Tudor Hygiene Part 1- Bathing

“One of the misconceptions of popular history is that concern for hygiene and sanitation is a recent – and decidedly modern – phenomenon.” Simon Thurley

We don’t often think about the Tudors as being particularly hygienic people but they were actually a lot ‘cleaner’ than what we generally give them credit for. They were of course limited by the technology of the time and the challenges associated with disposing of the sewage and rubbish of a growing population but this does not mean that they did not try to keep themselves and their houses clean.

According to Alison Sim, the Tudors washed themselves a lot more often that what is generally thought. How often is not exactly known but the fact that recipes for soap and ‘hand or washing waters’ are included in household instruction manuals illustrate that there was definitely an interest in personal hygiene (Sim, Pg. 47).

Wealthy ladies used a scented toilet soap or ‘castill soap’ for their daily wash. Not all levels of society could use this type of soap, as it was imported and very expensive. The soap was made with ‘olive oil rather than the animal fat used in laundry soap’ (Sim, Pg. 47).

15th century illustration depicting a bath

In Hugh Plat’s Delightes for Ladies, a 14th century household manual, he gives directions for preparing washing water suggesting the use of ‘sage, marjoram, camomile, rosemary and orange peel as possible ingredients.’ He also offers an alternative that is ‘very cheap’ once again suggesting that it was not only the wealthy Tudors that were interested in personal hygiene but people from all levels of society.

In order to have a bath most Tudors would have had to find a wooden tub, line it with sheets, collect buckets of water, heat the water by the fireplace and fill the tub. It’s probably safe to assume that this complicated process probably dissuaded people from bathing daily. There was though nothing stopping them from washing daily. The distinction being that bathing required a person to immerse themselves in a tub and washing was more like a sponge bath.

The only Tudors lucky enough to have permanent plumbing and luxurious bathrooms were royalty.

Because the water-supply determined how long the Court could stay in any one location, Henry VIII decided to overhaul the water supply systems of all of his greater houses.

Improvements made to the water supply led to improved facilities for bathing. Some of the houses Henry inherited already contained luxurious bathrooms such as Edward III’s bathroom at Westminster supplied with “2 large bronze taps for the kings bath to bring hot and cold water into the baths” (Thurley, Pg. 167).

In 1529, Henry VIII ordered a new bathroom built on the first floor of the Bayne Tower at Hampton Court. This tower was Henry VIII’s luxury suite and consisted of an office and strong-room; a bedroom, bathroom and private study and a library and jewel house (Thurley, Pg. 170).

Thurley describes the bathroom in great detail

“The Bathroom had deep window-seats with cupboards beneath and a ceiling decorated with gold battens on a white background. The baths were made by a cooper and were attached to the wall; they were supplied by two taps, one for cold water and one for hot. Directly behind the bathroom, in another small room, was a charcoal- fired stove, or boiler, fed from a cistern on the second floor which was filled by the Coombe conduit.” (Pg. 170)

Other similar bathrooms existed at the Tower of London, Windsor Castle and New Hall.

Later in Henry’s reign he started bathing in sunken baths. Thomas Platter describes Henry’s bath at Woodstock:

“We were shown King Henry VIII’s bathing-tub and bathing room, also a large square lead cistern full of water in which he bathed; the water comes from Rosamund spring, is cold in summer and warm in winter.” (Thurley, Pg. 170)

In the1540’s, Henry VIII installed a bath at Whitehall more luxurious and sophisticated than even the Hampton Court bath but we are still none the wiser as to how often Henry actually used the baths.

Thurley states that Henry, on medical advice, took ‘medicinal herbal baths’ each winter but avoided baths if the sweating sickness reared its ugly head.

A school of though existed at the time that believed that bathing was dangerous and a time that “allowed the venomous airs to enter and destroyeth the lively spirits in man and enfeebleth the body” (Thurley, Pg. 171).

