The Elizabethan People/Chapter 13

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CHAPTER XIII

DOMESTIC LIFE

I

STYLE in architecture is a term the significance of which develops long after the time to which it applies. What we now recognise as the characteristic style of building introduced by the Elizabethans was, of course, looked upon by the people themselves as an innovation, a novelty, and not in the least typical of the time. It is the purpose of this section, not to write of a distinct and new step in the development of architectural history, but rather to describe the houses in which the Elizabethans lived; consequently, more will be said of houses and buildings that from an architectural point of view belong in reality to an earlier period.

During the reigns of the Tudors life in country England had become comparatively safe. In London, and elsewhere throughout the kingdom, the city walls were allowed gradually to fall into a state of disrepair and dilapidation, for the fact was fully realised that they were no longer of any great use as a protection. In consequence
Thomas Sackville and Edward Chinton- Elizabethan People (book).jpg

Thomas Sackville, Earl of Dorset Edward Chinton, Earl of Lincoln
Elizabethan Hats

of this increased safety of social conditions there was general shifting of population. Contemporary authorities lament the sad decay of the principal towns, and look upon the fact as an indication of the abatement of national prosperity. It is easy for us to see now that this was not at all the case. The decay of towns was but a natural result of this shift of population. The greater safety of life that obtained throughout the kingdom fostered in many persons the desire to move from the larger walled towns to the smaller unwalled towns, or to the rural districts. This change occasioned much new building, little of which, however, is associated with that distinctive "style" that characterises the larger manor-houses built later in the reign of Elizabeth. By this time national prosperity was so great that it affected everything. The decay of towns was arrested, and building began to go on in the cities as rapidly as elsewhere throughout the kingdom.

This fact brought about an interesting situation in London. To us, who are used to the great metropolis of which "The City" and "Westminster" are but integral parts, it is a difficult task to imagine the situation when London and Westminster were rival centers of population, separated by green hills and parks, and joined by but a single row of widely separated palaces. Such, however, was the case throughout the greater part of the reign of Queen Elizabeth. At Westminster were the royal court and the chief courts of justice. There met the national Parliament. The Queen and Privy Council felt a decided jealousy of the walled town so near at hand that had so often closed its ponderous gates in the face of a duly constituted sovereign. Proud as Elizabeth was of her wealthy and beautiful capital, she felt a substantial jealousy of the amazing rapidity of its growth that took place during the later years of her reign. The attempt to stop this growth gave rise to a royal proclamation that intimately affected the building trade of the capital.

For some time the crowded condition of London had made it an unpleasant place for domestic habitations, and for the showy, spectacular daily life of the wealthy noblemen while in town for the season. This fact, coupled with the increasing safety of life in districts unprotected by walls, gave rise to an exodus from the city proper, and thus sprang into existence the long line of palaces fronting upon the river and extending backward as far as the Strand; and thus also came into existence the first travelled connection by land between London and Westminster. The city palaces thus vacated were turned to various uses; mainly, however, into tenement houses capable of housing a score or more of families, thus providing room for the rapidly increasing population of London. Against the so-called evil of this rapid growth, Elizabeth directed a proclamation that forbade the living together of different families under the same roof. Of course, this proclamation was, in the main, ineffectual. The Tudors, despotic as they were, could not resist the tremendous wave of energy that their firm government had diverted from civil strife into the channel of mercantile and industrial development. Yet their resistance had some effect as a hindrance, and is a very significant indication of the temper of the time.

The crowded condition of London, furthermore, gave rise to the erection of many new buildings without the walls. So rapid was the progress of erection that the jealous Queen found it necessary to forbid, again by royal mandate, the construction of any building within three miles of any gate of the city wall. This proclamation likewise acted as a hindrance, and was likewise, in the long run, quite ineffective, even often openly disobeyed during the life of the Queen. So much for the general condition of building during her reign.

Of materials: most churches which were erected at an earlier date were constructed of stone; as were also the larger private mansions of ancient origin in both town and country, and the huge public buildings, such as the halls and prisons. Stone was also used in the construction of many of the newer buildings. With the distinctly new type of large mansion that came into vogue during the later part of the reign, brick and tile were the favourite building materials. Taking into consideration all the houses, great and small, through and through, timber was probably the chief element of construction. A large majority of the London houses were constructed in a peculiar fashion of a massive timber framework with gable roofs. The squares and the triangles formed by the beams were filled in with lath and plaster. Each story projected some distance over the one below; and the wooden fronts were grotesquely carved and painted. Examples of this style of building may still be seen in Staple's Inn, London; Leicester's Hospital, Warwick; Shakespeare's birthplace, Stratford; and whole streets of modern imitations, both in form and decoration, at Chester. Smaller country houses were either built of small stone, often put together without cement, a habit still followed at Keswick, or consisted of poor clay hovels.

Roofs of churches and of many of the great

Elizabethan People - Elizabethan ruffs 1.jpgElizabethan People - Elizabethan ruffs 2.jpg

Elizabethan Ruffs.

stone mansions were generally covered with lead. In the latter case they were likely to be flat and much used by the household in hot weather as walks and places for recreation and exercise. Tile, however, was a more common roofing material which gave rise to the general red appearance from a distance of so many Elizabethan towns. Because of its inexpensiveness, thatch was a common substitute for tile in country districts, and was sometimes used in the construction of mansions of even considerable pretension.

Windows were made of glass except in the most insignificant houses, where expense necessitated the use of open lattices, or closed board shutters when the inclement weather made the former impossible. The use of translucent horn in windows had practically ceased in Elizabethan times. The manufacture of plate glass was still in its infancy, and the secret of making large pieces quite unknown. Hence the characteristic small panes that were in use even when a large opening had to be thus filled by many subdivisions.

Floors of the meaner houses, especially in the country districts, on the first floor, were of bare earth, covered frequently with rushes; but oftentimes even this addition was dispensed with. Floors in the better houses were generally either of stone or of tile, The floors above ground were generally of wood, the flooring often set edgewise for the purpose of producing extreme rigidity and durability.

Much iron and brass was used in construction, usually wrought in ponderous proportions, but often elaborate and delicate in design. Such were the ornamental brass knobs, knockers, and bells. Iron locks were huge, and so were the keys, a bunch of two or three frequently constituting a considerable handful. Hinges and huge ornamental hinge plates were bolted solidly to the weighty doors, and oftentimes of such wide and elaborate design that they covered most of the door. Hooks for hanging clothes out of the windows to air, and hooks beneath the eaves for the purpose of supporting hangings in time of street decoration, were important items in building construction. So were the iron extinguishers by the front doors into which links were thrust; and the highly ornate brackets from which street signs were suspended.

The ground plan of the Elizabethan mansion was variously designed, but usually falling into one of two classes: the house with a square court, or the house planned like an E. The latter is the characteristic form used mainly by the builders of the later part of the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

The house, in its plainer form, built in the shape of a hollow square, but in its more developed style consisting of two courts placed end to end, is familiar to all from Bacon's description of the ideal type in his essay On Building. The main detail of such a structure is the grouping of the various buildings about the side of a square, one building closely abutting upon another and joined to it so as to complete the design. The form originated when the idea of defence had to be incorporated in the architectural plan. There was a large entrance to the court, and entrances to the various parts and buildings from the court itself. By the time of Elizabeth, however, this notion of defence was dropping out of consideration. This gave rise to a separation or isolation of parts. Sometimes a garden with a grotto and pavilion intervened between the two courts. At Kenilworth and many other mansions the lodge was separated by some distance from the main structure.

