5 (Tudor) gift ideas

Image: Alhill42 CC BY-SA 4.0

It is the time of year when many people’s thoughts turn to buying Christmas gifts, but what would your shopping have looked like if you were buying in 1521? Here are some ideas for your perfect Tudor Christmas* gifts….

*Actually New Year, as the main day for exchanging gifts was 1st January not 25th December

5. Money

Ok, so some people may dismiss money as a Christmas gift lacking in imagination but gifting cash has a long history in many countries. In 1533, Sir Edward Don of Horsenden in Buckinghamshire gifted his wife, Anne, 15 shillings at New Year, and gave 6 shillings 8 pence to one of his senior retainers. Money was also a regular New Year’s gift for Henry VIII.

4. Venison

Four deer stare intently at the camera. Behind them more deer are quietly grazing

If you are looking for the perfect gift for a host or colleague, then perhaps you would like to go with something food based? In which case, look no further than venison (preferably hunted by yourself your/your mate’s deer park). In August of 1534, Thomas Cromwell went hunting in Risborough Park with some friends. Afterwards, he gifted his host’s wife one of the bucks that he had killed.

If you don’t have access to a deer park, oxen and mutton would be acceptable subsitutes, as sent to Prince Edward for New Year 1539.

3. Gloves

Useful, easily to find, and available at a variety of price points – what isn’t there to like about a pair of gloves? When Lady Lisle was trying to decide on gifts for the guests at her sons wedding, she was advised by the countess of Rutland that she need “give nothing but gloves”. If you want to go for a high end pair, consider buying Henry VIII’s scented gloves, lined with white fur and trimmed with buttons and gold enamelled aiglettes.

Gloves could also be combined with option 5 as in 1532 when several English bishops, noblemen and courtiers gave Henry VIII varying sums of money, in either a purse or a glove.

2. Plate

Plate seems to have been an eternally popular gift at the Tudor at the court, and if it is good enough for royalty to gift and receive then who are we to quibble. In 1532, Henry VIII seems to have done most of his shopping at the silversmith as everyone from the French Queen (his sister, Mary) to mere gentlemen received some form of plate, items gifted including gilt cups, goblets, bowls, salts and cruets. In return he received, amost other items, two plain gilt pots weighting 111 1/2 oz from the archbishop of Canterbury, a flagon of gold for rosewater from the earl of Shrewsbury and a gold trencher from the earl of Northumberland.

1. The Unique Gift

For that special person (or King) in your life, you might be looking for something a bit more unique. Princess Mary’s gift to her brother of a gold brooch of St John the Baptist set with a ruby, or the Duke of Norfolk’s gift the King of a pair of tables and chessmen may sound tasteful but were they unique enough? You could consider a leopard or “a beast called a civet”, both gifts given to Henry VIII in 1532. Or perhaps they would appreciate a room “hung with cloth of gold and silver and crimson satin with rich embroideries” (Henry VIII’s gift to Anne Boleyn in 1532). If in doubt the message seems to be to go large!

And one more thing….

If you prefer to make your own gifts, then you are in good company. On several occassions, Princess Elizabeth gifted her brother clothes and needlework that she had sewn herself. (And, yes, she did apparently give him “a shirt of cambric of her own working” when she was just 5 years old).


Maria Hayward, Dress at the Court of King Henry VIII

R A Griffiths (ed), The Household Book of Sir Edward Don

J S Brewer (ed) Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII (various volumes).

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