Apart from bathing with scented soap, the wealthier Tudors could also afford to buy perfume. Scents were made using imported spices and so not everyone could afford such a luxury. Alison Sim believes they were used as a demonstration of one’s wealth rather than as a way of masking unpleasant odours. Sim states that if they were used to mask smells at all then it was more likely to have been the clothes rather than the people that smelt.

I imagine that wearing Tudor clothes in peak summer would have been a very sweaty affair and to try and keep the clothes smelling fresh, without the modern conveniences of deodorant, a washing machine or a dry cleaner, would have been very difficult.  One way to try and remain fresh would have involved changing your undergarments as often as possible.

Whether you were wealthy or not you wore a linen undergarment called a smock or shirt (Sim, Pg. 52). The Tudors took great care in ensuring their linen was clean as it was a sign of one’s respectability. In Richard Jones’ book, Heptameron of Civil Discourses, a book about how to have a happy marriage, he says that a woman who does not wear clean linen ‘shal neither be prazed of strangers, or delight her husband’ (Sim, Pg. 52). Most would try and change their linen daily and the wealthier would have changed their linen several times per day.

In the next part of our Tudor hygiene article we will look at how the Tudors brushed their teeth, the clothes washing practices of the day and how general household cleaning was done.


Sim, A. The Tudor Housewife, 2010.

Thurley, S. The Royal Palaces of Tudor England: Architecture and Court Life, 1993.



  1. VERY interesting hun! I can understand why bathing was not done daily – such a chore!

    I’m still fascinated how they used rushes on the floor in many of the wealthier houses and felt as though it was alright to urinate on said rushes! *SHUDDER* at least they replaced them every few days!

    • Thank you Sarah! Lots more information and facts to come 🙂

    • LOL! I read that during the marriage of Henry VIII and Katherine/Catherine of Aragon, that the men urinated in the hallways, wherever, and one particular pet peeve of the Queen was that the men urinated in the fireplaces either during the fire or before fires were built in them, and causing the stench to be horrible, so that she banned urinating in the fireplaces. I don’t recall if she banned urinating in the public hallways and rooms, but I do know she banned it from fireplaces. I was flabbergasted to say the least. Who would think that such men, who were supposed to be bred with courtly manners would just flip themselves out in public and urinate all over the place. That’s why I love the internet. I continue to be amazed and learn. HAHA!

    • Rushes actually kept the floor warm and dry and wicked away dirt and moisture. I mean it’s still gross, but rush floors deserve more credit than we think.

  2. Great article.

  3. Excellent article, thanks Natalie.I cant wait for part 2.

  4. Great article….cant wait for the next installment !!!

  5. He also offers an alternative that is ‘very cheap’ once again suggesting that it was not only the wealthy Tudors that were interested in personal hygiene but people from all levels of society….

    I would love to know what the alternative was, as it sounds like something other than herbal waters. I know the Elizabethans used to make soap balls from grated soap and herbs, but they would not be as efficient as a bar of Castile soap, which is very hard and if not machine-extruded, would last a long time (I made some, one bar of which I used in the laundry room, and tossed it after five years. I even had complaints about my soap lasting so long).

    Is there anything about hair washing, and the problem of lice? I know the Victorians sometimes sewed pockets alongside their night caps for stuffing them with lavender against lice, or hops to ease insomnia…

  6. Fascinating article! Thanks so much. I do know Elizabeth I used her pomanders and perfumes because she really did hate a stench–don’t know so much about Henry. This is all so helpful! Can’t wait for more!

    • Your comment gave me a chuckle about Queen Elizabeth hating stinks/stench, when she herself probably smelled to high heaven since she bathed only once a month, “whether she needed it or not”. Maybe it was herself she was smelling and used the pomanders and stuff to keep herself from smelling herself, which I think would be hard to do anyway. I wonder where Queen Elizabeth got such bad hygiene practices from, if the Tudor people bathed a lot more than we give them credit for? Just wanted to comment and I know it is three years ago you wrote your comment and probably won’t see it, but I just found this site today. Happy New Year!

