Clothes were a means of displaying how wealthy a person was. Rich people could afford clothing made of fine wool, linen or silk. Their clothes were decorated with jewels and embroidered with gold thread.
No rich person felt properly dressed to impress unless he or she was wearing a ruff. Like so many Tudor clothes, it gave a strong signal about the wealth and importance of the person wearing it.
Ladies wore padded skirts held up with loops. Over these went bodices and colourful floor-length gowns.
Men wore white silk shirts, frilled at the neck and wrists. Over this they wore a doublet (a bit like a tight-fitting jacket), and close-fitting striped trousers (called hose).
Everyone wore their hair shoulder length.



Poor people wore simple, loose-fitting clothes made from woollen cloth.

Women wore a dress of wool that went down to the ground. They often wore an apron over this and a cloth bonnet on their heads.

Most men wore trousers made from wool and a tunic which came down to just above their knee. 

These are typical clothes that a poor person would wear made from wool and linen.



Catherine of Aragon was held at Buckden Palace in 1533 for 10 months when her marriage  to Henry V111 was annulled.  In her time as queen, she became quite a trendsetter and started the fashion trend of wearing revealing blackwork embroidery, which was subsequently followed by the female Tudor nobles. 

Catherine of Aragon also introduced the Spanish Farthingale, an undergarment that added a skirt volume. A linen shift was worn by Tudor women of all classes as they could be washed and changed easily.

During the sixteenth century, women started wearing linen caps under their headdresses which became a style over time. The Tudor queens wore hoods that became very fashionable.

Catherine of Aragon wore the English hood which had a distinct triangular frame while the second wife of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn popularised wearing a hood that had a softer shape. This hood was called the French hood. Henry VIII’s third wife, Jane Seymour reverted to wearing the English hood to disassociate herself from the image of Anne Boleyn.

Catherine of Aragon, left, and Anne Boleyn, right. (National Portrait Gallery)



Thanks to Linda Upham

How do you wash your sheets?  Put them in the machine, add powder or an all-in-one capsule, select your programme and press the ‘on’ button.  Then, at the end time, collect the damp washing bundle and either/or peg it out/put it in the tumble dryer.  Quick and easy? Yes.  Back in Tudor times, washing your sheets or any other piece of linen was a lengthy, backbreaking task, oh yes and only for the women and girls of the family...

The wealthy had embroidery on their cuffs, collars or bodices and this meant these had to be removed from any linen shirt or smock or dress and cleaned by hand differently, before being attached back on later.

Most people, even poor people had a linen smock or shirt and, if you were lucky, sheets and pillow-cases of linen to wash.  They did get washed personally as well, the wealthy had baths quite regularly but these were labour intensive affairs with hot or warm water having to be carried from the kitchen to the bedroom, and probably up several steps too; (imagine doing that for a  bath in your house!), They changed their linen regularly partly to preserve it  for all linen was expensive, no matter the grade.  Second hand linen was a valuable item and sold on sometimes several times. 

Let’s look at a typical village laundress in the reign of King Henry VIII, living in a place with several inns – like Buckden.

Village Inns would send their sheets and bed covers to the laundress, as would wealthier inhabitants, tradesmen and craftsmen and so on.  The process went something like this:

The linen would be collected or sent to the laundry.

The laundress and her helpers would sort it so that they did not wash anything in a tub that needed hand cleaning.

There would be one or more bucktubs (small tubs standing on a low step or stool) partly full of water drawn from the well or pump.  In winter the ice on the top would have to be broken. The linen would be placed in layers with rushes or willow twigs or bundles of hay in-between each layer.  From time to time the tub would have additional water and lye soap added. (Lye soap recipe at the end).

The laundress or helper would get into the tub – having stepped out of their clogs or shoes and bundled up their skirts – and would tread the mixture, forcing the lye soap through the linen.

Then the cleaned linen would be pulled from the tub and wrung either manually by two workers or by attaching one corner to a press of some kind and twisting the rest of it to remove as much water as possible.

The linen would then be transferred to a series of tubs and rinsed and wrung in a similar manner.  

Finally the linen could be stretched out between a four cornered wooden press and left to dry, or wrung again and then draped over rosemary or lavender bushes, their edges weighted with smooth, small stones. The bushes would impart a pleasing scent to the linen. In some areas if it was fine and dry, the linen would be spread over grass.

Depending on the time of year, the linen would dry and be folded and then returned to its owner.  Often the linen had to be dried off finally by being draped over a ‘winterhedge”, a drying rack which could be suspended from the ceiling of a barn or outhouse.  It was used a lot in winter.

Stubborn stains could be bleached by using stale urine – each Inn and many houses had a piss-pot and the urine was collected and tipped into a barrel at the laundry and allowed to stand.  It smelt a lot at first – especially in the warm weather!

They did not have any boxes of Persil or Fairy ; they used lye soap and this was made in vast quantities:

Fine white wood ash was collected from many hearths and stored at the laundry.  White wood comes from local deciduous trees

In a barrel wicker sieves were placed at different levels with the ash spread over them. Hot water was poured over and the liquid was collected at the bottom through the spigot (a wooden tap at the bottom).  This liquid was poured through again and again and became quite dark. It was allowed to settle finally and then this liquid was boiled, with lard or beef fat added to thicken it. It had to be stirred frequently.  Sometimes, rosemary or lime was added to the liquid. It reduces as it boils and becomes thicker.  As it cools it thickens even more and can be poured into wooden moulds.  Thus bars of lye soap were available to be added to the bucktubs to help clean the linen.

Thanks to the wonders of chemistry the lye soap contained sodium chloride; the Tudors had no idea why it worked but it did so they used it. The slurry at the bottom, was actually full of Potassium Hydrochloride or Caustic Soda, thanks to the chemical reaction of the water and ash. It was kept to be added to clean water in another barrel for especially hard to clean items, but had to be used carefully or it burnt the skin.

I expect that when the menfolk came home, they thought nothing of the clean shirt or smock they put on, nor the hard work to make it ready for them.