Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Question from Em - Weight and eating disorders in Tudor times

I have a really odd question: were people ever worried about their weight in Tudor times? Or did they just ignore it? Were disorders like anorexia and bullimia virtually nonexistent back then?


  1. Interesting question, Em. I've seen menus for court meals during Tudor times, and the number of courses offered was staggering. I had to wonder how anyone could take even a taste of everything and keep it down by natural means. I realize that most of the leftovers were donated to the poor, but still...

    I think, though, that people were more accepting of different body types back then. Now, it seems that only one body type, that of the ectomorph, is acceptable. A friend of mine, an adult 5'5"woman, dieted her way down to 79 pounds. She still wore a medium shirt size. Scary, don't you think?

    I am digressing, though. There was a certain amount of peer pressure in the Tudor Court. To overindulge in food (at least in public) would have made a person appear to be uncharitable to the poor to whom the left-overs would be given.

    I wonder what a Tudor person would have thought of the waste of modern society. My half eaten meal goes into the garbage, yet twenty-five percent of American children don't have enough food. I'm not proud, but what would the alternative be, to offer someone a half eaten burger? Unthinkable.

  2. Giles Tremlett, who recently wrote a biography of Catherine of Aragon, speculates she had an eating disorder that had catastrophic effects on her fertility. Coupled with a rigid approach to fasting, this may have had an effect on her ability to conceive and bear healthy children.

    It may well be that the only area of her life (after the death of Prince Arthur) that she could control was her eating. Also the fact that her household was reduced to eating unfit food, as that was all she could afford, may have further deepened the problem.

  3. Katherine Grey may have died from anorexia in 1568. She was being confined, or imprisoned if you will, by Elizabeth I in private homes. Reports said she was 'wasting' away and refusing to eat. It is unclear if this was a classic case of anorexia or a fasting protest to her confinement.

  4. 'Tudor Princess' brings up some interesting points about the control aspect & fasting. If a girl's (or a woman's) eating habits were questioned & in answer they were told it was only because they were 'fasting,' most would accept that without further remark,since it was seen as religious devotion or attonement for sins. Additionally, I had read that Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire was thought to have been bullimic. That was in the 18th century & if eating disorders were around then, they were probably around in the 16th century,& before, as well. The fact that women had less power & less rights (& was even considered the PROPERTY of her father & then of her husband,) would only have given a woman even LESS that SHE could control. She had no rights over her children & she had no right to refuse her husband sexually. He could even beat her - That was considered HIS RIGHT under the law! With all of that out of her control, there was little left that she COULD control, except whether she gained or lost weight. And laws may change, societies may change, but people are basically the same. So, I'd say chances are that eating disorders existed in Tudor times & well before that, too.

  5. If, say, King Henry VIII ( or some other aristocratic / noble gentleman ) starved himself and refused to eat until he was only all skin and bones, or to lose ( some ) weight, how do you think his servants/courtiers would react, what would they do? Would they respond differently or the same if the person with the eating disorder was female or male?


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