The Private Lives of the Tudors by Tracy Borman

The Private Lives of the Tudors by Tracy Borman

Like many, I find the Tudors fascinating, and the machinations around the court are worthy of master strategists. Having heard about this title from the BBC’s History Extra podcast,  I knew that Tracy Borman would have exhaustively researched the bits, provided plenty of ledger and cost breakdowns, even detailing menus.  What I didn’t expect were the unexpected gems.  Please read on for my review of

The Private Lives of the Tudors

As I stated, a fascination with the Tudor dynasty and some early chatter about this title piqued my interest.  I expected the ledgers and costs to be informative, but ultimately rather dry reading, although one must appreciate Borman’s exhaustive research and attempts.  And there truly isn’t a great stash of private letters from say Henry to Anne, or Elizabeth to any of her purported suitors, as much as that would have been intriguing.  Instead, Borman does follow a rather familiar path in this book, where the majority of the book focuses on Elizabeth.

What I loved on the way to her section was the few passages of moments where the potential does exist for actual privacy (a rarity) where the discussions of sexual beliefs, herbal medicines and Henry VIII rather headstrong and oft-capricious moods and attitudes toward those around him.  Other gem moments were in discussions of wardrobes and the changes in wardrobe through the years.  Also passages on religious beliefs, the keeping and maintenance of the castles, private enhancements using clothing, corsets, bindings and maquillage and even touching on the symbols and iconography used for specific monarchs

What emerges is a thoroughly researched piece, covering much information that is familiar to those who have spent time delving into their favorite Tudor, with plenty of information that will answer small questions about the time. Most surprising to me was the lack of any repeated and overt complaints from the monarchs themselves bemoaning their lack of ‘me’ time: although that could have been expressed in those flares of temper and, for lack of a better word, tantrums. A consume in small doses title, I read this over several days, and found it easy to pick up.  Perhaps a better option for readers who are fairly new to the Henrys, Mary, Edward and Elizabeth, but a solid option as a book to shelve in your references.

The Private Lives of the Tudors by Tracy Borman

Title: The Private Lives of the Tudors: Uncovering the Secrets of Britain's Greatest Dynasty
Author: Tracy Borman
Genre: Biography / Memoir, British, Historical Non-Fiction, Tudor
Published by: Grove Atlantic
ISBN: 1444782924
Published on: 13 December 2016
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Pages: 484
Audio Length: 15 Hours: 17 minutes
Rated: four-stars
Get Your Copy: Amazon Barnes&Noble iTunes IndieBound Audible
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England’s Tudor monarchs—Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VII, Mary I, and Elizabeth I—are perhaps the most celebrated and fascinating of all royal families in history. Their love affairs, their political triumphs, and their overturning of the religious order are the subject of countless works of popular scholarship. But for all we know about Henry’s quest for male heirs, or Elizabeth’s purported virginity, the private lives of the Tudor monarchs remain largely beyond our grasp.

In The Private Lives of the Tudors, acclaimed historian Tracy Borman delves deep behind the public face of the monarchs, showing us what their lives were like beyond the stage of court. Drawing on the original material from those closest to them—courtiers like the “groom of the stool,” surprisingly a much-coveted position—Borman examines Tudor life in fine detail. What did the monarchs eat? What clothes did they wear, and how were they designed, bought, and cared for? How did they wield power? When sick, how were they treated? What games did they play? How did they practice their faith? And in earthlier moments, who did they love, and how did they give birth to the all-important heirs?

Delving deep into their education, upbringing, sexual lives, and into the kitchens, bathrooms, schoolrooms, and bedrooms of court, Borman charts out the course of the entire Tudor dynasty, surfacing new and fascinating insights into these celebrated figures.

A copy of this title was provided via Publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.


Read an Excerpt

 Excerpted from The Private Lives of the Tudors by Tracy Borman

The royal bedding ceremony was subject to a similarly strict set of rules as the marriage ceremony and wedding feast. At around 8 o’clock in the evening, the bride was escorted to her chamber by her ladies, who undressed her and put her to bed. The groom, meanwhile, was stripped down to just his shirt—an undergarment that would have reached to at least mid-thigh and, in Henry’s case, would have been delicately embroidered. Then, accompanied by his gentlemen attendants, musicians, priests and bishops, he joined his wife in the bedchamber. The clerics would pronounce their blessings, and then a concoction of wine and spices would be served. Known as the void or voidee, this was a mixture of expensive sweet and sharp spices such as pepper, saffron, ginger, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. It was thought to be beneficial to health and digestion, as well as sweetening the breath and engendering strength and courage.

The onlookers were often slow to leave. Sometimes, they demanded to see the naked legs of the couple touching, which in some cases was accepted as a sign of consummation. Others expected to witness the royal newlyweds kissing or embracing. It was a crude reminder that a royal body was the property of the state; its functions of great interest to the people of the realm. Even after the throng of courtiers had bidden the couple goodnight and left the chamber, some may have lingered outside the closed door, straining their ears for any sound that might indicate the act of consummation was underway.


About Tracy Borman

Tracy Borman is England's joint chief curator of Historic Royal Palaces and chief executive of the Heritage Education Trust. She has written six previous books, including the highly acclaimed Thomas Cromwelland Elizabeth's Women. She has a PhD in history from the University of Hull and lives in Surrey with her family.