Posted in Tudor purfumes

Smell like Elizabeth I…

A  400 years old  recipe for Elizabeth I’s perfume was discovered in a book at the Royal Horticultural Society’s library in London. The book is titled ‘The Mystery and Lure of Perfume’ by C J S Thompson. The recipe says:

”Take 8 grains of musk and put in rose-water 8 spoonfuls, 3 spoonfuls of Damask-water, and a quarter of an ounce of sugar. Boil for five hours and strain it”

This perfume is the closest we can get to knowing what the queen smelled of and it probably was very nice indeed.

Elizabeth I

Hieroglyphics in the Middle East show that Ancient Egyptians were making perfume 3,000 years before the birth of Christ but scent did not arrive in England until the sixteenth century.

Perfumes in Tudor and Elizabethan England were mainly used to cover up nasty smells. They made ‘pickled roses’ which we call ‘pot pourri’ today. It was made from flower petals and used to keep homes smelling fresh and disease free. Cardinal Wolsey was famous for always having a sweet smelling orange pomander  to ward off disease as he spoke to common people in the streets of London. There were no flushing toilets and lots of unhygienic practices in Tudor England and I imagine it was all a bit smelly!


Tudors used perfume in pomanders which rich women hung around their girdles or in their rooms. They believed that disease could be caught by bad smells which they called miasma.


Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Henry VIII’s chief adviser.


Left: Mary Queen of Scots’ pomander. Right: A pomander purse  ( Both from her         Majesty’s Royal Collection.)

Tudor doctors thought miasma was a poisonous mist which caused disease. They believed miasma was found near any filthy or rotten smell. They used perfumes and pomanders to cover up the miasma and to protect themselves from illness. Plague doctors wore masks filled with flowers to try protect themselves too.

I discovered this wonderful website with lots of history crafts. Here is the link to their page about making your own Tudor pomanders:

A plague doctor