Elizabeth's London: Everyday Life in Elizabethan London

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Overview

This picture of the London of Queen Elizabeth (1558-1603) is the result of Liza Picard's curiosity about the practical details of daily life that almost every history book ignores. As seen in her two previous, highly acclaimed books-Restoration London and Dr. Johnson's London-she has immersed herself in contemporary sources of every kind. She begins with the River Thames, the lifeblood of Elizabethan London. The city, on the north bank of the river, was still largely confined within old Roman walls. Upriver at Westminster were the royal palaces, and between them and the crowded city the mansions of the great and the good commanded the river frontage. She shows us the interior décor of the rich and the not-so-rich, and what they were likely to be growing in their gardens. Then the Londoners of the time take the stage, in all their amazing finery. Plague, small-pox, and other diseases afflicted them. But food and drink, sex and marriage and family life provided comfort, a good education was always useful, and cares could be forgotten in a playhouse or the bear-baiting rings, or watching a good cockfight. Liza Picard's wonderfully skillful and vivid evocation of the London of four hundred years ago enables us to share the delights, as well as the horrors, of the everyday lives of sixteenth century Britain.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Picard's latest historical guided tour, of 16th-century London, entertainingly rounds out her trilogy (with Dr. Johnson's London and Restoration London) revisiting the great city's past. Although Elizabethan London boasts no single great diarist like Samuel Pepys or James Boswell, Picard ably sifts through an enormous variety of records, letters, books and other accounts to re-create the urban expanse. Starting with topography and architecture, Picard takes her readers across the Thames and through the neighborhoods of the emergent metropolis, noting the housing and development boom touched off by Henry VIII's appropriation of papal real estate. Her tour continues through every aspect of Elizabethan life, from clothes and food to family and education, from crime and law to jobs and welfare. In such a wide-ranging scheme, the theater, along with other entertainments, is only one aspect of a flourishing society. Picard's discursive, conversational tone prevents even the topic of the water supply, with its newly engineered pipes, from seeming too dry, and her eye for facts (and factoids) can spot intriguing details in even immigrant census data. Despite the book's comprehensive structure, Picard's impressionistic style leads to the occasional oversight. Her section on religion is comparatively brief (though still interesting) for the era's most important political and social issue. Although she discusses the endemic smallpox, which scarred even the queen, she hardly touches on "the French pox," i.e. syphilis, which had been recently introduced. Nonetheless, this vibrant social history makes the city of five centuries ago seem as alive as today's, if not more. 32 pages of color photos, maps. Agent, Catherine Clark, with Felicity Bryan, U.K. (June) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
From the Thames to witchcraft, from petty schools to bear-baiting, from Shakespeare to small beer-a succinct guide to the sights, sounds, and smells of the London of the Virgin Queen. This is Picard's third stroll through the history of London's evolving streets (Dr. Johnson's London, 2001, etc.), and like her other accounts, this one features the arresting detail, the perfect anecdote, the apt quotation. We learn that Elizabeth's Thames barge had glass windows, that London Bridge, crowded with houses and business, had three gaps for sightseers, that kites and pigs took care of much of the street refuse (while supplying some more), that an Elizabethan woman was old at 40, that the Queen's touch might well cure what ailed you, that codpieces gradually diminished in size during her reign, and that men wore no underpants but got along tolerably well with long shirt tails. Picard offers a stunning account of an impromptu brain surgery one afternoon at the Bear Garden, detailed instructions on how to erect a timber-frame house and how to put together a ruff collar (some had 600 pleats). She teaches us about medical care (so very primitive), childbirth (how any woman survived it is a mystery), and burial practices. She describes the various levels of ecclesiastical and civic organization in the city (parish, ward); she shows us what went on in taverns and on tennis courts, in Bethlehem Hospital ("Bedlam") and the Globe Theatre (she advises a visit to the New Globe); she explains the workings of the 12 great livery companies (grocers, drapers, salters, etc.). She reminds us that educated men were expected to be able to sight-sing in parts-and to play the lute (barbers kept one handy for waitingcustomers to strum). She reminds us, as well, that children and women were little more than property. Punishments were public and harsh (hanging for buggery and hawk-stealing). The detail is rich and remarkable; the prose sometimes more pedestrian than one expects from Picard. (32 pp. color illustrations)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312325664
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 6/1/2005
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 514,202
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

LIZA PICARD was born in Essex in 1927.She is the author of Restoration London and Dr.Johnson's London.

