her own position, she’s going to go for – and woe betide anyone who gets in her way!

A Royal Marriage Arranged…

So when and where did Henry Fitzroy and Mary Howard finally marry? What do we know about that?

They married in 1533 at Hampton Court Palace. Mary herself probably didn’t have much of a say in the matter, but we don’t need to assume that she’s doing it against her will either. Daughters mostly do want the same economic and social things that their parents want for them. Romantic love isn’t usually considered part of the equation for aristocratic marriages. So, we don’t really know whether it’s a good match temperamentally. It’s really hard to know what they’re like, especially because Fitzroy died so young and they marry when they’re still teenagers, so it’s hard to tell.

The Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace
Mary Howard was married to Henry Fitzroy in the Chapel Royal, Hampton Court in November 1533.

They didn’t get a chance to live together, did they? Obviously, there were fears about Mary conceiving too early and the perils of childbirth?

Yes, pretty much. They never did co-habit as both of them were considered too young. It was normal for marriages to be arranged or even formalised, between teenagers, because Church law stated that girls can get married at 12 and boys at 14. But generally, by that time, it’s thought to be a bad idea for them to actually crack on with married life and having sex and kids and so on. Yes, it’s partly because they don’t necessarily want 13-year-old girls giving birth (by this point they’ve moved on a little from the Margaret Beaufort scenario), but it’s also because they think it’s bad for boys to be doing that too young, partly in memory of Prince Arthur, I think.

A Duchess in Hot Water…

So, now should we fast forward a little bit because Henry Fitzroy doesn’t last too long. What happens to Mary when he dies in 1536?

Well, her life hadn’t really changed much up to that point, except that she now had the title of Duchess of Richmond. Thus, she had status outside of being the Duke of Norfolk’s daughter. But because they’d never lived together and they weren’t supposed to do that until the age of 18, I think life for both of them had continued as it had before. So when Fitzroy died, it’s really hard to know whether Mary was sad. Possibly she was not all that sad; she knew him, but there’s no surviving evidence that they had a very strong, close, personal relationship.

An oil painting of Margaret Douglas, best friend to Mary Howard
Margaret Douglas: Henry VIII’s niece and ‘best’ friend of Mary Howard

He gets ill and he dies quite unexpectedly in July, 1536. We don’t know what he dies of; we rarely do in this period and it’s too difficult to diagnose over a 500 year distance. But it’s safe to say people didn’t expect him to do that. This is yet another bad event in a year of awful events for Henry VIII. It’s been a month or so since Anne Boleyn’s execution, and it ties in with another event that involves Mary in a really interesting way. July 1536 is the same month that Henry VIII’s niece, Margaret Douglas’s secret marriage to Lord Thomas Howard is discovered and that’s relevant because Mary and Margaret are best buddies.

Can you tell me a little bit more about when they became friends and were there any particular ties that bound them together?

We don’t really know, but probably not until the early 1530s, once both of them were at court. Margaret, I think, is a little older than Mary Howard. Margaret is the daughter of Henry VIII’s older sister, Margaret. The latter Margaret is, or was, Queen of Scotland and Margaret Douglas is her daughter. The two of them were in service to Anne Boleyn and they, along with Mary Shelton, make a little trio of ‘Ms’. There’s a whole crowd of them and some of the boys as well; Thomas Wyatt, Mary’s brother Henry, Earl of Surrey. The whole crowd is like the bright ,young things of the 1530’s – they’re really sharp and witty and clever.

We know this because Mary Howard owned a blank manuscript book that she used to pass around the whole circle for them to write their favourite poems into, including original prose. Then they would annotate it and write banter to each other in the margins. We know this because that manuscript still survives. It’s called the Devonshire Manuscript and it lives in the British Library. Also, there’s a whole Wiki book of it online. Somebody has transcribed the whole lot and included discussion about the different handwritings, who they belong to, the links between everyone involved and things like that – it’s an amazing source.

A copied page of handwriting from the Devonshire Manuscript; a text owned by Mary Howard
The Devonshire Manuscript

I can just imagine that. It’s so clear and vivid; these bright, young things taking the court by storm. It’s wonderful! Now, let’s move the story on to the end of Mary’s life. What happens then to Mary? She doesn’t remarry, does she, but she does get embroiled in a few ‘situations’. As you hinted at at the beginning of our discussion, life doesn’t get dull for her at this point at all, does it?

