[ "The Twelve Days of Christmas" plays ] -We think of Christmas as a time for tradition that's full of age-old customs and symbols.
And yet, if you wind back the clock 500 years to when Henry VIII was on the throne, a lot of the things that seem essential to Christmas just disappear.
[ Thud ] The Tudors didn't have Christmas trees... [ Ding! ]
...or crackers... or stockings.
[ Pop! ]
And Santa Claus... didn't exist.
Don't worry, kids.
He'd just gone off to the North Pole for a bit.
So, if you strip away all the customs that have been invented since then, what would a genuinely olden-times Christmas have looked like?
♪♪ To find out, I'm going to re-create Christmas as Henry VIII knew it... [Chuckling] Wow!
What a crazy-looking thing!
...when our ancestors partied hard for 12 whole days.
-I'm in charge of Christmas!
-I'm getting into Tudor clothes and inside Tudor minds... -This is from the Lady Anne Boleyn.
-This is a very well-judged present.
-...to discover what our festive heritage tasted like... Ohh!
-[ Laughs ] -I don't like it!
...smelt like... Mmm!
and felt like.
I am getting drunk on sugar at this stage.
Ooh, ooh, ooh!
I'll get new insights into an age when Britain changed forever.
-Henry's spending 7,000 just -- -Just on Christmas!
-On Christmas, yes.
...and discover the roots of today's seasonal customs.
-It is, as you can smell... -[ Sniffs ] -...the precursor to the modern Christmas cake.
-Greyhounds were incredibly popular as a gift to Henry.
He was a real dog lover.
-It's a Christmas wilder...
It's blowing my head off!
[ Laughter ] ...and weirder... [ All grunting ] ...than anything you've seen before.
With a hey nonny-nonny... -And a ho-ho-ho.
♪♪ ♪♪ -When Henry VIII came to the throne in 1509, over 90 percent of his subjects lived outside towns and cities, so I'm starting by getting a taste of what December the 24th would've been like in the countryside.
Even on Christmas Eve, Tudor people were probably still hard at work doing something unpleasant and cold and miserable.
For Tudor people, the first 24 days of December definitely weren't about partying whereas, in the 21st century, Christmas seems to start in November, doesn't it?
Especially the shopping.
At a time when practically everyone in the British Isles was still a practicing Catholic, the whole of Advent was a period of strict abstinence enforced by the Church.
If this really were true Tudor Christmas Eve, I'd have been fasting now for four weeks.
No meat, no dairy, that's the rules during Advent -- pretty grim.
But tomorrow everything is going to change.
Tomorrow, a holiday begins that's been enshrined by law for centuries.
According to the church calendar, it begins with the birth of Jesus, and it ends with the coming of the three wise men, and those are the 12 days of Christmas.
To prepare for them, one festivity was allowed on Christmas Eve: decorating.
According to a Tudor writer, every man's house as also their parish churches were decked with green.
I want to know what that would've looked like, so I'm meeting a historian of rural life.
How would you recommend that I would decorate a Tudor farmhouse for Christmas?
-Definitely holly and ivy.
We've got good contemporary references for that.
The other thing that gets mentioned very commonly is bay.
Maybe an even stranger one is rosemary.
-It has nothing to do with cooking.
This is just a decoration.
Just as a decoration.
-Let's deck our halls.
-Now, John, we're not going to do any Christmas tree stuff, are we?
-No, not known at this time.
-Too early for Christmas trees.
-But having said that, this is a very ancient-seeming thing to do to bring the leaves into the house at midwinter.
Yeah, and at the darkest time of year, they sort of promise of the trees and the plants coming out again in spring.
-If it were the 21st century, I'd be doing exactly the same thing on Christmas Eve, but I'd be doing it with tinsel.
So... -And there's something in common, isn't there?
There's a long, windy, decorative thing that you put around the house.
-What should we decorate next then?
-Decorate the spinning wheel.
Weave it round the spokes.
-So why are we making the spinning wheel unusable?
-Well, there should be no work done over the 12 days of Christmas.
The spinning wheel is the symbol of a farmer's wife's work, so we render it inoperable.
-So do you think that women really needed this sort of thing to stop them from working?
-I think they'd probably been quite busy over the Christmas period anyway.
-Now that we've done that, that's not going anywhere.
Once the decorating was done, people headed for midnight mass which heralded the birth of Christ and the official start of the 12-day holiday.
♪♪ For December the 25th, I want to discover how the king celebrated.
Henry owned more than 50 grand properties where he might choose to spend his Christmas Day, but over time, his favorite palace became Hampton Court.
I'm arriving not through the grand visitor entrance but via the service yards, which have barely been altered since they were built in the 16th century.
