Tag Archives: Tudor

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 http://www.godecookery.com/ginger/ginger.htm

This beautiful gingerbread Tudor Rose can be found at the website http://www.godecookery.com/ginger/ginger.htm

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

Would Anne Boleyn Have Enjoyed Living in a Tudor Revival House?

Tudor1An irreverent romp through the “old-world charm” of these buildings and why we are so enchanted by them. 

Binnie Klein’s memoir, Blows to the Head: How Boxing Changed My Mind (SUNY Press, 2010) is available here.  Here’s a 2 minute fun trailer. She hosts a weekly music and interview show on WPKN-FM. You can hear some of her radio interviews here. She’s working on a concept for Public Radio on the psychological meanings of our homes. She can be reached at binniek@comcast.net

When was the last time, if ever, you used the word “enchanting?” It’s a term that connotes a dreamy, whisked-away to a never-neverland adventure, with hummingbirds that speak to you in profound haikus as you skip into a fresh, virginal future, the world drenched in a soft glow, like a big orange creamsicle.

When you think of the Tudor era, with its bellowing monarchs, betrayals, lack of indoor plumbing, and yes, beheadings, do you think “enchanting?” When you think of medieval times, do you think “charming?” Do you think “creamsicles?”

Google Image Search is a quick Rorschach test. Try “Medieval.” I don’t see “enchanting,” I see, um, dead people.  That is, armies, armor, horses, fighting, swords, castles, shields, skeletons, moats, men, lots of men, and more men, weapons, crowns, battles, feasts, stiff collars, public births, religious icons, maps, more men– anything remotely “charming” or “enchanting?”  Tudor image search is a little better – more people, less horses, kings, queens (more women now), and buildings reaching to the heavens like cathedrals.

But would you say these look enchanting?

Tudor2 Tudor3

These are Tudor Revival houses.

Chances are you’ve seen pictures of buildings like this, and they have been described as romantic, charming, storybook, fairy-tale, elegant, enchanting, cottage-y, historic, or special, and you’ve imagined yourself inside sitting by an imposing fireplace inlaid with pictorial tiles that tell the story of your ancestors (aunts and uncles appearing shockingly beautiful and important), warming yourself with a mug of steeping hot cider bigger than your head.

For many of us outside of England, we may have only seen “Tudor Revival” structures, and in fact, although the name “Tudor” originally described certain houses and manors built in the late 15th and early 16th centuries in England, during the Tudor Dynasty, in architecture today the term “Tudor” refers to a style popularized in the United States during the end of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century.  The style itself also uses decorative elements from earlier centuries (which is why you sometimes see the term “Medieval Revival”). Sometimes the style is called “English Cottage,” sometimes “Tudorbethan.” (For a thorough-going and historically reverent exploration of Tudor architecture and Revivals there are many excellent resources elsewhere, like this National Geographic Documentary of Tudor Buildings.)

Why I’m Predisposed to See Tudor Revivals as Enchanting

What do you think when you see this picture of author Philip Roth’s childhood home,


a 2 & 1/2 family apartment building?  I show you this because I grew up in apartments in Newark that were quite similar. Most buildings on my street were all clapboard or vinyl-sided non-descript structures, aggressively unadorned. Squirrels gnawed on chain link fences. Grass grew wild and high, as if it were the main natural attraction; I don’t recall any flower gardens. We had the convenience of living behind the high school and grade school, but it was of little value to me that I had, with that proximity, the joy of sleeping until the first bell.

I grew up in that young country, America, and I had a limited sense of architecture. Styles? Chimneys? Manicured Lawns? Beckoning entryways?  They existed in my imagination, or even further away, in the suburbs, glimpsed on the occasional Sunday Drive of Longing.

