Monthly Archives: December 2013

Good for what ails you

The Humors

The Humors

The following article is a guest post by Kyra Kramer, author of Blood Will Tell: A Medical Explanation for the Tyranny of Henry VIII.


In my last post I discussed the relationship between the foods we eat at Christmas time and Tudor medical theory. In this post I’ll tell you why Tudor physicians might have been on to something.

Humoral ideology was radically different from modern medical beliefs, so much so that in hindsight it appears almost childish or even silly. Nevertheless, an across the board denigration of Tudor practices and practitioners is unfair. Within the context of its time, Tudor medicine was complex, sophisticated, and methodical. Like today, it required years of training, a great deal of schooling, and a larger than average share of brains. These were not stupid guys.They could see what treatment helped a patient; they just didn’t have any modern knowledge about why and how it helped.

To recap, the humoral theory of medicine that the Tudors used purported that the human body was presumed to be made up of four elements: earth (cold & dry), air (warm & wet), water (cold & wet), and fire (warm & dry). Each of these elements made a different kind of humor, or fluid, in the body. Earth made black bile, air made blood, water made phlegm, and fire made yellow bile.  People’s health depended on the mixtures of humors inside of them, which doctors often referred to as a patient’s “complexion”, since the coloration of the skin was believed to be an invaluable diagnostic tool. In addition, a physician studied the patient’s urine and natal astrological horoscope for clues about his or her humoral makeup. Humors would also vary according to age, gender, nationality, and social class.

In the winter, getting warm was a national pastime. Therefore, foods eaten in the winter would be those that added heat by increasing the amount of fire and air humors in your body. Foods like butter, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, etc … were prefered because they would generate blood and yellow bile. Imagine thinking that a comestible would influence the internal temperature of the body! Isn’t that silly?

Actually, no.

It turns out that while butter and company will not make blood and yellow bile, they will indeed add “warmth” to your body on cold winter days and aid your health in general. Exposure to cold makes you generate more energy and burns up body fat.  Butter, besides being delicious, has a lot of calories and fat, which is crucial when your butt is freezing in a drafty Tudor home. Sugar was desirable because when your blood sugar is elevated it makes you feel warmer “because sugar content in the blood makes it harder to cool down or freeze”. Thus, a Christmas cookie, which has sugar and butter in abundance (if made correctly) will actually buffer you against the calorie deficit and low blood sugar that can harm you when Jack Frost is nipping at your nose.

That’s all fine and good, you might say, but what about the stuff that is just flavoring your food? How could that warm you up and seem to “confirm” humoral theory to the Tudors?

Well, the sage and onion in your stuffing are both really good for you because they are rich in vitamins and minerals you would otherwise be getting during the winter in Tudor England. Furthermore, sage has been shown to help lessen depression. Seasonal Affective Disorder, where people feel sad because of the lack of sunlight, is not some new invention; people doubtlessly experienced it centuries ago. Eating dishes with sage would lessen feelings of sadness. Sadness was considered “cold” and to create cold humors in those feeling it. If sage made you less sad, then it had made you less cold, and QED it had warmed you up. Onions often induce sweating when eaten, which would also have been considered proof positive that onions made you warmer.

clovesnutmegcinnamonThen there are the myriad health benefits of the most common spices in holiday desserts — cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg. Cinnamon not only helps you digest sugar, break down fats into energy, and fight off the “intestinal colic and digestive atony associated with cold & debilitated conditions”, it actually stimulates the blood flow to the extremities and makes you feel warmer. Ginger has strong anti-inflammatory and anti-nausea properties, as well as aiding in digestion, so it’s good for you year round. Moreover, it is literally warming: “ginger aids circulation, making you feel warm when nothing else seems to do the trick.” Cloves can be used to ‘break the ice’ as well, since among their many other benefits they expand “the blood vessels, increasing the flow of blood to make the skin feel warmer”. Finally, nutmeg would have been thought of as a heating food because it activates “the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine”, making it another natural antidepressant to fight those midwinter blues. If it cheered you up, people assumed it heated you up, too.

