10 Everyday Objects From Tudor Times

We love our Tudor kings and queens but there's something about a 500-year old worn leather shoe or a penny that's surface has been gradually smoothed by hundreds or thousands of thumbs as it's spent and bartered over the centuries. 

Everyday objects speak to us in a way that crown jewels or stiffly posed portraits don't. They provide a link from us to our ancestors, and reveal intimate details about their daily life. Let's look at some of these heart-warming objects from Tudor times, currently in the collection of the Met Museum


Tudor purse, Met Museum, Public Domain

This embroidered bag was, according to The Met, filled with scented herbs or flowers to mask bad smells, much like a pomander did hung in the skirts of a wealthy fifteenth century lady. As they walked, the purse would swish and release its aromas leaving a trail of lavender or rosemary behind them. The bag has a cord attached, and this looks like it might have also been attached to a belt or girdle to fulfil the same purpose. It dates to the end of the sixteenth century, and as is clear from the beautiful and intricate needlework, it was definitely worn to be seen. 


Spoons, Met Museum, public domain

I love these Tudor spoons, that would have once been used to scoop up potage or applemoyse after a long day ploughing the fields. The longest one measures just under 18cm and they date from the end of the sixteenth century to the beginning of the seventeenth. 


Chair, Met Museum, public domain

This chair is genius. It's three-legged, so it's perfect for resting in between the junction of two walls near an open window. There, you can read classical tragedies or check on your Book of Hours to your heart's content. It measures 82.6cm high and is made from ash wood, with an oak wood seat. The Met dated it to the late sixteenth to the early seventeenth century.

Toasting Fork 

Toasting Fork, Met Museum, public domain

Yep, even the Tudors edged closer to the roaring fire to cook their snacks but they didn't toast marshmallows. This fork would have been used to toast fruit like apple or pear, or perhaps a slab of cheese. It's thought that this fork dates to 1561 and has links to Norfolk. 


Henry VIII Groat, Met Museum, public domain

A Henry VIII Groat, dated to 1526-1530, around the time the king was beginning his affair with Anne Boleyn. We often look at these coins today as a record of currency and royal portraiture, but sometimes forget that they were every day items used in buying and selling a wide range of goods and services. 


Jug, Met Museum, public domain

This earthenware jug belongs to the early Tudor period, so would have been used during the reign of Henry VII or the early reign of Henry VIII. The green colour was achieved by the addition of copper filings during the firing process. Measuring just under 18cm tall, it would have been used to dispense drinks, perhaps purified water or ale. 


Gloves, Met Museum, public domain

The climate in Tudor times was even colder, experts reckon, to modern temperatures, which is why they're all pictured wearing heavy furs and woolly hats. A discerning lady or gentleman then, needed something to keep their mitts warm, like this pair of embroidered leather gloves. They date to the sixteenth century, so could have been worn at any point in the Tudor period although to my completely untrained and amateurish eye they look to me like they might fit on an Elizabethan. Despite their fragility, a number of gloves from this period survive, and it's worth keeping a lookout for them in glass cabinets when visiting local museums or stately homes. Their survival success might be down to their value and beauty, possibly being handed down with care by generations of ancestors. 


Cap, Met Museum, public domain

In 1571, Elizabeth I passed a law requiring every English citizen above the age of six to wear a woolly cap (the nobility were exempt) on Sabbath and Holy Days. This was to try and boost the Elizabethan wool trade. This cap would have covered the back of the neck, perfect for protection in those wintery breezes, and had overhanging sections presumably to cover the ears. This cap dates from the sixteenth century. 


Shoe, Met Museum, public domain

My heart kind of breaks a little bit when I see an old worn shoe in a museum's gallery cabinet. It's such an intimate item. This sixteenth-century leather shoe would have been trudged about with its owner to market, to prayer, to church and to work. It has the square toe that was popular during the reign of Henry VII and Henry VIII (check out the Whitehall portrait of Henry VIII to see him rocking the squared-toe look) and was secured onto the foot by a buckle. Again, many shoes from the Medieval, Tudor and later eras seem to have survived, and many can be found in your local museums. My museum at Reading has a Medieval leather show that was dredged from the Thames. 


Badge, Met Museum, public domain

Our Tudor ancestors would have pinned a badge onto their outfit to show allegiance or respect to a particular saint. Saints were also often called upon for different functions, for example St Anne and Mary the Virgin were often called upon by expectant mothers, while St Christopher was called upon by travellers for protection. They were also used by pilgrims travelling to pay their respects to a particular shrine. This badge, which dates from the late sixteenth century to the early seventeenth, depicts the Virgin Mary and an infant, and was likely a treasured possession that had some personal significance to its wearer. 

Liked this? You might also like: Walking in the Footsteps of the Tudors in Reading, Following the Tudors in Plymouth or A Tudor Breakfast.

The Tudors came to power following a series of events that occurred during the wars of the Roses. My book, Forgotten Women of the Wars of the Roses is published by Pen and Sword Books and discusses many woman of the fifteenth century conflict that played parts we don't often hear about to day. It also delves into some of their everyday items and objects they bequeathed in their wills. 

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