The courts were usually square and placed end to end. This was, however, not the universal custom. Both Kenilworth and the Charter House are extremely irregular; and Crosby Hall possessed two square courts placed corner to corner.

The E-shaped house was an innovation introduced during the reign of Elizabeth. In it the court is altogether absent, and offices, stables, etc., quite detached. The plan derives its name from three projecting entrances in the façade, each provided with a porch. These gave the ground plan the shape of an E, with, however, very short and stubby arms. The peculiar characteristics of this style of house were mainly details of outside appearance. Much more space was given up to bays and to ordinary windows than in the old style of house. Straight lines as an element of ornamentation were carried continuously from bottom to top of the façade. The usual material was brick and tile. Balustrades surmounted the porches and the roofs when flat. Gable roofs, however, were frequent, and numerous clusters of ornamental tile chimneys a characteristic feature. Such buildings may be studied at Charlcote, Longleat, and in the Duke's House at Bradford on Avon.

Numerous secondary buildings existed in connection with the great mansions, sometimes actually a part of, at other times quite distinct from it, in position. Such were the lodge, the stables, brewing-house, store-houses, servants' quarters, etc. Banquet was the common Elizabethan term for light refreshments, such as we serve at an afternoon tea, of coffee and wafers after dinner. Wherever practicable a banquet-house or pavilion for serving the banquet was
Portrait of Sir Philip Sidney, illusthatixg the ruff worn with armour- Elizabethan People (book).jpg

Portrait of Sir Philip Sidney, illustrating the ruff worn with armour.

provided in the garden, to which the family and guests adjourned upon the occasion of the banquet.

The servants' quarters, though separate, were closely grouped about the central building. "Moreover," says Harrison, "the mansion houses of our towns and villages ... are builded in such sort generally as that they have neither dairy, stable, nor brew house annexed unto them under the same roof ... but all separate from the first and one of them from another. And yet for all this they are not so far distant in sunder but that the good man lying in his bed may lightly hear what is done in each of them with ease, and call quickly unto his many if any danger should attack him." Later in the reign, however, and in the reign of James, it became the custom to erect the offices, or servants' quarters, at a greater distance from the mansion proper. Moats were likewise in existence but no longer needful. Often they were drained and planted; and not constructed about new buildings.

The timber house that was most frequently met with in cities has already been alluded to. In such city houses as belonged to tradesmen it was the universal custom to keep shop in the front part downstairs, the rest of the house being occupied as a residence. It was also very common to set up temporary booths for the display of wares about the doors and lower windows. The gradual solidification of these temporary stalls into permanent pent-houses that inconveniently encroached upon the narrow streets was often the subject of serious remonstrance.

The principal room in an Elizabethan house of any size or pretension was the hall. This, usually the largest room in the house, was in use for many purposes. All the merrymakings on annual feast days took place in the hall. Meals were served there upon movable tables that were laid against the walls between times. Though the women withdrew at the end of a meal the men remained in the hall to drink, tell stories, or to attend to a thousand and one articles of daily business. The hall, being also a sort of trophy room for weapons and articles of venery, formed a convenient workshop for imping broken hawks' wings, curing dogs, mending arrows, cleaning guns, polishing armour, etc., etc.

A withdrawing room, or bower, was always provided for the women, to which they withdrew at the end of meals, and where they practised the daily occupations of sewing and playing upon the lute, not to mention looking out of the bay-window after passing gallants—a habit which is the subject of frequent reference in Elizabethan plays. A library and chapel were other necessary rooms, as was the long gallery.

The gallery, a wide and long corridor, often extended across the whole side or end of a house, and was one of the essential features of the larger Elizabethan mansion. It, however, was not in reality utilised to advantage as a corridor in order to give access to rooms. It was rather a walk and place of exercise, where one could get the light and take the air in bad weather.

Closets and drawers were not then in general use; and though chests were common articles of bedroom furniture, they did not obviate the necessity of a wardrobe, or room where the garments were hung upon pegs about the walls.

One very inconvenient feature of Elizabethan houses is of interest. The people, even of the better class, seem to have had no conception of or desire for privacy of daily life at home. In consequence, separate entrances to rooms were almost undreamed of. One room opened into another, and that into a third. So arranged were they that often a series of half a dozen apartments were so connected that in order to reach one of them it was necessary to traverse several or all of the others; and this, too, in the case of bedrooms. Furthermore, it was not an infrequent custom to convert one large room into several sleeping apartments by means of no other partitions than hastily-erected curtains.

There was much ornamental work in the Elizabethan houses, inside as well as out. Ceilings in the timber houses of the meaner kind were generally omitted altogether; and also in the halls of greater houses where the finish and decoration of the timber framework overhead was intended to show for beauty. All the other rooms, however, with the single exception of the hall, were ceiled, sometimes plain, but more often with elaborate fancy work in plaster or coloured frescos. A writer in The Transactions of the London and Middlesex Archæological Society thus describes the ceilings of Paul Pindar's house in London: "The primary arrangement of the mansion is entirely destroyed, but in several of the rooms there still exists some of the most glorious ceilings which our country can furnish. They are generally mutilated, in several instances the half alone remaining, as the rooms have been divided to suit the needs of later generations. These ceilings are of plaster, and abound in the richest and finest devices. Wreaths of flowers, panels, shields, pateras, bands, roses, ribands, and other forms of ornamentation are charmingly mingled, and unite in producing the best and happiest effect." Chimney-pieces were also the object of equal
The Droeshout Engraving of Shakespeare - Elizabethan People (book).jpg

The Droeshout engraving of Shakespeare prefixed to
the first folio; illustrative of a starched band
and embroidered doublet

ornamentation, either in plaster, tile, or carved wood.

Many rooms were panelled completely in wood—walls and ceiling. Pictures were often painted directly on the wood panel or firmly let into, as a part of, the wall. Heraldic devices, either painted or carved, were frequently a part of the permanent ornamentation. Wood floors were generally made extremely solid by laying the flooring boards on edge instead of on the side. The floors of the great hall, however, were frequently tiled.

It may be well to end this section with a quotation from Drake relative to the houses of the lower classes.

"The houses or cottages of the farmer were built, in places abounding in wood, in a very strong and substantial manner, with not more than four, six, or nine inches between stud and stud; but in the open champaine country, they were compelled to use more flimsy materials, with here and there a girding to which they fastened their splints, and then covered the whole with a thick clay to keep out the wind. 'Certs, this rude kind of building,' says Harrison, 'made the Spaniards in queene Maries dales to wonder, but cheefelie when they saw what large diet was used in manie of these so homelie cottages, in so much that one of no small reputation amongst them said after this manner: "These English (quoth he) have their houses made of sticks and durt, but they fare commonly as well as the king." ' ... The cottages of the peasantry usually consisted of but two rooms on the ground floor, the outer for the servants, the inner for the master and his family, and they were thatched with straw or sedge; while the dwelling of the substantial farmer was distributed into several rooms above and beneath, and was very neatly roofed with reed." (Vol. I, p. 99.)

II

One who would comprehend the style of Elizabethan dress must, for the time being, set aside all notion of simplicity or fit. In fact, the people of that time carried their idea of what was proper in wearing apparel to such a ridiculous extreme that they were made the subject of innumerable satires; and dress was the most popular point of attack by all the abusive writers on reform. Bright colours, elaborate trimmings, and excessive padding are the most notable characteristics of Elizabethan dress. Padding was so full that all outward semblance to the human form was completely lost, both to men and to women.

