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Daily Life in the Elizabethan Era

Elizabethan World Reference Library, 2007

From World History in Context
Historians studying the Elizabethan Era, the period associated with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (15581603)
that is often considered to be a golden age in English history, have focused mainly on the lives of the era's
wealthy nobles. (Nobles were the elite men and women who held social titles.) The nobles held great power
and frequently lived colorful and extravagant lives, but they made up only about 3 percent of the population.
Although the vast majority of the Elizabethan population was quite poor, few firsthand historical records of their
daily lives have survived. Members of the lower classes in England were mainly uneducated, so they did not
usually keep journals or written records describing their own lives. They could not afford to have their portraits
painted nor to preserve their humble homes for future generations. Historians agree, though, that daily life for
the majority of Elizabethans had little to do with courtly life, and much to do with working hard to earn a meager
From a feudal to commercial economy
The working classes of England had always had a difficult life. Under the feudal system of the Middle Ages (the
period in European history lasting from c. 500 to c. 1500), powerful lords owned and governed local districts,
which were usually made up of peasant families and ranged from fifty to a few hundred people. (Peasants
were farmers who worked in the fields owned by wealthy lords.) About 95 percent of the population of England
lived in these rural districts. The peasant farmers performed almost all of the labor. They farmed the land:
about one-third of the land solely for the lord; a portion to support the local church; and the rest for their own
use. Their daily lives were regulated by the seasons, and they tended to work from sunup to sundown, rarely
traveling beyond their own village. The sick and elderly relied on the kindness of the lord for survival. Peasant
life was usually fairly stable, but there was almost no chance of escaping the grinding toil from one generation
to the next.
England's farming economy was forever changed by the outbreak of a terrible plague, or infectious disease,
that arrived on the European continent in 1348, killing more than one-fourth of the population in a few years.
Continued outbreaks of the plague are estimated to have killed from one-third to one-half of Europe's
population by 1400. So many people died that many villages were left without lords, fields were left without
farmers, and children were left without parents. With so many laborers dead, lords no longer had an easy
supply of labor to farm their lands. By the early sixteenth century laborers found they could demand more
money and better working conditions. For the first time it became possible for some enterprising peasants to
take over the lands made vacant by the plague and become landowners themselves.
feudal system:
The political and economic system of the Middle Ages, in which powerful lords owned and governed
local districts and the people of their districts served their lords under bonds of loyalty.

Ability to read and write.
mortality rate:
The frequency of deaths in proportion to a specific population.
Elite men and women who held social titles.
The community served by one local church.
A class of farmers who worked in the fields owned by wealthy lords. Part of the crop was paid to the
lord as rent.
A building maintained by parish funding to house the local needy.
A sixteenth-century religious movement that aimed to reform the Roman Catholic Church and resulted
in the establishment of Protestant churches.
A deceased person who, due to his or her exceptionally good behavior during life, receives the official
blessing of the church and is believed to be capable of interceding with God to protect people on earth.
sumptuary laws:
Statutes regulating how extravagantly people of the various social classes could dress.
A military exercise performed for the queen, in which young nobles on horseback armed with lances
(long spears) charged at one another in an attempt to throw their opponent from his horse. Also known
as jousting.
A person who wanders from town to town without a home or steady employment.
Another economic change took place in the early sixteenth century. England had developed a huge and highly
profitable cloth-making industry. At first the industry relied on imported material to make cloth, but by the
sixteenth century English landowners discovered that there was more profit to be made raising sheep for wool
than in planting crops. Many peasants lost their livelihoods when the lands they had farmed were fenced off for
sheep. They moved to the cities, which were prospering because of the new cloth industry and the other
growing trades. However, the new industries provided few jobs for unskilled laborers. The peasants who were
lucky enough to find work in the cities earned extremely low wages that barely fed them, and many of them
were unable to find employment at all.
The rise of cities and towns
When Elizabeth I (15331603) became queen there were about 2.8 million people in England. The population
rose significantly during her reign, to about 4.1 million. Many people lived in the countryside, but in the
sixteenth century the town population grew at a greater rate. Prior to Elizabethan times, only about 5 percent of
the population lived in cities and towns, but during her reign, about 15 percent of the rapidly growing population
had become urban. As businesses and industries developed, a new middle class consisting of successful
merchants and craftsman arose. These businesspeople thrived in the cities and often served in the urban
government. During Elizabeth's reign, as never before, it was possible for city merchants to become extremely
wealthy and rise in social status.
England's capital and largest city, London, underwent remarkable changes, growing to about two hundred
thousand people during Elizabeth's reign. (The next largest English city, by comparison, was only about fifteen

