Historic Housewife- Elizabethan Make-Up

Hi! Welcome to the court of Queen Elizabeth I, my name is Mary and I am here to talk you through the queen’s fitness and make-up routine so you know what to expect when you start working here. 

Let’s start with her fitness regime, now as you have probably noticed the Queen has a lovely trim figure, unlike her late father, Henry VIII, God rest him. The Queen works hard to avoid following in his footsteps, so I hope you are as quick as you look because she likes to walk so fast that even the youngest of her ladies in waiting can hardly keep up with her, and dance, oh, how she loves to dance. She has around seventy musicians to play for her and even plays music herself sometimes. She likes to do everything fast, including horse riding. I swear to God, she rides so fast, one day I’m sure I will die of fright. 

She doesn’t like to eat much, and generally she likes to take her meals in private within her chambers. However, when there is a big banquet that she must attend, she will only eat a few bites before leaving. You can hear all the guests moaning and groaning, because they aren’t allowed to eat once the queen is done, not that they would ever complain to the queen. Although, it’s a safe bet that more than one has slipped some bread or chicken in to their pockets for later. 

The queen is very particular about her appearance and it takes us, her ladies in waiting, around four hours to dress her in the mornings and the same again in the evening to prepare her for bed. 

Now as you are aware, in 1562, our poor Queen Elizabeth got smallpox, a nasty illness, that has forever left its mark on her beautiful face. There are them that believe that any kind of mark is seen as “…God’s displeasure at sin, or worse, inner derangement, such as lewd sexual fantasies bubbling up from the private parts to the face.” Fools. But image is important, so the queen has begun to use the 1528 foundation created by Count Baldasssare Castigilion. 

Now, some women use a mix of beeswax, turpentine and human fat. Where do they get the fat? Well some get it from the local apothecary but I heard a rumour that there are some that get it from the local executioner fresh off the corpse. Makes me shudder. Of course the queen would never do that. I wrote the ingredients down for you. 

Once mixed it is applied over the whites of several eggs which fill in the pox marks and applied to her face, neck, and hands.  Now, to give a bit of colour to her cheeks and lips she applies vermilion. You’ve never heard of it? Well, it’s a powdered cinnabar which has a bit of mercury in it, and to darken her eyebrows she uses an oil based mixture of kohl. 

It’s a very popular look, lots of women around court have copied it. Much like that have her red hair. Some have to use a powder made of suburban and safflower petals to colour their wigs. I wouldn’t, one of my friends told me her mistress did that, and would get headaches and start bleeding from the nose. 

(Safflower. Image from:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Safflower)

Now, I should warn you, the queen has lots of stress, and when something displeases her she has a habit of pacing in her chambers, and Sir John Harington said he witnessed her stabbing a rusty sword into a tapestry, so its best to avoid her when she’s like that. Other than that, I’m sure you’re going to fit right in with us. 

Warning: We do NOT recommend using Elizabethan make-up. It was full of poison and hastened the deaths of many ladies, who were willing to die for beauty. 

Author-Gemma Apps. 






The Royal Art of Pison: Fatal Cosemetics, Deadly Medicines and Murder Most Foul. By Eleanor Herman. (2018)

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