"There is not any people under the zodiac of heaven," says Philip Stubbes, "however clownish, rural, or brutish soever, that is so poisoned with the arsenic of Pride or hath drunk so deep of the dregs of this cup as Alga [England] hath." Harrison, a contributor to Holinshed's history, wrote: "The phantastical folly of our nation (even from the courtier to the carter) is such that no form of apparel liketh us longer than the first garment is in the wearing, if it continue so long, and be not laid aside to receive some other trinket newly devised by the fickle-headed tailors, who covet to have several tricks in cutting, thereby to draw fond customers to more expense of money. ... And as these fashions are diverse, so likewise it is a world to see the costliness and the curiosity, the excess and the vanity, the pomp and the bravery, and finally the fickleness and folly, that is in all degrees, insomuch that nothing is more constant in England than inconstancy of attire."

Stubbes was a satirist, and Harrison a plain historian; the following quotation is from Camden, the most learned scholar of the age:

"In these days [1574] a wondrous excess of Apparel had spread itself all over England, and the habit of our own country, though a peculiar vice incident to our apish nation, grew into such contempt, that men by their new fangled garments, and too gaudy apparel, discovered a certain deformity and arrogancy of mind whilst they jetted up and down in their silks glittering with gold and silver, either imbroidered or laced. The Queen, observing that, to maintain this excess, a great quantity of money was carried yearly out of the land, to buy silks and other outlandish [foreign] wares, to the impoverishing of the commonwealth; and that many of the nobility which might be of great service to the commonwealth and others that they might seem of noble extraction, did, to their own undoing, not only waste their estates, but also run so far in debt, that of necessity they came within the danger of law thereby, and attempted to raise troubles and commotions when they had wasted their own patrimonies; although she might have proceeded against them by the laws of King Henry VIII. and Queen Mary, and thereby have fined them in great sums of money, yet she chose rather to deal with them by way of command. She commanded therefore by proclamation, that every man should within fourteen days conform himself for apparel to a certain prescribed fashion, lest they otherwise incur the severity of the laws; and she began the conformity herself in her own court. But, through the untowardness of the times, both this proclamation and the laws also gave way by
John Fletcher (left) and Henry Prince of Wales (right) - Elizabethan People (book).jpg

John Fletcher Henry Prince of Wales
Illustrative of Falling Bands

little and little to this excess of pride, which grew daily more and more unreasonable."

The contemporary drama contains innumerable allusions to the extremity of fashion. "Apparel's grown a god." (Marston's What You Will, iii. 1.) "Poor citizens must not with courtiers wed Who will in silks and gay apparel spend, More in one year than I am worth, by far." (Dekker's Shoemaker's Holiday, ii. 1.) "O, many have broke their backs with laying houses on 'em." (Henry VIII.)

This magnificent extreme obtained in all ranks of life, as Harrison says, from the courtier to the carter. The only difference was that the rich man dressed in more expensive stuffs; he wore diamonds and rubies where the poor man wore beads of coloured glass. He bought clothes oftener than the poor man; yet people were all alike in this; they dressed as fine and finer than their pockets would allow.

The kind of dress worn upon any occasion was not dependent upon the time of day. A man would appear at court in his gaudiest clothes, whether the time was day or night, morning or afternoon. The garments were stiffened and stuffed till the wearer could not move with any comfort. A man in full dress was laced from head to foot. His doublet was laced or buttoned in front. The sleeves were often laced to the armholes. The doublet was laced to the hose. The hose was laced. Sometimes even the shoes were laced. A man could not dress himself without assistance. Fashionable dressing, or "making-ready," was such a formidable undertaking that, once accomplished, a man was glad to keep the same clothes on his back all day long. Women carried dress to an even greater extreme than men. They put on a complete framework of whalebone and wire before they began to assemble the outer garments. When the process was completed, all resemblance to a human figure had disappeared. Women were wide and round, stiff and rigid as if made of metal, and their dress abounded in straight lines and sharp angles.

What women achieved by means of wire and bone, men accomplished by means of wadding. Wool, hair, rags, and often bran, were used to pad out the doublet and hose. A writer in 1563 (Bulwer, Artificial Changeling) tells a story of a young gallant "in whose immense hose a small hole was torn by a nail of the chair he sat upon, so that as he turned and bowed to pay his court to the ladies, the bran poured forth as from a mill that was grinding, without his perceiving it, till half his cargo was unladen on the floor."

Holme in his Notes on Dress (Harl. 4375), relates the following: "About the middle of Queen Elizabeth's reign, the slops, or trunk hose, with peascod-bellied doublets, were much esteemed, which young men used to stuff with rags and other like things to extend them in compass, with as great eagerness as women did take pleasure to wear great and stately verdingales; for this was the same in effect, being a sort of verdingale breeches. And so excessive were they herein, that a law was made against them as did stuff their breeches to make them stand out; whereas when a certain prisoner (in these times) was accused for wearing such breeches contrary to law, he began to excuse himself for the offence, and endeavoured by little and little to discharge himself of that which he did wear within them; he drew out of his breeches a pair of sheets, two table cloths, ten napkins, four shirts, a brush, a glass, a comb, and night-caps, with other things of use, saying: your lordships may understand that because I have no safer a storehouse, these pockets do serve me for a room to lay my goods in; and though it be a straight prison, yet it is a storehouse big enough for them, for I have many things more yet of value within them. And so his discharge was accepted and well laughed at: and they commanded him that he should not alter the furniture of his storehouse. but that he should rid the hall of his stuff, and keep them as it pleased him."

Female extravagance in dress was proverbial:

"Not like a lady of the trim, new crept
Out of the shell of sluttish sweat and labour
Into the glittering pomp of ease and wantonness
Embroideries, and all these antic fashions
That shape a woman monstrous; to transform
Your education and a noble birth
Into contempt and laughter."
(Ford's Lover's Melancholy, i. 3.)

"The women," says Stubbes, "when they have all these goodly robes upon them, seem to be the smallest part of themselves, not natural women, but artificial women; not women of flesh and blood, but rather puppets or mawmuts, consisting of rags and clouts compact together."

Out of doors a woman wore little or nothing upon her head. There were several kinds of light hoods, some of which were attached to the collar of the gown, as the "French-hooded cloak." The more common custom, however, was to throw a light scarf or veil over the head. Cypress, a light, gauzy material, was often used for the purpose. (See Middleton's No Wit, No Help, ii. 1.) "A cypress over my face, for fear of sun burning." A mask was always worn by ladies. Masks were made of silk, as a rule, and
Illustrative of the large Farthingale - Elizabethan People (book).jpg

Illustrative of the large farthingale.

were either pinned or tied. They were of all colours: black, however, was most popular.

People of high social rank often built the hair into towering masses on the crown of the head; but as a rule the hair was dressed plain, though frequently covered with jewels. The Elizabethan women, as well as the men, dyed their hair, not to conceal the fact that it was turning gray, but to please a passing fancy. There was no attempt to conceal the practice, nor was the same colour always used. In fact, the colour of the hair was made to harmonise with the garments worn upon any particular occasion. Those who did not care to dye their hair wore wigs. The Elizabethans revelled in wigs. The Records of the Wardrobe show that Elizabeth possessed eighty at one time. Mary Stuart, during a part of her captivity in England, changed her hair every day. So usual was this habit, and so great the demand for hair, that children with handsome locks were never allowed to walk alone in the London streets for fear they should be temporarily kidnapped and their tresses cut off.