No! Right before her husband dies in 1536, Margaret Douglas has a secret affair with Mary’s half-uncle, although he’s not much older than her; it’s a bit of a complicated family tree. His name is Lord Thomas Howard. The only way that the couple can meet is in secret, otherwise, they’d be noticed, but it is really hard to meet people secretly at court. So, you need a helper – and Mary is that helper. So, she and Margaret wait until everyone else is out of the room and then they’ll let Thomas in. Mary is there when Margaret and Thomas married secretly at Easter 1536. And she knows this is not a good idea; it is technically illegal but, you know, Margaret’s her mate and hey, Margaret’s marrying a Howard and that helps the Howard family out, right? I’m sure it’s fine. Well, reader, it was not fine!

What happens next?

It gets discovered in July 1536 and the king is predictably furious. The big problem with this is that Anne Boleyn has literally just been executed. That means her daughter, Princess Elizabeth has been made illegitimate. So, the king now has two illegitimate daughters and no son; the succession is not looking great. So, for his niece to go and marry some Howard younger son is not cool. But, they can’t legally undo it because Church law upholds even clandestine marriages. So, instead the couple get imprisoned in the Tower and then Margaret gets moved to Syon Abbey. In the meantime, Lord Thomas gets attainted for high treason.

An oil painting of King Henry VIII
Henry VIII: Mary’s father-in-law

They spin some kind of charge saying, well, he was obviously trying to get at the throne. He is not executed, but he does die in the Tower a year later and Margaret remains in Syon Abbey for some time. Now, Mary Howard should have got into some quite serious trouble for being their go-between and the fact that she didn’t is probably because, at about that time, there were rumours that the king is about to make her husband, Henry Fitzroy, his heir to the throne. Now he can’t do that and simultaneously imprison his daughter-in-law without looking a bit daft. Unfortunately, Fitzroy then dies very unexpectedly, slightly later that month. So, that plan is scuppered and by that point, it seems that there’s so much else going on that the will to do anything to Mary seems to have just disappeared. So she gets away with it.

Mary Howard: An Independant Widow

Quite incredibly, Mary chooses to never remarry, as might have been expected of her, despite the fact she came under a lot of pressure to do so. Can you tell us more about the circumstances surrounding that episode in her life?

Yes, indeed. So, Fitzroy dies and I’m sure the King is really grieving, but it’s very difficult to know whether Mary is. It’s hard to know how much and how well she really knew him. What she does immediately is to go back to her father’s house at Kenninghall, because she doesn’t, at this point, have anywhere else to go. By that time, her mother isn’t there anymore because her parents’ marriage has broken down. So, Mary is at Kenninghall with her brother’s wife; her father’s mistress, and maybe also her youngest brother. What happens next is a fight over money.

Again, this is very Tudor; they like to do this. Normally aristocratic marriages are made with a kind of pre-nup agreement. The bride brings a dowry with her, which is usually cash, and in return the groom’s family agree a number of estates and say that the income from those will be hers if she gets widowed. That is called a jointure. Mary ought to be entitled to jointure from the king, who is her father-in-law, but we know that Henry doesn’t like to pay money if he doesn’t have to – and this jointure would have been about a thousand marks a year, which is not a small sum.

So, he claims that he doesn’t have to pay her anything because the marriage was never consummated. Now that sounds like a nice, handy get out clause, but by law he’s wrong and plenty of lawyers and clerics gradually start telling him so. Mary is also not prepared to just give this up without a fight. She expects her father, the Duke of Norfolk, to fight her cause for her at court. However, she doesn’t seem to appreciate that that’s tricky when you really don’t want to annoy the king!

An oil painting of Thomas Cromwell
Thomas Cromwell gets involved in a plan to marry off the widowed Mary to Thomas Seymour

Yes, that’s a dangerous plan, isn’t it?

Yes, it is and a bit unfairly, she thinks he’s just not doing his best for her. But we know that he is trying because every letter he writes to Thomas Cromwell over the next few years has a line in it about his daughter’s cause. So he is trying, but nothing really happens. We know at this point that her father is nervous about her future. He complains that there’s no one of decent status for her to marry next.

