Join Hazel Baker as we go back to a Christmas before industrialisation, even before the reformation and Puritan rule, before Christmas trees, Christmas crackers and yes, even Santa Claus.
Episode 35: A Tudor Christmas
A Tudor Christmas
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Hazel Baker: Hello and welcome to London Guided Walks London History podcast. In the coming episodes, we will be sharing our love and passion for London, its people, places and history in an espresso shot with a splash of personality. For those of you who don’t know me, I am Hazel Baker, founder of London Guided Walks, providing guided walks and private tours to Londoners and visitors alike.
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It does seem that with each year, Christmas in the shops gets earlier and earlier. And especially with COVID Christmas decorations, even in my house, went up a little earlier than usual. And while I’m on the subject of Christmas getting earlier, why, Oh, why do marketers not know when the 12 days of Christmas are?
It seems that I’m being bombarded by emails and posts on social media about these 12 days of Christmas. If, if they’re happening now, I’m sorry to burst anyone’s bubble, but we are currently in the period of advent this year, the 29th, November to the 24th of December, the first day of Christmas is Christmas day.
Hence its name, perhaps many of us nowadays are too far removed from the real meaning of Christmas to notice a four Paul such as that, but these days meant something to the Tudors. We’re going to go back to a Christmas before industrialization, even before the reformation and Puritan rule before Christmas trees, Christmas crackers, and yes, even Santa Claus, Christmas time in choosing England had clearly defined rules for living it dictated what they could and couldn’t do and what they could and couldn’t eat.
Surprisingly a tutor Christmas wasn’t so alien, as we may believe she does eight mints pies and sang Christmas carols. They even kissed beneath the mistletoe. Advent means coming as in the coming of Jesus and it covers the four Sundays and weeks before Christmas. And if we were devout Catholic tutors, then during this period called advent, we would now be fasting.
That meant no meat, dairy, or eggs. That meant very different things to the rich and to the poor for the ranch, immense supplementing their diet with fish and other aquatic delights such as poor poise or Beaver’s tail rather than their usual beef and venison. For those less fortunate, there was little change.
They wouldn’t have been able to afford much meat anyway. No about 80 to 90% of tutoring, England were believed to have been involuntary vegetarians. That’s not because of their ethics or their lifestyle choice just simply because they could not afford meat. It’s estimated that a third of the population lived in poverty life or regular Tudors was tough and often isolated overwhelmingly England was a society of small farming communities.
People worked and lived on the land six days a week with Sunday being the only day of rest, a small portion of people in the 15 hundreds lived in towns, but there’s probably less than 10% traditional roles for Tudor. Women were looking after livestock preparing meals, making clothes, candles, and medicines to demand would typically do the ploughing and carting.
One quarter of countryside, households had servants and Tudor winters were more severe as they were than now. That’s the we’re going through a mini ice age, life expectancy in tutoring, England. It was about 40 years old. And now with me approaching my 41st year, I feel like I’ve achieved something though.
I don’t really know why, but what was Christmas like for normal Tudors? The advent fast was broken on Christmas Eve with a meat or a fish dish. Perhaps if a regular people couldn’t afford that, then maybe they added eggs and, or dairy to their meal. Instead decorating your home will begin on Christmas Eve to using Bay Holly, IB and Rosemarie.
It must have smelled delicious. And then after that midnight mass. Christmas day is the first day of Christmas, the 12 days of Christmas and known as the twelfths. And these had strict rules. One of those rules was the banning of spinning and spinning was a primary role of women in the house. And so the spinning wheel along with the house would be decorated.
So they couldn’t use it. It was understood that the Holy days, Christmas day to 12th night was strictly to be taken by all and work would resume on plough. Monday, the first Monday after 12th night, there was an exception to the rule, however, and that was key workers. The animals still need to be fed. And remember, that’s woman’s work.
Meals needed to be prepared. Yep. Woman’s work. So really what we can say on surprisingly was that the 12 days of Christmas was a holiday for the men of the house. Food plays a big part of a Tudor Christmas as it does today. During the 12 days, people would venture out and visit their neighbours and enjoy a traditional mince pie.
