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Fun Bits of Tudor History


Henry's King-sized waistline was every bit as legendary as his legacy. While portraits of Henry from the time of his coronation show a slightly built young man, by the time he was middle-aged the 6'2" monarch boasted a 54-inch waistline — some four and a half feet around. Director of the Royal Armouries Peter Armstrong once called him "an absolute monster."
















How can you remember what happened to all six of Henry's wives (which included three Catherines)? Schoolchildren in England are taught a mnemonic device to keep them straight. The old rhyme describes the fate of each — "Divorced, Beheaded, Died — Divorced, Beheaded, Survived." (For the record, their names were Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Kathryn Howard and Katherine Parr.)


The Turkey Leg?

The 16th-century English navigator William Strickland is generally credited with introducing the turkey into England. His family coat of arms — showing a turkey as the family crest — is among the earliest known European depictions of a turkey. English farmer Thomas Tusser notes the turkey being among farmer's fare at Christmas in 1573


What's this you say?

The fork was introduced to Western Europe by Theophano Sklereina, the Byzantine wife of Holy Roman Emperor Otto II, who nonchalantly wielded one at an Imperial banquet in AD 972, astonishing her Western hosts. By the 11th century, the table fork had become increasingly prevalent in the Italian peninsula. It gained a following in Italy before any other Western European region because of historical ties with Byzantium, and it continued to gain popularity due to the increased presence of early pasta in the Italian diet. At first, pasta was consumed by using a long wooden spike, but this eventually evolved into three spikes because of how much easier it was to gather the noodles. In Italy, it became commonplace by the 14th century, almost universally used by merchant and upper classes by the year 1600. It was proper for a guest to arrive with his own fork andspoon enclosed in a box called a cadena; this usage was introduced to the French court with Catherine de' Medici's entourage. In Portugal, forks began being used with Infanta Beatrice, Duchess of Viseu, king Manuel I of Portugal's mother.  That happened around 1450. Still forks were not commonly used in Western Europe until the 16th century when they became part of the etiquette in Italy.   It had also gained some currency in Spain by this time, and its use gradually spread to France. Even at that, though, most of Europe did not adopt use of the fork until the 18th century.




                          This portrait of Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII's queen, was painted around 1518. She                             is wearing what will become the classic "gable hood"


For the next decade and well into the 1540s, the structure of the gable hood did not change significantly from the headdress worn by Queen Katharine. The jeweled billiments vary widely in design and color, as does the embroidery of the lappets and the stylish pinning , shaping and draping of the bulky hood fabric in the back, but the construction and shape of the English hood remains consistant throughout.

As the 1530s progressed, the sides of the English Hood became shorter. The billiments ended above the jaw, rather than at the chin line, and the side lappets and veil were pinned up. Several sketches of women wearing these hoods were drawn by Hans Holbein the Younger in the 1530s.  Portraits show women wearing hoods exceedingly similar in design; some have decorative, jeweled billiments along the front edge, while others do not. The gable hood was the fashionable headwear in the court of king Henry VIII until the 1540s. 



                             Anne Boleyn









The popular myth that Catherine acted more as her husband's nurse than his wife was born in the 19th century from the work of Victorian moralist and proto-feminist, Agnes Strickland. David Starkey challenged this assumption in his book Six Wives, in which he points out that such a situation would have been vaguely obscene to the Tudors—given that Henry had a huge staff of physicians waiting on him hand and foot, and Catherine was expected to live up to the heavy expectations of Queenly dignity. Parr is usually portrayed in cinema and television by actresses who are much older than the queen, who was in her early 30s when she was Henry's wife and was about 36 years old at the time of her death. This change is usually an artistic licence taken to highlight Parr's maturity in comparison to Henry's previous queens, or at least a symptom of the longer lifespans enjoyed by modern audiences (who might be confused as to why a 30-year old is considered much older and more experienced).

Catherine's good sense, moral rectitude, compassion, firm religious commitment, and strong sense of loyalty and devotion have earned her many admirers among historians. These include David Starkey, feminist activist Karen Lindsey, Lady Antonia Fraser, Alison Weir, Carolly Erickson, Alison Plowden, Susan James, and Linda Porter. Biographers have described her as strong-willed and outspoken, physically desirable, susceptible (like Queen Elizabeth) to roguish charm, and even willing to resort to obscene language if the occasion suited.

Some of Catherine Parr's writings are available from the Women Writers Project.

Catherine or Katherine Parr

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