      • Elizabeth was a Tudor you know!
        Bathing was a a chore back then as water had to be boiles and sent to the bath bucket by bucket making it hard to have a bath. Also with bathing being the full inmersión of your body into water, she probably washed herself more often, with a wet tole and sopa mentioned in the article and she probably did this daily even. Finally they also washed their undergarments frequently too!

      • Amanda from Alabama says:

        Umm, instead of Queen Elizabeth (Tudor age),vI think you are referring to Queen Victoria, as it is her who supposedly said “I take a shower once per month whether I need it or not.” That aside, I’m sure happy that I was born in a time where we are able to wash ourselves and to NOT have to have a stench! However, even with all that we have available for ourselves to keep up good hygiene, why are there STILL people who smell to high Heaven?!
        Great article…even though I’m just reading it 5 years later in 2016, lol! Love the site as well!

        • Christine says:

          Actually, no, it was Queen Elizabeth I (Tudor) who said ‘I take a bath once a month whether I need it or not’. That she made that comment is quite well-known. Also, showers were not common in Victorian times. They did exist in the latter part of the Victorian age in some wealthy households, but they weren’t like modern showers – instead, they would have had a shower hose fitted to a frame over the bath, with a manual pump to deliver the water.

  7. I would have thought that a cheaper alternative would have been to use herbs like Soaproot (Chlorogalium Pomeridianum) which as the name suggests can be pulverised to release sapoins found in the roots.

  8. Patty Blackwell says:

    Great article. I so enjoy learning new things about the Tudor time period. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Did they have sanitation systems, sewers, or any means of waste disposal at all?

    • The “toilets” of the day in a castle were built against an outside wall and the “waste” either dropped straight down and out or ran through a sort of gutter and into a hole into the moat or elsewhere. In cities the sewer has the street! Bedpans & chamber pots were dumped from the houses’ windows, giving us the term “HEADS UP!” as fair warning to passers-by. Gross, huh?

    • * I might add, the castle “toilets” were little more than outhouse “holes”, not actual contraptions.. a top with a hole to sit on, and the bottom had a “way out” for the waste. The toilet as we know it (or its ancestor) was developed in the latter 1500s by courtier John Harrington as a gift to QE I.

  10. Re: How often Henry Tudor bathed.

    He certainly washed every day. By all accounts he was considered a hygiene freak by the standards of the time. The apple didn’t fall far from the tree in terms of his younger daughter.

  11. Get reading, I have read Anne was very hygenic personally too, when is the next part coming Natalie, its very interesting….

  12. Why were sheets put in the tubs?

  13. So that they didn’t get splinters from the wooden tubs

  14. Very helpful article, extremely interesting. Helped a lot with my homework(:

  15. very interesting article. The Tudor Housewife is a fascinating book, I learnt a lot from it.

  16. erm that wa s a gr8 artical plz could u add facts about other rooms eg:bedroom bathroom

  17. Alessandra says:

    This is a fascinating article! I have always been curious to how clean the Tudors were and how they went about cleaning.