Mince pies. P Y E S were made from 13 ingredients representing Christ and his 12 apostles recipes vary, but most would typically include dry fruits, such as raisins, currents, and dried prunes. And if you were wealthy enough, then maybe you would a splashed out on some imported figs or dates. Also in the mix, there would have been spices such as ginger or saffron, and they were a really easy way of showing to your peers how much money you had.
Wow. More realistically, how much money you had spent a little chop mutton would be added to the mixture in remembrance of the shepherds who watched their flocks by night. Have you ever had a minced pie with meat in it? Would you give it a go. Mince pies were sometimes known as shred pies as the mincing or the shredding of the mutton is required to make the pies.
And not long after DOH effigies of baby Jesus, it dawned the mince pies. Often these pies were baked in a rectangular shape, which then people associated with Jesus’s manger. A book of cookery necessary for all such as delight. Therein was printed by Edward old in London of 1591. He had the long shop on poultry and the poultry counter stocks were right outside the old shop door.
Edward ALD himself had spent time in the poultry computer, which was sort of like a small local prison back in 1568 for printing a pro Catholic text. Any printed early additions of plays by Shakespeare, including part of the first quarto of Jeremiah and Juliet in 1597 and third quarter of Titus Andronicus in 16, 11.
He also printed Christopher. Marlowe’s the massacre of Paris in 1594. Old I book of cookery necessary for all such as delight bear in is the first known printed recipe book that we have. And it all happened in London, in the city of London precise. I mentioned poultry. Well, that is right by mansion house nowadays.
And right on top of bank station meat plays an important part in Tudor London as well, even if you’re poor. Because Christmas was a great big feast. You’d want to have meat on the table. And in the majority of cases, if you weren’t a landowner or a freeholder, then you’d be working in agriculture. And that means that you would have a Lauder master and maybe they would give you some meat for Christmas.
That is of course in return of a gift of their own choosing. For an average chewed up person, Christmas meal might have looked a little bit different than what we would think of these huge chunks of meat. We’re thinking something like beef, that was the big meat of Christmas in Tudor times. And they would probably have had more of a stew like dish rather than, um, a big chunk of meat or maybe they would have had a pie.
Fisk Christmas feast would have had bred everybody into the period eight huge amounts of bread and a seasonal favourite from all classes was brawn. And that was fatty cuts of pork or boar meat sometimes cooked in wine and then sliced and spiced and garnished, maybe with gilded, Rosemarie, or Bay leaves or fruits, or even a Sprig of you whitened with egg or flat to make it look like it’d been dusted with snow.
And Brian wasn’t just for the regular photo. No. Um, it was really popular at court and additional cooking ranges had to be built in the kitchens of Greenwich Panisse for the seeding and boiling of Braun’s saying that though it was the choicest cuts of meat. So the four quarters of the ball that was served to people with wealth and then the South the rest of it went to the servants.
Maybe as a little treat, you would be able to have some gingerbread as ginger was a relatively cheap form of spice compared to some of the others. But if you had money, then you weren’t really able to splash that cash for the first course, traditionally, it was a Boar’s head. So this was boned.
It was stuffed with force meat. It was smeared in mustard from Norwich dressed in her herbs and fruits with a roasted pig in its mouth, and sometimes even painted where the bright colours or. Or after being stuffed and boils was seven hours in red wine, then gilded with gold leaf. And then it was ceremoniously carried out into the room and even had its own song that they sang with it as it was being brought in.
And to write to because balls, head, if you were doing it today in today’s money would have cost tens of thousands of pounds. Now that is a good reason to have a song with your supper. At least four of the songs celebrating the Boar’s head dish survived. But the best known is the Boar’s head Carroll, which was printed in Rincon, divert Christmas, carols, newly and printed in 1521.
I’m thinking divert might be familiar with you as he was a printer and publisher in London, originally born in Alsace, and he’s known for his work with William Caxton, whose printing press he inherited. And he moved to fleet street shoe lane area in about 1500, um, and therefore associating himself with fleet street and the art of printing.