With the four weeks of fasting for Advent over, it would be time for the feasting to begin, and this was the courtyard where all the constituent parts would arrive for Henry's Christmas dinner, including the centerpiece at the royal feast, a boar.
This was an animal that Henry himself liked to hunt using one of his special boar spears.
I'm going to find out for myself what boar's head tastes like by recreating the kind of feast the king would've sat down to on the first day of Christmas.
What's going on?
What's going on?
What's going on here?
Hampton Court's kitchens are still in use 500 years later, so I've enlisted some of the palace cooks together with food historian Annie Gray to make some Tudor recipes.
Pies are prominent on the menu, including mince pies.
Back then, they weren't sweet little snacks.
They were the stars of the savory course.
What's going on here at the chopping board?
-We're mincing up some suet.
Is that more extreme than chopping?
-It's where mince pies get their name from, the act of mincing, so everything that goes into this needs to be minced... -Minced.
-Very, very finely.
Or shredded -- they were also known as shred pies.
-And what's this white stuff that you're mincing?
-This is suet.
It's the kidney fat, in this case from sheep.
-You would not want to eat that in its raw state, would you?
You want to try?
Unlike the stuff that you can get today, you got to strip all the veins and the membranes out and mince it yourself.
-And then we've got our spices.
-Ingredients from as far afield as China and India were shipped to England during Henry's reign -- at great expense.
The royal kitchens routinely turn to exotic spices like these peppery seeds from West Africa.
-You've got grains of paradise here.
Then you've got cubeb pepper, another type of pepper, very fruity.
-Where does it come from?
-Today, they always have fruit in, and the same is true in the Tudor period, so we've got raisins, we've got currants, we've got dried prunes, all things you can get during the winter.
And we also got the crucial ingredient here which is beef, the period before that demarcation that we've got between sweet and savory and meat and dessert is really fully developed.
-Look at that squidging through them fingers.
-Whoa, that's so disgusting.
I'm squeezing meat.
-But if you eat meat normally, then... -I don't squeeze it, though.
-...how is this... -I eat it.
I don't squeeze it.
♪♪ The wealthier you were, the more meat would feature on your table, so the king's Christmas dinner must also include a choice of roasts.
-You can see that there are three lumps of gorgeous beef on the fire already being turned.
-Beef was another real Christmas favorite and, in fact, was the Christmas meat for much of history, so we're going to have this venison join it.
It's a really big haunch, and it's perfect for King Henry VIII's feast because he had the deer herd, as did most aristocrats.
He's all about showing off wealth.
-Mm, look at that.
The sweaty job of hand-turning the spit was usually given to young boys.
Think I got the hang of it.
Keep turning, keep turning.
We know how the kitchens worked from surviving household accounts, but for evidence of how the king himself spent Christmas, I need to consult another document from his reign which is kept at the British National Archives.
What is in this truly enormous book?
-So this is the public and private expenditure of the King.
-His eyes have scanned down this page.
This is Henry's first Christmas, isn't it?
-1509, we are here.
What's special about that Christmas?
-So perhaps the most interesting entry is here.
So it says, "Item to John Shurley, Cofferer of the King's household," so he's the person in charge of the cash, "For the advancement of goods and provision to be had effective at Christmas, 7,000 pounds."
-That's an awful lot of money.
-That's a huge amount of money.
Just to put that into context, Henry's father, Henry VII, in his last few years was spending 12,000 pounds a year for the provision of his household.
Henry is spending 7,000 just at Christmas.
-Just on Christmas!
This is what happens when you put an 18-year-old in charge at Christmas, isn't it?
-He's gone completely over the top.
-Henry likes to be generous, to make a splash, to show off, but he's also, I think, making a political point here.
His father wasn't a terribly popular king, reputation for avarice.
I think Henry is trying to show with his Christmas he's turning a page.
It's a new dawn.
-He's buying a bit of popularity.
-Yes, I think that's probably right.
♪♪ -Having seen the historical evidence, I'm now ready to experience what Christmas dinner would've been like for the virile and exceptionally handsome young king.
Henry often ate away from the prying eyes of the court, and he sat alone in his private dining chamber with just a few favored attendants.
I am your royal carver today.
I would be picking for you the choicest morsels and... -What are the choicest morsels that we've got out here?
-Well, roast meat was a very, very important part of the Christmas feast, especially spectacle birds -- so, things like the peacock and, of course, the swan -- very much royal creatures.
Everything here has to scream bling.
-Is that the giant mince pie that we made?
-Let's eat it!
As you can see, the lid that we prepared has been removed, and this very beautiful, ornate lid has been put on it instead.
This can be reused for another pie, so we're just going to lift it off and move it to one side.
-There's something a bit Middle Eastern about the meat and the fruit.
It tastes more grown-up than a modern mince pie.