When I walked far enough down Vassar Avenue, past Parkview Terrace, and onto Keer Avenue, I’d stand mesmerized by a house that stood out amongst the rest; The Tudor house. I knew that stylistic name, and that name only. There were a few in an adjoining neighborhood, and certainly more in the suburbs. What could possibly go on behind the dark, wooden-arched door, with its tantalizing little windows? Serious life, surely, with a library and a fireplace. Constance Mitchell, writing for the Wall Street Journal, bought herself a Tudor-revival because it reminded her “of the homes owned by nice middle-class families in old novels and black and white movies from the 1950s.” Inside she imagined “refined couples with the clever and well-mannered children.”

I shared her fantasy, and more. A Tudor revival house was the portal to a fairy-tale. With their steeped roofs, leaded-glass windows, and elaborate entrances, these houses meant one thing:  these people must be rich.  And there was one other detail that hummed like a sub-frequency on an alien transmission:  these houses are dark inside.  It may have been something I heard my parents say on the Sunday Drives of Longing.

Writer June Edelstein, who grew up in a Tudor-style house in a planned neighborhood chockfull of historical revivals in Syracuse, New York, confirms that her house WAS dark, although she never heard the same claim while living in it. She attributes it to the smaller windows, the dark wood inside, and being surrounded by trees.  But dark or not, she absolutely loved her house (and her childhood), and she always knew it was called a “Tudor.” “I made no connection between the style name and the actual Tudors,” she said, “but remembered being inside the house reading books about Anne Boleyn which were “right up my teen-girl alley. Betrayal! Romance! More Betrayal!”  I see her curled up on a window seat, under a patchwork quilt, reading about the notorious queen from a hard-cover book with illustrations.

Just The Facts, Ma’am

Usually there were four defining features of the original Tudor houses:

Half-timbering — This is what creates the distinctive black and white Tudor. Yummy, like a big Black and White Cookie.

Tudor5 Tudor6


They were constructed using a frame of hand-cut lattice beams (the dark part), then the gaps between the beams were filled with a mixture of clay, sand, straw, and sticks. After drying, it was painted white. The beams were coated with black tar to prevent rot.

Chimneys — Tended to be built out of brick, were tall, narrow, often with intricate carved designs.

Jetties — The advent of chimneys meant you could control indoor smoke, so a large, full-sized second floor could be built and kept warm. Tudor buildings often have a second floor that juts out over the street below and the buttresses that support these overhangs are called “jetties.”

If you listen to this kids’ radio show from England about Tudor houses you will be charmed (and possibly enchanted), as they tell you, in their lovely and innocent voices, a secret about those second floors. (Be patient; it’s in there.)

Windows — Before the advent of pre-industrial glassblowing technologies, glass was only created in tiny panes. That’s why we see the latticed casement windows in Tudors, with dozens of small panes.

Ever Wonder Where YOU Would have Lived in Tudor Times?

Here’s a game to help you find out (it will help if you are a carpenter, weaver, or cordwainer).

If you’d like to peek inside a Tudor Revival, perky decorator Meghan Carter will lead you on an enthusiastic journey.  She will excitedly tell you that the interior of Tudors can be dark and warm all at the same time! She interviews a serious expert with a notebook who tells her the message of the Tudor Revival was, “we’re older, we’re established, we’re not the new immigrants coming in.”

So why are we so fascinated with all this “old world charm?”

“Each one desireth to set his house aloft on the hill, to be seen afar off, and cast forth his beams of stately and curious workmanship into every quarter of the country” (William Harrison, 1577).

We love to belly up to the Heritage Bar. We want legacy. And if you don’t come by your gravitas via genetic legacy, if you build it, it will come. At least that’s the hope.

“We built our capital, DC, on a Francophile Empiricist Vision, with buildings trying to evoke, Greece, Rome and hubris, says author/architect Duo Dickinson. “Most look back,” he says, “not forward when it comes to claiming gravitas in built form.” We may be inventing the ancestry, but so what! Dickinson: “Legacy is accrued by hundreds of years of evolving tradition and history.” But sometimes, he says, “families grasp at architectural straws to let those around them know how much they are worth – not just monetarily but in the greater social sense.”

