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Daily Life in Elizabethan



If you were born in Elizabethan England: 5% of you would

die within the first week of your life. 40% of you wouldnt
survive to your 15th birthday. Approximately one out of every
100 mothers died in childbirth. A midwife and her attendants
would assist at the birth. Women gave birth in birthing chairs
or stools, sitting up.

While boys were prized, the birth of a healthy child,

regardless of the sex, was cause for celebration. When a
baby was born, families might consult an astrologer to
determine if the date and time of the babys birth was
fortunate. Peoples lives were thought to be determined
by God and could be read in the alignment of the stars
and planets.

Because so many babies died in infancy, it was important

for the baby to be baptized soon after birth. Mothers did not
attend the baptism. They were to remain at home
recuperating. When they were allowed out in public, the
occasion was cause for celebration, and the mother
attended service at her church to give thanks for her safe
deliverance. This practice, in turn, was known as

Babies were weaned at about 2 or age 3. Boys and girls

both wore skirts until they were toilet trained. Boys who
were old enough to wear pants were considered breeched.

Babies were named after godparents or relatives. The

most common names for girls were: Elizabeth, Ann,
Mary, Margaret and Katherine. The most common
boys names were Henry, Thomas, Edward, John,
William and Robert. If a child died, his or her parents
might give the next child born the same name.

Children were considered miniature

versions of adults with no
consideration for a childs particular
emotional, physical or spiritual needs
out of infancy. Adolescence was not
considered a special period in a
childs life. Parental authority tended
to continue into early adulthood.

Young boys in middle and upper classes might

go to grammar school, through their parents
guilds or a local parish church. Instruction was
largely through rote memorization, and discipline
was notoriously strict. Schoolmasters were
permitted to beat unruly students.

Girls as a rule were not formally educated. Some girls

born to wealthy parents might be taught to read and
write English, Latin or French as Queen Elizabeth
herself was.

Most girls, however, were taught the skills most necessary to be

housewives and mothers. They learned to sew, collect and
cultivate herbs for medicinal purposes, cook, clean and keep
house, manage servants if necessary, and run a household.

Children from noble families were frequently

sent to other noble households to be trained
in etiquette, social graces and protocol.
Young girls in service might learn to sing,
play an instrument or dance.

After schooling, boys were typically apprenticed in a trade.

After seven years of apprenticeship, they could become a journeyman and work for wages.

In England, inheritance followed the rule of

primogeniture. Estate, lands, property, money, etc all
went to the oldest male relative. If the oldest child was
a girl, her younger brother would be the legal heir.
Even Queen Elizabeth had to survive a younger brother
Edward VI, AND an older sister before she could inherit
the throne.

In Shakespeares time, wealthy families arranged their childrens

marriages. Poorer and middle class families had more freedom
of choice for marriage partners.

When they got married, the bride

promised to obey her husband. She
did not wear white. Instead she wore
her best dress, and exchanged rings
with her groom. Sometimes brides
were decorated with ears of wheat to
encourage fertility in the marriage.

Wives and children belonged to their husbands and fathers.

The father was the head of the household and

responsible for the physical and spiritual wellbeing of his family.

Members of the nobility, royal court and gentry made up about 5% of

the English population. The poorest of the poor such as beggars
and vagrants, made up another 10%.

Thus, about 85% of the population worked as

common farmers, craftsmen and laborers.
If you were among this 80% of the population these
were the probable facts of your life:

You rarely bathed, and if you did, it was no more than once a year.
Bathing was thought to spread disease, not prevent it.
You lost many of your teeth, if not most of them, by the time you were in
your 40s and 50s. If a tooth bothered you, you could visit a barber and
have it pulled, without painkillers or anesthesia.

You probably owned one or two outfits which you wore

most everyday. Underneath your clothes, you would
wear a linen garment called a shift. For boys it reached
to their knees. For girls it was a little longer. You might
wash this shift if you had another one to wear in its

Without baths or indoor plumbing, 1594 England was pretty stinky.

If you were fortunate enough to live in a house, you would

have a chamber pot to urinate and defecate in. If you were
luckier still, you would have a servant to empty it in the
street outside your house for you. Otherwise, you might
have to use a communal pit, called a public privy.

There was no legal drinking age in Elizabethan England.

Taverns, pubs and alehouses were popular places for people to
congregate, share a pint of ale and gossip or transact business.
You might even be able to carry credit if the barmaid or tavern
keeper knew and trusted you.

The theatre was a particularly popular pastime for many Londoners

from all walks of life. Since admission was as low as a penny for
groundlings, the lowest level of the audience, going to the theater
was something most people could do on occasion.

You would buy your food from vendors everyday if you lived in London. You
would buy fresh bread, meat pies, eels, and other foods.

Fleas and lice were an unpleasant fact for everyone. Many people
shaved their heads and wore wigs to fend off lice. Fleas were so
common, that the famous poet John Donne wrote a love poem for
a woman that involved sharing a flea between them.

Primarily because of the fleas and

rats, people became sick of the
plague most every year.

Illness and disease were a constant presence

and medicine was at best a crude and
rudimentary field.
Mortality rates were appalling for adults and
children alike. The average lifespan was close
to 40 years.

While Romeo and Juliet died in their

teens, William Shakespeare lived to be
a prosperous 52.

Queen Elizabeth died in 1603, at age 70.

This last slide is an illustration of part of her funeral procession.