-Well, I think what we have today is a pale shadow of the glories of the Tudor era, but really you've seen nothing yet because the real star of the Tudor Christmas feast is yet to arrive.
♪ The boar's head in hand bear I ♪ ♪ Bedecked with bays and rosemary ♪ ♪ And I pray you all sing merrily ♪ ♪ Quot estis in convivio ♪ -It's a dish so special, it comes with its own solemn ceremony.
This carol was sung at court and other grand locations to herald its survival.
♪ The boar's head as I understand ♪ ♪ Is the rarest dish in all of the land ♪ ♪ To cheer you all this Christmas ♪ ♪ The boar's head with mustard ♪ -And this song was included in the very first book of Christmas carols printed in England, which dates from the early years of Henry VIII's reign.
[ Carol concludes ] ♪♪ Wow!
What a crazy-looking thing!
-Of course, the red eyes are showing you how angry it is, how macho it is to have killed a wild boar.
You cannot get more Christmassy and more feast-like than a boar's head upon your table.
-Let's taste him then!
I can't wait any longer.
-The snout is definitely the best bit.
-Ooh, it looks like Spam.
-It's very, very nice Spam.
This has been brined for 2 weeks in red wine.
Then it's been stuffed as you can see, and then it's been boiled for seven hours in more red wine and then finally decorated up.
Even the tusks are gilded with real gold leaf.
-I think I might go for the ear.
It's a bit less alive-looking.
-And I would recommend a little mustard dressing.
♪♪ How does it taste?
-It's fine as long as you don't think about what it is.
-The texture of ear can be a little challenging.
I don't like it!
Now I've had quite a lot to eat already.
Do you think portion control was a problem for Henry the VIII -- getting all this food?
-Behaving like a king means having all of this largesse on the table but really only to pick and choose the choicest morsels, so really, you would stay slender, thin, and gorgeous, as Henry was in 1509, and yet have all of this in front of you.
♪♪ -By royal decree, any leftovers from the royal table, known as broken meat, would be taken to the palace gates and distributed unto the poor folks by way of alms.
♪♪ And this is only the first day of Christmas.
There's lots more feasts to come.
For Tudors, the climax wasn't going to be Christmas Day or even New Year's Eve.
For them, it was going to be 12th night, right into January.
I've got the feeling I'm going to need some bigger breeches.
♪♪ ♪♪ December the 26th was when the Tudors celebrated the Feast of Stephen.
That's the one who gets a name check in "Good King Wenceslas."
Saint Stephen was venerated for his charity, and many of Henry VIII's subjects would've been in much need at that.
I've got hold of some of the leftovers from yesterday's royal feast.
The courtiers have eaten the nice meaty bits, but they've left me with the pastry.
Now the Tudors had a special word for a charitable gift of food or money like this.
They called it "dole," and of course, centuries later, some people are still on the dole.
It's estimated that a third of the Tudor population lived in poverty.
Dole could be the only thing that made their Christmas a merry one.
Now this is a super common type of Tudor document.
This particular one is from a village in Somerset, and it says that, on the day following Christmas, "Natalis Domini," the local landowner, "Mr. Dunnap," is going to give presents to his tenants.
These are going to be two loaves of bread, ale, and two chunks of meat.
And once more, it is to be served -- and I love the fact that this is actually in the contract -- with sinapio, which is Latin for mustard.
♪♪ Tenants were also invited to an annual Saint Stephen's Day feast.
A Tudor poet took pride in this custom.
"At Christmas, we banquet, the rich with the poor.
Who, then, but the miser not openeth his door?"
This may sound very harmonious, very unlike the consumerist Christmases of the 21st century, but this isn't charity as I understand it, because there are strings attached.
The contract says that, in return for their feast, the tenants have to give Mr. Dunnap a present.
They're even told what it has to be: a hen.
Everyone was meant to stick to their place in the pecking order, but at Christmas, the rules do seem to have been relaxed a little.
That's even more apparent from accounts of Tudor entertainment.
♪♪ I want to experience how people amused themselves before the days of Christmas TV, movies, and game consoles.
♪♪ So, historic performance specialist Charlotte Ewart has recreated the kind of party you'd find at Henry's court.
This sort of mayhem is what the Tudors called misrule.
-You could say that the 12 days of Christmas were the high point of Tudor entertainment.
They played games, and they danced dances.
There were plays that were staged, but of course, all of this revelry needed a ringleader.
[ Blowing horn ] -I am the Lord of Misrule!
-I am appointed to make sport in the court, and this is my band of lusty guts!
-So are you sort of like a jester or a fool?
This is my fool.
[ Blowing horn ] -My lords, gentlemen and ladies, absolutely nothing is about to happen!
-Now, despite appearances and behavior, the Lord of Misrule was actually appointed from among the courtiers.
He was quite the high status.
-So he's a toff?
