It is thought that only about 10% of all Tudors lived to be beyond their 40th birthday – and one of the reasons, among many, was the poor standard of Tudor medicine and medical knowledge.
Smallpox was a highly contagious, potentially disfiguring and often deadly disease which had no cure and no effective treatment.
Henry VIII contracted smallpox, as did his forth wife Anne of Cleaves but his daughter Elizabeth I was the family member to become seriously ill with the disease. In 1562 her doctors thought that she would die. Fear gripped her people as Elizabeth was unmarried and had no heirs. The queen was lucky and she survived with only a few pockmark scars. The ‘cure’ was thought to be caused by ‘the red treatment’ which was administered by the queen being wrapped in a red blanket and placed by a fire.
When Edward IV died unexpectedly of a short illness aged forty in April 1471 he left two sons. Richard Duke of York, aged 9 and Edward, Prince of Wales aged 12. After young Edward V was proclaimed King, his uncle Richard of Gloucester went to York Minster to declare his loyalty to his nephew.
This was a very cruel way to die and it was used to convince a prisoner who refused to give a plea of innocent or guilty to change their mind. If no plea was given then a trial could not take place. Pressing took place inside prisons like Newgate or the fleet. The accused was laid on a table and had another table put on top of them. Then lead, rocks and weights were put on until they either decided to plea or were crushed to death.
The prison guards or ‘Keepers’ fed the victim with ‘Three morsels of barley bread without drink for the first day and as much filthy water as they like if they survived to the next day.’
The execution of Anne Boleyn has been portrayed in so many books and films that it is easy to forget that she was once a real breathing human being and not just a character in a play. Unlike us, Anne did not know the end of her script until the cold morning of 19th May 1536 and for her it must have been a terrifying and shocking end.
The London Stone was originally situated on the south side of medieval Candlewick Street (since widened to create modern Cannon Street) opposite the west end of St Swithins church. This was very close to the homes of Henry VIII’s financial agents Edmund Dudley and his next door neighbour Richard Epson. Both were falsely executed as traitors in 1510 and were Henry VII’s first scapegoats for his father’s unpopular policies.