The myth of dirty monarchs

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The Independent Online
CAN we please lay to rest the stupid Victorian myth that Tudor monarchs never washed ("The British thrive on flannel", 24 September)?

Contrary to legend, Henry VIII saw to it that most of his palaces were equipped with an en suite bathroom for his use, complete with sunken baths and hot and cold taps. His daughter Elizabeth bathed regularly once a month - against the advice of her doctors, who considered bathing dangerous - and was famously pernickety about smells.

It was her Scottish successor, James VI & I, who began the non-washing monarch tradition, disdained by the English courtiers because he really didn't bathe, only wiped the ends of his fingers with a damp napkin.

Ordinary people, too, were cleaner than the legend. There were two or three public Turkish baths in Tudor London, attended on alternate days by the men and women who could afford it.

In fact the golden age of bacteria didn't start until after the Protectorate of the mid-17th century when the Puritans shut the bath-houses, as they did the theatres, on the grounds that they were dens of iniquity and breeding grounds of the plague.

All this nonsense about the disgusting Tudors was invented by the vile and grubby early Victorians. In their time, the 200-300-year-old water system was disintegrating, owing to massively increased demand and lack of investment, to such an extent that Parliament was forced to rise because of the stench of sewage from the Thames, while cholera raged in London.

Patricia Finney

Truro, Cornwall