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The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in Renaissance England from 1485-1649

The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in Renaissance England from 1485-1649

4.0 1
by Kathy Lynn Emerson
For the writer and anyone else interested in Renaissance England (1485-1649), this remarkable resource covers the day-to-day details: fashions, food, customs, family life, the Royal Court, law and punishment, holidays, city and rural living, seafaring and land occupations, alehouses, marriage, birth and death rituals--and a great deal more, written with authority


For the writer and anyone else interested in Renaissance England (1485-1649), this remarkable resource covers the day-to-day details: fashions, food, customs, family life, the Royal Court, law and punishment, holidays, city and rural living, seafaring and land occupations, alehouses, marriage, birth and death rituals--and a great deal more, written with authority in a wonderfully readable style. Included are bibliographies and internet addresses for further research. Written by Kathy Lynn Emerson, author of many historical mysteries set during the Renaissance

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Table of Contents




Men's Clothing; Women's Clothing; Outerwear; Children's Dress; Country Dress; Hair, Beards, and Cosmetics; Assorted Accessories; Items of Clothing; Fabrics of the Renaissance


On the Menu; Table Settings and Manners; Preservation of Food; Health Problems and Diet; Foods; Alehouses; Drinks


Manor Houses and Mansions; The Italian Influence on English Architecture; Building Materials; Royal Residences; Prodigy Houses; Specialized Rooms; Ornamental Gardens; Orchards; Native and New: Flowers and Fruits


Items of Furniture; Coverings for Floors, Walls, and Ceilings; Lighting; Sanitation and Bathing Habits; Music and Music Rooms; Libraries and Collectors


: Birth; Marriage; Death; Extended Family


Practitioners; Women in Medicine; Hospitals; The Plague; Healing Waters; Ailments; Medicines; Herbal Cures; Magical Stones



The Privy Council; Departments of Central Government; Parliament; Local (County) Government; Population; Treason; Conspiracies and Rebellions


The Succession; The Court; The Peerage; The Gentry; The Trade of Courtiership--Some Notable Women


Lawyers; Steps in the Legal Process; Central Law Courts; Assizes; Quarter Sessions; Prerogative Courts; A Miscellany of Specialized Courts; Law Enforcement Personnel; Prosecutionof Criminals; Punishments; Tudor and Stuart Gun Control--A Summary of Laws; A Sampling of Cases


Minting of Coins; Domestic Coins; Foreign Coins in Use in England; Sources of Royal Revenue; Inflation; Wages and Prices; Usury; Imprisonment for Debt; Shopping Malls


Embassies; The Pale of Calais; The Invasion of France in War; The Invasion of France in Peace--The Field of Cloth-of-Gold; The Royal Navy; The English Army in Ireland; Heads of State; Significant Events


Life at Sea; Common Sizes of English Vessels; Mariners' Superstitions; Flags; Merchant Ships; Fishing Fleets; Pirates and Privateers; Passenger Ships; Definitions; Significant Seafaring Events



Literacy; Penmanship; Schools; Higher Education; Religious Education; Religious "Parties"


Domestic Servants; The Statute of Laborers and Artificers; Guilds; Women in Trades; Apprentices; Workers without Guilds; The Tobacco Trade; Mining; Manufacturing; Unemployment; Illegal Professions


Fairs; Festivals; Professional Entertainment; Reading as Entertainment; Sports and Recreations


Languages of England; Grammar and Usage; The Flavor of the Language; Language used in Letters; Given Names; Forms of Address; Common Slang Terms; Color Names of the Renaissance


A Miscellany of London; The Housing Boom; Urban Problems; A Sampling of Urban Centers


Crops; Enclosure; Livestock; Manors and Farms; Towns and Villages; Deer Parks and Royal Forests; Antiquities; Gypsies


Travel by Land; Travel by Water; Postal Service; Inns; Royal Progresses; Foreign Travel


Witches; Magic; Necromancy; Astrology; General Belief in the Supernatural


Books that cover a number of areas; select bibliographies are at the end of each chapter


Both fashions and the terms used to describe garments under­went many changes during the period from 1485 to 1649. Meanings have also changed since. When we read that a woman went to church in 1617 in her "rich night-gown and petticoat," it raises eyebrows, but it didn't then. Also called slops (which can refer to any loose-fitting garment), the fe­male nightgown dates from the beginning of the fifteenth cen­tury. It could be made of silk, velvet, satin, or taffeta faced with fur. It fell to the ankles and had long sleeves. Although it usually served as a dressing gown, it was also worn outside the house. A man's night­gown, on the other hand, was a dressing gown, taken off when he went to bed.

It was customary to will articles of clothing to friends and family. Thus, styles decades out of fashion at court would often be seen else­where. Only the wealthy could afford a wide range of styles and fabrics.