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Read an Excerpt

Elizabeth's London

Everyday Life In Elizabethan London
By Liza Picard

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2003 Liza Picard
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-312-32565-7


Chapter One

The River

Thames, the most famous river of this island, beginneth a little above a village called Winchcombe, in Oxfordshire, and still increasing, passeth first by the University of Oxford, and so with a marvellous quiet course to London, and thence breaketh into the French ocean by main tides, which twice in twenty four hours' space doth ebb and flow more than sixty miles in length, to the great commodity of travellers ...

So said that devoted London supporter John Stow.' The Thames drove some poets to verse:

Thou stately stream that with the swelling tide 'Gainst London walls incessantly dost beat Thou Thames, I say, where barge and boat do ride, And snow-white swans do fish for needful meat ...

And so on. The poet, George Turberville, is asking the river not to be beastly to his loved one when she embarks on it, by weltering up and surging in wrathful wise as rivers sometimes do, but just to stay in its normal channel and 'in wonted gulf to glide'; a very practical suggestion. Edmund Spenser went in for a more rhapsodic approach. To cure his irritation at having got nowhere at Court, he

Walked forth to ease my pain Along the shore of silver streaming Thames Whose rutty bank, the which his river hems Was painted all with variable flowers, And all the meads adorned with dainty gems ... Sweet Thames run softly till I end my song ...

Michael Drayton wrote a song to Beta - can this possibly be his dread sovereign lady Queen Elizabeth? - which begins:

O Thou fair silver Thames, O clearest crystal flood! ...

All very lovely, if that's your taste; but was the river really like that?

The Thames rises near Kemble in Gloucestershire, and flows for 215 miles through the English countryside until it spreads into a wide estuary and reaches the sea at Gravesend. The distance from Chelsea to Greenwich is 16 miles, and from Greenwich to Gravesend 20 miles. The river flows at 3 1/2 knots an hour. On its way it gathers silt, which makes its water an opaque grey, very far from a 'clearest crystal flood'. It is tidal as far as Teddington, with high tides twice every 24 hours. The difference in water level between low and high tide can be as much as 25 feet.

The Lord Mayor had jurisdiction over the whole stretch from Staines to the Medway, dating back to a deal with Richard I, in 1197. The King transferred to the City his authority over this part of the Thames, in return for cash, which he badly needed, having overspent on the Crusades. This enabled the City to impose a unified traffic policy on the main approach to the capital. The river was the most convenient route to the markets and bright lights of London, for traders, farmers from Kent and the home counties, and foreign visitors from the continent. As John Stow put it, 'this river opens indifferently [impartially] upon Dance and Flanders, our mightiest neighbours, to whose doings we ought to have a bent eye and special regard'.

The long ferry from Gravesend

A visitor from the continent had first to survive the Channel crossing. The plight of Frederick Duke of Würtemburg, in 1592, will be all too familiar to passengers on a Channel ferry on a bad day. 'Not being used to the sea we were seized with horrible vomitings and most of our party ... thought they were dying.' He completed his journey, wan and shaken, by land. He could have landed at Gravesend and gone up to London by the 'long ferry'. This regular public service had the possible disadvantage of carrying livestock as well as passengers, such as lambs (20 for 8d), calves (2d each) and boars (alive 8d, dead 4d). In view of the boars, it might be pleasanter, if you could afford it, to hire a barge for 4s, including four rowers and a steersman.

River traffic was - in theory at least - tightly controlled. Yet in 1598 a tilt-boat (a large rowing-boat with an awning or canopy over it) carrying ten passengers over the legal limit was run down by a hoy at Greenwich, with the loss of nearly everyone on board, and wherries were still plying which were so 'shallow and tickle [sic]' that they were under the legal requirements of at least 22 1/2 ft long and 4 1/2 ft wide, 'thereby great peril and danger of drowning hath ensued'.

