Ruth Goodman: How to Be a Tudor

On the heels of her triumphant How to Be a Victorian, Ruth Goodman travels even further back in English history to the era closest to her heart, the dramatic period from the crowning of Henry VII to the death of Elizabeth I. A celebrated master of British social and domestic history, Ruth Goodman draws on her own adventures living in re-created Tudor conditions to serve as our intrepid guide to sixteenth-century living. Proceeding from daybreak to bedtime, this “immersive, engrossing” (Slate) work pays tribute to the lives of those who labored through the era. From using soot from candle wax as toothpaste to malting grain for homemade ale, from the gruesome sport of bear-baiting to cuckolding and cross-dressing—the madcap habits and revealing intimacies of life in the time of Shakespeare are vividly rendered for the insatiably curious.

Even though 99% of my library books I order via the online hold system, every time I go to pick them up, I still make sure to browse the New section, along with the themed displays that the librarians have set out. I always seem to find something that I wasn’t expecting.

How to Be a Tudor most definitely caught my eye because, hello, I am obsessed with all things Tudor-related. Most books on the Tudors, both fiction and nonfiction, tend to be about the royals–so little popular stuff is written about the everyday people. Who wants to read about the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker?

Me, that’s who. This book was everything I wanted it to be, too. It was informative, of course, but also extremely unboring. There were anecdotes about real people, and advice poems taken from books on “husbandry.” Chapters ranged from how to plant a field, to silk-making, to my favorite–beer making. The whole thing was bookended with morning and bedtime prayers, along with bedding–both literal straw beds…and the more sexy kind of “bedding.”

My only real criticism of this how to book were the author’s insertions of her own “experience” in Tudor life. Ruth Goodman is an intense historian, and gets down and dirty when it comes to learning how people really lived. But when unless I’m reading memoir, I don’t really want to read a bunch of “I did this” in my non fiction. This is a history book, and it was weird to read a modern woman inserting herself into the 1500s. You’re not a time traveller, Ruth, only a reenactor.

That didn’t keep me from really liking this book, though, and I am so glad it was sitting there waiting for me at the library. I need to find out if they have Goodman’s Victorian version too! If you love Tudor history, this is a must read, for sure.

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