Around the beginning of the Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion in the autumn of 1536, he expects that he’s going to be sent North to deal with it. This is because when you have a rebellion, you need a Howard because he’s a first-rate good soldier. At that point, he writes to Thomas Cromwell that he’s worried about leaving Mary behind with the question unresolved in case “she should bestow herself other than I would she should”. Basically, he’s worried that she might run away and marry someone unsuitable. That is quite an admission of lack of patriarchal control!

Yes, you’re right!

Yes. It’s basically an admission that ‘I can’t control my daughter’.

I guess that also shows how headstrong Mary must have been at that stage?

An Oil Painting of Thomas Seymour, proposed second husband of Mary Howard
Thomas Seymour: potential suitor roundly rejected by Mary as a second husband

Yes, I think it does. It doesn’t actually happen, but the fact that he fears that it seems to say quite a lot. So, she carries on consulting her own legal counsel and then she starts emotionally blackmailing her father into letting her go to court to sue the king herself. He writes to Cromwell rather anxiously in a tone of ‘I’m not sure if this is a good idea, but she’s weeping and wailing and she won’t shut up’ and at the end of the letter he said he’d never communicated with her in any serious matter and he didn’t expect to find her as he does: ‘too wise for a woman’.

Brilliant, absolutely brilliant! What happens next?

Well, behind her back, Norfolk, Thomas Cromwell and the king cook up another plan. They realise that if they can marry her off again, then the question of that jointure can be quietly forgotten because any finances of a widow become her new husband’s. If they choose this new husband carefully, he will never pursue the matter and so it can just die a quiet death. So, they decide on Thomas Seymour with his agreement. He is the younger brother of Edward Seymour and of Jane Seymour, who is the next queen. He’s not a bad match, although he doesn’t have the same level of status that the Howards do. Still, Mary comes to court and it’s unclear exactly what exactly happens, but it seems that they present her with this plan. She says, “No, I think not!” and leaves, going straight back to Kenninghall. Norfolk is left embarrassed and having to apologise for her.

Do we know why she objected to Thomas Seymour?

No, not exactly. My guess would be that it’s partly a status thing. He’s a younger son; he has no title and she’s just been Duchess of Richmond. I think it’s that this is a step down for her. I think also that she simply didn’t want to remarry again at all and, particularly, I think she wouldn’t want to give up that fight over her jointure and just let it die. In addition, I suspect she doesn’t appreciate being so tightly controlled by the men around her for all that she accepts that a degree of that is going to be normal. It’s not that she’s a kind of proto-feminist or anything, but being a widow generally is often a better bet than being a wife.

Oil painting of Henry Howard - Mary Howard's brother
Henry Howard: Mary’s ill-fated brother

The Interrogation of Mary Howard

So where are we now in our story with Mary? At some point, at the end of Henry VIII’s reign she very bizarrely gets embroiled in the downfall of her brother. I always find that very intriguing. Can we talk a little bit about that?

Yes, absolutely. She does win the jointure fight. In 1538, the king does cave in and gives her estates to pay her jointure. So Mary wins that fight and she doesn’t remarry. By the end of the reign, things get rather odd. Mary’s Howard’s other, Henry, is arrested on a charge of treason, swiftly followed by her father, the Duke of Norfolk, in December 1546. In January 1547, her brother is executed and the charge is of treason but it’s really odd. It’s related to the heraldry that he’d been using.

So he’d been using royal arms that he wasn’t entitled to, and that gets quite bizarre and heraldically complex. Henry VIII is not in great health by this point and it’s becoming obvious that there’s going to be a minority reign of Edward VI. So, everybody is shuffling into position for Regency. In this atmosphere, Henry Howard had been walking around, talking about how powerful his father was going to be in the next reign and then using royal arms he wasn’t entitled to. Now, if you are a very paranoid king or, indeed, you’re somebody who’d quite like to get the Howards out of the way, it’s not difficult to persuade the king, that this is a bid for the throne and that they should really be locked up. It’s not a smart move on the part of Henry Howard.

Picture of the tower of London from the river
The Tower of London: Thomas and Henry Howard Imprison here in 1546/7

No, and I guess the Seymours might have been behind that? I imagine they had the most to gain from getting the Howards out of the way?

Yes, among others. The court is pretty divided over religion at this point. Norfolk is known as a staunch conservative, although Mary Howard and her brother are known as reformers. So it’s not 100% ‘let’s get the conservatives out the way’, but it is true that some of the other powerful reformers do want Norfolk and his Catholic influence gone. He is the real target here. Henry Howard is a kind of distraction.