Why did the Tudor style become so enormously popular in the 1920s and 1930s in the United States? With their expansive entryways, “great rooms” and high ceilings, the Tudor Revivals evoked wealth. The style was often called “Stockbroker Tudor,” as financiers began to put their wealth into their houses. They wanted homes that would stand out.  The Stockbroker Tudors were an attempt to separate and distinguish the newly wealthy from the immigrant populations, with their overflowing pushcarts and street-life.

But over time, the styling took on a variety of forms; some elaborate mansions, some more modest suburban homes with mock masonry veneers.

Want to Build a Tudor-Revival House?

If you want one, you’ll need a useful course in the Tudor’s distinguishing features and a good set of blueprints, one that houseplans.com offers.  But be forewarned. You’ll want skilled architects and contractors, because as Dickinson says, “it’s a bitch to build if you do it ‘right.’ Building a heavy timber frame (like a barn) with a brick/masonry infill is excruciatingly arduous and expensive involving multiple skillsets.”

Want to Buy a Tudor-Revival House?

Actress Andie McDowell’s Tudor House, offered for sale in 2011, was described as a “magnificent four-story, storybook Tudor with Art Nouveau and Arts & Crafts influences” in Asheville, North Carolina.


There are many available. Here’s the interior of one in New Hope, Pennsylvania, available for over one million. Built as a hunting lodge for “a prominent early-American from the area” it has a great-room fireplace that depicts the story of Rip Van Winkle.


Need a Few More Tudor Goodies?

Here’s a 1927 Stockbroker Tudor in New York that needed lightening up.  Designer Steven Gambrel  made it “friendlier.”

Here’s an Assortment of Tudor Houses to drool over, like a box of chocolates.

Here’s the story of two really old landmark Tudor Houses that were restored, one from the 1660s, restored in the 1960s. The second Tudor is Crispin House, in St. Albans, built in 1480.

My days of longing for living in a Tudor Revival may have passed, but I have found something else to fantasize about. There are endless varieties of dollhouses, doghouses, playhouses, and hobbyist villages with details that send you squealing with glee. That could be me at the playhouse– watering chrysanthemums. These Tudor facsimiles may not represent centuries of wealth, but to me they are perhaps even more enchanting.

Tudor9 Tudor11 Tudor10

So would Anne Boleyn have enjoyed a Tudor Revival? Unfortunately, she didn’t live another 400 years to see if she’d prefer something more Frank Lloyd Wright. Maybe she’d enjoy the freedoms and cache of an industrial loft in Brooklyn. But with a Tudor Revival, she’d have the familiar Old World Charm (although it wouldn’t be “Old World” to her), some prestige, a larger bedroom than the one of her childhood, and she’d have indoor plumbing.



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

Tudor “Justice” in a Florida Courtroom

O'Mara and Cromwell

O’Mara and Cromwell

On May 13 in 1536, preparations were made for the trial of Anne Boleyn and her brother George, on charges of adultery and treason. Ralph Felmingham, sergeant-of-arms, summoned twenty-seven “peers of the Queen and Lord Rochford, by whom the truth can be better made to appear” and physical preparations were begun to make the King’s Hall in The Tower of London amenable to two thousand spectators, with benches lining the walls and a high platform for the interrogator and the condemned, so that all could see. “The King was determined,” Alison Weir writes, “that justice would be seen to be done” and was sure of the judicial strength of the evidence.

Today, the notion that the Tudor court delivered “justice” in the case seems a stretch, to put it minimally. The overwhelming number of the sexual encounters of which Anne was accused not only could not be proved, but would have been virtually impossible. Moreover, the jury had been handpicked to exclude those who might be favorable to Anne and the accused men.  Those who were picked were well aware of the verdict that Henry, eager for marriage to Jane Seymour, wanted.  And—as Wolsey once had remarked—if the Crown wanted it, justice could be found “in a verdict that Abel was the murderer of Cain.”