  18. Hello! I love all things Merry Old England 🙂
    About Tudor hygiene: Henry VIII hated stench and was repulsed by smelly women and there were many smelly women AND men in those times. While perspiration odors (armpit stinks) were commonplace and hardly avoidable, perfumes and herbs and spices were used to couneract the smell, which could be violent. As far as bathing one’s “private parts” was concerned, it was often hit or miss and, even among the higher and Royal classes, body odor, especially given the fabrics, furs and weighty robes, was pretty bad, which is why pomanders were worn, filled with aromatics, around the neck, to emit and mask stinks of various kinds. Sprigs of lavender, sage and fragrant bouquets were carried by many, to sniff and wave, to banish stinks. Sponge baths were done, but, for some reason, many avoided washing their ‘privates.’ Perhaps the …um…smell…was aphrodesiac…as it remains so even today, in some cultures (ugh!) But many who were sensitive to…smells…did wash ALL body parts, to be fresh, even applying fragrant oils to ‘those areas’ to freshen their scent. Sachets were placed in small pockets, sewn into garments and that practice was used all the way into more contemporary times. Old dresses from Southern Belles, known for daintiness, had those tiny sachet pockets sewn into the underarm, hip and seat areas. Peeing in the fireplace was done and, though disgusting to consider, it was a necessary convenience (ugh). The poor usually ‘toileted’ outside the doorway or in a ravine, common to the neighborhood. The rich or upper crust ‘toileted’ in receptacles, either looking like pottys or wide and deep enough to accomodate their…butt-ends. Dirty pottys were emptied into any waterway available or just outside the rear doors. Needless to say, houses of all classes smelled pretty foul, especially in winter and water was polluted by wastes and the ground was foul, as well, from dumping, which is where the expression, “taking a dump” may have originated…. The mats throughout homes were loaded with fleas, lice and nasty things (snug as a bug in a rug) and they STUNK, so they were changed often, in richer households or aired in sunshine, when able. Poorer homes had just dirt floors, were it was common to dump things and just sweep, as needed. Lice, bugs, vermin were all expected and they thrived everywhere. By the way…one of the main reasons fur-trim was used on garments was to attract body lice away from the wearer…even the hugher classes, because body vermin was so common.
    Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth, was fastidious, she hated stinks and bathed daily, including her hair, which she cut short, preferring wigs, which were free of bugs…there is SO much of interest about those far away times! 🙂

    • It is known that castles often used rushes, a plant found near bodies of water much like cattails in America to lay down on the floors of castles. They were used to soak up moisture that was a common place where stone was the building material of homes. I don’t know when this practiced ceased though? Makes sense to me, after reading this article that this plant material was also used to soak up bodily fluids from guests during a celebration…a disgusting thought. It never occurred to me as well, how those whose breeding was considered “upper crust”, yet take a pee inside the home of your king?.go figure… Just thinking how the commoners lived and performed their own hygiene? I mean, I know chamber pots were dumped outside their doors and windows. What about those on farms? How long have outhouses been in use? I suppose it might shock a few here, I’m 55 years old and I was potty trained on a potty, or chamber pot and outhouse. It was a farmhouse, did have running water with hot and cold. of course, but there wasn’t an inside toilet. We didn’t get an inside toilet until we moved to town when I was 5 years old. My brother and I kept running into the bathroom to flush the toilet on the day we moved in to our house in town.

  19. Please excuse my typos! I am an atrocious keyboarder! 🙂

    • I’m of an age with you Cherie, and I’m not shocked at all at your loo being outside. I grew up in a small town in England, in 2 up 2 down house has they were called with my grandparents, with no bathroom. We had a chamber pot under the bed at night, and we had a tin bath that was brought in on a Saturday and placed in front of the kitchen range. The hot water was ladled in, and ladled out when we had finished, the water was shared and topped up…luckily there was just the 3 of us sharing the water lol, one at a time of course.There was also a lot of ‘strip washing’ that went on at the big butler sink too in-between baths. Unbelievable to the modern world perhaps that that was still going on in the 1960’s but it was, and for many years later in some cases. But we were never dirty or smelly. The memories of the tin bath in front of the fire are still vivid, precious almost, and make me very grateful for being able to go into a warm bathroom, at any time and take a shower or bath without all the physical effort. Aren’t we so lucky… as for outhouses I have one in my garden now and I live in a farm house perhaps 150+ year old in parts. It has nothing left inside any more, it appears that it was never a ‘flushing’ toilet, but one that would need to be emptied. It looks as old as the rest of the house, so I would think outhouses go quite away back. We also have a huge attic where the diary maids used to sleep when all milking was done by hand!!