-I'm in charge of Christmas!
-There's more to him than meets the eye.
-And what was the point of all this?
-Sort of like court-ordered chaos.
It was a parody of what would happen in the court for the rest of the year.
-How do they know not to go too far?
I think he's gone too far!
-What are you doing?
Fool, I command you to bring her back!
Give her to me!
I'm so sorry!
[ Laughter ] There you go, Sir Lucy.
Order is then restored.
So is this just a court thing?
In some cases, we even have records where servants were made Lord of Misrule, which, for the Tudors, was, I'm sure, being thrillingly subversive.
It was certainly a time where the strict hierarchy of Tudor England was challenged, and things were somewhat turned upside down.
It's time for some drinking!
-Strike up, players!
Let's have some revel!
♪♪ ♪♪ -In the 16th century, the Lord of Misrule was sometimes referred to as Lord Christmas, the Christmas Prince, or even the King of Christmas, which has led some historians to argue that he might be a forerunner of our Father Christmas.
-Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho!
-These celebrations sometimes got out of hand.
One Lord of Misrule was even charged with murder.
Time to call it a night.
♪♪ The 12 days weren't just about partying.
♪♪ There's evidence of the more spiritual side of Tudor Christmas in another carol dating from Henry's reign.
♪♪ The fourth was one of the most significant to the 12 days for the Tudors.
This was the Feast of the Holy Innocents, sometimes called Childermass, Children's Mass.
There is nothing childish about this day.
It was a religious commemoration of an ancient mass murder of babies by King Herod.
-♪ Lully, lulla ♪ ♪ Thou little, tiny child ♪ -The words of the carol are just everyday spoken Tudor English, and that word "lulla" basically means, "Baby, go to sleep."
-♪ By, by, lully lulla ♪ -Whoever composed this carol, we don't know who they were, got straight to the heart of the feelings of mothers who've lost their children.
-♪ By, by, lully, lulla ♪ -That's heartbreaking.
What for you, Tamsin, is the power of that really sad song?
-In Tudor times, of course, infant mortality was very high.
So many children died before they reached adulthood, and you can tell from something like that song how much people would've cared.
-So that's like a little window right into the feelings of Tudor people?
Carols give us an insight to people's lives really.
-Although some carols has religious themes, they also celebrated making merry.
Tudors didn't sing them in churches but rather in taverns, in homes, both humble and great.
Even the musically talented king loved carols so much that he composed one of his own.
-He wrote one that isn't particularly religious but is nonetheless wintry and Christmassy.
It's a song about the holly and the ivy, and you can see on it, it says, "The King H VIII," lest anyone should have any doubt.
-It's quite surprising to think of the king himself writing a pop song, which this effectively is, isn't it?
This is a sort of love song.
Do you want to join us in doing this one?
Which parts am I going to sing?
-So let's try you on the top one.
-♪ Green groweth the holly ♪ ♪ So doth the ivy ♪ ♪ Though winter blasts blow never so high ♪ ♪ Green groweth the holly ♪ ♪ As the holly groweth green ♪ ♪ And never changeth hue ♪ ♪ So am I, ever hath been ♪ -Well, Tamsin did say that this carol was also a love song.
As things are heating up, it might be time to move on.
♪♪ ♪♪ During the Christmas holidays, then as now, people made time to play games.
♪♪ The 12 days were a favorite time for ordinary people to play sports.
That's probably because they weren't working but also because, outside Christmas, a whole range of games were illegal.
That's according to a set of laws passed under Henry VIII.
So for the rest of the year, you would be fined if you were caught, for example, playing tennis.
In 1526, the authorities even went so far as to seize people's sets of bowls and burn them.
Even at Christmas, playing bowls was only permitted when your master was present.
So why did the Tudor state think that playing sport was so awful?
Well, it might lead young men to gather together.
There might be drinking, there might be gambling, but worse than that, if they were playing games, they weren't practicing their archery, and they really needed to be doing that in case we got invaded by the French.
There's another series of laws I find very intriguing.
One specified that, during this holy time of Christmas, no one should be out at night in painted visors or masks, or in any manner mumming.
So what exactly was this custom that had the authorities so worried?
♪♪ For my next night of Tudor Christmas, I'm going to find out for myself with the help of someone who's unearthed rare historical accounts of this once popular pastime.
[ Knocking ] ♪♪ Oh.
-Who are these funny, freakish-looking people?
-Why can't you talk?
-They're not allowed to speak.
All they can say is... -Mm.
-That is mumming, and that's where we get the phrase "Mum's the word" from.
-Oh, because they can't say actual words.
-They can't say actual words.
-They can only say mum.
-They can only say mum.
-Mum, mum, mum, mum, mum.
What are we supposed to do with them?
-We have to invite them in.
-Everybody in Tudor England would know about it.
