Friday, June 22, 2012

Our Tudor Sisters

Sandra Byrd

Historical novelists are sometimes suspected of importing twenty-first century values into sixteenth century novels.  While it's true that most authors seek to connect their readers with their novel's women of the past, it isn't necessary to ascribe new values to past women.  While we cannot know what conversations between persons sounded like, with certainty, we can draw upon what we do know to extrapolate their emotions, desires, and life goals.

They valued education.  Although medieval women's education was often limited to gentler feminine arts such as dance, needlework, and playing of the lute or virginals, by the beginning of the Tudor era women were much more interested and involved in intellectual education.   Queen Catherine of Aragon ensured that her daughter, Mary, had a strict regimen of demanding studies in accordance with her own upbringing.  Sir Thomas More is often credited with putting practice to the idea that non-royal women deserved as much education as noble or highborn men.  His daughters undertook an education complete in classical studies,  languages, geography, astronomy, and mathematics.  
Margaret More Roper

Queen Kateryn Parr's mother, Maude, educated her own daughters in accordance with More's program for his children, eventually running a kind of "school for highborn girls" after she was widowed. Eventually, educating  one's daughters was seen as a social necessity and men expected their wives to be able to play chess with them, discuss poetry and devotional works, and be conversant in the issues of the day.

They knew they couldn't marry for love - the first time - but desired it anyway.   Most historical readers understand that women in the Tudor era were chattel, legally controlled by their fathers and then their husbands.   They married for dynastic or financial reasons; marriage was an alliance of families and strategy and not of the hearts.  And yet, these women, too, had read Song of Songs wherein a husband and wife declare their passion for one another.  Classically educated as they were, Tudor women had surely come across the Greek myths, including Eros and Psyche, and perhaps had even read the medieval French love poem, Roman de la Rose.  

Mary Tudor

If a woman was left widowed - and that happened quite often - she was free to remain widowed and under her own authority or to marry whom she wished.  Henry VIII's sister Mary, married first King Louis XII of France, for duty.  When he died, she married Charles Brandon, for love.  After Mary's death, Brandon  married his ward, Katherine Willoughby, her duty.  Later, she married Richard Bertie for love.

They were working women.    High born women were often ladies in waiting to the queen, a demanding, full time job with little pay and time off.  They ran the accounts for their husband's properties and juggled household management.   Some highborn women, such as Lady Bryan, became governesses.  Lower born women were lady maids, seamstresses, nurses, servants, or baby maids in addition to helping their husbands as fishmongers or in the fields.  

Although there are some notable differences, we have much more in common with our high born sisters of five hundred years ago than one may think!

To learn more about Sandra's Ladies in Waiting Series, set in Tudor England, please visit  For blogs on England and English history, visit:



  1. Very interesting Sandra!! Ahhh to live in Tudor times...not sure if I could handle

  2. I love so much about the era, but I do like my twenty-first century appliances and medicine! Thanks for reading!

  3. Thanks Sandra, I have always love the time period of The Tudors. Very interesting!!

  4. Happy to hear that women really did want to marry for love and that it isn't just a fantasy of we romance writers and readers!

  5. That's very interesting and I just what I've always believed: things haven't changed all that much, at least, for women.

  6. I think it's true, Farida, that although the mores and customs were different, in most ways they were very much like us. It reminds me of the old misbelief that women back then didn't mourn the loss of children who died as babies because it happened so often. At heart, they were women as we are. They just had heavier burdens, in many cases, to carry.

  7. I'm so glad to learn that women at least had some say in their own marriage. How sad to think they would always be betrothed to someone chosen for them.


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