Now, excuse me while I go chow down on some nice warming gingerbread and raise a cup of hot mulled cider in honor of those Tudor physicians and their crazy but sometimes factual theories.

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Filed under Across/Beyond Genres with The Tudors: Guest Posts by Novelists, Historians, Cultural Observers, Poets, Memoirists, Artists, and Bloggers

Gingerbread and Tudor Medicine


The following article is a guest post by Kyra Kramer, author of Blood Will Tell: A Medical Explanation for the Tyranny of Henry VIII.


T’is the Season for yummy yuletide foods! There are tables groaning under the weight of roast turkey or ham, brussel sprouts, sweet potatoes, roasted potatoes, stuffing and assorted vegetables. Mugs of hot buttered rum or apple cider are clutched and glasses of cold eggnog are passed around. Not to mention the multitudes of desserts. Mince pies, fruit cakes, pumpkin pies, cookies, gingerbread men, plum puddings, and cakes tick like calorie bombs on sideboards. Then there are candy canes hanging on the tree, and gingerbread houses to be decorated but never eaten because the gingerbread has become the consistency of cardboard.  

There are many other foods, but these are considered some of the most “traditional” Christmas dishes, ala Charles Dickens and American television.

Many of these foods, especially those in the dessert category, are flavored with similar spices. These seasonal seasonings are the reason why the smells of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cloves are so associated with Christmas that they are the primary aromatics used in scented candles marketed for the holidays. Even the onslaught of “pumpkin flavored” products that flood the market in the fall are more about the flavor of the spices commonly found in pumpkin pie than the flavor of the pumpkin itself.

But why those spices? Yes, they taste good mulled in your apple cider or blended into your mince pie, but there are other spices that would taste nice, too. Why are some foods so mentally linked with winter that people seldom eat them during the warm months? It’s not like they are less tasty in July. And what does any of this have to do with the Tudors?

We eat them in winter and at Christmas because those are the foods and spices that were considered by Tudor medical practitioners to “warm” the body.

The humoral theory of medicine that the Tudors used seems simple, at first glance. The human body was presumed to be made up of four elements: earth, air, water, and fire. Each element was supposed to have its own substances and attributes. Earth was cold and dry, air was warm and wet, water was cold and wet, and fire was hot and dry. Each element made a different kind of humor, or fluid, in the body. Earth made black bile, air made blood, water made phlegm, and fire made yellow bile.  People’s health depended on the mixtures of humors inside of them, which doctors often referred to as a patient’s “complexion”, since the coloration of the skin was believed to be an invaluable diagnostic tool. A physician’s goal was to help people achieve “eukrasia”, or the perfect balance of humors for perfect health. In fact, most Tudors were always seeking to get their ever-changing humors back into the correct ratios.

How did the Tudors alter their humors to keep their internal systems in the perfect equilibrium?

As it turns out, mostly with food. According to science at the time, everything a person ate or drank were aspects of an element; thus a person’s diet would strongly affect the balance of their humors. It wasn’t a simple matter, either. The “rules” about food were variegated in the extreme. The element of a food could change depending on the season, the herbs used to flavor a dish, when the plants were harvested, the age of the animal to be eaten, and the method of preparation. It was also recommended that people change their diets in order to adjust their bodies to the seasonal effects of the weather. In summer the diet should emphasize cooling foods, like lettuce and lamb, prepared and served with cooling ingredients, such as rosewater, lemon and other citrus juices, or vinegar. In winter people were cautioned to eat foods that would heat them up on frosty days, such as beef and pork, and dishes made with “hot” spices, such as mustard and black pepper.

The association between warming spices and foods in during cold weather became so ingrained that those edibles became the “correct” things to consume at Christmastime, and now they are the “traditional” nibbles. For example, people believed that butter warmed the liver, and thus the blood (which was ostensibly made in the liver); thus hot buttered rum and brandy butter (AKA hard sauce). Any meat that was served was roasted, which was thought to be warmest preparation. Is roasted turkey for Christmas familiar to anyone? The stuffing served with that turkey is commonly flavored with sage and onion, both of which warm it up. Brussel sprouts were considered “little cabbages” and were therefore drying to combat the moist humor of cold weather; roasting them made them warmer as well.