It happened all over the country, and it is an essential part of a Tudor Christmas.
-I suppose you'd better come on in then.
♪♪ The freaky folk who'd come into your home were hopefully your friends and neighbors who'd put on fancy dress for the night.
Guessing who was actually underneath the mask was all part of the fun, but first, there was a game to be played.
Now this is quite intimidating.
What's going to happen next, Meg?
-They're challenging you to a game of dice.
[ Coins rattling ] You are to get out your money and put it on the table.
Here's my stake.
I'm in the game.
-A six and a three.
That makes nine.
What's going to happen next?
-They have to repeat it.
-They have to get nine again?
-Oh, that's impossible.
They'll never do that.
A three and a six again!
-So I'm afraid they've won.
-Why am I insanely suspicious at this?
-I think you are perfectly right to be suspicious.
They are probably weighted.
-You've weighted your dice?
-So they've just come into my house, and under false pretenses, they've taken all of my money?
-That's the game.
-That's the game.
What else are they getting out of this evening?
-They get the fun out of frightening you.
-So am I supposed to enjoy being frightened in the way that perhaps I would be at a horror film?
They are meant to be menacing.
-Why does it eventually die out?
-Well, it probably drifts across to Halloween.
-So it's possible at some point our mummers turned into Halloween trick-or-treaters, which is... -It is possible.
-...something that we're still familiar with today?
-Yes, it is possible.
-In the 21st century, people think that the height of Christmas craziness is putting on a kitsch sweater.
Personally, I think it's a shame that we no longer have the edgy anarchy of mumming.
♪♪ On the other hand, we're definitely having more fun than the Tudors on December the 31st, which, for many people today, is the finale of the season.
But in the Tudor calendar, New Year's Eve was just the seventh day of Christmas, not a particularly significant one.
They didn't get together and have a great big countdown to New Year, and as for parties, they were saving themselves for their big bash that was only five days later.
It was on 12th night.
At court, that took the form of a spectacular entertainment with the best performers in the kingdom, and I'll be attending a recreation of this when my Tudor Christmas reaches its climax.
♪♪ But first, for New Year's Day, there's an amazing document from Henry's reign I want to look at back in the National Archives.
January the 1st was when the Tudors did something that we think is essential on December the 25th: gift giving.
At this point in history though, exchanging presents was a highly political ritual exclusively for the rich and powerful, and it was the king who kept a list of who'd been naughty and who'd been nice.
-This is a compilation of the gifts the King has received and given for the New Year celebrations in 1532.
-And it all happens on New Year's Day, not on Christmas Day?
It says, "New Year's gifts given by the King's grace on the 1st of January," in Latin.
-So I might keep a list of Christmas cards I've sent so I know who to give them to next year, but he's kept a list of all of the presents he's given.
-Exactly, and Henry is giving out lots of gilt, lots of gold and silver plate -- cups, bowls, jars.
And these are listed by their weight, by ounces and quarters of ounces.
-So this is a list of everybody who's had presents from the king this New Year.
Top of the list, as you'd expect, is the queen.
That's Catherine of Aragon.
-And the blank entry tells you everything about that relationship, really, because this is the winter that Catherine of Aragon was banished from court, and she doesn't come back after this.
-So we have the whole psychodrama of their fading, failing relationship here.
I find this both sad and sinister that she's been sort of institutionally disappeared.
♪♪ The king, meanwhile, demanded that anyone of any standing must give him a present.
An elaborate gift-giving ritual took place each year at one of his palaces, and it's been restaged just for me.
I've been looking at the 1532 gift roll, so I've come as 1532 Henry.
Let's go and see what I've got.
♪♪ -So, Maria, how did Henry VIII get his pressies?
-He would've received his presents in the full face of the court, so everybody would've seen what everybody else was giving.
-Let's see how this guy does then.
First gift, please.
♪♪ So everyone's going to be staring at them and judging them as they come forward.
You are on display, your clothes and, most importantly, the gift that you've brought for the king.
Of course, dependent on how well you receive them, that instantly gives people a sense of how important they are at court.
-Their place in the pecking order.
♪♪ That's a glove -- but only one glove.
Where's the other one?
-It would be normal to give a gift of money in expensive packaging, and so, in this case -- -Ooh.
-One opulent glove.
-That's a nice chinking sound in there.
And we know that the Earl of Oxford gave you a gift of 10 sovereigns in a glove.
-Oh, this is great.
So instead of a Christmas stocking, I've got a Christmas glove, and it's full of hard cash.
-Money was the most popular gift given to Henry in 1532.
It's accounted for over a fifth of the presents that he received.
-That was a very good start.
I like the cash.
What's the next gift?
It's a beautiful shirt.
-Shirts were given most frequently by aristocratic women, the idea being that they would have the pleasure of seeing you wear it.