That was also a day of face washes and complexion paints. "The old wrinkles are well filled up, but the vermillion is seen too thick." (Middleton's Old Law, iii. 1.) "Thou most ill-shrouded rottenness, thou piece made by a painter and a 'pothecary!" (Philaster, ii. 4.) "But there is never a fair woman has a true face." (Antony and Cleopatra, ii. 6.) It was also common to paint the breast. ( See Jonson's Malcontent, ii. 3; Middleton's Anything for a Quiet Life, v. 1; Marston's Antonio and Mellida, Part II. iv. 2.)

Men wore hats of all sizes, shapes, and colours. The most popular material was velvet. All sorts of feathers were used by men to decorate their hats; black feathers eighteen inches or two feet in length were in great demand. A common decoration was a twisted girdle next the brim, called a cable hat-band. Some hats, however, were perfectly plain, of soft felt. Others wore velvet caps with a jewelled clasp. Occasionally small mirrors were worn in the hat for novelty. The place for the hat was frequently upon the head; but quite as often the hat was worn dangling down the back at the end of a brightly-coloured ribbon. It was worn in either place, either within or without doors. The hair was usually cut short, with, however, a love lock left long behind one or both of the ears. It was adorned with pretty bows of ribbon. Men painted the face quite as frequently and as carefully as the women. The moustache was sometimes left very long. Hair, moustache, and beard were coloured as fancy prompted. The following from A Midsummer Night's Dream is to be understood quite literally: "Either your straw-coloured beard, your orange tawny beard, your purple ingrain beard, or your French crown coloured beard, your perfect yellow." "Forsooth, they say the king has mew'd [moulted] All his gray beard, instead of which is budded Another of a pure carnation colour, speckled with green and russet" (Ford's The Broken Heart, ii. 1.) Harrison writes: "Neither will I meddle with our variety of beards, of which some are shaven from the chin like those of the Turks, not a few cut short like the beard of the Marquise Otto, some made round like a rubbing brush. ... Therefore if a man have a lean, straight face, a Marquis Otto's cut will make it broad and large; if it be platter like, a long slender beard will make it seem narrower. ... Some lusty courtiers also, and gentlemen of courage do wear either rings of gold, stones, or pearl, in their ears, whereby they imagine the workmanship of God not to be a little amended." Harrison does not mention the fact that gallants usually wore the love lock as an especial support for ladies' favours.

Stubbes writes in 1583: "They, the barbers, have invented such strange fashions of monstrous manners of cuttings, trimmings, shavings, and washings, that you would wonder to see." He mentions the French cut, the Spanish, Dutch, Italian, the new, the old, the gentleman's, the common, the court, and the country cuts. He concludes with: "They have also other kinds of cuts innumerable; and therefore when you come to be trimmed they will ask you whether you will be cut to look terrible to your enemy, or amiable to your friend; grim and stern in countenance or pleasant and demure, for they have divers kinds of cuts for all these purposes, or else they lie." Is it, then, any wonder that such words as fool, wretch, ape, and monkey, were then used as terms of endearment! Motto, the barber, in Lyly's Midas, says to his boy: "Besides, I instructed thee in the phrases of our elegant occupation, as, 'How, sir, will you be trimmed? will you have your beard like a spade, or a bodkin? a penthouse on your upper lip, or an alley on your chin? a low curl on your head, like a bull, or a dangling lock like a spaniel.' "

When one thinks of costume in the age of Elizabeth one naturally thinks of three details as most characteristic: the ruff, the huge-padded hose, and the farthingale. Of these three, the first is the unique feature of the dress of that particular age. Ruffs of our own time convey no idea of what was meant by a ruff in 1600. During the time of the early Tudors, partelets, or
Elizabethan People - Farthingale and hose.jpg

Illustrating farthingale and hose.
(From an old print.)

narrow collars of divers colours, generally made of velvet, were much worn by the nobility. These began to grow in size and popularity during the reign of Elizabeth. As was usual in those days, the new fashion was introduced by the men, but the women were quick to follow in the adoption of the ruff. Ruffs were made of linen, often decorated with gold and silver thread, and adorned with jewels. They were expensive garments, and could be worn but a few times. In 1564, a woman became the great benefactor of English society. This woman was a Mrs. Dingham, wife of a Dutch coachman in the service of the Queen. Mrs. Dingham brought to England the art of starching. The use of starch gave the ruff a new birth. It could now be worn more than once; and, in a trice, the garment was within the reach of all. Elizabeth wore her ruffs closed in front, extending close under her chin; most women, however, who had fairer skin and shapelier necks, preferred to wear the ruff open in front.

The ruff was made of linen, much plaited, and starched stiff, usually with white starch. For a while yellow starch was fashionable, but the fad was of short duration. Starch was also occasionally used of other colours. Stubbes tells us that the women used "a certain kind of liquid matter which they called starch, wherein the devil hath willed them to wash and die their ruffs well; and this starch they make of divers colours and hues—white, red, blue, purple, and the like; which, being dry, will then stand stiff and inflexible about their necks." In Middleton's The World Tost at Tennis we find the following stage direction: "Music striking up a light, fantastic air, the five starches. White, Blue, Yellow, Green, and Red ... come dancing in." There was a great revival in the popularity of yellow starch in 1615 due to the fact that an infamous woman, a Mrs. Turner, wore bands so starched at her execution at Tyburn. A long and interesting note on this occasion is found in Hazlitt's Dodsley, Albumazar (ii. 1). After having been washed, the ruff was got up with a hot iron and a "poking stick" till it stood out a marvel to behold.

What made the ruff so conspicuous was its size. When first introduced it was modest and unpretentious; but nothing upon which fashion in those days once took a fair hold could remain "confined within the modest limits of order." We hear of ruffs that contained eighteen or nineteen yards of linen. The fashionable depth was one-fourth of a yard. Sometimes they were as much as one-third of a yard deep. Imagine the head of a man or woman, like the hub of a cartwheel, firmly gripped in the midst of a mass of starched linen extending a foot on all sides! So cumbersome were these articles of dress that it became necessary to underprop them with a framework of wire to keep them from tumbling down of their own weight, and to prevent them from dragging their wearer's head down with them. What a stiff, unnatural carriage the habit of wearing ruffs gave to the upper half of the body is fully illustrated by the following: "He carries his face in's ruff, as I have seen a serving man carry glasses in a cypress hatband, monstrous steady for fear of breaking." (Webster's White Devil, ii. 4.) One's head in the midst of such a ruff was free to move, of course, only within limits. In fact, people found it most difficult to eat and to drink. In France, for this fashion was imported from Paris, where it was carried to an even greater extreme than in England, we read of a royal lady who found it necessary to take soup out of a spoon two feet long.