This beautiful gingerbread Tudor Rose can be found at the website

This beautiful gingerbread Tudor Rose can be found at the website

Sugar was considered both medicinal and warm, so eating dessert in the winter was just what the doctor ordered. I think we can all agree that Christmas still comes with a few sweet treats? Sugar could also be added to anything that was considered to be cold, like red wine or apple cider, in order to give it enough “heat” to make it safe to drink, which is why recipes for today’s mulled apple cider or wine usually include a sweetener.

Warming spices, like cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves, were also added to foods to heat them up. Fruit was thought to be “cold”, so fruit cakes, which are an inescapable part of the holiday season, would be too “cold” for the winter if there weren’t an excess of these spices in them, plus large amounts of butter, eggs, and sugar. These spices are also added liberally to mince pies for the same reason. Eggnog, the descendant of the Tudor “posset” drink, contains lots of warming sugar and nutmeg.

    This season, while feasting on traditional holiday fare (even if it is only in the form of a gingerbread latte or spiked eggnog or snowman shaped cookie) remember that you owe a flavor debt to the Tudor physician and his medical progenitors.



Filed under Across/Beyond Genres with The Tudors: Guest Posts by Novelists, Historians, Cultural Observers, Poets, Memoirists, Artists, and Bloggers

The Making of In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn

By Natalie Grueninger and Sarah Morris


All aboard for the first stop of the virtual book tour of In The Footsteps of Anne Boleyn! We have two copies of Sarah and Natalie’s deliciously written, fact-packed, best-selling book to give two lucky passengers. To be eligible, just post a comment at the end of the post.

NatHeverCastleNatalie’s Story

For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated with the dimension of time and have delighted in reading about the theories that try and make sense of it. There are, though, many more questions than answers: Does time even exist? Is time just an abstract concept?  Is time linear? Can events occur outside of time? Is it possible to go back in time?

Alongside this fascination, grew a deep connection with the past; I hear its velvety whispers and feel it intently, each and every day.  But never more so than when I’m standing in an ancient building, which has witnessed the ebb and flow of life for hundreds of years, where the walls echo with the footsteps of its former inhabitants and their stories are gently carried in the air.

I am intrigued and excited by the idea that when we stand on the very spot where a stranger from the past once stood, it’s only time—and not space— that stands between us: time, which we know so little about. It’s here, in these spaces where history speaks to me, where the past suddenly seems within reach, where it becomes something I can almost touch.

My love of history and of old buildings, coupled with my passion for Tudor history—in particular, Anne Boleyn’s story—led to the creation of my history website, On the Tudor Trail, in early 2009. At the time, I was also in the middle of planning a big ‘Tudor pilgrimage’ and was desperately searching for a list of surviving locations that Anne had visited; I wanted to walk in the footsteps of this remarkable woman and see things that she’d once owned or touched.

But apart from finding mention of the well-known places like Hever Castle, the Tower of London and Hampton Court, I found very little. So I pledged that I would start my own list and make the information available to other Anne Boleyn enthusiasts, who wanted to follow Anne’s trail into the past. And so the journey began, almost five years ago.

For me, the transition from website to book was a natural one. Over the years I’d acquired a great deal of knowledge about the many houses, castles and palaces that formed a backdrop to Anne Boleyn’s life and researched what artefacts survive connected to her. Then, in 2010, our love of all things Anne and Tudor brought Sarah Morris and I together. We began corresponding regularly and soon realised that by sharing what we’d each learnt on our separate historical journeys, we could produce something fresh and unique. I hope you’ll agree that we’ve succeeded in our mission.