-I like getting clothing.
-You might well receive, you know, 20 or 30 shirts at Christmas, bearing in mind that you might change your shirt three or four times a day.
-Getting loads of shirts.
Well, I guess that's a bit like getting loads of socks today.
-Although, of course, these are considerably more luxurious and desirable.
-Well, this is great.
The gifts just keep on coming.
♪♪ What's next?
♪♪ What on Earth is this that the lady has brought us?
-This is a Biscayan dart.
It would be used for boar hunting.
One of my favorite sports.
This is a very well-judged present.
-It is indeed.
This is from the Lady Anne Boleyn.
Anne Boleyn is waiting in the wings.
This is the year that she will marry him.
You are hunting her, and she has provide you with the means to hunt her down.
-Does this have the meaning, "I want to poke you, Anne"?
♪♪ -There was another kind of present guaranteed to melt Henry's heart, and for New Year 1532, he got it from the Countess of Westmorland.
♪♪ Oh, yes!
Look at these fine beasts.
These are beauties.
-So here we have a lovely brace of greyhounds, and greyhounds were incredibly popular as a gift to Henry, who was a real dog lover.
-They're beautiful, and I guess that Henry VIII wasn't walking his dogs himself.
There was a keeper of the king's greyhounds.
They had kennels at all of the key palaces.
They had a cart that would take them from palace to palace so they didn't have to walk.
They were well and truly pampered.
-Ugh, a dog is for life and not just for Christmas, but in Henry's case, a dog is for New Year.
So I feel like I've got quite a good haul this year, but I suppose, to Henry, this was business as usual.
We know from the Venetian ambassador that Henry always essentially made a profit on his Christmas gifts, that he received more than he gave.
♪♪ On January the 2nd, when many of us are thinking about diets and dreading the return to work, Tudor people were still celebrating Christmas.
Churches remained busy marking key events from the early life of Jesus.
There was even a feast day for his circumcision.
And everything was building to a climax on epiphany, the arrival of the three wise men.
It's a reminder that, for the Tudors, partying and praying were all mixed up together.
♪♪ The king's revels at the end of the 12 days would include a sumptuous banquet which the palace kitchens would've spent the first few days of January preparing.
So what are we going to make for the court's big 12th-night banquet?
-Well, a banquet is the sweet course completely separate to the rest of dinner.
You've eaten all of the heavy stuff.
You want something that will really make your eyes and then your palate zing.
How are you going to wow our senses then?
-This is going to be a chess set modeled out of marche pain, what we would now call marzipan.
This is a much more exciting way of having marzipan than just putting it on your cake in a layer, isn't it?
-Oh, much more.
But then what you have here is similar to what you would put on your Christmas cake.
These are figures made out of what is effectively royal icing.
In the Tudor period, it was known as sugar plate.
So here we've got a big blob of icing.
-It does stick if you're not careful.
-Here we are.
-There he is.
-The best thing to do first is to actually put his face on.
-Sugar is one of the most prestigious ingredients at the Tudor court.
It's phenomenally expensive because it's not yet grown in the West Indies, still has to be imported from the Near East.
-So here we've got half of a sugar man.
He needs to dry out a bit.
-He needs to dry out a lot.
-What's that gold thing over there?
-The gold box is also made from sugar.
-Entirely made out of sugar.
-Isn't that fantastic?
Is that real gold?
-It is real gold.
-Today, we're impressed by the gold and the silver, but back in the Tudor era, the sugar was also very, very expensive and the comfits, which will go inside, were very, very expensive.
♪♪ -What are we making here?
-We are making comfits here, Tudor sweets basically.
-What are they made of?
-The center of each one of these balls is a tiny, little grain of aniseed, and then we roll it in sugar hour after hour after hour.
-We're going to put in a bit more sugar syrup, reaching it about.
These balls are getting bigger the whole time because the sugar is adhering to them.
-It is, yeah.
-Coating them up.
This is very time-consuming.
I tend to think that if you were in the confectionery department in Henry VIII's time, as an apprentice, this would be your job.
-And to get from seed to completed sweet will take three days, which is all the time we have left until 12th night.
♪♪ Another crucial ingredient for any successful feast was alcohol.
I've come to taste some typical Tudor tipples at a tavern which welcomed drinkers throughout Henry's reign.
Annie's brought along two modern-day brewers who've recreated historic recipes for us to try.
May I join you?
I like the way you've brought so many drinks with you.
This is good stuff.
What have you got over here?
-So I've brought along some mead, and mead is made from honey.
That's the base of it.
What we've made today is from an old traditional Tudor recipe.
It's what we call a metheglin.
-A methe... -Metheglin.
-The word comes from the Welsh, and Henry Tudor is quite keen to emphasize his Welsh roots, so there's a kind of vogue for it which is very specific to that dynasty.