  20. This is all very interesting stuff.

  21. Matilda Forbes says:

    I have been watching the six wives of Henry V111 the TV series on DVD with Keith Michell who sadly died recently. The remark he made about Anne of Cleves his 5th wife that she had a strange smell coming from her person. And he liked her not. I have heard that her hygiene was not good when I looked on certain historical sites. Elizabeth 1 I have also heard this about. Henry V111 legs which I believe where ulcerated most have smelt bad to I would imagine. I don’t think they had soap in those days to wash so herbs and spices would have been added to the water.

  22. I guess plumbers are a modern day convenience. I have cousins who had an outhouse. I love reading about history. It makes me thankful to live in the current times. I couldn’t imagine not bathing every day. And peeing in the fireplace was normal then? I never knew this.

  23. Nancy Lee Wilson says:

    I love Tudor history, find this article very interesting.
    Thank you for posting.

  24. Great article!! I have recently been reading about the medieval and the Tudor era. I love finding something new to read!!

  25. Roy Huxley says:

    Hi I’m Australian and my wife and I are doing a self drive tour there in late October early November, we are planning on visiting Hampton Court, I can’t wait.

    • How wonderful! You’re going to love Hampton Court Palace, it’s a magical place.

    • As I have attended Hampton Court Palace for Embroidery Lessons through the Royal School of Embroidery at least 10 times, please take time to explore the palace with a microphone headpiece and don’t let anyone rush you. However, during winter time, the palace closes early and is quite grim. I recommend staying at the Miter Hotel, across the street from the palace. The façade is from the Cromwell era but accommodations are modern, if not quaint. Every room is quite different so don’t be afraid to make a view of the room before accepting it. Embroidery lessons can be obtained by the day or week through their website: royal-needlework.org.uk. Reservations should be made in advance. The Palace is within walking distance from the hotel and palace, which takes you to London or Windsor. June is most difficult to book as it is during the flower show. Wimbledon is quite close and bus transit is convenient to access other areas. Surrey is a quaint town with lots of choices of good restaurants and shops and I’m sure you will love it.

  26. Amanda from Alabama says:

    Thank You Kate!!! I so enjoy reading your posts! As I am from Alabama, I have seen the dresses of Southern Belles, and yes…the sachet pockets are there!
    Thanks for giving all that great info, I so enjoy learning about this.
    Guten Tag!

    • Christine says:

      Hi, don’t mean to be discouraging by correcting you again or anything, but just wanted to let you know that, although it does, literally mean ‘good day’, ‘guten tag’ is a polite greeting, not something one says when ending a conversation. It is basically a polite way of saying hello. If you wanted to say goodbye you could say either ‘aufwiedersehen’, or, more informally, ‘tschuss’. 🙂

      • Amanda from Alabama says:

        I suppose it is probably because they’re living in America and it is not a very formal type of work environment that they work in (MBUSI to be specific), but our German co-workers do tend to say “Guten Tag” or “Guten Abend” much more than I’ve heard them say “auf Wiedersehen.” But as I said above, I would assume it is more so due to the circumstances; however, I’m sure you will be able to explain that particular situation much better than I, I’m quite sure.

        Have a lovely week everyone! Lost my Father unexpectedly a few days ago, so I’m having a hard time thus far, but I wish the very best for you all! (I’m now paranoid to comment…afraid I’ll mess up). Good day! ?

  27. can we have a tudor week?
    What I mean is, can we set up a week where people can live in Tudor style England?
    I’m sure I’m not the only one who has romantic images of what Tudor England was like… Where, when, and how could we do this? I’m more than happy to help organize.

  28. Kevin Webster says:


  29. Francine says:

    Love Your Idea Jenna ?

  30. I wonder how it went in other European countries? Everything always refers to England and sometimes France, what about the German, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and Russian courts and their lower classes? The Romans had communal baths and toilets including in their Northern lands, how did the Northern Europeans become so slovenly after the example of the clean and fastidious Romans?

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