Is she called to testify against him or does she give evidence against her brother in some way?

They get arrested. The next step is to get witness statements or testimonies, and these are known as ‘depositions’. Who else do you ask about somebody’s heraldry but their family? Annoyingly, those depositions don’t survive anymore. They got burned in the Cotton fire in the eighteenth-century, but they were seen in the seventeenth-century by Lord Herbert of Cherbury, Henry VIII’s first biographer. He wrote about them so we do have a sense of what they said and there is some other evidence that tells us how this went.

A couple of days after the arrests in December 1546, some of the King’s commissioners, who Mary Howard will have known, arrive at Kenninghall early in the morning. They found Mary and the Duke’s mistress, Bess Holland, only just got up and not yet dressed. They’ve been sent to bring news of the arrests, to search the house and to question the people who were there. Mary’s reaction shows that she knew immediately that this was really serious. In their report they described her as ‘sore perplexed, fumbling, and likely to fall down’. The women are told they’d be questioned and advised to cooperate. Mary very sensibly says something along the lines of, ‘alright, I won’t hide anything from you’, especially if ‘it be of weight’ and that she would tell them everything as she remembered it. What else do you do in that situation?

Picture of a house; the only surviving fragment of Kenninghall, the Howard family seat in Norfolk
All that remains of Kenninghall: the Howards stately Norfolk residence

Yes, quite. It’s very sensible.

She seems to have grasped pretty quickly that her father is the real target here, but she is asked about a lot of stuff to do with her brother. So, according to Cherbury, a key point of her deposition was the way she told the story of her father’s second attempt to marry her to Sir Thomas Seymour in 1546 and her brother’s reaction to that. She had declined that match again, apparently because ‘her fantasy would not serve to marry with him’.

Surrey had apparently told her that instead of refusing outright, she should have prevaricated, used that time to get into the king’s affections and become his mistress, and then ‘bear as great a stroke about him as the French king’s mistress. That’s a pretty big deal! Surrey’s apologists say that was a sarcastic suggestion and that Mary shouldn’t have taken him seriously, because he’s essentially suggesting that Mary should start sleeping with her father-in-law – and that will really help the family. That’s incest and, of course, she is appalled. She also said that she had recently quarrelled with her brother, Surrey, on religious grounds because he had discouraged her from going too far in reading the scriptures, which suggests to me that she’d be reading them in English – and he’s not sure that is okay for women.

On the basis of this, some historians have said that for that reason they hated each other and that they were enemies and so on. I think that’s going too far. I think they’re both passionate characters and just because they quarrel sometimes, it doesn’t necessarily mean that that brother and sister hate one another.

A photo of the entrance causeway to the Tower of London
The Tower where both Mary’s father and brother were imprison in 1546/47

Do you think that she believed at that stage that her brother would be executed? Or do you think she thought these charges wouldn’t stand or that they wouldn’t be as serious and that she could therefore get away with recounting some of these very honest conversations and he’d still be okay? And at the same time that perhaps she could help her father?

It’s really hard to say. To be questioned by the King’s counsellors is not a very pleasant experience. It’s difficult to keep your cool and not give them some kind of information under those conditions. Cynically, there are reasons for her to try and protect her father. She is still a single widow. She seems, by this point, not to be very well off, despite having won the jointure fight. She continually sells land through the 1540s. So if her father is executed, she would lose her source of financial support; she would lose the house and she might have to marry Thomas Seymour after all.

She does know which side of the bread is buttered. She is also questioned directly about her brother’s heraldry because they’re zeroing in on this. She responds in quite vague terms. She thought that he had more than seven rolls of arms and that he had resumed the Stafford arms of their grandfather and that the crown above them, in her judgement, looked like a close crown. That’s been taken as evidence of her complicity with the government in trying to destroy her father and brother. But it’s quite vague; saying that something looked so in her judgement, doesn’t say that it was so.

Yes, indeed.

Mary’s not daft, she’s a noblewoman. She knows about heraldry and she could have been a lot more specific if she wanted to be. So, I think she is trying to do her best to steer a course through this. She’s in a really difficult position and she recognises that she’s not going to be able to save them all because Surrey has done enough stupid things. None of her descriptions of things that Surrey said was used to convict him. They probably don’t help his case, but they don’t form part of the final trial. It’s not fair to say that she causes her brother’s execution, or that she’s trying to do so because there were also plenty of other depositions that do condemn him.