In the latter part of the reign of Queen Elizabeth the garment that ultimately supplanted the ruff became popular. The falling band, like the ruff, was made of linen, but less elaborate, not so large, and unstarched. Bands, as distinguished from falling bands, were often starched, as may be seen in the Droesheut engraving of Shakespeare. It was the lack of starch that gave rise to the peculiar name of falling band. It fell close to the neck over the narrow collar of the doublet. A falling band that reached to the edge of the shoulder was unusually large. They were frequently made of, or decorated with, the finest lace. A reason for their popularity is glanced at in The Malcontent (v. 3): "You must wear falling bands, you must come to the falling fashion; there is such a deal o' pinning these ruffs, when the fine clean fall is worth all; and, again, if ye should chance to take a nap in the afternoon your falling band requires no poting [poking] stick to recover his form."

The upper part of a woman's body was cased in a neat, tightly-laced bodice, that followed the contour of the body with a fair resemblance to nature. This, however, was the only part of the figure that retained any of its native semblance. The bodice frequently projected downward in a long sharp point over the abdomen; and was often open towards the top to show the breast, or the stomacher of brightly coloured silk beneath crossed laces.

The corresponding garment for men was the doublet. It was usually padded and stuffed till quite twice the size of the natural body. The doublet was cut and slashed in front and sides so as to show the gay-coloured lining of costly
Illustrative of short hose and cape. - Elizabethan People (book).jpg

Illustrative of short hose and cape.

material. It was sometimes laced, but was more frequently buttoned up the front. Two or three buttons at the top were left open and the shirt of delicate white lawn pulled out a little way. This has become the open vest and necktie of our own time. The doublet sometimes projected downward in front, when it was called a peascod bellied doublet; sometimes it surrounded the hips like a short skirt. The sleeves were generally removable and laced to the doublet at the arm-holes. Working people, who, of course, wore doublets, or jerkins, that were but slightly padded, frequently did without the sleeves altogether, the arms covered by the sleeves of the shirt. A pair of drawstrings working in opposite directions at the small of the back enabled one to tighten or loosen one's doublet at will.

There used to be a punishment in use in the Colony of New York by which a man was compelled to walk about encased in a barrel; his head projecting from one end, his feet from the other. The Elizabethan women did not carry a barrel about their hips, but they carried a corresponding bulk. What would correspond to a skirt in our time was then called a farthingale. This name, however, was properly applied to the framework of whalebone and wire which the woman buckled on before she began to dress. It clamped her tightly about the waist and was absolutely rigid. One style gave a curve from the waist-line downward; the other style extended level from the waist, and met the vertical line of drapery at right angles. In either case the nether garments were supported by this structure much as we support the week's wash on a rotary drier. The appearance of a fashionable woman when fully dressed was not unlike the colonial culprit in his humiliating barrel; save that the farthingale reached to the floor and was richly bedecked with jet, beads, strings of pearl, jewels, and gold thread. The women of that day thoroughly understood the art of tight lacing. Some of the old pictures of a woman with a wasp-like waist and a huge farthingale look very much like a tin soldier soldered to his base. In 1563 a law was passed in France to limit farthingales to an ell, about four feet, in diameter; and the satirists tell us that in this respect the English outdid their rivals across the Channel. The Scotch farthingale was a variety that was smaller and closer fitting. "Is this a right Scot? Does it clip close and bear up round?"—— Fine stuff, i' faith; 'twill keep your thighs so cool, and make your waist so small." (Marstoa's Eastward Ho, i. 2.) "Bumrolls" were a sort of "stuffed cushions used by women of middling rank to make their petticoats swell out in lieu of the farthingales, which were more expensive." (Nares.)

The nether garment for men was called the hose. Its size was likewise carried to a ridiculous extent. The man, however, laboured under an additional disadvantage. Instead of spreading himself out with whalebone, he gained his volume by padding. It was from this garment that the poor fellow, already described, took out his table cloths, napkins, sheets, and other household goods. The hose, which was laced to the doublet, was of different lengths. The French hose, or trunk hose, was short and full-bodied, reaching less than halfway between the hip and knee. The gaily hose was long, and reached almost to the knee. The Venetian hose reached below the knee to the place where the garter was tied. "The French hose," says Stubbes, "are of two divers makings, for the common French hose (as they list to call them) containeth length, breadth, and sideness sufficient, and is made very round. The other containeth neither length, breadth, nor sideness (being not past a quarter of a yard side) whereof some be paned, cut, and drawn out with costly ornaments, with canions annexed, reaching down beneath their knees." Canions were ornamental rolls that terminated the hose above the knee, a fashion imported from France. They are noted in Henslowe's diary among the properties of his theatre. Thus, under April, 1598, he pays for "a pair of paned hose of bugle panes drawn out with cloth of silver and canyons to the same." He also notes "a pair of round hose of panes of silk, laid with silver lace and canons of cloth of silver." Paned hose consisted of hose in which pieces of cloth of different texture or colour were inserted to form an ornamental pattern; or of hose slashed to show the lining or the garment beneath. "He [Lord Mount joy] wore jerkins and round hose ... with laced panes of russet cloth." (Fynes Moryson.) "The Switzers wear no coats, but doublet and hose of panes, intermingled with red and yellow, and some with blue, trimmed with long cuffs of yellow and blue sarcenet rising up between the panes." (Coryat's Crudities.)

A slop was the common name for a padded hose, and was also applied to wide loose breeches, as were the names, Dutch slop, gaskins, and gallygascoyns. Gamashes was a name applied to a sort of loose outside breeches worn over the other garments, usually as a protection in travelling.

Stockings, or nether hose, were usually of silk and gartered at the top below the knee. They were worn of all colours, and were padded only when necessary to improve the shape of the leg.
Portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh, illustrating garters and roses. - Elizabethan People (book).jpg

Portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh, illustrating garters and roses.

The shoes of this period were of various shapes and of many colours. They were frequently slashed below the instep in order to show the colour of the stocking. At parting, Ralph, in The Shoemaker's Holiday (i. 1), gives Jane a pair of shoes "made up and pinked with letters of thy name." Hamlet speaks of "provincial roses in my razed shoes." "Provincial roses" refers to the habit of wearing roses, or rosettes, upon the instep. They were generally made of lace, and often decorated with gold thread, spangles, or even jewels. At times the roses were worn large—four or five inches in diameter. "Why, 'tis the devil; I know him by a great rose he wears on's shoe To hide his cloven foot." (Webster's White Devil, v. 3.) Corks, so often referred to in the old plays, were shoes with cork soles that increased in thickness towards the heel, where they might be two or three inches thick. Their purpose was the same as high heels, and, when more fully developed, became known by another name. "Thy voice squeaks like a dry cork shoe." (Marston's Antonio and Mellida, Part I. v. 1.) The chopine was a device used by women principally for the purpose of increasing their height, and to keep their embroidered shoes and farthingales out of the dust and dirt when they walked abroad. The chopine was an expansion of the high heel cork; though, in its extreme fashion, it is better described as a short stilt. The shoe was fastened to the top of the chopine, which was frequently a foot high. The fashion came from Venice, where the height of the chopine corresponded roughly to the rank of the wearer. Persons of very high rank have been known to wear chopines eighteen inches high. The Venetian women so dressed could not walk alone, but required the assistance of a staff, or were led about upon the arm of an assistant, constable-fashion. There is a line in one of the old plays to the effect that when a woman walks on chopines she cannot help but caper.

Buttons were then in frequent use, but not so common as to-day. They were small when used upon the front of the doublet, but in female attire they were generally large. One of the most popular styles consisted of buttons covered with silk. They were also occasionally made of brass or of copper, and upon occasions, bore jewels set in gold. We even hear of diamond buttons.