Yet, as Weir goes on, “This was not to be quite the farcical trial that some historians have claimed it to be.”  What gave it “the appearance” of justice was the law, which had been generously tweaked in 1534 by Thomas Cromwell so that “treason” now covered a vast range of activities, including the “wish, will or desire by words or writing” to harm the king or “deprive [him] of [his] dignity.”  This extension of treason to encompass wishes and words as well as actions gave the already biased jury just the tools that they needed to turn flirtatious behavior that formerly would have been dismissed as courtly banter into proof of treachery against the king.

On the face of it, it seems absurd to compare the George Zimmerman trial to the proceedings of a Tudor court.  Yet, some comparisons are deadly apt.  The jury was not hand-picked to be sympathetic to Zimmerman, but they may as well have been, not so much by virtue of who they were but who they weren’t.  You didn’t need the edict of a monarch to make this happen. Given the requirement of obliviousness to media or social media discussions of the case, most African-Americans, and also those with “progressive” inclinations (both most likely to have followed the case with interest) wouldn’t make the cut.  And the notion that living sealed off from current events insures “neutrality” is a mistake; indeed, it may more likely insure a jury that is under-informed about a whole raft of relevant moral, social, and racial controversies.  Just how equipped were they to examine this case?

It’s painfully clear, from the testimony of juror B29, that although she thought Zimmerman “got away with murder” but was hamstrung by “the law,” she was fundamentally clueless as to what the law was in this case, believing that the killing had to be “intentional” in order to qualify even as manslaughter.  I think that by “intentional” she meant something like “done knowing that Trayvon Martin’s death would result.”  But of course, that isn’t required for manslaughter.

Juror B37 (although married to a lawyer) was confused in a different way. The defense had not defended Zimmerman on the grounds of “crime of passion” or as a “stand your ground” case.  Nonetheless, that’s how juror B37, in her interview with Anderson Cooper, explained her finding of “not guilty”:

“…[B]ecause of the heat of the moment and the stand your ground. He had a right to defend himself. If he felt threatened that his life was going to be taken away from him or he was going to have bodily harm, he had a right.”

It may (or may not be) that Juror B37 was looking for any excuse.  She was amazingly upfront about her biases, as she declared Zimmerman an “overeager helper” whose heart was “in the right place” and, incredibly, felt as “sorry” for him as for Trayvon Martin.  She readily admitted that she believed all the defense’s witnesses and found none of the prosecution’s credible.  The baseline assumption governing her “examination” of the evidence was that Zimmerman’s account of what happened that night was accurate.  She seemed to be conflating “presumption of innocence until proven guilty” with “presumption of truthfulness even when proven to be lying.”  When it came to Zimmerman, that is.  The testimony of key prosecution witnesses, such as Rachel Jeantel, was dismissed on the most spurious (and disgusting) of grounds—lack of “education” and “poor communication skills”—except, tellingly, when Jeantel’s testimony confirmed Zimmerman’s (Juror B-37 felt “the most important thing” in Jeantel’s testimony was the time of the phone call “coincides with George’s statements and testimony of time limits and what had happened during that time.”)

But it’s also true that although “stand your ground” played no part in the defense’s case, it was certainly there in the instructions to the jury, which included:

If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.

images-4Apparently, at least some of the jurors felt trapped into their verdict by this instruction.  But the jury instructions—I’ve read them myself, several times—were convoluted beyond belief.  Clearly, the jurors had problems with the criteria for “manslaughter,” as evidenced not only by Juror B 29’s confusion but by the fact that the jury asked for clarification.  When the court returned the message to them to be more specific, they did not do so, but instead returned their verdict of “not guilty” suspiciously speedily, given the fact that they obviously had unanswered questions.  I believe that they were so fundamentally confused by the instructions that they were not able to formulate a more specific question.