So her brother is executed; her father by the skin of his teeth gets away with it only by the death of Henry VIII. What happens next to her? How much longer did she live? What happens after this episode?

The tomb  and effigies of Henry Howard and his wife, Frances de Vere
The tomb of Henry Howard in framlingham Church

After this, she takes, custody, of her nieces and nephews; her brother’s children. She hires the reformer, John Foxe, as their tutor; something Norfolk would have hated. Actually, the first thing he does when he’s released in 1554 is to sack Foxe. I really wish I’d been a fly on the wall for that conversation! During this time she petitions the council saying, look, if you want me to look after these kids, you need to give me the money to do so.

She also petitions the council a lot on her father’s behalf. He recognises this later in his will saying, leave her some money because she tried so hard to help me. So she doesn’t just forget about him. The other thing she does through Edward’s reign is to really crack on with religious reform and with patronage in that regard. So, she has John Foxe, the famous martyrologist in her household; she’s also the patroness of John Bale, who is another reformist writer, and several others. She seems to work with the printer, John Day, to print reformist texts and get the word out to people who can read in English. Mary Howard is a big part of that reformist circle of noblewomen.

At the same time, she’s looking after her nieces and nephews. So, she’s in charge now of the future Duke of Norfolk, is that right?

Yes, absolutely. And some of her teaching, or Foxe’s teaching, does seem to go in and take root because it is clear that later on Thomas Howard, fourth Duke of Norfolk, is a Protestant. He is not Catholic like his father was. The Howards are often assumed to all be Catholic, and many of them are very strong Catholics – even to this day, the Dukes of Norfolk are still Catholic. It’s a strong part of their identity, but actually, during the Tudor period, it wasn’t quite as clear cut. Not everybody followed that same path. So, yes, she does seem to have encouraged the future fourth Duke of Norfolk to follow a reformist path.

An oil painting of Reformist John Foxe
The Protestant John Foxe, employed by Mary Howard to tutor the future 4th Duke of Norfolk

The Death and Burial of Mary Howard

What about the end of Mary Howard? Where did she die? Do we know from what and where was she buried?

She dies at some point in, or before 1555, but probably in that year. We don’t know exactly where, and we don’t know exactly when. We only know she’s died because some of her lands start to be parcelled off to other people. She doesn’t leave a will, and that’s really unusual for a widow in her position. That suggests to me that her death was sudden or unexpected. It’s possible that she died in the influenza epidemic that raged during those years.

The historian, Barbara Harris, has said that the number of noblewomen who die in those middle 1550’s years is quite extraordinary and might suggest that they were hit pretty badly by that epidemic. We don’t know for certain. It’s a bit sad; though; Mary kind of fizzles out. This might also be because by 1555, Mary I is on the throne and, of course, for someone of reformist beliefs like our Mary, you would want to keep your head down during that time.

Her tomb is at Framlingham Church, where she apparently lies alongside the body Henry Fitzroy. Whether she’s actually in that tomb or not, we don’t really know, do we?

The stone tomb of Henry Fitzroy and Mary Howard
Tomb of Mary Howard and Henry Fitzroy in St Michael’s Church, Framlingham.
mage via Wikimedia Commons: Evelyn Simak / St Michael’s church in Framlingham – Henry Fitzroy tomb / CC BY-SA 2.0

No, it’s not certain but St Michael’s Church, Framlingham is usually given us her burial place, alongside her husband Henry Fitzroy.

So, if people are interested in following the footsteps of Mary Howard that’s one place to go and see. Are there any other places that are specifically associated with her or have they all been lost?

Unfortunately, most of them have been lost. You could go to Framlingham Castle; she would have spent time there, or to Hampton Court Palace, because she would certainly have spent time there as well. Because most of Henry’s palaces have been lost and sites like Kenninghall don’t really survive either, there isn’t a huge number of places that are directly associated with Mary.

Well, that’s is a shame but that was such a fascinating chat! I always really loved her and was intrigued by her, but now that we’ve spoken, I’m even more blown away by how interesting and formidable a character she was; as a woman of her time and as a force of nature.

Thanks for having me!