Portraits are full of detail, showing the texture and color of fabrics, but in general they show subjects wearing the most formal of attire. At home or in the more informal setting of the country, many of the layers, both outerwear and underwear, would likely have been shed. No simple country housewife ever cooked a meal or cleaned her house wearing a wheel farthingale!

Some clothing had specific social implications, identifying the wearer as a member of a profession or as the servant of a particular nobleman. For more details on this function of clothes and accessories, see Chapter Fourteen.



From the late fifteenth century through about 1590, the codpiece, a fabric pouch which covered the penis, existed as a separate article of male outerwear. It was padded and elaborately decorated throughout the period from 1514 to 1575, after which it gradually began to dimin­ish in size. The codpiece sometimes doubled as a pocket, in which men kept their handkerchiefs and other small items. It was secured by buckles or tied up with points, points being any ties which attached various articles of dress to each other. Points might be either visible or concealed. The wealthy had points of linen or silk thread or ribbon. The poor used strong cord or leather.

Theories about the origin of the codpiece abound. Some say it was worn as underwear first. Another possibility is that it was designed to give extra protection in battle. A third theory suggests that the codpiece was supposed to keep the oily, mercury-based cream many men applied as a treatment for syphilis from staining doublet and hose.


The staples of the Elizabethan diet were bread, beef, and beer. Most people ate three meals a day, though their content var­ied greatly depending on the social status and wealth of the family.

Breakfast was a simple meal for all classes, and eaten early. Even Queen Elizabeth had only bread, ale, beer or wine, and a good pottage made of mutton or beef The children in the earl of Northumberland's household in 1512 got bread, beer, butter, saltfish (on fish days), or boiled mutton bones.

Dinner was the most substantial and most elaborate meal. It was served between 10 A.M. and 1 P.M. and could last three hours in a wealthy household. In the early seventeenth century the nobility, gentry, and university students generally dined at eleven while merchants dined at noon.

Supper was a lighter meal than dinner. The nobility, gentry, and students ate between 5 P.M. and 6 P.M., and merchants between 7 P.M. and 8 P.M., after business hours.


Henry VIII and the 800 people who made up his court con­sumed 8,200 sheep, 2,330 deer, 2,870 pigs, 1,240 oxen, 24,000 larks, and 33,000 chickens in one year. At the level of the gentry, the Petre family at Ingatestone Hall, Essex, with twenty servants, ate fifty-five oxen and calves, two cows, 133 sheep and lambs, and eleven swine in 1548. On an ordi­nary day with no guests, the Petre household might consume a piece of beef, a loin of veal, two chickens, and oranges in a sauce for dinner, and for supper, a shoulder of mutton, two rabbits, cold beef, and cheese. The menus Sir William Cecil drew up for his household at Wimbledon in the 1550s indicate that they had boiled beef as part of almost every meal (except on fish days), as well as roast beef, mutton, pork, veal, capons, rabbits, and wild fowl.

A "frugal" dinner to entertain a worthy friend might start with a shield of brawn with mustard. Brawn was meat from the forepart of a young, tame boar fed on oats and peas. It was eaten from November to February and as a special Christmas dish. Usually it had beer poured over it and was highly spiced. In addition there would be boiled capon, boiled beef, roasted beef, roast pig, baked chewits (any finely chopped meat), roast goose, swan, haunch of venison, venison pasty, kid with pudding in its belly, olive pie, custard, and various side dishes to bring the total number of selections up to thirty-two.

A townsman tended to eat as much meat as he could afford, break­fasting on salted or pickled herring, cold meat, pottage, bread, and ale, buying his midday meal at a cook shop or tavern (roast meats, meat pies, and stews were available), and supping on cold meat, bread, cheese, and ale.

In contrast, the diet of the average husbandman was comprised mainly of black bread and cheese. In addition he might eat eggs, leeks, parsnips, cabbage, peas, beans, and parsley. He'd see little beef or mut­ton, although he might have bacon now and then and taste mutton or pork at public feasts.


Some claim that the introduction of gunpowder to Europeled to the decline of the castle. By the mid-fifteenth century this was a moot point. People wanted not only comfort but luxury in their homes. Large country houses might be built with the same floor plan as castles and have moats and towers that at first glance made them appear to be fortified, but they were no longer constructed with the idea that they would have to hold off a siege.

The quadrangular castle, which evolved in the second half of the fourteenth century, integrated both military and residential needs. Bolton-in-Wensleydale, built in 1379, included accommodations for eight households and had twelve single-chamber apartments for indi­viduals such as the priest. At Tattershall in Lincolnshire, completed in 1448, the house was shaped like a traditional keep but it had large windows and was built of red brick.