The laces by which so many parts of the dress were fastened together were tagged at the ends with "points." These points were frequently of gold, handsomely engraved, and carved. Jewelry of all sorts was in common use, including earrings, hat and shoe buckles, brooches, gold chains, rings, bracelets, garter-clasps, watches, etc. Rings especially were much worn by both sexes. It was a common custom to engrave on the inside a line or two of sentimental poetry, called the posy. It is to this fashion that Hamlet refers in the words, "Is this a prologue or the posy of a ring?"

Fans came into use in England for the first time in the reign of Elizabeth. They dangled from the girdle by a silk cord or a gold chain. They were often handsomely decorated with diamonds, rubies, emeralds, agate, and feathers. Fans were not used by men till later times. Gloves were worn, perfume was used, and handkerchiefs were elaborate and costly.

The dress of the common folk was like fashionable dress except that it was of cheaper material and did not run to such extremes. It was common then for persons of different ranks and of different trades to reveal the fact by the manner of their dress. Thus the long blue gown was the especial badge of a servant, and the London flat cap of the apprentice. Because of the Reformation, that swept away so many Romish customs, the dress of the clergy was less distinctive than in former times. The armour of this period was an attempt to copy in metal the ordinary fashionable dress. The helmet was decked with enormous plumes. A ruff frequently surmounted a steel corselet. The plates of the body armour were grooved, embossed, and engraved from top to bottom in imitation of embroidery and folds of drapery. Liveries, too, were common. Many trades and societies of London possessed their distinctive dress. The retainers of the great noblemen always wore a badge containing their master's coat-of-arms. This badge, or cognisance, was worn upon the left sleeve.

III

In another place I have noted the fact that Shakespeare's father was fined for keeping a muck-heap so close to his house as to be a nuisance to the public. This, however, is not an indication of a habit of uncleanliness confined to those who lived in the humbler circumstances of life. Lack of ventilation, careless habits, and general inattention to sanitary conditions were so common that Cavendish tells us in the Life of Wolsey that a house upon continual use "waxed savoury." Perhaps what contributed more than anything else to this condition of affairs was the custom of matting or rushing the floors. No carpets in the modern sense of the word were then in use, except on the rarest occasions and late in the period here treated. Only the lower classes,
Elizabethan People - Elizabethan bed.jpg

An Elizabethan Bed.
(From N. Hudson Moore's "Old Furniture Book." By permission of Frederick A. Stokes Company.)

however, were content with bare wood floors or floors of earth. Something more elegant was needed. This material was found in the rushes that were plentifully strewn upon the floors. Every private garden possessed a portion laid aside for the growing of rushes. They were also sold in large quantities. These were strewn upon the floors, not only of sleeping rooms, but also of the dining room, in the great hall, and even upon the stage of the public theatre. They contributed slightly to the warmth of the feet; they were, in a small way, decorative; and, above all, according to the Elizabethan's light, they were elegant.

One of to-day may suppose that, when there was need of re-rushing a room, the old rushes were taken out and new ones brought in. Not at all. This was entirely too much trouble to people who had not heard of germs and who believed that magic was as good a remedy as was to be found against the plague. The Elizabethans merely carted in the new rushes and deposited them upon the old ones. And a room was not always thoroughly purged of its rushes more than once a year. The result was filth more or less absent to the eye but present to the nose. The latter condition gave rise to a whole profession, as necessary and as distinctive as that of the chimney sweep; namely, the perfumer. It was his business to come, when a room had grown too foul to live in, in order to remove the stench by burning Juniper wood and other sweet-smelling herbs. Vermin flourished under such conditions, and many are the allusions that could be cited referring even to royal visits from which persons returned bitten from head to foot.

The furniture of these houses was plentiful, but, in the main, rude. The art of cabinet-making was practically unknown till Tudor times. By the reign of Elizabeth so much proficiency had been attained in this art that we occasionally find very elaborate and beautiful examples of handiwork. Much, probably most, of the cabinet work of the period was, however, of a simple character. The articles manufactured were chiefly chests, chairs, long seats, with here and there a pretentious cabinet. Stools and tables, of course, were common. Larger tables for the dining room were for the most part mere tops supported on trestles. The whole combination was taken down at the end of a meal and placed against the wall.

The cabinet work of the period was massive, and contained many straight lines. There was some carving, but usually of simple design and not overdone, as was so often the case in the carved exterior woodwork of the house frames. The furniture was strongly made, for use rather than for show. The material used was generally oak.

In the damp climate of England the people were hard-pressed to discover a means of decorating the stone walls of their buildings. The problem was solved by the use of arras and tapestry. These hangings were of costly material, bearing pictures that were sometimes painted, sometimes worked with the needle. The arras was hung upon frames that supported it about a foot from the wall. This frame device was to protect the expensive hangings from the mildew of the damp walls. The space behind the arras was a characteristic feature of Elizabethan domestic life. In the first place, it enabled the arras to move with the least breath of air, a fact that doubtless went far to convince many a person of the truth of those numberless stories so often told of household ghosts. Behind the arras was also a convenient place for hiding. Polonius was eavesdropping behind the arras when he met his death. It was a Mecca for assassins. One needed to examine the arras in those days as the more timorous of to-day look under the bed. There are contemporary references to "behind the arras" being a convenient place for courtship.

In the humbler ranks of life, painted cloth took the place of the more expensive tapestry of the higher ranks. The habit of making pictures in series, and of adorning the pictures with proverbial and religious mottos, seems to have been commoner with this class of hangings than with the other.

Curtains were frequently in use. There are allusions to window curtains, though they were not common. Curtains were hung about the beds. Curtains were frequently the only divisions between the smaller rooms into which a larger one was divided by their use. One of the frequent uses for a curtain was as a covering to a picture. Pictures were not then a common form of decoration. Such as were to be found were mostly portraits. These were sometimes painted directly upon the wood panelling. When they were movable, they were sometimes painted upon wood, sometimes upon canvas. In any case, they were likely to be protected by curtains, for glass makers had not yet learned to make glass in large pieces.

As has already been said, in the dining room, which was more likely to be the hall than a separate room, the table, between meals, was stood against the wall, with its pair of trestles beside it. Perhaps the only other characteristic piece of dining room furniture was the cupboard or buffet. This was frequently large and massive. In and on it was stored much plate; and dishes of
Oak Chest Supported on Frame - Elizabethan People (book).jpg


Oak Chest Supported on Frame.

(From N. Hudson Moore's "Old Furniture Book." By permission of Frederick A. Stokes Company.)

meat were left upon it between meals for those who wished to help themselves.

When meal time came, the servants entered and set up the table. It was then covered with a carpet. Occasionally we find a carpet used on the floor as a sort of rug; but in most instances where the word is used in Elizabethan literature the reference is to a covering for the table. Napkins were also used. Most of the table linen was perfumed. Plate was indulged in to a great extent by those who could afford the gratification. The bulk of a family's wealth was often in the plate. China and porcelain were coming into use, but when the plate ran short, pewter was more likely to be the material of the other dishes. Pewter was not then cheap, and in no wise looked down upon. The common folk used wooden dishes in place of plate. Mottos were often carved about the edge of the wooden trenchers.

