England’s former King lived during an era that saw the introduction of some of the nation’s first Christmas traditions. By the Sixteenth Century, the Tudors had brought in many of the festive favourites we know and love today. Early incarnations of mince pies – then known as Christmas pies – were enjoyed after revellers broke their four-week fast. Stuffed with meat, the delicacies were supposed to contain 13 ingredients to represent Jesus and his 12 disciples.
Other Tudor Christmas traditions that have stood the test of time include mistletoe, carols and gift-giving.
Turkeys, which arrived in England from the New World in 1526, were also a part of the Tudors’ Christmas fare.
Wealthier people enjoyed the festive treat as part of a five-bird roast that was baked inside a pastry “coffin”.
One of the lesser-known parts of the Tudor Christmas was the bizarre sporting ban Henry imposed on his subjects.
The King passed the Unlawful Games Act in 1541, which forbade all sports on Christmas Day apart from archery.
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The unusual ban was intended to preserve the strength of England’s men should they be needed in battle against Scotland or France.
Historical author Jane Lark discussed Henry’s ban in a blog about Tudor Christmases for her website.
She wrote: “By the time the House of Tudor took the English throne in 1485, Christmas was a big event in the calendar, and in the life of British people.
“Everyone was expected to stop their daily life and celebrate for the 12 days of Christmas.
“In 1541, Henry VIII banned all sports on Christmas Day except archery, to encourage people to focus on Christmas.
“Each Christmas Day Henry VIII would hear Mass in his closet before going in procession to the Chapel Royal for Matins, where he himself participated in the service.
“A solemn feast in honour of the Nativity would follow.
“Henry passed a law banning all sports on Christmas Day except archery, which was seen as essential to maintaining the country’s military strength.”
Just a year before the Christmas sports ban, in 1540, Henry also outlawed football, according to the Tudor Nation website.
Again, the King was said to be concerned at the number of young men picking up injuries in the game and the risk it posed for England’s defences.
During the Tudor version of the sport men were known to suffer broken limbs and other serious injuries, while in some matches murders were even reported, according to writers at the time.