The typical medieval manor house had a two-story hall at center and a smaller room at each end. The first floor over the ground floor was reached by a ladder or staircase. Throughout the sixteenth century this arrangement continued as the basic floor plan for all houses. The room at one end usually developed into a kitchen and that at the other into a parlor or a cellar.

Sir William Cecil's house at Wimbledon (ten miles southwest of London) in the late 1550s contained a hall, parlor, and two smaller rooms on the ground floor, together with a kitchen, pantry, larder, buttery, and two dairy rooms. The upstairs consisted of a gallery and ten chambers. Among the outbuildings were a brew house, a bake house, a barn, and a stable with stalls for fourteen horses and two sleep­ing rooms above for the grooms.

Brick and terra-cotta houses were built in the early 1520s by a num­ber of Henry VIII's courtiers. Examples of early Tudor manor houses are Barrington Court, Somerset, and Compton Wynyates, Warwick­shire. Stanstead Hall in Halstead, Essex, was rebuilt by 1553 into a two-story brick "courtyard house" (one built around a central courtyard). It boasted the latest in architectural fashion: octagonal chimney stacks, ogee-topped corner turrets, and a brick-lined moat over 180 feet square.

The dissolution of the monasteries, Henry VIII's seizure of lands and buildings which had previously belonged to the Roman Catholic church, led to a building boom in the l540s. Many of those who ac­quired former religious houses either remodeled them or used the stone from their walls to build new residences. William Sharington purchased Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire for less than £1000 in 1540 and spent the next ten years rebuilding it. The Duke of Somer­set's London house (built 1547-1552) was constructed from material taken from forfeited ecclesiastical buildings in the city. The new Somerset House occupied a site (six hundred feet of river frontage) formerly taken up by three episcopal residences.

Between 1570 and 1640, rebuilding and new building were wide­spread among all social lasses save the poorest and in all counties but the four most northerly. Thousands of farm and manor houses were modernized. Ceilings were put in two-story halls to create another chamber above. New staircases gave access to upper apartments, replac­ing loft ladders and the cramped stairs built into the hickness of the wall in some medieval houses. Chimneys proliferated, as did the use of glass in windows. There were even some houses with hallways. Speke Hall, built in 1565, when nearby Liverpool was a fishing village with 138 houses and 690 inhabitants, has this feature, but it continued to be more usual to go through outer rooms to reach inner rooms.


From 1536, parishes were required to keep records of christen­ings, marriages, and deaths. A variety of scholarly studies of these and of extant wills and inventories have yielded the statis­tics given in this chapter.



A tradition among those who could afford it, the mother's lying-in was as mpressive as she could manage. Friends, called gossips, who came to visit uring the lying-in brought gifts, often of money. They might also be saying inal farewells, since three-quarters of gentry wives who died within ten years f marriage did so in childbirth.

Birthrooms ere kept warm, dark, and snug. Women knew enough to put on clean sheets and emove rings but the benefit of washing hands was not understood. The midwife rought with her a stool or chair, a knife, a sponge, and binders. Oil of ilies or oil of almonds, warmed, was used to anoint the womb of the laboring oman and the midwife's hands. The midwife might employ clysters, purges, liniments, oultices, ointments, and herbal infusions.

After he birth, the midwife washed, dressed, and prayed over both her patients. She ut the umbilical cord and extracted and buried the placenta. After the navel as dressed with astringent powder of aloes and frankincense, the newborn was athed in warm water or in a lukewarm mixture of ten parts water and one part ilk to which mallow and salad oil or sweet butter had been added. Afterward he child's body was anointed with oil of acorns or with an ointment made of ue, myrrh, linseed, fenugreek, and barley meal.

Once he baby was swaddled, it was placed on its mother's left side (near the eart). In Catholic practice, the child would be crossed after swaddling and prinkled with protective salt. A coin would be placed in the baby's cradle or and. Sixpence on the baby's buttocks was believed to drive the devil away.

The waddled child was presented to its father by the midwife with a traditional ormula: "Father, see there is your child. God give you much joy with it, or ake it speedily to his bliss."

In pper-class households, the mother was kept for three days after the birth in a arkened room where it was warmth and quiet. She was given restorative drinks nd treated with plasters, dressings, ointments, and salves to quell bleeding nd reduce inflammation.

Footing ime was when the mother first got up. Also called upsitting, it might be arked by another gathering of gossips.


By he end of the sixteenth century, around 50,000 Englishmen earned their living rom the sea. English ships had sailed all over the world. Along with ontemporary ac­counts of such voyages, several twentieth-century projects have ielded a detailed picture of shipboard life in the period from 1485 to 1649.

King enry VIII's Mary Rose sank in the waters of the Solent, between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight, n 1545. This vessel was recovered by underwater archaeologists in 1982. More han 17,000 artifacts were found on hoard, everything from 2,500 arrows and 139 ongbows to a barber-surgeon's chest containing sixty-four items commonly used y sixteenth-century medical men.

