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

Book Review – ‘House of Tudor: A Grisly History’ by Mickey Mayhew


Thanks to Pen and Sword for gifting me a copy of this to review.

This is quite a different take on the Tudor period which I really enjoyed. It’s written in really short chapters which makes it easy to read and dip in and out of and return to if you want to refresh your memory on a particular event.

The book covers 45 different events of the Tudor period which are the most grisly events of the period rather than the most common events. These include the poisoning of Bishop Fisher, the blackened heart of Katherine of Aragon, Mary I’s phantom pregnancies, and the kidnap of Mary Queen of Scots, among many others. Particular attention is paid to some of the more gory or unusual aspects of the events described which is quite novel and something that some history books skate over.

The book has a great selection of images, and a comprehensive index. There are two things I will say that stops this being a 5-star read for me, maybe just as a historian myself, there is a lack of original / contemporary primary sources listed in the bibliography though they have been used in the text itself, but that certainly doesn’t detract from the excellent discourse and ease of reading of this book which I thoroughly enjoyed! There is also only mention of Henry VII in the Bosworth chapter but no further mention of him really, even given the Simnel and Warbeck rebellions and the execution of the Earl of Warwick.

Aside from these two things I can’t really fault it! This is a fantastic addition to my Tudor bookcase and one that I will certainly come back to when working on my own writing! It really does cover so many different things that there will be something for everyone whatever your interests are; political, personal, medical, or death. A brilliant gory discourse on my favourite period of history!

Documentary Notes – ‘Henry VIII and his Six Wives’ with Suzannah Lipscomb & Dan Jones – Episode 3, Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves


Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein c.1536.
Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein c.1536.

  • Jane Seymour often overlooked – Henry called her his true love
  • Taught Henry the importance of family, battled to reunite him with his daughter and gave him a son and heir
  • Cruel twist of fate – Jane was snatched from him
  • Death and betrayal turned Henry into a bitter and cruel man
  • Made his most disastrous marriage to Anne of Cleves
  • 1536 Henry VIII was aged 44, divorced one wife and other in the Tower awaiting execution for adultery and incest
  • Anne’s infidelity humiliated Henry and cast doubt over his sexual prowess
  • While Anne was in the Tower Henry tried to find her replacement
  • Jane Seymour caught the king’s eye, age 24 and had served both Katherine of Aragon anf Anne Boleyn
  • Virtuous, unassuming and honest
  • Henry sent Jane a letter but she sent it back unopened – wanted to make an honourable marriage
  • Henry’s chivalrous side and aroused his desire
  • Once Henry set his mind on having something he would do anything to get it
  • Henry courted Jane in earnest – before Anne Boleyn was executed Jane was in sight as wife number 3
  • 19 May 1536 Anne Boleyn beheaded on Tower Green
  • Anne still hoped for a last minute reprieve and mercy from Henry who had loved her but Henry had already switched his affections to Jane
  • Henry and Jane were planning their future together
  • Less than 24 hours after Anne’s death Henry and Jane were engaged
  • No record of how Jane reacted to Anne’s beheading but didn’t hesitate to step over Anne to the throne
  • Far steelier than anyone realised
  • 11 days after Anne’s beheading Henry and Jane married, Henry in love
  • Not everyone shared Henry’s affection for Jane
  • Chapuys reported that Jane was of middling stature and no great beauty, proud and haughty, of no great wit
  • Why did Henry marry Jane? Had previously been married to 2 attractive and intelligent women
  • Henry liked Jane because she was so different – compassionate, loyal and do what he told her without question

Continue reading “Documentary Notes – ‘Henry VIII and his Six Wives’ with Suzannah Lipscomb & Dan Jones – Episode 3, Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves”

Documentary Notes – ‘Hidden Killers of the Tudor Home’ with Suzannah Lipscomb


Suzannah Lipscomb, historian.
Suzannah Lipscomb, historian.

  • Tudor home is icon of Britishness
  • Quaint relics of the past – changed them and us
  • Age of discovery and anything is possible – change most evident in the home, domestic life transformed
  • As with anything new there were risks
  • Life threatening changes made their way into the heart of the Tudor home
  • Emergence of people with new wealth – aspirations for their homes
  • New homes introduced hidden killers to the home
  • Newly discovered lands brought killers home into the kitchen and dining room
  • Boom in trade, prospering in trade and new goods including food and furniture, home became more comfortable than ever home
  • Increase in material goods
  • Dining room – taste for the new and exotic
  • Until the 1540s the English didn’t have a word for orange
  • Sugar became more available with lower prices – slave trade
  • Medieval diet rather bland, enhanced with sugar in Tudor period
  • Sugar needs to be broken up – work hours as well as expense, desirable way of displaying status
  • Could play with sugar to shape and dye it
  • Huge release of energy when sugar introduced to a diet that had none before
  • Consumption more widespread but caused trouble – changes in disease patterns over time, impact of sugar on health
  • Dental health – marked change in dental health. Medieval teeth much healthier than Tudor skulls as sugar introduced
  • Methods of cleaning teeth in the Tudor period made things worse
  • Used solutions to clean their teeth containing sugar or alabaster
  • Kissing comfits were sweets which took away bad breath but damaged teeth
  • Sugar also affects chemicals in the body – serotonin, pleasure chemical

Continue reading “Documentary Notes – ‘Hidden Killers of the Tudor Home’ with Suzannah Lipscomb”

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