Guest Post Monday -Judith Arnopp – My reasons for writing How to Dress like a Tudor

This week I’m delighted to welcome Judith Arnopp to the History Jar. I thoroughly enjoyed finding out more about what motivates her and admiring her tailoring skills – she makes dressing up as a Tudor sound very appealing! But if you’re one of my Zoom class don’t expect to see me clad as a Tudor lady anytime soon.

Without further ado, over to Judith…whose book is now on my Christmas List – those reindeer are never going to get off the ground given the number of history books I’m hoping for this year.

I would probably have never written the book had I not begun to sew my own Tudor clothes. I’ve always played about with fabric and thread but never attempted anything vaguely historical until I began to take part in reenactments.

I love to visit Raglan Castle during their annual Tudor event where I sell my historical fiction books to the public and meet readers. It is fun, and in the early days, to blend in with the other reenactment groups my husband and I dressed up. Initially our get up was very simple and not even close to accurate but then I purchased a second-hand gown made by Gina Clark and became hooked …on dressing up, not sewing at this point.

After a few years the lovely red gown somehow shrunk, or perhaps I got fatter, I don’t know but I needed a new one and the price was way beyond my budget. I began to wonder about making my own. By this time, I was already making hoods and shifts and partlets, but could I make a gown?

Turns out, the answer was no! The first one was awful but luckily, I’d made it from curtains, just as an experiment to see if I could do it. Yes, I was downhearted at the failure, and it took a several months before I summoned the nerve to try again. This one turned out sightly better, at least it fitted and had a good width of skirt. I tried again, this time coming up with a wearable gown. (see pic one)

Unfortunately, just as I was all set to wear it, Covid 19 reared its ugly head and by the time we were allowed out again I had grown even fatter – this is what happens when someone with hypothyroidism is forbidden adequate exercise and locked up with free access to cake. I went on a diet but by this time had begun to yearn for an English style gown, rather than the French style I’d made before. So, I studied a few portraits and got my sewing kit out again.  (see pic two)

I hadn’t even finished work on this when I was approached to write a book on Tudor clothing – after so many failed attempts I didn’t feel I was qualified but then someone pointed out that I could encourage other would-be sewers to have a go and show them that perseverance can pay off. So that is what I did.

The Tudors have always enthralled me. I read about them while I was at school, and as an adult, and when I enrolled in university as a mature student it was the obvious era to choose to study. Having spent much of his life in exile, when Henry VII ascended the throne, he was largely unknown to the people. He was keen to promote the new Tudor dynasty and to show his line off to its best advantage. He stressed the royal connection of his mother, Margaret Beaufort, and her descent from John of Gaunt and legally removed the stigma of bastardy from the family, reiterating the royal descent of his grandmother, Katherine of Valois. More surprisingly, he also claimed descent from the ancient Welsh King Cadwaladr, and King Arthur. The legend of Arthur states that the king will one day return to England, and to give credence to this, Henry named his first-born son Arthur. Unfortunately for Henry, Arthur was not to survive long enough to become King, that honour fell to his younger brother, Henry, better known as Henry VIII.

Henry VIII made no secret of his love for fine clothes and on becoming king, spent vast amounts of money on his wardrobe and further embellishing the Tudor image. Holbein’s famous portrait records a monumental figure, strong, powerful, and fabulously dressed. Everything in the portrait, from the jewels in his hat to his fine slashed shoes point to power, and his prominent codpiece speaks, rather ironically in a man who struggled to obtain heirs, of fertility. 

Henry’s heirs took this idea of power portraiture even further, in the later portraits of Elizabeth I she is almost obliterated. All we see are her huge sleeves, heavily embroidered gowns, and jeweled embellishments. She is the ultimate Tudor icon.  

Of course, although the nobility aspired to match the monarchs, they could not afford such extremes, but even Henry wouldn’t have dressed so grandly every day. Most reenactors cannot hope to accurately emulate the opulence of royalty, but we do our best and even lower-class clothing is great fun to wear. Sometimes I actually prefer my lower status clothes to my fine gowns; they are not so warm, movement is freer and you can roll up your sleeves and take off a few layers. 

A world full of royalty and nobles is dull and there are other roles to play. You can choose from cooks, monks, housewives, prostitutes, costermongers, millers – the list is endless and there is something for everyone.

How to Dress like a Tudor is not aimed at skilled sewers; it is for those who know little more than how to thread a needle, sew a few basic stitches, but are prepared for a steep learning curve. The book also provides a history of Tudor clothing from the reign of Henry VII through to Elizabeth I, offering reference for those who are studying history, or writing in the historical period. The second, smaller section of the book offers advice on how to sew Tudor clothing, with suggestions for patterns, suppliers, fabric choices, ways to cheat and most of all, I hope it encourages people to just give it a go.

Author bio

Judith writes historical fiction set during the late medieval and Tudor period. Her usual focus is on the women who lived close to the monarch, women like Margaret Beaufort, Elizabeth of York and Mary Tudor but more recently has been writing from the perspective of Henry VIII himself. Her books are on Kindle, Audible and Paperback.

You can find her fiction books here:

She also writes non-fiction, her work featuring in many anthologies and online magazines. Her latest non-fiction, How to Dress like a Tudor published by Pen & Sword Books is available now.

Judith is a founder member of a reenactment group The Fyne Company of Cambria, and began making Tudor costumes for herself, her husband, John, and other members of the group. It was this that inspired How to Dress like a Tudor and she hopes to write more non-fiction Tudor history in the future.

You can find Judith on FacebookTwitter, Linked-inGoodreadsBlueskyInstagramwebpage

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