Part Three: The Royal Mile and Holyroodhouse

This month sees the launch of a special celebration of the life of Mary, Queen of Scots, here, on The Tudor Travel Show. Throughout September, I will be publishing one episode a week, as I follow ‘In the Footsteps’ of this legendary Scottish queen, visiting some of the most historic locations associated with her time in Scotland. Along the way, I will be meeting up with local guides, (many are members of the Marie Stuart Society), who will share their knowledge and passion for Mary and her story.


In this week’s episode, I travel to Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh. In the first half of the episode, I walk down the Royal Mile with my guide, Jerry Ozaniec, as together we follow in Mary’s footsteps as she made her formal royal entry into the city after her arrival back in Scotland in 1561.


In the second half of the show, I carry on down the Royal Mile to Holyroodhouse, where I catch up again with Liz Manson, President of the Marie Stuart Society and talk about Mary’s eventful life at the palace. If you want to read more about the history of Holyroodhouse and the murder of David Rizzio follow this link to read the blog which accompanies this podcast. To see more images of the palace, join my private FB group, which accompanies this podcast, The Tudor Travel Show: Hitting the Road.



Presenter: Sarah Morris

Guest: Jerry Ozaniec and Elisabeth Manson


Produced by Cutting Crew Productions


For more information on The Tudor Travel Guide’s ‘In the Footsteps of Mary, Queen of Scots’ tour next June, click here.


For up-to-date visitor information on Holyroodhouse, follow this link.

To join the Marie Stuart Societyfollow this link.


If you want to keep up to date with all the Tudor Travel Guide’s adventures, as well as top tips for planning your own Tudor road trip, don’t forget to subscribe to the blog via


This podcast now has an accompanying closed Facebook group, dedicated to discussing the places and artefacts discussed in each episode. it is also a place to ask your fellow Tudor time travellers questions about visiting Tudor locations or planning your Tudor-themed vacation or sharing your top tips to help others get the most out of their Tudor adventures on the road. Go to The Tudor Travel Show: Hitting the Road to join the community. 


You can also find The Tudor Travel Guide on YouTubeTwitterFacebookInstagram and Pinterest.


PART FOUR: Edinburgh Castle with Donal Ferrie and ‘An Audience with Marie Stuart’

This month sees the launch of a special celebration of the life of Mary, Queen of Scots, here, on The Tudor Travel Show. Throughout September, I will be publishing one episode a week, as I follow ‘In the Footsteps’ of this legendary Scottish queen, visiting some of the most historic locations associated with her time in Scotland. Along the way, I will be meeting up with local guides, (many are members of the Marie Stuart Society), who will share their knowledge and passion for Mary and her story.


In this week’s episode, I travel back to Scotland’s capital city, Edinburgh. In the first half of the episode, I visit the castle with our guide for today, Donal Ferrie. Join me as we get a private viewing of Mary’s bed chamber and the closet in which she gave birth to her son, James. To see more images of the castle, join my private FB group, which accompanies this podcast, The Tudor Travel Show: Hitting the Road.


In the second half of the show, I am granted a private audience with Marie Stuart herself. As a friendly English Ambassador, I put some challenging questions to the Scots queen. Tune in to hear her reflections on the dramatic events crashing through her life. It turned out to be an ‘interesting’ conversation!

Links and Resources

For more information on The Tudor Travel Guide’s ‘In the Footsteps of Mary, Queen of Scots’ tour next June, click here.

For up-to-date visitor information on Edinburgh Castle, follow this link.

For more details on becoming a member of Historic Environment Scotland, follow this link.

To learn more about Helen Cuinn, follow this link.

To join the Marie Stuart Societyfollow this link.


If you want to keep up to date with all the Tudor Travel Guide’s adventures, as well as top tips for planning your own Tudor road trip, don’t forget to subscribe to the blog via


This podcast now has an accompanying closed Facebook group, dedicated to discussing the places and artefacts discussed in each episode. it is also a place to ask your fellow Tudor time travellers questions about visiting Tudor locations or planning your Tudor-themed vacation or sharing your top tips to help others get the most out of their Tudor adventures on the road. Go to The Tudor Travel Show: Hitting the Road to join the community. 


You can also find The Tudor Travel Guide on YouTubeTwitterFacebookInstagram and Pinterest.

