Moonday’s Heroic Hunks in History:Elizabethan Life & Style

     This Moonday, amid sfcatty’s sprinkling of snow, we set the stage for our celebration of Elizabeth Tudor—our “Gloriana”—and her magnificent Elizabethans. Elizabeth’s birth in 1533 was greeted with jubilation. She wasn’t the male heir that Henry VIII craved but she was proof that her mother, Queen Anne Boleyn, could bear children. There were no more live births and Anne lost her head because of it.

Elizabeth's Coronation Portrait

     Elizabeth fell from princess and heir to bastard in a day. Elizabeth, much like her cousin Lady Jane Grey, was well educated but at the mercy of those around her. She learned her lessons early. Her mother was executed. The next Queen—Jane Seymour—died in childbirth delivering her brother, Edward. Queen Anne of Cleves was set aside so E’s father could marry another. That queen, Katherine Howard—her mother’s first cousin, was beheaded. Her father’s last Queen—Catherine Parr—survived him but died in childbirth two years later. But E had been sent away before her death by Catherine who came closest to being a mother figure for E. Catherine’s husband—Thomas Seymour—wouldn’t keep his hands off of her.
     While she was relatively safe during the Protestant Edward’s reign, when her sister Mary inherited she was constantly in danger. The Catholic Queen Mary, her half-sister, hated her for her mother Anne’s actions and suspected her of scheming to steal the crown. She was imprisoned in the Tower of London and closely watched once released. When Bloody Mary died without heirs, Elizabeth was the only direct heir of Henry VIII left standing. She assumed the crown to the adulation of the English people—a love affair that lasted for 45 years.
     The England that the new queen ruled was a country in flux. The medieval society of Elizabeth’s grandparents and great-grandparents was dying. A vibrant middle class was developing in the cities. Visitors commented on the wealth and acquisitiveness of the English. They wanted the best fabrics, the most elaborate clothing, and the finest jewels they could afford. The English people were noted for being the most well-fed in Europe. Yes, there were poor people and the counties resented having to care for them but, for the most part, things were beginning to go well for the English. They were proud to be English and proud of their Queen.

Bess' Hardwych Hall

 Gone were the dreary castles surrounded by stinking moats. The wealthiest Englishmen built the magnificent prodigy houses which cast aside the need for protection in favor celebrating their wealth. But the most magnificent prodigy house of all was built by a barely noble lady—Bess of Hardwyck—who married well (four times) and celebrated her wealth with Hardwyck Hall.        

     The distinctive wood and stucco Tudor-style homes of the middle class became more ornate also. Furniture, previously limited to benches and tables and chairs, filled their homes. Carved oak tables, desks, cabinets and cupboards abounded. Their walls were painted with themed frescoes.

Tudor Manor house with Garden

     There was a down side also. Most newborns did not survive infancy and fewer still survived childhood. While the wealthy married very young, the middle and lower classes put off marriage—often until a baby was on the way. Smallpox and the plague were common killers.
     Filth was common—sewage ran in the streets. Even the Queen with her velvet-covered close stool did not have a true toilet until her godson, Sir John Harrington, gifted her with his new invention. Also new, were the SILK stocking given the Queen for her coronation. After wearing them, she swore she would wear nothing else again. Unfortunately, nothing she wore could be washed. While the sleeves to her jewel-encrusted gowns could be interchanged, they could only be sponged with a damp cloth. Instead, everyone relied on scents to conceal foul odors—either pomander balls or scented leather gloves.
     Enough for now. BTW, my favorite source for Elizabethan life and style is Lisa Picard’s Elizabeth’s London. While not a historian, Picard uses primary sources to create a vibrant and detailed picture of Elizabethan London and English life. Next week, the young Queen and her “lovers.” RitaVF


3 Responses

  1. Have always loved Bess’ house. Would love to stay there- not live there in the winter, but just visit. Thanks for another great Monday.

  2. Rita, you make Monday mornings sparkle!

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge. I feel blessed because of it!

  3. I loved it. Thanks. Looking forward to next Monday.

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