December 26 – St Stephen’s Day in Tudor times and Henry VIII’s will

Today is the Feast of St Stephen, which is also known as Boxing Day in the UK.

How did the Tudors celebrate St Stephen’s Day?

Let me tell you, before moving on to talking about this day in 1546, when an ill Henry VIII made some changes to his will in preparation for his nine-year-old son, Edward, inheriting the throne…


St Stephen’s Day (Boxing Day)

Happy Boxing Day! Or Happy St Stephen’s Day!

In Tudor times, the Feast of St Stephen, the first Christian martyr, who was stoned to death for blasphemy, was associated with bleeding horses and cattle, and also hunting. On one St Stephen’s Day, at the Inner Temple, a cat and fox were let loose and hunted with a pack of hounds who finally tore the two creatures to bits. Here is the account from John Nichols’s The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth (Volume V, p. 161):

“This Ceremony also performed, a Huntsman cometh into the Hall, with a Fox and a Purse-net; with a Cat, both bound at the end of a staff; and with them nine or ten Couple of Hounds, with the blowing of Hunting-Hornes. And the Fox and Cat are by the Hounds set upon, and killed beneath the Fire.”


In the UK, it’s known as Boxing Day and this has its origins in the 17th century when apprentices and servants collected their annual tips (gratuities) in boxes or earthenware pots.

Henry VIII’s Will

On this day in Tudor history, 26th December 1546, a rather ill King Henry VIII made some changes to his will, a document which had been prepared two years earlier. These changes were made to ensure the successful transfer of royal authority to his son, the future Edward VI, and to prepare for Edward reigning during his minority.

These changes were made by William Paget, on the king’s behalf, and then Henry VIII signed the will on 30th December 1546.
The changes included:

  • Changes to proposed titles and grants – For example, Edward Seymour was originally meant to be Duke of Hertford and his son Earl of Wiltshire, but William Paget changed it to “duke of Somerset or Exeter or Hertford and his soonne erle of Wiltshire if he be duke of Hertford.” There were also cancelled earldoms which affected John, Lord Russell, and William Paulet, and a cancelled barony for Sir Thomas Arundel.
  • Confirmation of those men who would form a council to advise his son Edward during his minority.
  • The addition of the Suffolk line, the offspring of Henry VIII’s sister, Mary Tudor, as heirs after King Henry VIII’s own children.

The king died on 28th January 1547, at the age of 55, and his nine-year-old son, Edward, became King Edward VI.

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