Book Review – ‘Sex and Sexuality in Tudor England’ by Carol McGrath


Thank you to Pen and Sword Books for the gifted copy of this book to review.

I really enjoyed this book. It was so interesting, and I learnt quite a lot about the way the Tudors thought about sex and the roles of women and gender. It is irrevocably tied in to the Reformation and changing religious views across the long Tudor century. This is all discussed throughout as McGrath dives into several different areas.

The perceptions of sex are discussed including when you should and shouldn’t have sex, words related to sex, and some humorous sections, as there was bound to be when discussing sex! It’s a great mix of informative and entertaining which I really enjoyed. It’s not too ‘heavy’ to read and quite a concise and clear read.

It offers a different view on Tudor England, though there is still quite a lot of focus on Henry VIII and his relationships with his wives. There could have been more on the general populace, and maybe looking more at court cases about women i.e. scolding, adultery, fornication, and children.

The main reason I didn’t give this book 5 stars was because I felt there was too much focus on the royal history, as well as a few errors as below:

  • Page 12/64 – Thomas Howard referred to as Earl of Norfolk when he was Duke of Norfolk
  • Page 27 – It was said that Katherine of Aragon and Prince Arthur were married at Westminster Abbey when they were actually married in St Paul’s Cathedral
  • Page 58 – Field of the Cloth of Gold said to have happened in 1521, but it was actually 1520
  • Page 88 – Anne Boleyn’s father was described as Duke of Wiltshire when he was Earl of Wiltshire
  • Page 88 – Francis Byron questioned over Anne Boleyn’s fall, but it was Francis Bryan
  • Page 92 – McGrath says that Catherine Carey was acknowledged as Henry VIII’s daughter, but she was never acknowledged, it was only rumoured

Resolving these errors would make the book read a lot better and make me feel more like I could trust what else the author was saying. Errors make me feel like I can’t believe everything the author is saying, but this book was so interesting that I didn’t want to knock more than 1 star off my review.

Chapters:

  1. The Church, the Lady and Sexuality
  2. Tudor Marriage and Matters Sexual
  3. Medical Practices and Beliefs Associated with Childbirth and Contraception
  4. Attracting the Opposite Sex
  5. Dress to Impress & Tudor Dance and Music
  6. Courtly Romance and Poetry
  7. Noli Me tangere, for Caesar’s I am & Court Mistresses
  8. A Visit to a Brothel and Illicit Sex Issues & Aphrodisiacs and Love Potions
  9. Sex and Witchcraft
  10. Renaissance Art and Sex
  11. The Commoner, Villages, Towns and Sex
  12. Naughty Vocabulary during the Tudor Era

Author: Helene Harrison

I have an MA in History, with a thesis entitled 'The Many Faces of Anne Boleyn: Perceptions in History, Literature and Film'. I have an interest in the Tudors and the Wars of the Roses along with my love of reading and literature.

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