thousand people.) London's population was divided. It included a small but powerful population of wealthy
nobles, a prospering middle class, and a large and impoverished lower class living in miserable conditions. In
the filthy, crowded neighborhoods of the poor, raw sewage (waste matter) ran through the streets. Disease and
crime were widespread. Laborers who came to London from the country frequently failed to find jobs.
Homeless, they wandered in search of a way to feed themselves. Many turned to small crime, such as
begging, picking pockets, and prostitution, simply to avoid starvation. There was little help for the sick, elderly,
and orphans. The life expectancy, or average life span, of an Elizabethan was only 42 years, but it was much
lower among the urban poor. English people of all classes feared the arrival of gangs of beggars and drifters in
their towns and villages, bringing crime and immoral behavior into an otherwise hardworking and orderly
Elizabethan poor laws
Parliament, the English legislative body, passed several poor laws during Elizabeth's reign. The poor laws
assigned the responsibility for maintaining the poor to the local church districts, or parishes (England was
divided into fifteen thousand parishes). Local officials assessed how much money was needed to support their
district's poor and then collected these funds from property owners. Elizabethan poor laws distinguished
between the "deserving poor," such as the sick, elderly, and orphans, and the "undeserving poor"those who
were capable of working but chose not to. The undeserving poor were to be punished, while the deserving
poor would receive some kind of local support in the form of food, money, clothing, or a stay at the local
orphanage or poorhouse, a building maintained by parish funding to house the needy.
To enforce the poor laws, each community needed to be able to keep track of its own poor. Thus, the new laws
required that every English citizen have a place that was legally designated as their home. It was nearly
impossible for anyone without proof of a permanent job or lots of money to establish a new place of residence.
There was little tolerance for vagrants, people who wander from town to town without a home or steady
employment. Vagrants were taken into custody, punished with a public whipping, and then returned to their
home village.
Elizabethan education
An extensive educational system developed in England during Elizabeth's reign, and the rate of literacy, or the
ability of individuals to read and write, rose considerably. Only about one-fifth of the population could sign their
own names at the beginning of the era, but by Elizabeth's death about one-third of the population was literate.
Education was by no means available to everyone, nor were all schools equal in quality. The children
of nobilitycontinued to receive their education in their homes from some of England's top scholars, who were
hired at considerable expense as tutors. For the sons of the growing middle classes, though, there was an
increasing opportunity for education in the country's public schools. (Girls were usually educated at home in
the arts of homemaking.) Public schools were not free. The term "public" referred to the fact that the student
went out into the world for his education rather than being schooled at home. Poor children usually began
working at very young ages and had neither the time to receive an education nor the money to pay for it.

Education was more widespread in the cities, where the middle classes were larger. Even some working-class
parents in the cities were successful enough to be able to spare their sons from working full-time, and a
growing number of working-class boys went to school for at least a couple of yearslong enough to learn the
basics of reading and writing in the English language.
Petty and grammar schools
Boysand a few girlsfrom the ages of about five to seven attended petty schools. A petty school was run by
an educated local woman, usually the wife of a town noble, in her own home. The children in petty school were
taught to read and write English. They also received instruction about being good Christians, as well as other
lessons in proper behavior, including such practical matters as table manners. The schools were rigorous,
beginning at 6:00 or 7:00 AM and continuing until sundown. Beatings were commonly used to motivate the
children to learn. Petty schools prepared their students for grammar schools.
Learning the ABCs
Elizabethan petty school students were usually given hornbooks to help them learn their letters. These simple
textbooks consisted of a piece of paper containing text that was covered with a thin, transparent (see-through)
sheet made from an animal's horn to protect the paper from wear and tear. The horn-covered page was then
mounted on a square piece of wood with a handle. On the page was the alphabet written out in lower case and
capital letters, the Lord's Prayer, and a few simple words. With this hornbook the children learned to read and
write in English.
The English alphabet in Elizabeth's time did not look quite the same as it does today. It was made up of only
twenty-four letters, unlike the modern twenty-six-letter alphabet. The "i" and "j" were the same letter, with the "j"
being used as the capital letter at the beginning of the word and the "i" being used as a lower case letter in the
middle of the word. Similarly, the "u" and "v" were the same letter, with the "v" used as the capital. Today there
is no letter for the "th" sound, but in Elizabethan times this was represented by a letter that looks like our "y."
Thus the word "ye" was pronounced "the."
Children attended grammar schools from the ages of seven to fourteen. In these schools children were taught
to read and write in Latin. Literacy in Latin prepared them to continue their educations at the university level,
where all schoolwork was done in the Latin language. In grammar schools the works of the notable classical
Latinplaywrights and historians were used only for the purpose of teaching Latin grammar. Subjects like
science and music were not taught, and only a small amount of arithmetic was presented.
At the age of fourteen upper- and middle-class boys who could afford to continue their education entered a
university. During Elizabeth's time, universities educated more middle-class boys than ever before, and even
some sons of very humble craftsmen were able to attend the universities on scholarships. Students at the
universities studied in several areas: liberal arts, which included grammar, logic (the science that deals with the
principles of reasoning), music, astronomy (the scientific study of the stars, planets, and other celestial bodies),
and arithmetic; the arts, consisting of philosophy, rhetoric (the study of expressing one's self elegantly in writing
and in the spoken word), and poetry; natural history (the study of nature); religion; medicine; and law.

