Life in Tudor Britain was harsh.
The average life expectancy was just 35-38 years. 30% of children died before their 10th birthday. More
For those who reached adulthood, there were famines and plagues to deal with.
However, some people survived into their 50s or early 60s and a few into their 70s or even 80s. More
Although there was a big difference between the diet of the rich and the poor, neither diet was healthy.
The rich diet lacked fibre and was high in fat and sugars. The poor diet was healthier as it included vegetables and low fat meats such as mutton and chicken, but there was never enough food, causing malnutrition. More
Poor diets left people more prone to catching infections.
When people had little to eat, they were more likely to catch infectious diseases. Sailors had the worst diet of all. More
Tudor people were aware of the need for personal hygiene.
Most people tried to keep themselves clean, but it was difficult to keep free of vermin. More
Tudor towns were very dirty.
There was no system to take away human and animal waste. Rubbish, such as rotting vegetables, offal, dirty water and household waste was thrown on to the streets. More
With no proper sewage system diseases spread rapidly
In towns, the sewers often ran down the middle of the street, straight into rivers and wells, contaminating the water. The contents of chamber pots were thrown into the streets. Even the toilets of the very rich were very basic. Open sewers, poor drainage, narrow streets and filth put people at risk from diseases. More
There were many outbreaks of Plague.
Rats and other vermin were common and lived off the rubbish dumped close to people's homes. The fleas from the rats bit people and passed on the bacteria which caused the plague. More
Many people also died of smallpox.
This was a disease that could leave people disfigured (badly scarred) or blind (Queen Elizabeth I almost died of this). More
The closure of the monastries meant fewer places were available to care for the sick.
The dissolution of the monasteries from 1536 to 1540 saw the sudden end of many local hospitals, run by the monks and nuns (these were places that the old and the weak went to for care). More
Doctors were the highest ranking people who practised medicine.
Operations and dentistry were carried out by a barber-surgeon, who was of lower status. At a lower level still were the apothecaries, who made up the medicines. More
At the beginning of the Tudor period, many still turned to magic to cure their ills.
With the growth of the Protestant religion, which promoted the idea of Divine Providence (the belief that things happened because this was God’s will), the use of magic became less important. However, these changes were slow in coming. More
Superstition still saw the use of many bizzare treatments.
In an age when so much could not be explained, superstition was still important. Most people could not afford doctors and relied on treatments from the apothecary or a village wise-woman. Folk-remedies were often bizarre. More
There was a belief in 'the doctrine of signatures'.
This is the idea that God put a signature on everything he created to show its purpose. Therefore, a plant that in some way resembled a human body part would be helpful for curing problems in that area. For example, the spots on lungwort were thought to resemble the lungs, so the plant was used in the preparation of medicines to treat lung ailments. More
Doctors still believed illness was caused when 'the humours' in a person's body were not balanced.
Medical knowledge had not advanced much from Medieval times. Even if you could afford a doctor, they could do little. More
Blood was the most important humour, and had to be controlled.
The best way to do this was through blood-letting. Doctors would cut a vein or use leeches (creatures that fix themselves on the skin and suck out blood). More
Doctors also believed that illnesses, like the plague, were passed on through smells.
These smells, or poisonous 'vapours', were thought to be absorbed through the skin. Ginger or Chervil (a herb that smells of aniseed) was put in scented balls called pomanders that people carried with them to smell. More
Few people survived an operation or lived for long after one.
Barber-surgeons used opium and hemlock if they had to do operations or painful procedures. However both of them were very dangerous. More
Childbirth was a particularly dangerous time.
One in five women died because of childbirth (usually because of infection). Midwives were licensed by the Church and had to take an oath to look after rich and poor people, not to use medical tools to deliver babies, not to swap them after they had been born and not to practise witchcraft. More
Some beauty treatments were very dangerous.
Today, people are accused of risking their lives for a tan; during the reign of Queen Elizabeth they risked their lives to appear pale, by applying a poisionous white lead to their skin. More
Home made pastes, wine and rags were used to clean the teeth.
A paste made from powdered pumice stone, cuttlefish shell and alabaster was used which often damaged the teeth. More
The fatty, sweet diet of the rich caused their teeth to rot.
Elizabeth I sucked sugared violets to keep her breath fresh, which caused her teeth to rot even more. More
The Tudors used cloves and herbs for toothache.
The last resort was to have the tooth pulled out, without any painkillers! More
Tobacco was first introduced to Britain.
In 1492, the explorer Christopher Columbus landed on the island of Cuba and came into contact with people smoking what came to be known as tobacco. More
Physicians claimed that tobacco was good for all kinds of illnesses.
These included toothache, worms, bad breath, lockjaw and cancer! More
Burns Night Crannachan
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