Welcome to this month’s Great Tudor Bake Off! Once again, Brigitte Webster takes us on a culinary journey through Tudor England. last month our seasonal ingredient was the plum and we learned to make a fabulous Tudor Plum Tart. As it is September, this month, our seasonal ingredient will be the humble apple. Make sure you read to the end to watch Brigitte in her outdoor sixteenth-century kitchen making delicious Tudor apple fritters over a real fire – yummy!

The History of Apples in Tudor England

The Biblical claim that God planted apples “eastwards in Eden” was geographically correct because the genetic ancestor of the domestic apple grows wild in what today is known as Kazakhstan.

Apple blossom Malus : Bourdichon Hours, French, early 16th century: (Add 35214 f.67)

In England and northern Europe, apple cultivation may go back to Neolithic times.  The Romans are thought to have introduced some varieties of apples to this country, while others were brought by the Normans, returning Crusaders and, in the fifteenth-century, by Huguenots.  The first named apple on record was the Pearmain in 1204.

The name ‘apple’, from the Anglo-Saxon ‘appe’l is similar in Celtic. The original meaning of the word is unknown but it has been suggested that in Sanskrit, ‘ap’ means water and ‘p’hala’ means fruit. The Latin name ‘pomum’ is from the verb ‘poto’ meaning “I drink”.

Malus Libri Picturati, sixteenth-century

Apples were not just used as food.  There are several cases of apples being used as payment in kind as, for example, from 1315 at the Runham estate in Norfolk where the annual rent was paid with 200 pearmain apples.

colour painting of an apple tree
Apple Trye, Manuscript Ashmolean, 1504

In his 1597 description of the apple, John Gerard names the fruit the “Pome Water tree’. He also informs us, that the skin can be red, green or yellow and the taste sweet as well as sour. He mentions, that ‘grafted’ apple trees are found gardens and orchards. It was the Greeks that learnt the oriental technique of grafting the steams of improved varieties of apples onto the rootstock of native trees, such as the quince in England. There is a record of Queen Eleanor of Castile, first wife of Edward I, who in 1280 bought grafts of the French “Blandurel” apple for her garden at the King’s Langley Estate in Hertfordshire.

medieval man picks apples in an orchard
Apple Picker, Pietro Crescenzi

Medieval records also give us an insight into the value of the apple. In a fruiter’s bill of 1292, ordinary apples were 3 pence and a hundred apples of the costard type set you back 1 shilling.

The monks of Reading Abbey were entitled by an agreement to an annual payment of one costard apple, possibly as some kind of ‘peppercorn’ payment.  It is believed that it was a cooking apple.

The costard apple is said to resemble a head and hence the term costard head, which was used in Shakespeare’s play “Love’s Labour’s Lost’. Costard is an archaic term for apple or, metaphorically, a man’s head, therefore, in the play the character Costard is a comic country man.

The British word ‘costermonger’, a person selling fruit from a street cart, might come from the name of this apple. Some historians dispute this and suggest instead that cost-monger is the Saxon-English ‘ceaster-mangere’, a town trader.

Image of a Costard

William Lawson, a Tudor age botanist and garden adviser said in 1597, “ Of your apple trees you shall finde difference in growth. A good pipping will grow large, and a Costard tree: syead them on the north side of your other apples, thus being placed. The least will give sunne to the rest and the greatest will shroud their followes.”.

Poma Apples Peter Treveris 1526, woodcut & text

In Platins’s (1421-1481) On right Pleasure and Good Health, he advises that it is safer to eat sweet apples before a meal and sour ones afterwards. He also notes that sweet apples move the stomach and the bowels. The sweet variety which keeps over the winter would also take away inflammation and induce appetite. He also has an explanation for why the apple is ‘cold and damp’ – both properties considered dangerous for sick people – the juice of the apple turns to vinegar when pressed out. However, a healthy person has nothing to fear, as apples ‘moisten the belly and cool the inside’, something especially desired on a hot summer’s day!

William Turner, botanist and Dean of Wells cathedral, gives us the names of the apple in Greek, English, Dutch/German and French in his The Names of Herbes, published in 1548. Thomas Hill recommends in his The Gardener’s Labyrinth of 1577, that apples are best gathered near the ‘ful of the Moon’.

John Gerard in 1597, also goes on to tell us that in Hereford, there was a master whose servants drink nothing but apple juice. He also mentions the process of making ‘Lambes Wooll’, being the pulp of roasted apples mixed with wine and fair water. Apparently, this, drunk before going to bed, will help you empty your bladder. Gerard clearly prefers the ‘corrected’ boiled or roasted and spices added version of the raw, naturally cold and moist apple.