And if you want to go out and about exploring and London, then there is a plaque to have and can divert. Um, it’s right by station as hall, which is round the corner from St. Paul’s cathedral. Um, and it says father of fleet street. First setup is pressed by shoe lane near this whole circa 1500. And then if you mosey on down to St.
Bride’s church yard or fleet street, um, he’s actually buried there died in 1535. Um, however, we’re not quite sure on his plot and whether it was in the yard or the chancel, and frankly, the world was a very good businessman. I mean, the reason why he moved close to the churchyard of St. Bride’s was because of the clergy district. They were the chief purveyors of printed literature at the time. So you might as well be right where the money is and don’t forget it’s fleet street. It has this enduring association with journalism and the printed word. Um, and when can divert was that at the very beginning of that?
Don’t forget. I mentioned the beef was the Christmas meat, um, but for the poor meat was a rare luxury. Um, so people usually ate pork or whatever bullet birds they could catch as well. And the better off might enjoy poultry such as chicken or goose and Turkey is featured, um, on modern day dinner tables, but you may be surprised to learn that.
Turkeys were first introduced to England during the Tudor period. The is a record of the very first turkeys arriving in England from the new world in 1526. And there were six turkeys, um, arriving at Bristol and they were sold for tuppence each. And then in the 1530s, it became a domestic Fallon and sold in markets from the 1940s.
And it became so popular that, um, sometimes it was actually served instead of peacock or Swan for Elizabeth. The first, it wasn’t an instant hit. It took centuries for Turkey to become more popular than the traditional meats. And the tutors even hard stuffing. It was known as false meat at the time. And it was made with current nice and sweet with a sweet Polk and hubs.
And also ag is a binding agent and that was then served with poultry in 1538. Christmas pudding even today is popular. And they were eating that in today’s times as well. And although it was a little bit different, but essentially it was a sewage pudding. And a lot of the time it was the women of the house who had their own book of housekeeping stuff and recipes, and they’d pass them down to their daughters and their daughters.
After that. And London’s middle temple hole is a place with lots of tradition. And this one is with Elizabeth first, who was a patron, the bench table that survives at its head was her gift. And as a welcome to the lawyers that the queen, um, we said to bait them a Christmas pudding. And then her recipe was used every year until 1966 as a bit of a commemoration.
And then the queen mother back in 1971, she kind of revived the tradition and stirring a new Christmas pudding for the lawyers. I’d love to know what happens now. So if you know, please do let me know, and I’ll be able to share that with everybody. You probably didn’t know that Brussel sprouts are my favourite vegetable.
And they were first recorded in 1587 during the reign of Elizabeth the first. And there was something on the tutor table that we don’t have really now. And it was a dessert called Fruman tea and it was extremely popular, but essentially it was eggs, fruit, spices, sugar, almond milk or cream. Anything you get your hands on, really, um, added to a mixture of boiled wheat in milk.
And officer stuffing your face for the whole day of feasting. On the first day of Christmas, you are then left with 11 days of Christmas to wassail to catch up with friends, to play games, to go carolling and even a lost tradition of miming. It was 12 days of a fabulous holiday for some, and a lot of work for others.
So, hopefully this has given you a taste of a Tudor Christmas, and maybe he’s got you into the Christmassy spirit. Don’t forget. We are offering virtual Christmas lights, tours of London, looking at the very best lights that London have to offer. And then not just in the West end as if it was a physical tour, they’re all over the tour last an hour. From the comfort of your home, you can wear a face mask in pyjamas and have a glass of milled wine, because I can’t see you. You can just sit back and maybe screen it to your TV and watch it on the big screen. Also, we have private Christmas lights, tours, private Christmas Carol tools available.
And don’t forget, we also have our live London Christmas quiz. If you think you know more about London and Christmas than me. Let’s see, this will be my last podcast episode for this year. I will be restarting again in 2021. So if I don’t see or hear from you before then, I hope you have a very Merry Christmas and a healthy and happy new year.