Perhaps the main reason why we do not to-day eat with our knives is because we are conservatively subject to the instinct that was bred into our nature when every person at the board used the weapon at his side to assist him at dinner. Whatever duty the dagger may have performed between meals is irrelevant; but once arrived at table the knife that went into the common dish could not with propriety go into the individual mouth. It may surprise some readers to know that table knives as a distinctive instrument only came into use in England about the beginning of the reign of Elizabeth; and that the fingers were used as main assistants till 1611, when forks were first introduced by Thomas Coryat, who had seen them in use in Italy.

It is hardly necessary to mention pots, flagons, and tankards of all shapes and sizes, and in all kinds of ware. But one other article of table furniture is of interest. Toothpicks had been recently introduced. In those days, when cleanliness of the body was as little thought of as was the sanitary condition of the house, the advent of the toothpick was really a mark of advanced civilization. The Elizabethan susceptibility to fads caused the generation to "take up" toothpicks. They were ostentatiously carried by all. They were frequently made of gold with jeweled cases. And to pick one's teeth in public became as surely the mark of a gentleman as to talk the rubbish set in vogue by Lyly's Euphues.

In the bedroom we find heavy four-posted beds, very massive in construction and frequently carved. There was a canopy above the bed, and curtains permitted the inhabitants to sleep absolutely independent of ventilation. The page of the master or mistress usually slept upon a low truckle bed which was pushed under the large one during the daytime. Sheets of linen were fastened to the bed by little pegs. The counterpanes were elaborate and gaudy. Though nightclothes were in use, many people habitually slept naked. Oftentimes the word nightclothes in Eliabethan literature refers not so much to sleeping clothes as clothes for negligee wear. Perhaps the only other characteristic article of bedroom furniture, besides a few stools and, perhaps, a day bed, that is, a sofa, was a chest. These chests were huge affairs and used to store whatever would to-day be put into drawers, an article of furniture that had not yet come into general use. Most of the outer clothes, however, were not kept in the bedroom, but in the wardrobe. This was not an article of furniture, but a separate room where the articles of the wardrobe were kept, hence its name. The garments were hung about the walls of the room upon pegs. Frequent allusions seem to point to the fact that cut flowers were more frequently found in the bedroom than in any other part of the house.

In the library or den of the master of the house we find his books, usually sumptuously bound volumes, small in number and not various in subject-matter. The Bible and a book on hawking or hunting were considered necessary. A few others were thrown in for effect. Books, however, played a small part in the daily life of the average Elizabethan. The bindings, however, were frequently very beautiful and studded with jewels. Sometimes only the clasp was jewelled, hence rose the custom of putting books on the shelf with the binding next the wall so that the handsome clasp would be visible. A candlestick a little more elegant than those used throughout the rest of the house, an hour-glass, and a globe were other requisites. Also writing materials. Pocket inkstands were in general use. Pens were made of quills. In place of blotting paper scriveners used small boxes of sand pierced like pepper boxes. Perfumery, in so frequent demand elsewhere, was also pressed into service in preparing paper for correspondence. Letters were always sealed with wax; and it was considered bad form for one to deliver his own letter.

IV

"Wives in England," says the Antwerp merchant Van Meteren in 1599 "are entirely in the power of their husbands, their lives only excepted. Therefore when they marry they give up the surname of their father and of the family from which they are descended, and take the surnames of their husbands, except in the case of duchesses,
Elizabethan People - Elizabethan chest.jpg

An Elizabethan Chest.
(From N. Hudson Moore's "Old Furniture Book." By permission of Frederick A. Stokes Company.)

countesses and baronesses, who, when they marry gentlemen of inferior degree, retain their first name and title, which, for the ambition of the said ladies, is rather allowed than commended. But though the women there are entirely in the power of their husbands except for their lives, yet they are not kept so strictly as they are in Spain or elsewhere. Nor are they shut up, but they have the free management of the house or housekeeping, after the fashion of those of the Netherlands and others their neighbours. They go to market to buy what they like best to eat. They are well dressed, fond of taking it easy, and commonly leave the care of household matters and drudgery to their servants. They sit before their doors, decked out in fine clothes, in order to see and be seen by the passers-by. In all banquets and feasts they are shown the greatest honour; they are placed at the upper end of the table, where they are the first served; at the lower end they help the men. All the rest of their time they employ in walking and riding, in playing at cards or otherwise, in visiting their friends and keeping company, conversing with their equals (whom they term gosseps) and their neighbours, and making merry with them at child-births, christenings, churchings (kerekganghen) and funerals; and all this with the permission and knowledge of their husbands, as such is the custom. Although the husbands often recommend to them the pains, industry, and care of the German or Dutch women, who do what the men ought to do both in the house and in the shops, for which services in England men are employed, nevertheless the women usually persist in retaining their customs. This is why England is called the paradise of married women. The girls who are not yet married are kept much more rigorously and strictly than in the Low Countries.

"The women are beautiful, fair, well-dressed, and modest, which is seen there more than elsewhere, as they go about the streets without any covering either of huke or mantle (huycke) hood, veil, or the like. Married women only wear a hat both in the street and in the house; those unmarried go without a hat, although ladies of distinction have lately learnt to cover their faces with silken masks or vizards, and feathers—for indeed they change very easily, and that every year to the astonishment of many." (The translation is due to Rye.)

An anonymous black-letter pamphlet printed at London in 1598 contains the following interesting details relative to the customs pertaining to women;

"But yet there remains one service wherein they [gentlemen] must employ more men than the table's attendance requireth, that is, if their mistress ride abroad she must have six or seven serving men to attend her, she must have one to carry her cloak, and hood, lest it rain, another her fan, if she use it not herself, another her box with ruffs and other necessaries, another behind whom her maid or gentlewoman must ride, and some must be loose to open gates, and supply other services that may be occasioned. Now to diminish and cut of this charge, as well of horse and men, there is a new invention, and that is, she must have a coach, wherein she, with her gentlewomen, maid, and children, and what necessaries they or any of them are to use, may be carried or conveyed with smaller charge, less cost, and more credit, as it is accounted: for one or two men at the most besides the coachman, are sufficient for a gentlewoman or lady of worthy parentage."

Gervase Markham, in his English Housewife, thus describes her:

"Next unto her sanctity and holiness of life, it is meet that our English housewife be a woman

of great modesty and temperance, as well inwardly as outwardly; inwardly as in her behaviour and carriage towards her husband, wherein she shall shun all violence of rage, passion, and humour, coveting less to direct than to be directed, appearing ever unto him pleasant, amiable and delightful; and, tho' occasion of mishaps, or the mis-government of his will may induce her to contrary thoughts, yet virtuously to suppress them, and with a mild sufference rather to call him home from his error, than with the strength of anger to abate the least spark of his evil, calling into her mind, that evil and uncomely language is deformed, though uttered even to servants; but most monstrous and ugly, when it appears before the presence of a husband; outwardly as in her apparel, and diet, both which she shall proportion according to the competency of her husband's estate and calling, making her circle rather straight than large; for it is a rule, if we extend to the uttermost, we take away increase; if we go a hair's breath beyond, we enter into consumption; but if we preserve any part we build strong forts against the adversaries fortune, provided that such preservation be honest and conscionable: for as lavish prodigality is brutish, so miserable covetousness is hellish. Let therefore the housewife's garments be comely and strong, made as well to preserve the health, as to adorn the person, altogether without toyish garnishes, or the gloss of light colours, and as far from the vanity of new and fantastic fashions, as near to the comely imitations of modest matrons.
An Elizabethan Oak Chest - Elizabethan People (book).jpg

An Elizabethan Oak Chest

(From N. Hudson Moor’s "Old Furniture Book" by permission of Frederick A. Stokes Company.)