Apart from the other river traffic there was not much to look at between Gravesend and London, unless you were as lucky as the Duke of Würtemburg. Despite his rough Channel crossing, on his way home he must have felt stronger, or had a short memory, so he decided to take the long ferry down to Gravesend. 'The waves were very high and boisterous, and we saw a great many large black fishes called sea-hogs which are from 8 to 10 feet long.' Another German visitor, Thomas Platter, who took the long ferry up to London in 1592, merely noted that 'the banks of this river ... are wooded and gay with pleasant hamlets and homesteads'. He did not notice the shipbuilding yards at Blackwall and Woolwich, but he could not miss the tall lead-roofed turrets of the Tudor palace of Placentia at Greenwich, twenty miles from Gravesend on the south bank, with its stairway down to the river, and a massive water gate to admit the royal barge.

Henry VIII had been born at Greenwich, his brother Arthur had married Katherine of Aragon there, and Henry's son Edward VI was sent there to profit from the fresh country air, but he died of tuberculosis three months later. Elizabeth had been born there, and loved the place. Apart from going on progresses to stay with lucky nobles - whether or not they could afford it - she mostly lived in Greenwich in the summer. When Martin Frobisher arrived at Greenwich with his fleet in 1576 on his way down the river to Canada and, he hoped, China, 'her Majesty, beholding the same, commended it, and bade them farewell with shaking her hand out of the window'.

After Greenwich the tiny hamlet of Rotherhithe on the south bank had only a church and a few houses to attract the tourist's attention. From time to time an alehouse could be seen, near enough to the bank to be used by ships waiting for a berth upriver. On the north bank, the gallows at Wapping in the Woze was usually occupied. For pirates a special death was waiting for them there: they were hanged down at the low water-mark, 'there to remain till three tides had overflowed them'. A few more bends in the river, and the ancient stone walls of the Tower of London rose on the right (north) bank.

Opposite the Tower the visitor could probably see among the trees Bermondsey House, built after the dissolution of the ancient Benedictine abbey of Bermondsey, recycling the stones from its demolition. The abbey orchards and gardens, pastures and pools still survived on the twenty-acre site. From 1567 the Earl of Sussex lived here, and Queen Elizabeth visited him, even coming to his death-bed in 1583. (In Hofnagel's painting of a wedding at Bermondsey, there is what looks like a church tower on the right, through the trees; this must have been the new house, as the abbey had been demolished in 1541.) After Bermondsey House there were three corn-grinding windmills on the south bank of the river. The City had spent £2,600 on those mills, but it ran into trouble with the Privy Council and building was held up until the dispute - whatever it was - had been resolved.

The legal quays, and up-river

The long ferry ended at the legal quays, just before London Bridge, where cargo had to be loaded and landed and assessed for customs and other duties. Another German visitor was impressed:

Ocean-craft are accustomed to run in here in great numbers as into a safe harbour, and I myself beheld one large galley next the other the whole city's length from St Catherine's suburb [just east of the Tower] to the bridge, some hundred vessels in all, nor did I ever behold so many large ships in one port in my life.

There were ingenious cranes, which caught the eye of Alessandro Magno from Venice. The sketch in his notebook shows a boat discharging its cargo of barrels at a wharf. Alongside the boat is a small cabin raised on poles, containing a large skeleton wheel, big enough for a man to sit inside it. From the wheel a rope goes up, out of the cabin, over a pulley, along a jib, over another pulley and down to the boat, where a barrel is attached to it with hooks. By pedalling in his wheel, the man can raise the barrel without undue strain. Someone at ground level then turns the cabin round, and the man takes up position on the other side of the wheel - still inside it - and gently lowers the barrel down to the waiting cart.

To go on, up-river, from the legal quays you would take another boat. Most people who wanted to continue their journey past the Bridge landed on one side of it and walked round to the other side of it to take another boat. It was possible to 'shoot the Bridge', but only if the tide was exactly right. When Queen Mary sent her sister Elizabeth to the Tower under suspicion of plotting against her, in 1554, the barge she was in

could not shoot the arch, and lay hovering upon the water for a time, the danger was too great for the bargemen to plunge into it as they were ordered. Their unwillingness gave way to peremptory command, but in trying it again the stern of the boat struck the ground, the fall was so big and the water was so shallow; the boat paused a while under the bridge and at last cleared it, and she was landed at Traitor's Gate.

