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Easter Sunday in Tudor Times

Happy Easter! 

I am working on a new book about Lady Katherine Grey, sister to Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Days Queen, so I am immeshed in Tudor History at the moment! Jane, a greath-niece of Henry VIII , was executed by her cousin Mary Tudor for treason after she took the crown at Edward VI’s death. Katherine was left to grieve for her sister and serve the very queen who killed her. Things got worse for Katherine as Elizabeth took the crown at Mary’s death and Elizabeth saw Katherine as a threat to her monarchy. I will keep you posted on Katherine’s triumphs and pitfalls as a lady of Elizabeth’s court in future posts!

Easter is one of my favorite holidays, so I wanted to post something about Easter in Tudor times and I found this great article from 2009 by Diane Evans. I hope you enjoy it and I wish every one of you a blessed Easter day!

 

Elizabethan (Tudor) Easter Traditions

 

Easter traditions during Tudor times.

The Tudors never missed a possible chance to enjoy themselves, and church festivals, weddings, and christenings provided occasions for them to socialize and enrich their lives. The medieval traditions of tournaments and pageantry lived on and many of the Tudors were literate. They read, attended the theater, and enjoyed dancing and music. Hunting and fighting were also considered enjoyable recreational activities for the Tudors.

However the Easter religious season was also a time for serious consideration of sins and prayer as it had been during the medieval times.

Holy Week

The first day of Holy Week was Palm Sunday when the priest would read the story of Christ’s triumphant entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey. He blessed branches of greenery so that the parishioners could fashion crosses from them to carry in processions.

The clergy prepared a shrine for Palm Sunday which contained the blessed sacrament and any relics that the church might possess. Before the service, the clergy and the parishioners met outside the church and then the clergy carried the shrine around the building in one direction while the laiety walked in procession going in the opposite direction.

When they met in front of the church door, the priest would pull up the Lenten veil which hid the chancel from the nave during Lent and then release it again once the procession had passed.

On Wednesday the priest always read passages from the Bible which concerned the veil in the main Temple in Jerusalem. Afterwards the Lenten veil would be removed and packed away until the following year’s celebration.

Maundy Thursday was the day when the clergy prepared the church for the grand Easter celebration by washing the altars with water and wine. They also heard confessions during the day.

Good Friday

The medieval tradition of “Creeping to the Cross” was still a popular practice on Good Friday. The clergy commemorated the suffering and the crucifixion by crawling up to a crucifix before the altar on their hands and knees. On reaching the crucifix, they kissed the feet of their savior. Then the parishioners followed suit as they crept up on the crucifix and repeated the clergy’s actions.

The Easter sepulchre was a stone or wooden niche which represented the sealed tomb. The clergy filled it with the consecrated host and a crucifix. Then they sealed it by covering the entrance with a cloth and lit candles around it. Members of the congregation then took turns guarding it until Easter Sunday.

Easter Sunday

On this day the clergy extinguished the candles in the church and then re-lit the candles before opening the sepulchre. A special high mass was said to celebrate the resurrection. Now Lent was over and everyone could feast on dairy products and meat. Chicken, veal and lamb were favorites for breaking the Lenten fast. Easter eggs were also a favorite.

When the English Reformation came upon the land, many of the Easter rituals were banned. The blessing of the greenery on Palm Sunday, the tradition of Creeping to the Cross, and the Easter sepulchre rituals were banned at that time.

Hot Cross Buns

Now the buns are eaten throughout the Easter festivities, but they were first served only on Good Friday. They are delicious, small, sweet yeast buns containing raisins and currants and maybe even candied fruit. Before baking, the cook slashes a cross across the top of the bun and after the baking is complete a confectioners’ sugar icing is applied to fill in the indention of the cross.

An old nursery rhyme celebrates this favorite English treat:

“Hot cross buns,

Hot cross buns,

One a penny, two a penny,

Hot cross buns.

If you do not like them,

Give them to your sons,

One a penny, two a penny,

Hot cross buns.”

Source:

Pleasures and Pastimes in Tudor England by Alison Sim; The History Press, 2009

Tower of London – A Medieval Zoo

Lion-013-2048x2048In 1066 England suffered its only foreign invasion when the Duke of Normandy won the Battle of Hastings, squashing King Harold II and his troops. Firmly settled on English soil, and the new ruler of the land, the new king, who becomes known as William the Conqueror decides to build an enormous fortress to show his power to any defiant Londoners and to deter other foreign invaders. In 1076 he constructs the Tower of London, or the White Tower, at 90 feet high with 15’ thick solid stone walls strategically positioned on the banks of the Thames. In the 13th century, the Tower is further fortified with double surrounding walls and a moat built over 18 acres.

In the 1930’s a team of archeologists digging in the long dried up moat excavated the startling remains of a leopard, 19 dogs and two of the recently extinct Barbary Lions – the same medieval lions whose sculptures grace London’s Trafalgar Square. Further research revealed that over 60 species, up to 280 exotic animals, resided on the grounds of the Tower for over six hundred years.

The first animals to arrive were the Barbary Lions in 1235. Twenty years later an African Elephant took up residency as a prize from the Crusades. To ward off the London chill, his keepers kept him in a large stable and plied him with a gallon of red wine a day. The tradition of gifting the crown with foreign species continued and the menagerie grew to include tigers, zebras, kangaroos, monkeys, ostriches and even a Norwegian White Bear who was kept muzzled and chained, but often walked to the Thames to fish for his dinner.

For three centuries, visitors to the Tower had to go past the exotic menagerie to tour the castle and grounds. The animals served as a royal status symbol and showed the world the importance of the English monarchy. In the 18th century, the admittance price was three and a half pence, but if you brought a cat or dog to feed to the predators, you were admitted for free.

The confinement of these wild and exotic animals was a constant challenge and several times the large cats would escape and often kill the other animals and occasionally attack a tourist. In 1832 it was decided the animals had to leave. They were sold at auction as fixtures and fittings. Today, detailed wire sculptures of the famous beasts are strategically placed on the grounds so the modern tourist can get a sense of what visiting this unusual zoo must have been like.