Dealing with the Consequences: Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Tudor England

Dealing with the Consequences: Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Tudor England


The Tudor dynasty, which ruled England from 1485 to 1603, was a time of great cultural and social change. One of the aspects of Tudor society that is often overlooked is the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Syphilis, a particularly nasty disease, was rampant during this period, and the Tudors had to come up with their own unique ways of dealing with it. In this article, we delve into the fascinating history of how the Tudors dealt with sexually transmitted diseases, specifically syphilis. During the Tudor era, syphilis was rampant and had a significant impact on society, with many seeking various remedies and treatments.

Sex & Syphilis: An Overview

The Tudor dynasty of England, which ruled from 1485 to 1603, was a time of great cultural and social change. One of the many challenges faced by this era was the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis. This article explores the history of sex and syphilis during the Tudor period, including the ways in which the monarchs and society as a whole dealt with this widespread problem. From the perceived causes of syphilis to the treatments that were employed, the Tudor era offers a fascinating insight into the medical and societal attitudes of the time.

Despite the Tudor monarchs’ efforts to control and prevent the spread of syphilis, the disease continued to be a major health problem in England. As medical knowledge and treatments improved, the stigma associated with sexually transmitted diseases began to decrease. However, it wasn’t until the development of antibiotics in the mid-20th century that syphilis became a curable infection, marking a major turning point in the fight against sexually transmitted diseases. The article explores the historical context of sexually transmitted diseases during the Tudor era and how society, particularly the ruling class, dealt with them.

The Spread of Syphilis

The Spread of Syphilis during Tudor England was rampant, and the disease affected all sections of society. Prostitutes, soldiers, and sailors were particularly susceptible to contracting the disease. Additionally, people believed that syphilis was a punishment for immoral behavior and sexual promiscuity, which led to stigmatization of those who contracted the disease.

Syphilis first appeared in Europe in the late 15th century, just as the Tudors were coming to power in England. The disease quickly spread throughout the continent, with outbreaks occurring in major cities such as Paris and Naples. By the time Henry VIII came to the throne in 1509, syphilis was already a major problem in England. The disease was spread through sexual contact and could lead to a range of debilitating symptoms, including sores, rashes, and blindness.

The Tudor Approach to Syphilis

The Tudor Approach to Syphilis was a combination of prevention and cure. Henry VIII passed laws that mandated the reporting of cases of the disease, which enabled medical authorities to track the spread of the disease and respond to it effectively. Physicians prescribed various remedies, including mercury, to treat the disease. However, these treatments often caused debilitating side effects and did little to cure the disease.

The Tudors had their own unique ways of dealing with syphilis. One of the most common treatments was the use of mercury, which was thought to cure the disease. However, mercury was also extremely toxic and often did more harm than good. Other treatments included the use of various herbal remedies and the application of poultices to affected areas.

The Tudor Attitude Towards Sex

The Tudor Attitude Towards Sex was complex. While the Tudors were known for their libertine behavior, they were also deeply religious and believed that sex outside of marriage was a sin. Additionally, they believed in the importance of procreation and the continuation of the royal bloodline. Therefore, they sought to control and regulate sexual behavior to ensure that the royal line remained pure.

Therefore, the Tudors had a complicated relationship with sex. On the one hand, they were known for their licentious behavior, with Henry VIII in particular having a reputation as a womanizer. On the other hand, they also saw sex as a potential threat to the stability of society. Adultery was a crime punishable by death, and the Tudors were particularly concerned about the spread of STDs.


The Tudors’ approach to syphilis and their attitudes towards sex reveal much about the culture and values of the time. While the methods and beliefs of the Tudor era may seem archaic and barbaric to us today, they provide valuable insight into the medical and social practices of the past. Despite their best efforts, the Tudors were never able to fully control the spread of syphilis. The disease continued to be a major problem in England well into the 17th century. However, their attempts to deal with the disease provide us with a unique insight into Tudor society and the ways in which they tried to balance the competing demands of pleasure and propriety.

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