Hand drawings of old apple trees
Pome Water Tree, John Gerard, 1597

Shakespeare mentions various apple varieties such as Apple John, Bitter Sweeting, Codeling, Pippin, Pomewater and Costard but often uses the apple as a metaphor.

Here at the Old Hall, we grow over 50 fruit tree varieties, all known before 1700 and a good number of apple trees familiar in Tudor England such as:

  • Costard
  • Pearmain (oldest recorded apple in England dating to before 1200)
  • Crab apple
  • Codling
  • Golden Harvey
  • Pippin
  • Winter Queening
  • Decio (Italy)
  • Edelsdorfer (Germany)
  • Francatu (French)
  • Couer De Boeuf (French)
  • Rambour Franc (French)
Picture of an old apple tree
Early Ripe Apple – Tradescant’s Orchard

Recipe: Tudor Apple Fritter Recipe

From ‘The Good Huswifes Handmaide for the kitchen‘ from 1588/1594/97 Thomas Dawson:

A page of old text - recipe for Tudor apple fritters
Old Recipe for Apple Fritters

TO MAKE FRITTERS (Original Recipe):

‘To make Tudor apple fritters: ‘Take a pinte of Ale, and foure yoalkes of Egges, and a faire little Saffron, a spoonful of Cloves and Mace, and a little salte, and a halfe a handful of Sugar, put all this in a faire platter, and stirre them all together with a spoon, and make your batter thereof. Then take ten apples, pare and cut them as big as a groate, put them in your batter: then take your suet + set it on the fyre, + when it is hot, put your batter + your Apples to your suet with your hand one by one, and when they be faire and yellow, take them cut, and lay them in a faire platter, and let them stand a little while by the fyre side Then take a faire platter, and lay your fritters therein, and caste a little sugar on them, and so serve them in.’

TO MAKE FRITTERS (Modernised Recipe):

A picture of Tudor apple fritters on a plate.
Tudor Apple Fritters


  • Half a pint of ale
  • Two egg yolks
  • 1 strand of saffron,
  • ¼ teaspoon each of ground cloves and ground mace
  • A pinch of salt
  • Approx. 20-50g sugar (to taste)
  • Enough flour or bread crumbs to produce a fairly thick batter (this ingredient is missing from the original)
  • Note: if you use breadcrumbs to make these Tudor apple fritters, you need to let the mixture soak in the fridge overnight to achieve a smoother texture.


Mix all ingredients in a bowl with a whisk.

Wash, peel and cut 5 apples (I cored them and sliced them into rings).

In a frying pan, heat enough oil (or animal fat, such as lard or suet). Cover the apple pieces in batter and fry when the oil is hot. When they begin to get golden brown turn them and fry on the other side. When ready, remove and let most of the fat drip off by laying them flat on some kitchen paper towel.

Place the ready Tudor apple fritters, or rings, on a serving dish and sprinkle with icing (powder) sugar. I added some fresh corn flowers for decoration.

Serve and enjoy!

Brigitte’s Tudor Kitchen: A Demonstration

Click on the image below to watch Brigitte make Tudor apple fritters in her outdoor kitchen.

Sources and Further Reading:

A good huswifes handmaide for the kitchen, by Dawson (edited by Stuart Peachey)

On Right Pleasure and Good Health, by Platina (translated by Mary Ella Milham)

Food in Early Modern England, by Joan Thirsk

The Gardener’s Delight, by Thomas Hill, 1577 (edited by Richard Mabey)

Botanical Shakespeare, by Gerit Quealy

The Names of Herbes, by William Turner, 1548

Medieval Gardens, by John Harvey

Herball, by John Gerard, 1597/1633

Ashmole MS 1504, Bodleian Library

The Medieval Flower Book, by Celia Fisher

Each month, our Tudor recipe is contributed by Brigitte Webster. Brigitte runs the ‘Tudor and 17th Century Experience‘. She turned her passion for early English history into a business and opened a living history guesthouse, where people step back in time and totally immerse themselves in Tudor history by sleeping in Tudor beds, eating and drinking authentic, Tudor recipes. She also provides her guests with Tudor entertainment. She loves re-creating Tudor food and gardens and researching Tudor furniture.