The Elizabethan Era is known for the elaborate outfits that men and women wore to court and elite social
functions. Extremely detailed portraits of the wealthy have given us a clear idea of how they dressed. The
wealthy wore furs and jewels, and the cloth of their garments featured extravagant embroidery. But theirs was
not the typical fashion of the times. The poor and even the middle classes dressed more simply. However, few
detailed portraits or records of the clothing of the poor remain.
In Elizabethan England one's clothing provided an observer with instant knowledge of one's social status. With
a growing middle class, the rich and powerful clung to their age-old distinction of wearing clothes that made it
immediately clear that they outranked others. Sumptuary laws, or statutes regulating how extravagantly people
of the various social classes could dress, had been in effect for many years in England. Soon after taking the
throne Elizabeth passed her own sumptuary acts, preserving the old standards and setting out in great detail
what the different social ranks were allowed to wear.
By Elizabeth's acts, only royalty could wear the color purple and only the highest nobility could wear the color
red. Ermine, a type of fur, was to be worn only by the royal family, gold could be worn only by nobles of the
rank of earl or higher, and fur trims of any type were limited to people whose incomes were extremely high.
The amount of detail in the sumptuary acts was remarkable, as can be seen in this excerpt from the act
regarding women's clothing, as quoted on the Elizabethan Era Web site:
None shall wear Any cloth of gold, tissue, nor fur of sables: except duchesses, marquises, and countesses in
their gowns, kirtles [underskirts], partlets [garments, usually made of lace, that filled the opening in the front of
a dress and had a collar attached], and sleeves; cloth of gold, silver, tinseled satin, silk, or cloth mixed or
embroidered with gold or silver or pearl, saving silk mixed with gold or silver in linings of cowls [a draped
neckline], partlets, and sleeves: except all degrees above viscountesses, and viscountesses, baronesses, and
other personages of like degrees in their kirtles and sleeves.
Elizabeth claimed the purpose of the sumptuary laws was to prohibit her subjects from wasting huge amounts
of money on clothes. But the laws were also intended to preserve the existing order of social classes. As the
incomes of the middle class increased, they were able to afford to live and dress like aristocrats. Thus it
became increasingly important to regulate the garments of the various classes in order to maintain the
established social order. The queen, as the highest-ranking person in the nation, was dressed the most
elaborately, and she took this outward display of her position seriously. Although the punishment for wearing
clothing prohibited by the sumptuary laws was a fine or worse, the laws were generally not enforced anywhere
but in the royal court. However, purple and red dyes, velvet, gold cloth, and other forbidden garb were highly
expensive, and poverty excluded the poor majority from wearing them. The poor, by necessity, dressed for
their work: men wore boots, pants, a vest, shirt, and hat, while women wore an under skirt with an outer skirt
over it, a bodice (the upper part of a woman's dress), shirt, and hat.
Young boys and girls alike were dressed in skirts until the age of about six. After that age children were
dressed in smaller versions of adult clothing.
Food and drink