-It's the honey base, and then it's got some red sorrel, thyme, cloves, some strawberry leaves and some lemon balm as well, so, things you kind of forage for.
-Red sorrel doesn't sound like something that belongs in a drink, but that's a Tudor thing, is it?
-It is when it comes to this particular drink because it is medicinal.
-Doctor's orders that you drink this.
-So let's try your metheglin, the metheglin.
-That's quite nice!
It's a bit like Pimm's.
It's got that kind of thin, dry perfume, you know.
-It's very refreshing.
It's a little bit lighter.
-Mm, I thought mead was going to be all sticky and sweet like honey, but it isn't at all.
So all the honey gets turned into alcohol, so actually it will get burnt off.
-I like the way that you take mead seriously as a drink.
-Herbs and spices were also mixed into Tudor wine, which was usually imported from France, and into the most affordable and popular form of booze.
We'd call it beer or ale, though, for the Tudor drinker, those words meant very different drinks.
-I've made a gruit ale, which is a recipe that would probably have been made in Tudor times.
-What's the gruit mean?
-A gruit is a bunch of herbs and spices that you would put into your ale instead of using hops.
Hops did exist in the Tudor period, but they were quite a new thing, weren't they, Annie?
-They sort of started to come in around the 1480s, 1490s, we think.
The advantage of hopping your ale was that the beer would last a lot longer, but hops was seen as this strange, newfangled additive from abroad.
Henry VIII passed various regulations making sure that, within his household, ale and beer were very separate because he said that adding hops to your ale would stop it being wholesome.
-So can we drink some of this ale, not beer?
So we've got a lovely murky brown color.
-Does look a bit like gravy.
Happy Christmas yet again!
♪♪ -I like.
-Can you taste a little bit of sourness in there?
-It tastes like vegetables.
-Yeah, a little -- Yeah.
Well, it does have a lot of bay leaf and rosemary and things that you would associate with savory foods.
-It's not too overpowering.
You could get through quite a lot of it.
-Yeah, you could drink some serious quantity.
-People did drink in serious volumes.
I mean, we know that there were lots of complaints about how Christmas had ceased to become a time of quiet contemplation and was just a time when people got rap-roaringly drunk, so the modern idea that, at Christmas, you can drink a lot more than usual and it's somehow okay, that was alive and well in the Tudor period.
-It's blown my head off!
Don't be sick on my shoes.
[ Chorus singing ] -Now, although I've been focusing on revelry, Tudor Christmas was also defined by religion to an extent that's hard for our more secular age fully to understand.
♪♪ Here in Hampton Court's Chapel Royal, the magnificent vaulted roof draws the eyes towards the heavens.
It was created during the 1530s on the orders of the king.
And it's amazing to think that, 500 years ago, Henry was in this room.
This is where he came to mass, but by the time he installed his new ceiling, Henry had unleashed his religious revolution.
He'd decided to break away from the Catholic Church of Rome and to become the supreme head of his own new Church of England.
Henry's reformation would, in time, transform the way Christmas was celebrated.
The new Protestant faith had no place for the saints whose feasts were central to the 12 days, and its most zealous followers, the Puritans, had no time for Christmas at all.
-Puritan means they're getting back to basics, and they didn't like the fripperies that went on around Christmas.
They felt that Christians should be far more serious, far more godly, far more sober in all senses of the word.
-It seems to me that they're clamping down on some of the jolly bits of Christmas like the Lord of Misrule and mumming and some of the drinking and some of the singing.
-And that culminates, of course, in the reign of Cromwell who abolishes Christmas in the 17th century.
And after the Civil War, various things were restored -- the service, feast day itself was restored, but other things didn't come back.
And so they did kill off some of those old traditions forever.
-It's a bit ironic, isn't it, that Henry VIII who loved Christmas, by setting off the reformation, actually, he was going to kill Christmas for a couple of centuries?
-I'd imagine he would've been horrified had he known what would've happened.
-But during Henry's lifetime, the Christmas customs he'd always enjoyed continued to be observed throughout the country and, above all, on 12th night.
♪♪ I've finally reached that climactic date in the Tudor festive calendar.
Each year, the grandest in the land would gather at one of Henry's palaces.
For this event, I'm dressing as my favorite of the six wives, Anne of Cleves.
She married Henry in 1540 and separated from him in the same year, but -- and this is the canny thing -- she stayed on good terms with him.
So we're imagining the 12th-night party as it might have been in 1541.
♪♪ And laid out in our great hall is a banquet fit for a queen.
♪♪ Some of the opulent spread I recognize from my shift in the kitchen with Annie.
Anne, this looks fantastic now.
Yeah, so this is the completed chess set, and as you can see, it's slightly different to the modern chess set.
