Sex and Sexuality in Tudor England - A Review

I received a Kindle copy of this book for the purposes of my review. Thank you to Pen and Sword and Netgalley. All opinions are my own. 


There's this curiosity about the sex lives of people that have gone before us. Did they do it the same as we do? What was taboo? What was sexy? 

A new book, by Carol McGrath, explains the ways our Tudor ancestors expressed their sexuality. Sex and Sexuality In Tudor England highlights what they found alluring, what was frowned upon and how often (probably) they all did it. 

The book is fairly short - I read it, snuggled up in a blanket, in bursts over a stormy weekend - but it is packed full of facts. I loved the tiny details. The existence of pubic wigs (yes, they were a thing), methods of contraception, what it might have been like in the stews and bathhouses of London and what the church ruled was actually a healthy sex life. 

It deals with royalty (the old question of whether Arthur Tudor and his bride Catherine of Aragon consummated their marriage) and the elaborate 'putting to bed' ceremony after an important wedding. There are the commoners, too. What marriage and weddings might have looked like and how common pre-marital sex might have been. 

The author doesn't elaborate on Elizabethan sex, putting the end of their period at the accession of the queen in 1558, but perhaps this period would need a book entirely of its own to tackle. I did find myself also looking for sources of some of the claims made in the book but didn't find them in the notes section, but that's just the nerd in me. Some pictures would have been good, too - there were none in my Kindle version but I can't speak for the printed ones. 

What I did love about this book is that it fleshes out (ahem) the idea of what life might have been like at ground level in Tudor England. We know about the politics, the fashion and the posh palaces, but to grasp how everyone navigated their sex lives - and went about attracting a partner - amid the demands of the church, work and family life gives such an important perspective when studying and learning about this period. I mean, if you're going to learn about the Tudors, you need to know how they lived their every day lives, too. 

I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in the Tudor period, especially if you're into sexual, social or women's history.

Find out more about it at the Pen and Sword website. 


Like this? You might also like Sex and Sexuality in Stuart Britain, Sex, Love and Marriage in the Elizabethan Age and a book review of Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know. 


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