Wealthy English households usually ate large quantities of meat, such as beef, mutton (sheep), pork, venison
(deer meat), and rabbit. Elizabethans tended to cook their meats with fruits, preferring the sweet taste. At
social gatherings many varieties of meats and other foods were served. Because there were no refrigerators,
meat was usually preserved in salt to last throughout the winter; the taste of old or spoiled meat was covered
up with spices imported from Asia.
Meat was a rare luxury for the poorer classes. Their meals typically featured bread, eggs, and dairy products.
Vegetables were also fairly rare in their diet.
Elizabethans rarely drank water because it was impure and could lead to sickness. Instead, people of all ages
and classes drank wine, flat beer, or weak ale, even with their morning meal. Both classes ate bread, but not
the same type. The wealthy usually ate a refined white wheat bread called manchet, while the poor were more
likely to eat black or brown breads made from rye or barley.
The nuclear family consisting only of a father, a mother, and their children made up the most common
households in England, although very wealthy households sometimes included members of the extended
family, such as aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents, and almost always included a large staff of live-in
Among farm laborers and craftspeople, families were viewed as working units. Each member of the family had
a task. On a farm, a young boy might be in charge of shooing birds away from the crops, an older boy might
herd sheep, and the wife was in charge of maintaining the home, feeding the family, and helping her husband
with raising and harvesting the crops. Girls usually were trained by their mothers to help take care of the
household. Similarly, families in the cloth industry often worked in their homes and divided up the labor of
spinning and weaving the cloth. For working people, it was a time-honored tradition that the son would take on
the same career as his father.
There were few single people in Elizabethan Englandall were expected to marry. In fact, women who did not
marry were regarded with suspicion; some were even called witches. Married women were almost always
homemakers, though poor women often had to work for pay as well. Almost all Elizabethans considered
women to be inferior tmen. Except in special circumstances, women could not inherit the family property. They
were expected to obey their male relatives and had few rights. It was equally expected that men would marry.
Those who remained single had no legal claim as head of their household, and thus were not eligible for public
office or to inherit from their families. Marriages were often arranged by parents. Most marriages were not
made for romantic love, but for social or financial purposes. Divorce and separation were rare and required an
act of Parliament. Only the very wealthy could even consider this option.
Almost all Elizabethan couples desired to have children. With a high mortality rate, or the frequency of deaths
in proportion to a specific population, couples often had many children, knowing some would not survive.
Generally, children were raised to be respectful and to serve their parents. They were viewed as the property
of their fathers, and beatings and other severe punishments were a normal means of discipline in Elizabethan

households. Parents' approaches to child rearing were very different from one another, however. Just as is the
case today, some Elizabethan parents were prone to spoiling their children while others could be very strict.
Holidays and celebrations
England had a long and much beloved holiday tradition. For most Elizabethan workers, the workweek was long
and hard; times for socializing and being entertained were eagerly anticipated. Many of the traditional English
holidays were actually holy days, days honoring the lives of the saints (deceased people who, due to their
exceptionally good behavior during life, receive the official blessing of the Catholic Church and are believed to
be capable of interceding with God to protect people on earth) or events in the life of Jesus Christ. Holidays
were celebrated within the parish, often with feasting and games as well as prayers.
The Reformation (the sixteenth-century religious movement that aimed to reform the Roman Catholic Church
and resulted in the establishment of Protestant churches) brought about a change in the holidays celebrated in
England and in the ways they were celebrated. The Anglican Church, the official Protestant church of England,
and especially the Puritans (a group of Protestants who follow strict religious standards), wanted to eliminate
the Catholic holidays, and they were far more rigid in their ideas of acceptable celebration behavior than the
Catholic Church had been. In 1552 Elizabeth abolished most saints' days and issued an official Anglican list of
the annual holy days.

The Elizabethan era is the epoch in English history marked by the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (15581603).
Historians often depict it as the golden age in English history. The symbol of Britannia was first used in 1572,
and often thereafter, to mark the Elizabethan age as a renaissance that inspired national pride through
classical ideals, international expansion, and naval triumph over the Spanish at the time, a rival kingdom
much hated by the people of the land. In terms of the entire century, the historian John Guy (1988) argues that
"England was economically healthier, more expansive, and more optimistic under the Tudors" than at any time
in a thousand years.[1]
This "golden age"[2] represented the apogee of the English Renaissance and saw the flowering of poetry, music
and literature. The era is most famous for theatre, as William Shakespeare and many others composed plays
that broke free of England's past style of theatre. It was an age of exploration and expansion abroad, while
back at home, the Protestant Reformation became more acceptable to the people, most certainly after
the Spanish Armada was repulsed. It was also the end of the period when England was a separate realm
before its royal union with Scotland.