Where, according to tradition, Elizabeth sat down on a stone - she must have needed to after that ordeal - and said, 'Here landeth as true a subject as ever landed at these stairs.'

After the Tower, the narrow streets of the City crowded down to the river's edge, until they gave way to the beautiful mansions along the Strand, and finally the royal palaces of Whitehall and Westminster. On the south side the land was marshy, and had not been built over except for Southwark, but it provided ideal sites for the animal-baiting rings and the playhouses, easily reached by water, but away from interference by the City. After them there were only rather soggy fields, until the village of Lambeth and the Archbishop of Canterbury's London palace there, conveniently opposite the seat of secular government at Westminster.

The river's moods

The river could be temperamental, from glassy to choppy, 'weltering up and surging' to almost dry. Without Bazalgette's Victorian embankments it was shallower than now, and much wider, though a contemporary statement that it was 1,000 feet wide at Westminster is surprising. The winter high tides often brought floods, which made the water so muddy that 'you shall take haddock with your hand beneath the bridge as they float aloft upon the water, whose eyes are so blinded with the thickness of that element that they cannot see where to become'. (More modern thought suggests that the lack of oxygen in the mud had driven the poor fishes up to the surface, to breathe.) In January 1564 'the river Thames was so agitated that the tide recoiled twice, five hours before its time'. In 1579 there was a heavy snowfall; when the thaw came 'the water rose so high in Westminster Hall that fishes were found there after the waters had subsided', which must have smelt appalling, although someone had the sense to sweep them up and leave them in the palace yard outside 'for who so list, to gather up'. Yet just the year before a freak low tide had meant that 'men might stand in the middle of the Thames'.

The river sometimes froze solid. In 1537 Henry VIII and his then queen, Jane Seymour, and the whole cavalcade of courtiers had crossed the river on horseback, to Greenwich Palace. There was a famous Frost Fair on the river in the winter of 1564, with archery contests and dancing, and football played 'as boldly as if it had been dry land', and 'all sorts of carriages and diversions', and 'the people went on the Thames in greater numbers than in any street in the City of London'. But it took less than a complete freeze to put the watermen out of business, and force them to beg until the river was clear again.

Fog must have been a constant river hazard. One evening in 1575, Elizabeth took her barge down-river to see her friend the Countess of Pembroke at Baynards Castle, and stayed later than she meant. By ten o'clock 'being so great a mist as there were divers of the barges and boats that waited of [for] her lost their ways and landed in wrong places but thanks be to God Her Majesty came well home without cold or fear'.

The poets liked to dwell on the 'crystal stream' of the Thames. Far from being translucent, it was, and is, a uniform opaque grey because of the silt it carries, but it must have been fairly unpolluted, judging from all the fish in it. Down in the narrow streets by the Bridge, in Pudding Lane, 'the butchers of Eastcheap have their scalding house for hogs there, and their puddings [intestines] with other filth of beasts are voided down that way to their dung boats in the Thames'; and at the other end of London, the Queen's slaughter-house at her palace of Westminster gave directly on to the river. Although industrial waste and effluent was not supposed to be dumped in the river, it was difficult to stop it, especially on a dark night with no watchmen about.

Great occasions

The river provided a superb processional route between the royal palaces of Westminster, Whitehall and the Tower. After Mary's death Elizabeth came to London and stayed for a week in the Tower before she 'went in procession by water, to Somerset place [sic], trumpets sounding much melody accompanying'. In 1559 she went from Westminster to the Tower 'attended by the Lord Mayor and aldermen in their barges, and all the citizens in their barges, decked and trimmed with targets [shields] and banners of their mysteries [livery companies] ... shooting off lustily as they went, with great and pleasant melody of instruments which played in most sweet and heavenly manner'. All this shooting off lustily could be risky. In 1568, 'on the occasion of Her Majesty proceeding in her barge on the river, one Thomas Appletree discharging his piece [gun] the bullet ran through both the arms of one of her watermen, but the Queen understanding that the shot was by casualty [accident] pardoned the offender', not before he had had some very nasty moments.

