Back in 2013, I started an MA in Creative Writing at Lancaster University where I started working on my novel, Bloodroot and Bracken.
Set in Tudor era Lancaster – from the 1550s through to the 1580s – it follows midwife and healer, Jane Ask, who’s wrongfully accused of witchcraft and spends the rest of her life suffering from the aftereffects of her trial. Afterwards she marries and has children, only for her daughter, Thora, to display gifts that bring one word to mind: witch.
Years later, Bloodroot and Bracken has changed a lot as I’ve grown as a person, although it’s still the same story at its core, and I’m ashamed to say I still haven’t finished a draft of it because finding time to write while also working full-time and trying to have some kind of life is really hard. Right now, though, I’ve been furloughed, so I have some extra time (while I’m still getting 80% of my paycheck) to work on some of my own writing projects!
I’m not going to tell myself I’m going to write a whole draft, because I don’t need that kind of pressure right now, but I’d really like to write more than I have been.
I love my Tudor history, but when it comes to Tudor non-fiction and documentaries and fiction, so much of it focuses on the royals and what was going on at court. I still love reading and learning about all of those things, but when it comes to my own writing I prefer to write about history’s Average Joes and it’s those people I want to read more non-fiction about.
So today I thought I’d share some of the non-fiction on my TBR that will help me with my research – and they’re all books I’m really looking forward to reading!
The Tudor Housewife by Alison Sim
The political and military history of the sixteenth century is well known, and much written about, but what of the thousands of women who have, for the most part, eluded the historian’s pen? ‘The Tudor Housewife’ aims to answer this question, providing a unique and accessible introduction to the everyday life and responsibilities of women from all levels of society in the age of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. With chapters on marriage, childbirth, the upbringing of children, washing and cleaning, food and drink, the housewife as doctor, women and business, and women and religion, Alison Sim reveals how women were expected to manage businesses as well as the household accounts, take extensive personal interest in the moral welfare of their children, administer medicine to their households and act as a help-meet to their husbands in every aspect of life. She challenges widely held assumptions that all households were self-sufficient in the sixteenth century and shows that even wealthy ladies were not brought up to be idle. Written in a lively and readable style, The Tudor Housewife provides an attractive and captivating insight into past women’s lives.
I tend to write a lot of scenes in domestic spaces – in kitchens and around hearths – and it’d be good to learn more about the typical day-to-day activies of a housewife in the Tudor era.
How to be a Tudor: A Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Everyday Life by Ruth Goodman
On the heels of her triumphant How to Be a Victorian, Ruth Goodman travels even further back in English history to the era closest to her heart, the dramatic period from the crowning of Henry VII to the death of Elizabeth I.
Drawing on her own adventures living in re-created Tudor conditions, Goodman serves as our intrepid guide to 16th-century living. Proceeding from daybreak to bedtime, this charming, illustrative work celebrates the ordinary lives of those who labored through the era. From sounding the “hue and cry” to alert a village to danger to malting grain for homemade ale, from the gruesome sport of bear-baiting to cuckolding and cross-dressing – the madcap habits and revealing intimacies of life in the time of Shakespeare are vividly rendered for the insatiably curious.
Ruth Goodman is an expert in living history, so I’d definitely like to know more about the typical day of a Tudor from someone who’s tried it herself!
The Lives of Tudor Women by Elizabeth Norton
The Tudor period conjures up images of queens and noblewomen in elaborate court dress; of palace intrigue and dramatic politics. But if you were a woman, it was also a time when death during childbirth was rife; when marriage was usually a legal contract, not a matter for love, and the education you could hope to receive was minimal at best.
Yet the Tudor century was also dominated by powerful and dynamic women in a way that no era had been before. Historian Elizabeth Norton explores the life cycle of the Tudor woman, from childhood to old age, through the diverging examples of women such as Elizabeth Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister; Cecily Burbage, Elizabeth’s wet nurse; Mary Howard, widowed but influential at court; Elizabeth Boleyn, mother of a controversial queen; and Elizabeth Barton, a peasant girl who would be lauded as a prophetess. Their stories are interwoven with studies of topics ranging from Tudor toys to contraception to witchcraft, painting a portrait of the lives of queens and serving maids, nuns and harlots, widows and chaperones. Norton brings this vibrant period to colorful life in an evocative and insightful social history.
I love the sound of this book because it looks at women across various social classes during the Tudor era, so it’ll definitely be handy for me!
The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England by Ian Mortimer
The past is a foreign country – this is your guide.
We think of Queen Elizabeth I’s reign (1558-1603) as a golden age. But what was it actually like to live in Elizabethan England? If you could travel to the past and walk the streets of London in the 1590s, where would you stay? What would you eat? What would you wear? Would you really have a sense of it being a glorious age? And if so, how would that glory sit alongside the vagrants, diseases, violence, sexism and famine of the time?
In this book Ian Mortimer reveals a country in which life expectancy is in the early thirties, people still starve to death and Catholics are persecuted for their faith. Yet it produces some of the finest writing in the English language, some of the most magnificent architecture, and sees Elizabeth’s subjects settle in America and circumnavigate the globe. Welcome to a country that is, in all its contradictions, the very crucible of the modern world.
While I say the Tudor era, technically the majority of my novel is set during the Elizabethan era. Elizabeth I was the final Tudor monarch, and this exploration of life during her reign will be another handy piece of research for me!
The Voices of Nîmes: Women, Sex, and Marriage in Reformation Languedoc by Suzannah Lipscomb
Most of the women who ever lived left no trace of their existence on the record of history. Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century women of the middling and lower levels of society left no letters or diaries in which they expressed what they felt or thought. Criminal courts and magistrates kept few records of their testimonies, and no ecclesiastical court records are known to survive for the French Roman Catholic Church between 1540 and 1667. For the most part, we cannot hear the voices of ordinary French women – but this study allows us to do so.
Based on the evidence of 1,200 cases brought before the consistories – or moral courts – of the Huguenot church of Languedoc between 1561 and 1615, The Voices of Nimes allows us to access ordinary women’s everyday lives: their speech, behaviour, and attitudes relating to love, faith, and marriage, as well as friendship and sex. Women appeared frequently before the consistory because one of the chief functions of moral discipline was the regulation of sexuality, and women were thought to be primarily responsible for sexual sin. This means that the registers include over a thousand testimonies by and about women, most of whom left no other record to posterity.
Women also featured so prominently before the consistories because of an ironic, unintended consequence of the consistorial system: it empowered women. Women quickly learnt how to use the consistory: they denounced those who abused them, they deployed the consistory to force men to honour their promises, and they started rumours they knew would be followed up by the elders. The registers therefore offer unrivalled evidence of women’s agency, in this intensely patriarchal society, in a range of different contexts, such as their enjoyment of their sexuality, choice of marriage partners, or idiosyncratic spiritual engagement. The consistorial registers, therefore, let us see how independent, self-determining, and vocal women could be in an age when they had limited legal rights, little official power, and few prospects. As a result, this book suggests we need to reconceptualize female power: women’s power was not just hidden, manipulative, and devious, but also far more public than historians have previously recognized.
While this book actually looks at women in 16th century France rather than 16th century England, I still think it’ll be so interesting to read because this book actually has written accounts of things working-class, ‘normal’ women said. It’s rare enough to find fragments of what upper class women have said, so this will be a real treasure trove!