The Elizabethan Age may be viewed especially highly when considered in light of the failings of the periods
preceding Elizabeth's reign and those which followed. It was a brief period of internal peace between
the English Reformation and the religious battles between Protestants and Catholics and then the political
battles betweenparliament and the monarchy that engulfed the remainder of the seventeenth century. The
Protestant/Catholic divide was settled, for a time, by the Elizabethan Religious Settlement, and parliament was
not yet strong enough to challenge royal absolutism.
England was also well-off compared to the other nations of Europe. The Italian Renaissance had come to an
end under the weight of Spanish domination of the peninsula. France was embroiled in its own religious battles
due to significant Spanish intervention, that would only be settled in 1598 with the Edict of Nantes. In part
because of this, but also because the English had been expelled from their last outposts on the continent
by Spain's tercios, the centuries-long conflict between France and England was largely suspended for most of
Elizabeth's reign.
The one great rival was Spain, with which England clashed both in Europe and the Americas in skirmishes that
exploded into the Anglo-Spanish War of 15851604. An attempt by Philip II of Spain to invade England with
the Spanish Armada in 1588 was famously defeated, but the tide of war turned against England with an
unsuccessful expedition to Portugal and the Azores, the Drake-Norris Expedition of 1589. Thereafter, Spain
provided some support for Irish Catholics in a debilitating rebellion against English rule, and Spanish naval and
land forces inflicted a series of reversals against English offensives. This drained both the English Exchequer
and economy that had been so carefully restored under Elizabeth's prudent guidance. English commercial and
territorial expansion would be limited until the signing of the Treaty of London the year following Elizabeth's
England during this period had a centralised, well-organised, and effective government, largely a result of the
reforms of Henry VII and Henry VIII, as well as Elizabeth's harsh punishments for any dissenters.
Economically, the country began to benefit greatly from the new era of trans-Atlantic trade, persistent theft of
Spanish treasure, and the African slave trade.

The National Armada memorial inPlymouth using the Britannia image to celebrate the defeat of the Spanish
Armada in 1588 (William Charles May, sculptor, 1888)
Romance and reality

Elizabeth ushers in Peace and Plenty. Detail from The Family of Henry VIII: An Allegory of the Tudor
Succession, c. 1572, attributed to Lucas de Heere.
The Victorian era and the early 20th century idealised the Elizabethan era. The Encyclopdia
Britannica maintains that "[T]he long reign of Elizabeth I, 15581603, was England's Golden Age... 'Merry

England', in love with life, expressed itself in music and literature, in architecture and in adventurous
seafaring".[3] This idealising tendency was shared by Britain and an Anglophilic America. In popular culture, the
image of those adventurous Elizabethan seafarers was embodied in the films of Errol Flynn.[4]
In response and reaction to this hyperbole, modern historians and biographers have tended to take a more
dispassionate view of the Tudor period.[5]
Elizabethan England was not particularly successful in a military sense during the period, but it avoided major
defeats and built up a powerful navy. On balance, it can be said that Elizabeth provided the country with a long
period of general if not total peace and generally increasing prosperity due in large part to stealing from
Spanish treasure ships, raiding settlements with low defenses, and selling African slaves. Having inherited a
virtually bankrupt state from previous reigns, her frugal policies restored fiscal responsibility. Her fiscal restraint
cleared the regime of debt by 1574, and ten years later the Crown enjoyed a surplus of 300,000.

Economically, Sir Thomas Gresham's founding of the Royal Exchange (1565), the first stock exchange in

England and one of the earliest in Europe, proved to be a development of the first importance, for the
economic development of England and soon for the world as a whole. With taxes lower than other European
countries of the period, the economy expanded; though the wealth was distributed with wild unevenness, there
was clearly more wealth to go around at the end of Elizabeth's reign than at the beginning.[7] This general
peace and prosperity allowed the attractive developments that "Golden Age" advocates have stressed.[8]
Plots, intrigues and conspiracies
The Elizabethan Age was also an age of plots and conspiracies, frequently political in nature, and often
involving the highest levels of Elizabethan society. High officials in Madrid, Paris and Rome sought to kill
Elizabeth, a Protestant, and replace her with Mary, Queen of Scots, a Catholic. That would be a prelude to the
religious recovery of England for Catholicism. In 1570, the Ridolfi plot was thwarted. In 1584, the Throckmorton
Plot was discovered, after Francis Throckmorton confessed his involvement in a plot to overthrow the Queen
and restore the Catholic Church in England. Another major conspiracy was the Babington Plot the event
which most directly led to Mary's execution, the discovery of which involved a double agent, Gilbert Gifford,
acting under the direction of Francis Walsingham, the Queen's highly effective spy master.
The Essex Rebellion of 1601 has a dramatic element, as just before the uprising, supporters of the Earl of
Essex, among them Charles and Joscelyn Percy (younger brothers of the Earl of Northumberland), paid for a
performance of Richard II at the Globe Theatre, apparently with the goal of stirring public ill will towards the
monarchy.[9] It was reported at the trial of Essex by Chamberlain's Men actor Augustine Phillips, that the
conspirators paid the company fortyshillings "above the ordinary" (i. e., above their usual rate) to stage the
play, which the players felt was too old and "out of use" to attract a large audience.[9]
In the Bye Plot of 1603, two Catholic priests planned to kidnap King James and hold him in the Tower of
London until he agreed to be more tolerant towards Catholics. Most dramatic was the 1605 Gunpowder Plot to

blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament. It was discovered in time with eight
conspirators executed, including Guy Fawkes, who became the iconic evil traitor in English lore.[10]
Royal Navy and defeat of the Armada

While Henry VIII had launched the Royal Navy, Edward and Mary had ignored it and it was little more than a
system of coastal defense. Elizabeth made naval strength a high priority.[11] She risked war with Spain by
supporting the "Sea Dogs", such as John Hawkins and Francis Drake, who preyed on the Spanish merchant
ships carrying gold and silver from the New World. The Navy yards were leaders in technical innovation, and
the captains devised new tactics. Parker (1996) argues that the full-rigged ship was one of the greatest
technological advances of the century and permanently transformed naval warfare. In 1573 English shipwrights
introduced designs, first demonstrated in the "Dreadnaught", that allowed the ships to sail faster and maneuver
better and permitted heavier guns.[12] Whereas before warships had tried to grapple with each other so that
soldiers could board the enemy ship, now they stood off and fired broadsides that would sink the enemy
vessel. When Spain finally decided to invade and conquer England it was a fiasco. Superior English ships and
seamanship foiled the invasion and led to the destruction of the Spanish Armada in 1588, marking the high
point of Elizabeth's reign. Technically, the Armada failed because Spain's over-complex strategy required
coordination between the invasion fleet and the Spanish army on shore. Also, the poor design of the Spanish
cannons meant they were much slower in reloading in a close-range battle. Spain and France still had stronger
fleets, but England was catching up.[13]
Parker has speculated on the dire consequences if the Spanish had landed their invasion army in 1588. He
argues that the Spanish army was larger, more experienced, better-equipped, more confident, and had better
financing. The English defenses, on the other hand, were thin and outdated; England had too few soldiers and
they were at best only partially trained. Spain had chosen England's weakest link and probably could have
captured London in a week. Parker adds that a Catholic uprising in the north and in Ireland could have brought
total defeat.[14]
Colonising the New World
The discoveries of Christopher Columbus electrified all of western Europe, especially maritime powers like
England. King Henry VII commissioned John Cabotto lead a voyage to find a northern route to the Spice
Islands of Asia; this began the search for the North West Passage. Cabot sailed in 1497 and
reachedNewfoundland.[15] He led another voyage to the Americas the following year, but nothing was heard of
him or his ships again.[16]
In 1562 Elizabeth sent privateers Hawkins and Drake to seize booty from Spanish and Portuguese ships off
the coast of West Africa.[17] When the Anglo-Spanish Wars intensified after 1585, Elizabeth approved further
raids against Spanish ports in the Americas and against shipping returning to Europe with treasure.

Meanwhile, the influential writers Richard Hakluyt and John Dee were beginning to press for the

establishment of England's own overseas empire. Spain was well established in the Americas, while Portugal,

in union with Spain from 1580, had an ambitious global empire in Africa, Asia and South America. France was
exploring North America.[19] England was stimulated to create its own colonies, with an emphasis on the West
Indies rather than in North America.
Martin Frobisher landed at Frobisher Bay on Baffin Island in August 1576; He returned in 1577, claiming it in
Queen Elizabeth's name, and in a third voyage tried but failed to found a settlement in Frobisher Bay.[20][21]