This is a Courier board and... -It's not square.
-Yeah, and we know that Henry VIII commissioned one to send over to the King of France.
Well, it tastes like marzipan but also of soap, rose soap.
-Rosewater, very, very popular.
That's what it is.
-It was a very, very popular flavor, and, of course, as a lady, you are floral and pure, so this is something that you would be expected to particularly enjoy.
-Oh, I love it, and I love this thing, too.
I recognize this.
But now... -Oh, it's got the little sweeties inside it.
-Your little comfits, yes.
-I helped to make that one.
That's... That's like a proper sweet.
-They're quite zingy, aren't they?
-There's so many beautiful things on the table.
What are these brown-looking biscuits?
-Well, these are gingerbread.
-And this is a big part of American Christmas still, isn't it?
-Yes, very much.
For a court banquet, you wanted to add more than just ginger, so there's cinnamon, there's cloves, there's cardamom -- all sorts of spices in there.
-That's a boar, isn't it?
Favorite animal of my ex.
He was a bit of a boar in several senses.
Let's move on.
What are these orangey-looking things?
-There's no need for that kind of language, young Annie.
-These are strips of candied oranges and candied kumquats.
The Tudors were really, really fond of their citrus fruits, and oranges in particular became associated with Christmas because, of course, that is when they are in season.
I am getting drunk on sugar at this stage.
This is an utterly gigantic cake.
-This was really the high point of the 12th-night festivities, and it became later known as a 12th cake, although, at this point, it's still known as a great cake or a rich cake.
There are recipes that call for cake hoops a yard across.
This is slightly more than a yard.
-More than a yard!
-But then Henry VIII was somewhat more than a yard across so... -He's now in his 50s and piling on the pounds.
So can I cut it now?
-You can cut it now.
-Shows your wealth.
And it is, as you can smell, the precursor to the modern Christmas cake.
♪♪ -A royal 12th night would usually conclude with a mix of dance and drama known as the Masque.
An example of this long-lost form of entertainment has been choreographed especially for us by Charlotte.
-You may rise.
You may rise.
-She's come to the ball tonight as Henry's fifth queen, Catherine Howard.
Now, weirdly, I'm the old wife, you're the new wife, but we're sort of friends, aren't we?
-We did spend a lot of time together particularly, we know, in the early days of 1541.
-During the festivities.
-During the 12-day festivities, absolutely.
-I can't wait!
-And all the joy!
-Is it about to begin?
♪♪ -Masques were highly stylized, and they used classical references to make the audience feel more sophisticated.
-Honor, riches, marriage, blessing, Juno, Queen on High, you are addressing.
-I, Diana, Goddess of the Moon and... -So this is a bit like a play.
Remember, we are in the times prior to proper professional theater.
These are members of the court, and they are playing for our entertainment and their entertainment.
♪♪ -Masques were usually symbolic and often took the form of a debate between two virtues, in this case, married love and chastity.
♪♪ So this is basically a dance-off, isn't it, between the peacocks and the stags?
-Essentially, it's like a little competition.
♪♪ Their skill at dancing is any... -It's incredible, but that's part of being a courtier, isn't it, that you know how to dance well?
You would be trained from a very, very young age because it showed nobility and your status.
[ Swords clashing, drum beating ] -Mock combats were another regular feature of royal entertainment because the ideal courtier would be as nimble with their sword as with their dancing.
[ Drumming ] So it seems like it's all come to a happy ending.
The two goddesses, the two queens, they've made it up.
-Well, they've decided that all love is equal.
Of course, this is not just a po-faced entertainment.
It's also an opportunity to flirt and to maybe catch the eye of someone who maybe you like the look of.
♪♪ [ Applause ] -Oh!
That was terrific!
-Now we have the revels, and we all get to show off our own prowess on the dance floor.
-And even queens can dance?
In fact, we have an account from 1541 where Queen Catherine Howard and Anne of Cleves did actually dance together -- but after Henry went to bed.
Let's do it!
♪♪ -I think that partying in the bleak first days of January is a lovely idea, but it's a lost tradition -- as with so much I've encountered during the 12 days of Tudor Christmas.
♪♪ And yet it's been heartening to learn that some things have endured.
♪♪ According to a Tudor carol, Christmas was a time to make good cheer and be right merry.
I think that's a sentiment we can still agree on 500 years later.
-♪ When Christmas tide comes in like a bride ♪ ♪ With holly and ivy clad ♪ ♪ 12 days in the year ♪ ♪ Much mirth and good cheer ♪ ♪ In every household is had ♪ -♪ Where cake, bread, and cheese is brought for your feast ♪ ♪ To make you the longer stay ♪ ♪ At the fire to warm... ♪ -Lucy Worsley's "12 Days of Tudor Christmas" is available on Amazon Prime Video.