The Queen seems to have enjoyed river trips, quite apart from state occasions. On another visit to the Pembrokes, but in better weather, 'after supper the Queen's Grace rowed up and down the Thames, and a hundred boats about her Grace, with trumpets and drums and flutes and guns and squibs, hurling on high to and fro till ten at night ...

Continues...


Excerpted from Elizabeth's London by Liza Picard Copyright © 2003 by Liza Picard. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 The river
The long ferry 6
The legal quays and up-river 8
The river's moods 9
Great occasions 11
Tilt-boats, wherries and watermen 13
Flood control 16
Fishing 17
The swans 18
Ch. 2 The main streets, water supply and sewerage
Southwark 20
London bridge 21
The city gates 24
To the north 25
The east/west route via Cheapside 26
Thames Street 28
St. Paul's/Ludgate/Fleet Street 29
The city to Westminster 29
Road surfaces 30
Transport 31
Traffic 33
Water supply 35
Engineers and quills 38
Refuse disposal 40
Public toilets 41
Ch. 3 The buildings
Timber-frame construction 42
New stone and brick houses 47
Survivals 48
Ch. 4 Interiors and furniture
House moving 51
Interior walls and wall coverings 51
Gilt leather and embroidery 54
Tapestry 55
Wood panelling 56
Ceilings and floors 57
Furniture 58
Silver 66
Ch. 5 Gardens and open spaces
Garden design 68
The inns of court 73
Livery companies and churchyards 74
Gardening techniques 75
Planting plans 78
Open spaces 82
Ch. 6 Health, illness and medicine
Expectation of life 89
The bills of mortality 90
The Plague 91
Smallpox and other diseases 93
Care of the sick 95
Mental illness 95
Diagnosis and treatment 97
Medical theories 102
The medical establishment 104
Accidents and emergencies 109
Ch. 7 Foreigners
Blackamoors and lascars 110
Foreign tourists 111
Immigrants 112
The 1593 Return of Strangers 115
Naturalisation 119
Tax and other penalties 119
Social organisation 120
Ch. 8 Clothes and beauty
Ruffs 123
Men's dress 126
Women's dress 131
Children 134
Colours, fabrics and decoration 134
Underwear and nightwear 138
Shoes and headgear 138
Accessories 140
Furs and jewels 141
Washing, etc 144
Cosmetics 145
Teeth 146
Ch. 9 Food and drink
The markets 148
Other food shops 152
Street sellers 152
Fish days 153
Cooking and recipes 155
Meals 159
Table manners 161
Drink 165
Eating out 168
Ch. 10 Sex, marriage, family life and death
Sex outside marriage 169
Marriage 173
Servants 179
Childbirth 180
Childhood and manners 184
Death and funerals 186
Ch. 11 Education
The first years 190
Figures 191
Schools 194
Christ's Hospital 199
Apprenticeship 202
The Inns of Court 205
Further education 208
Private tuition and the foreign tour 208
Ch. 12 Amusements
Home entertainment 212
Free shows 217
Bear baiting, bull baiting and cock fighting 219
Theatre-going 221
Sport 225
The lottery 226
Inns and taverns 227
Recreational drugs 228
Ch. 13 Networks and boxes
The livery companies 230
Parishes 240
Wards 242
Servitors and retainers 244
Ch. 14 Crime, punishment and the law
The underworld 246
Criminal law enforcement 247
Minor offences 248
More serious punishments 249
The civil law 252
Statutes, proclamations and the custom of London 255
Ch. 15 The poor
The welfare system 257
Emergencies and single payments 259
Begging licences 261
Private charities 262
The sick poor 263
Ch. 16 Religion, superstition, witchcraft and magic
The Elizabethan religious settlement 271
Dissidents 273
Continuity 275
The sermons at Paul's Cross 275
Superstition 277
Witchcraft and magic 278
App An Elizabethan invoice 288
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