Let her diet be wholesome and cleanly, prepared at due hours, and cooked with care and diligence, let it be rather to satisfy nature, than her affections, and apter to kill hunger than revive new appetites; let it proceed more from the provision of her own yard, than the furniture of the markets; and let it be rather esteemed for the familiar acquaintance she hath without it, than for the strangeness and rarity it bringeth from other countries."

Very good advice, this, and I fear seldom followed by the housewives Markham is extolling. In another part of the same volume he becomes more specific, more practical, and more accurate. He tells us that the housewife should be skilled in many things that have passed out of fashion. To begin with, she ought to understand medicine and nursing. Markham assists her to a sufficient knowledge of such things by descriptions of the various diseases and by prescriptions for their cure. Here is a fair example, the manner of treatment of quotidian fever: "You shall take a new-laid egg, and opening the crown, you shall put out the white, then fill up the shell with very good aquavitæ, and stir it and the yoke very well together, and then as soon as you feel your cold fit begin to come upon you, suck up the egg, and either labour till you sweat, or alse, laying great store of clothes upon you, put yourself in a sweat in your bed, and thus doe while your fit continues, and for your drink, let it be only cool posset ale."

The housewife should also have a knowledge of cookery, "else she can perform but half her vow in marriage." She should have a knowledge of all kinds of herbs, their uses, when to sow them, and when to gather them. "At any time sow Asparagus & colworts ... in the February new moon Spike and Garlick ... full moon Parsley ... March new moon Marigolds and violets ... etc." She must also know when and what herbs are to be transplanted. Concerning her ability to cook Markham says, "she must have a quick eye, a curious nose, a perfect taste, and a ready eare; (she must not be butter-fingered, sweet-toothed, nor faint-hearted;) for the first will let everything fall, the second will consume what it should increase, and the last will lose time with too much niceness. She must know how to prepare salids, simple and compound; salids for show only; how to adorn the table," etc., etc. Moreover, the housewife should understand the art of cutting up meat, the making of cheese and butter, and the care of poultry.

Another duty of the housewife was distilling. She ought to furnish herself with stills, and learn their use in the preparation of medicines, perfumes, sauces, etc. She should know all about the ordering of wines, she should be a competent brewer, and know how to gauge wine and ale casks. Then a knowledge of wool was necessary. "The housewife should know when to send it to the dyer, yet, in case of emergency, she should understand dyeing, the action whereof must be got by practice, not by relation." All about flax was another part of her necessary knowledge, and skill in dairy work. Markham, after enumerating all these various duties with descriptions and receipts, belittles the value of his own volume by saying that the housewife must not only find time to read and study about these things, but also to practise them all, else the study will prove of no avail. The modern reader should bear in mind that the average English housewife in the time of Elizabeth was actually skilled in all these various duties, and that it often fell to her lot to train servants to skill in them, even if she did not need to exercise the knowledge otherwise herself.

In those days the retinue of household servants was far more numerous than it is to-day, and a more essential mark of gentility than at any other age. The servants wore their master's arms upon the left sleeve; their distinctive dress was a blue coat, The feeling that dignity depended largely upon the size of the train of servants pervaded all ranks of society. The domestics, at least while they were within doors, were kept under the strictest discipline. John Harrington, in 1566, drew up a set of rules by which the servants of his house were to be governed. Such documents were common: the following selection illustrates the character of the supervision:


1. A servant shall not be absent from morning or evening prayer without excuse, upon the fine of 2d each time.

3. No man shall leave any door open that he findeth shut, without cause—fine 1d.

5. No bed shall be left unmade, nor fire or candle box unclean, after 8 a. m.

8. No man shall wait at table without a trencher in his hand except for good cause—fine 1d.

14. No one shall provoke another to strike, or strike another on pain of dismissal.

15. No man shall come to the kitchen without reasonable cause-he shall be fined 1d and the cook 1d.

20. The court gate must be shut during each meal.

The fines are to be bestowed upon the poor.
An Eliszabethan Olive Wood Chest - Elizabethan People (book).jpg

An Elizabethan Olive Wood Chest

(From N. Hudson Moor’s "Old Furniture Book" By permission of

Frederick A. Stokes Company.)

Servants usually rose at four in the summer and five in the winter time. They were subject throughout the long day to rule and regimen. We are told that even the maid-servants were thrashed into good behaviour by their masters. When not in disgrace, it was a part of their duty to amuse their master, mistress, and the guests during the meal. In this direction, however, the fool was the greatest resource. Fools were of two kinds. One was the witty fool or jester, so cleverly described in Twelfth Night. He wore the parti-coloured or motley garb, the cock'scomb, and carried his bauble and bells. The other kind of fool was the idiot. Elizabethans had not yet learned the pathos of insanity. The foolish antics of the half-witted afforded them endless amusement.

Returning again to Markham we find that he lays great stress upon the proper serving of a meal. "Thus you shall order them in your closet; but when they go to the table you shall first send forth a dish made for show only, as Beaste, Bird, Fish, or Fowle, according to invention: then your marchpane, then your preserved fruit, then a paste, then a wet sucket, then a dry sucket, marmelaide, cumfits, apples, pears, wardens, oranges, and lemons sliced; then wafers and another dish of preserved fruits and so consequently all the rest before: no two dishes of one kind going or standing together, and this will not only appear delicate to the eye, but invite the appetite with the much variety thereof." The foregoing description refers to the lighter part of the repast, known usually as the banquet, the dishes often being set upon the table first and the meat and game courses then served. For a family not too large, Markham says that sixteen dishes of meat and sixteen dishes of salad and vegetables would, if properly distributed, be sufficient.

Dinner and supper were usually served upon movable tables, which were covered with tablecloths of linen, often called carpets. The hour for dinner was twelve o'clock; supper was served at six. Wooden trenchers were still seen upon the tables of the rich. Pewter in its best form was a costly material, and wealthy persons often rented their stock of pewter by the year. It was, however, in its plainer forms, slowly working its way into the houses of the common people, hardly any of whom did not boast, at least, the possession of a few pewter dishes. Silver, gilt plate, cut glass, and china, the latter sparingly, were in use. Before 1563 people ate with their fingers; hence the frequent circulation at table of water and a towel. Knives were introduced in 1568, but forks did not come till some time later.

Dinner was usually served in three courses: the first, meat; the second, game; the third, sweets. The last, called the banquet, was, when possible, served in the summer-house in the garden, from which, after sufficient time spent in conversation, the family adjourned to evening prayer and then prepared for supper. The people were extremely lavish in the matter of provision, and extravagant in their tastes. The consumption of wine was then far greater than now. Harrison mentions fifty-six French wines, thirty-six Spanish, and several made at home. Englishmen were very fond of sugar, which it was customary to mix with every kind of wine.


In an attempt to describe the social conditions of the Elizabethans one is constantly confronted with the difficulty of selection. There must be, however, a limit of space that often curtails when one would be inclined to continue. The brief view contained in this volume, it is hoped, will serve to give in broad lines the habits of life that characterised the people of Shakespeare's generation. Gaps there are, and some details may have been over-emphasised. The present writer, however, hopes that the attempt here set down may serve, if but inadequately, to help the modern reader to an easier and more complete comprehension of those great Elizabethan writings to which this book aspires to be no more than a humble footnote.






THE END