The Mayflower II, docked at Plymouth, Massachusetts, is not a replica of the original Mayflower but she was modeled after an actual seven­teenth-century merchantman, the Adventure of Ipswich. She was built in England in 1957 and sailed across the Atlantic in fifty-three days, an average seventeenth-century rossing time.

Other ccurate reproductions of early ships are the Matthew, docked in Bristol, England, and the Golden Hinde, docked in London.



Close o shore, crews might enjoy a great variety of foods. The salvaged

Mary Rose contained peas still in the pod, pits rom wild cherries and plums, hazelnut shells, and the bones of fish, venison, eef, and mutton. Her sailors ate from wooden plates and drank their beer from ooden drinking vessels. The officers used pewter.

On ong sea voyages, however, the food was uniformly bad. Supplies often ran low, ven with careful planning, and ship's biscuit had to be considered edible even hen it was rotting and infested with weevils. Along with the dried biscuits, he basic rations on any voyage were beer and beef or pork cured in brine. ther provisions might include oatmeal pottage, buttered peas, salted eggs, alted fish, bacon, neats' tongues in bran or meal (neats were oxen, bullocks r other cattle), and "bag pudding," made with raisins and currants.

The sea provided resh fish to augment this diet. On a voyage in 1591, John Davys had his crew ill and salt penguins before starting through the Strait of Magellan. Porpoises were sometimes harpooned and auled aboard to be butchered on deck. Porpoise liver, boiled and soused in inegar, compared favorably to beef, but fried porpoise tasted like "rusty" acon.

A hip might have a cook or the cooking chores might be rotated from man to man, ut cooking could only be done when the seas were calm. Some ships used an open ire, insulated from the timbers by a bed of sand. Others had a brick fireplace n the forecastle, which had an opening in the roof to let smoke out. Cooking as also done on charcoal stoves in the tiller flat.

The tatute of 1585, which fixed the wages of mariners on royal ships at 10s. per onth (up from 6s. 8d.), also specified a daily ration of one gallon of beer, ne pound of biscuit, and two pounds of pork and peas (or beef) four days a eek. They ate fish the other three. This rate was in effect until 1625. ailors on merchantmen, in addi­tion to their keep, earned almost 20s. per onth and those on priva­teers might hope to do even better by receiving a hare of the profits. On a profitable voyage each might receive 40s. in ddition to the normal pay.

Since erishable fruits and vegetables were difficult to keep aboard ship, scurvy was constant problem. Most seafarers suffered from ach­ing joints, painful gums, nd general lassitude. Some ships carried lem­ons as a cure for the most severe ases. On a passenger ship in the 1630s, a passenger's servant was whipped aked at the capstan with a cat-o'-nine-tails for filching nine lemons out of he surgeon's cabin and eating them rind and all.


Less han 20% of the population ever traveled far from home. Most did, however, at east visit the nearest market town on a regular basis. In Elizabethan times he average distance traveled by customers to open market was seven miles. The ost common way to travel was on foot, and by walking one might cover three or our miles an hour under optimal condi­tions during daylight. Very few people raveled at night and no one traveled purely for pleasure. Not only were road ondi­tions terrible, but roads were ill-marked, making getting lost a danger. ighwaymen were also plentiful.


Anyone ho could afford to hire a horse or a mule rode. Estimates seem to run around wenty to thirty miles a day as an average that a man could cover on horseback. eep in mind that it took extra time to ford streams and be ferried across ivers. Bridges were few and far between. Only four crossed the Thames, at Kingston, Chertsey, Staines, and Southwark.

Travel on horseback

The 20-mile journey from Stratford to London took three days on horseback. English entlemen, who thought it unmanly to ride in any vehicle or on a mare, referred geldings to high-strung stallions who might throw their riders.

Women lso rode on horseback. If they rode astride they used a man's saddle. Riding apillion nvolved the use of a pillion, a leather or padded cushion on a wooden frame hich was strapped to the horse's back behind the saddle. A footboard hung from he offside and the woman clung to the man in front of her. This design may ave led to the development of the sidesaddle, or it may have developed oncurrently with it. There are records of Empress Matilda in the twelfth entury riding "sideways in her saddle." Some sources credit the introduction f the sidesaddle into England in 1382 to Anne of Bohemia. However early t was developed, it did not become generally popular until after 1533, when atherine de' Medici set the fashion by bringing one with her to France from Italy.

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The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in Renaissance England from 1485-1649 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am currently writing a book about a girl in medivil england and this was (and still is) the perfect guide. It tells you practicaly everything you need to know, and i learned so much more about everything that i needed to for the story plot of my book. :-D
Anonymous More than 1 year ago