ANDERSON COOPER: Did you feel like you understood the instructions from the judge? Because they were very complex. I mean, reading them, they were tough to follow.

JUROR: Right. And that was our problem. I mean, it was just so confusing what — with what and what we could apply to what. Because I mean, there was a couple of them in there that wanted to find him guilty of something. And after hours and hours and hours of deliberating over the law and reading it over and over and over again, we decided there’s just no way — other place to go.

Of course, there was another place to go: They might have dismissed Zimmerman’s account on the basis of inconsistencies, physical impossibilities, and lack of credibility, due to his numerous lies.  They might also have thought more carefully and deeply about the notions of “regard for human life,” “ill will” and “hatred” and how they might have indeed applied in the case.  They might have sent the instructions back to the judge and told her: “These are an incomprehensible mess, and no one—neither prosecution nor defense nor you, judge—has clarified them for us.”  They might have asked, for example, about that arcane phrase “depraved mind”—which amazingly, still appears in the criteria for murder two.  It’s unlikely that a person in 2013 (who wasn’t also a lawyer) would see this description as applying to anyone except a psychopath or career criminal.

Although it wasn’t mentioned in either Juror B37 or B29’s remarks, I would be surprised if the jury was not also confused by defense lawyer Mark O’Mara, who in his concluding statements, gave the jury his own “instructions” as to how to determine reasonable doubt. It’s very simple, he said. When you get into that room, he said, just ask yourselves: “Do we think that he might have acted in self-defense?” O’Mara then scripted some possible thoughts a juror might have in considering that question: “I’m not convinced. I have some doubt, have some concern, that he just may have acted in self-defense.”  And then the punchline: “Well, if you reach that conclusion, you get to stop. You really do.”

“Might have”? “Some” doubt? “Some” concern? “Just may have?”

I thought “reasonable doubt” and “beyond a shadow of a doubt” were two very different things.  What about the “reason” part? Isn’t it supposed to play some role here?

Not according to the jury instructions, which specify that doubt is “reasonable” only if it is able to topple a juror’s “abiding conviction of guilt.” But to have an “abiding conviction,” unfortunately, does not necessitate the application of reason. Webster’s defines it as “a firmly held belief or opinion.” And that corresponds, pretty much, to ordinary usage. We have all come across people who are “convinced” of irrational beliefs, errors of judgment, mistakes about facts.

 Convictions, to be worth anything, have to be subjected to logic, examination of physical possibility or impossibility of various narratives, credibility of the testimony on which ones convictions are based. .

The prosecution, remarkably, (and for reasons that I cannot fathom) did not choose to counter O’Mara’s torqued conception of “reasonable doubt.” And so, whatever ideas, assumptions, perceptions, biases those jurors brought with them into the deliberation process were provided a legal “hole” through they were permitted entry and authority.

images-3Social historians know that “the law,” even when applied correctly, does not always bring “justice” with it. It’s easy to fall in love with the word and, as in many love affairs, stop thinking. I suspect that the 1536 jury who found Anne Boleyn guilty believed that they had followed the letter of the law, and perhaps they had. For the legal definition of treason had been twisted out of shape by Cromwell, and so had the composition of the jury.  They had no problem dismissing physical impossibilities, because their sympathies were bent and their “convictions” trumped logic and fact.  So, too, the Zimmerman case was surely among those in which the appearance of a judicially “correct” verdict, aided and abetted not only by the skewed composition of the jury, convoluted instructions, and a politically motivated revision of the law, working in a surreptitious but deadly way —the “stand your ground” concept—trumped actual justice.

“The Law.” It’s time to stop invoking it, blaming it, or using it to excuse the verdict in the Zimmerman case.  Let’s admit it simply didn’t function here (or undoubtedly in countless other cases) in any kind of coherent or effective way, and start cleaning up our act.

Source: (http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/07/15/3502047_p4_zimmerman-juror-speaks-out-transcript.html#storylink=cpy)


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