Catherine Howard, the fifth wife of Henry VIII who was said to have had an illicit liaison during her visit to York in 1541, is the inspiration of a new perfume now available at Barley Hall in York as part of its ‘Power & Glory: York in the Time of Henry VIII’ exhibition.
The perfume, called ‘Décapitation’ features scents that would have been in use by the nobility in the mid-16th century, including strong tones of rose, lemon, violet, cherry and musk to create a sensual fragrance designed to make a virile Tudor male lose his head – as did the subject of Catherine’s affair, Thomas Culpeper.
The Barley Hall team worked with historic researchers and specialist European perfumiers to create the unique fragrance that they believe captures the essence of the femme fatale whose alleged affair led to the execution of both Culpeper and herself, crushing the infamous king’s spirit and perhaps bursting his bubble of self-belief as the most eligible bachelor in the land.
“The Tudors were strong proponents of the idea that ‘cleanliness was next to Godliness’, so whilst the streets of 16th century York would have been unpleasantly odorous – and clothes would often be washed in water polluted with butchers’ waste and sewage – the higher social classes took great care to keep their bodies clean and fresh smelling, with herbs and flowers sometimes added to the bath water,” comments Sarah Maltby, director of attractions for York Archaeological Trust, the owners of Barley Hall.
Rose: Henry VIII described Catherine as his ‘rose without a thorn’, and it was the most fashionable perfume of the day
Violet: An essential flower for any true femme fatale, in Tudor England, the violet represented death and bereavement
Lemon: Lemons were more widely available in the late Tudor period, with some almanacs suggesting that the acid fruit symbolised a broken betrothal.
White musk: This is the modern counterpart of deer musk, which was a common base in Tudor perfumes, and thought to be an aphrodisiac in Tudor times
Cherry blossom: Representing star-crossed love – the perfect undertone for Catherine’s perfume.
The perfume will be available to sample for visitors to Barley Hall throughout the summer. “Though we don’t want to cause our visitors to embark on an illicit affair after experiencing the intoxicating bouquet, we hope that it will set the scene for those visiting York this summer to feel fully immersed in the city’s rich history on this sensual journey through time,” Sarah adds.