From 1577 to 1580, Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe. Combined with his daring raids against the
Spanish and his great victory over them at Cadiz in 1587, he became a famous hero[22][23]his exploits are still
celebratedbut England did not follow up on his claims.[24] In 1583, Humphrey Gilbert sailed to Newfoundland,
taking possession of the harbour of St John's together with all land within two hundred leagues to the north and
south of it.[25]
In 1584, the queen granted Sir Walter Raleigh a charter for the colonisation of Virginia; it was named in her
honour. Raleigh and Elizabeth sought both immediate riches and a base for privateers to raid the Spanish
treasure fleets. Raleigh sent others to found the Roanoke Colony; it remains a mystery why the settlers all
disappeared.[26] In 1600, the queen chartered the East India Company. It established trading posts, which in
later centuries evolved into British India, on the coasts of what is now India and Bangladesh. Larger scale
colonisation began shortly after Elizabeth's death.[27]
England in this era had some positive aspects that set it apart from contemporaneous continental European
societies. Torture was rare, since the English legal system reserved torture only for capital crimes like
treason[28]though forms of corporal punishment, some of them extreme, were practised. The persecution of
witches began in 1563, and hundreds were executed, although there was nothing like the frenzy on the
Continent[29] Mary had tried her hand at an aggressive anti-Protestant Inquisition and was hated for it; it was
not to be repeated.[30]
Elizabeth managed to moderate and quell the intense religious passions of the time. This was in significant
contrast to previous and succeeding eras of marked religious violence.[31]
Elizabeth said "I have no desire to make windows into mens' souls". Her desire to moderate the religious
persecutions of previous Tudor reigns the persecution of Catholics under Edward VI, and of Protestants
under Mary I appears to have had a moderating effect on English society. Elizabeth reinstated the
Protestant bible and English Mass, yet for a number of years refrained from persecuting Catholics.
In 1570, Pope Pius V declared Elizabeth a heretic who was not the legitimate Queen and her subjects no
longer owed her obedience. The pope sent Jesuits and seminarians to secretly evangelize and support

Catholics. After several plots to overthrow her, Catholic clergy were mostly considered to be traitors, and were
pursued aggressively in England. Often priests were tortured or executed after capture unless they cooperated
with the English authorities. People who publicly supported Catholicism were excluded from the professions;
sometimes fined or imprisoned.[32]
Science, technology and exploration

Lacking a dominant genius or a formal structure for research (the following century had both Sir Isaac
Newton and theRoyal Society), the Elizabethan era nonetheless saw significant scientific progress. The
astronomers Thomas Digges andThomas Harriot made important contributions; William Gilbert published his
seminal study of magnetism, De Magnete, in 1600. Substantial advancements were made in the fields of
cartography and surveying. The eccentric but influential John Dee also merits mention.
Much of this scientific and technological progress related to the practical skill of navigation. English
achievements in exploration were noteworthy in the Elizabethan era. Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the
globe between 1577 and 1581, and Martin Frobisher explored the Arctic. The first attempt at English
settlement of the eastern seaboard of North America occurred in this erathe abortive colony at Roanoke
Island in 1587.
While Elizabethan England is not thought of as an age of technological innovation, some progress did occur. In
1564 Guilliam Boonen came from the Netherlands to be Queen Elizabeth's first coach-builder thus
introducing the new European invention of the spring-suspension coach to England, as a replacement for the
litters and carts of an earlier transportation mode. Coaches quickly became as fashionable as sports cars in a
later century; social critics, especiallyPuritan commentators, noted the "diverse great ladies" who rode "up and
down the countryside" in their new coaches.[33]
Education would begin at home, where children were taught the basic etiquette of proper manners and
respecting others.[34] It was necessary for boys to attend grammar school, but girls were rarely allowed in any
place of education other than petty schools, and then only with a restricted curriculum.[34] Petty schools were
for all children aged from 5 to 7 years of age. Only the most wealthy people allowed their daughters to be
taught, and only at home. During this time, endowed schooling became available. This meant that even boys of
very poor families were able to attend school if they were not needed to work at home, but only in a few
localities were funds available to provide support as well as the necessary education scholarship.[35] Boys from
families of nobility would often be taught at home by a private tutor.

While the Tudor era presents an abundance of material on the women of the nobilityespecially royal wives
and queenshistorians have recovered scant documentation about the average lives of women. There has,
however, been extensive statistical analysis of demographic and population data which includes women,
especially in their childbearing roles.[36][37]
The role of women in society was, for the historical era, relatively unconstrained; Spanish and Italian visitors to
England commented regularly, and sometimes caustically, on the freedom that women enjoyed in England, in
contrast to their home cultures. England had more well-educated upper class women than was common
anywhere in Europe.[38][39]
The Queen's marital status was a major political and diplomatic topic. It also entered into the popular culture.
Elizabeth's unmarried status inspired a cult of virginity. In poetry and portraiture, she was depicted as a virgin
or a goddess or both, not as a normal woman.[40] Elizabeth made a virtue of her virginity: in 1559, she told the
Commons, "And, in the end, this shall be for me sufficient, that a marble stone shall declare that a queen,
having reigned such a time, lived and died a virgin".[41] Public tributes to the Virgin by 1578 acted as a coded
assertion of opposition to the queen's marriage negotiations with the Duc d'Alenon.[42]
In contrast to her father's emphasis on masculinity and physical prowess, Elizabeth emphasized the
maternalism theme, saying often that she was married to her kingdom and subjects. She explained "I keep the
good will of all my husbands my good people for if they did not rest assured of some special love towards
them, they would not readily yield me such good obedience,"[43] and promised in 1563 they would never have a
more natural mother than she.[44]Coch (1996) argues that her figurative motherhood played a central role in her
complex self-representation, shaping and legitimating the personal rule of a divinely appointed female prince.