My hope is that by the end of our book, you’ll feel closer to Anne—the woman, the mother, the wife and the queen. I hope she will cease simply being a character on a page and emerge instead as the fiercely intelligent, complex and unforgettable woman that she was.

SaraStPetersHeverSarah’s Story

 In August 2010, my life changed forever. I was swept up in my own adventure of a lifetime, compelled to pen a novel which, at its heart, tells the intimate story of Anne Boleyn’s innocence. Le Temps Viendra was to be an up close and personal account one of the most dramatic love affairs in English history. As a new author, I knew my mantra was to MAKE.HISTORY.REAL and I was determined that historical accuracy would be the bedrock of this fictional biography, telling the untold story of how Anne was betrayed and abandoned by the man who spent years pursuing her relentlessly.

   I’m not a professional historian. This meant that to achieve my goal, I had to research many hitherto unfamiliar aspects of Tudor society and the Henrician court; from how courtiers danced and dined, how they hunted and reverenced each other, and of course, I needed to become intimately acquainted with the palaces and houses that formed the backdrop against which Anne’s story unfolded. I not only wanted to understand how such buildings were laid out, how the rooms were used and flowed from one into the other, but also every detail of how they were decorated. Such detail was essential, for I wanted anyone who was reading the novel to be able to close their eyes and recreate each chamber in their minds eye, to smell the scents that would fill the nostrils, the textures that one might reach out and touch. In the process of attempting to create a vivid sensory picture for the reader, I became intimately familiar with several of Henry’s great houses. So familiar in fact that I reached the point where I could walk through them in my imagination, progressing from chamber to chamber with the same familiarity as if I was greeting an old friend. Eltham Palace, Greenwich, Hampton Court, the royal apartments at the Tower of London, all became like my second home, and whilst modern day Calais melted away, in its place the long lost Tudor town rose up from France’s most northerly shore. It was if I were rediscovering a whole new facet of Anne’s life. As I filled the canvas with colour and texture, it felt as if I were rediscovering a secret which breathed an extraordinary new life into my understanding of Anne’s story. I was enraptured, and found myself approaching each new location with great anticipation and excitement.

   Although much of the material uncovered was woven into the story of Le Temps Viendra – indeed all of the location-based, architectural details you read about in the novel are rooted in fact – a good deal more remained unused. It was an easy decision to team up with Natalie, who I knew was equally fascinated by such locations. Together, we decided to extend our previous research and comprehensively chart Anne’s life through places and artefacts associated with her. And so In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn was born. It has been a huge privilege to follow in those footsteps, resulting in a book that we believe provides a unique insight into the life of one of England’s most iconic and compelling queen consorts.

SarahNatDr Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger co-authors of In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn, published in September 2013. In the Footsteps is a guide book to all the places and artefacts associated with one of England’s most compelling and controversial queens.


Natalie Grueninger is a researcher, writer and educator, living in Australia with her husband and two children. She graduated from The University of NSW in 1998 with a Bachelor of Arts, with majors in English and Spanish and Latin American Studies and received her Bachelor of Teaching from The University of Sydney in 2006. Natalie has been working in public education for the last seven years and is passionate about making learning engaging and accessible for all children. In 2009 she created On the Tudor Trail, a website dedicated to documenting historic sites and buildings associated with Anne Boleyn and sharing information about the life and times of Henry VIII’s second wife. To find out more about Natalie’s research and writing visit:


Sarah is also the author of Le Temps Viendra: a novel of Anne Boleyn, Volumes I and II. Le Temps Viendra is a fictional biography telling the story of Anne’s innocence through the eyes of a modern day woman, drawn back in time, to find herself in the body of her historical heroine as Anne Boleyn’s dramatic story unfolds from triumph to disaster and its final, heart-wrenching conclusion on the scaffold. Volume I was published in 2012, with Volume II due out before the end of 2013. To find out more about Sarah’s research and writing visit:


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Filed under Across/Beyond Genres with The Tudors: Guest Posts by Novelists, Historians, Cultural Observers, Poets, Memoirists, Artists, and Bloggers