Over ninety percent of English women (and adults, in general) entered marriage at the end of the 1500s and
beginning of the 1600s, at an average age of about 2526 years for the bride and 2728 years for the groom.

Among the nobility and gentry, the average was around 19-21 for brides and 24-26 for grooms.[48] Many

city and townswomen married for the first time in their thirties and forties[49] and it was not unusual for orphaned
young women to delay marriage until the late twenties or early thirties to help support their younger siblings,

and roughly a fourth of all English brides were pregnant at their weddings.[51]

England's food supply was plentiful throughout most of the reign; there were no famines. Bad harvests caused
distress, but they were usually localized. The most widespread came in 155557 and 159698.[52] In the towns
the price of staples was fixed by law; in hard times the size of the loaf of bread sold by the baker was smaller.

The poor consumed a diet largely of bread, cheese, milk, and beer, with small portions of meat, fish and
vegetables, and occasionally some fruit. Potatoes were just arriving at the end of the period, and became
increasingly important. The typical poor farmer sold his best products on the market, keeping the cheap food
for the family. Stale bread could be used to make bread puddings, and bread crumbs served to thicken soups,
stews, and sauces.[54] At a somewhat higher social level families ate an enormous variety of meats, especially
beef, mutton, veal, lamb, and pork, as well as chickens, and ducks. The holiday goose was a special treat.
Many rural folk and some townspeople tended a small garden which produced vegetables such as asparagus,
cucumbers, spinach, lettuce, beans, cabbage, carrots, leeks, and peas, as well as medicinal and flavoring
herbs. Some grew their own apricots, grapes, berries, apples, pears, plums, currants, and cherries. Families
without a garden could trade with their neighbors to obtain vegetables and fruits at low cost.[55]
England was exposed to new foods (such as the potato imported from South America), and developed new
tastes during the era. The more prosperous enjoyed a wide variety of food and drink, including exotic new
drinks such as tea, coffee, and chocolate. French and Italian chefs appeared in the country houses and
palaces bringing new standards of food preparation and taste. For example, the English developed a taste for
acidic foodssuch as oranges for the upper classand started to use vinegar heavily. The gentry paid
increasing attention to their gardens, with new fruits, vegetables and herbs; pasta, pastries, and dried mustard
balls first appeared on the table. The apricot was a special treat at fancy banquets. Roast beef remained a
staple for those who could afford it. The rest ate a great deal of bread and fish. Every class had a taste for beer
and rum.[56]
At the rich end of the scale the manor houses and palaces were awash with large, elaborately prepared meals,
usually for many people and often accompanied by entertainment. The upper classes often celebrated
religious festivals, weddings, alliances and the whims of the king or queen. Feasts were commonly used to
commemorate the "procession" of the crowned heads of state in the summer months, when the king or queen
would travel through a circuit of other nobles' lands both to avoid the plague season of London, and alleviate
the royal coffers, often drained through the winter to provide for the needs of the royal family and court. This
would include a few days or even a week of feasting in each noble's home, who depending on his or her
production and display of fashion, generosity and entertainment, could have his way made in court and elevate
his or her status for months or even years.
Special courses after a feast or dinner which often involved a special room or outdoor gazebo (sometimes
known as a folly) with a central table set with dainties of "medicinal" value to help with digestion. These would
include wafers, comfits of sugar-spun anise or other spices, jellies and marmalades (a firmer variety than we
are used to, these would be more similar to our gelatin jigglers), candied fruits, spiced nuts and other such
niceties. These would be eaten while standing and drinking warm, spiced wines (known as hypocras) or other
drinks known to aid in digestion. One must remember that sugar in the Middle Ages or Early Modern Period
was often considered medicinal, and used heavily in such things. This was not a course of pleasure, though it
could be as everything was a treat, but one of healthful eating and abetting the digestive capabilities of the
body. It also, of course, allowed those standing to show off their gorgeous new clothes and the holders of the
dinner and banquet to show off the wealth of their estate, what with having a special room just for banqueting.