The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England Part 2 ‘The Rich’

First Broadcast 07.06.2013

Ian Mortimer
Ian Mortimer

Ian Mortimer

Elite of society

Paintings from the period focus on the rich – dancing, feasts, furs, silks

Confidence, privilege, wealth, power – doubt, uncertainty, fear

Those who have the most also have the most to lose

Hampton Court Palace = keeping up appearances, Elizabeth I inherited 20 palaces and gave 7 away, packed with the possessions of Henry VIII

Need a letter of introduction – need money

Strict hierarchy – status denoted by clothes, changed by the years, eclectic mix of styles from all over the continent

Queen encourages a feminine look, oversized codpieces gone, allowed to reveal cleavage, but not bare arms or legs = become more lavish as Elizabeth’s reign progresses

Ruff – 1558 collars begin to be shown over tunics, by 1580 it is a separate garment and uses 6 yards of material, bright colours are a must

Early part of her reign Elizabeth dresses starkly in blacks and whites, don’t want to upstage the Queen by dressing too brightly

Ian Mortimer 'Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England'
Ian Mortimer ‘Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England’

Mirrors become more popular in palaces

Royal progresses = two dozen occasions during Elizabeth’s reign

Tapestries and paintings removed along with valuables while the Queen is away

300 – 400 carts and wagons and over 3000 horses used on a royal progress

People can see her in the flesh and she can become acquainted with her subjects – Tudor visual propaganda, Queen becomes a living portrait

Doesn’t travel very far as only travels where she is popular (generally in the south)

Surprisingly mobile – poor travel on foot, gentry travel by coach (brought over during the Reformation from Europe), men ride more on horseback

State of the roads – roads meant for feet and hooves and not wheels

Bridges also a problem, mainly made from wood and in a poor state of repair, stone bridges can still cause problems, very narrow

Highwaymen = 1567 – 1602 Essex 60 court cases relating to highway thefts

Gamalial Ratsey – generous to the poor, has a horrible mask, also steals dignity while robbing

Hear them before you see them, communite by owl noises, don’t just take money but also possessions, clothes and horses

Inns – only stay as a matter of necessity

More likely to arrange a stay at the house of a gentleman – handsome manor houses

Avebury Manor in Wiltshire = not the nobility building houses like this, but the gentry

Gentry – below aristocracy, but above those who labour

Generate income by letting out land – gentleman should get £500 pa in the south of England or £300 pa in the north of England

Coats of arms suggest an ancestry – squires

Heralds = check up on coats of arms, make sure they are real

1600 – earls, barons and nobility combined £220000, gentry income is 10x that

Wealth and power

Gentry practically own and run the whole country – magistrates, local government, parliament and army generals

Hampton Court Palace, built by Cardinal Wolsey.
Hampton Court Palace, built by Cardinal Wolsey.

Only on judgement day before god are all men and women equal

If a woman answers the door you should kiss her on the lips

Gentlemen’s homes aspire to the nobles and royalty – carpets laid across tables and chests, arson of weapons, some portraits, servants

Manservants £2 pa and women servants £1 pa

Household – larger group including servants, not just family = prioritise household interests over those of their own family

Allowed to beat servants and family so long as he doesn’t kill them

Prosecutions rare for the killing of servants – just say you didn’t mean to

Man of the house almost expects to receive sexual favours from his female servants = if she refuses she risks dismissal, if she consents she risks disease and pregnancy, and if she is pregnant, she will likely be dismissed anyway

Bedchambers – hygiene including bodily odours

Water also subject to hierarchy – rain water seen as pure, river water may be diseased, avoid immersing yourself in it

Linen is the key to hygiene – keep yourself clean by washing your clothes not your body, also use perfumes and use cumin and aniseed to refresh the breath

Foul smelling air carries illness

Body contains four humours, but dirty water upsets the humours

Baths tend to be full of herbs and medicines to cure an illness – Elizabeth I bathed even when not ill

Many things can cause an imbalance of the humours = movement of the stars, witchcraft, etc

First port of call for illness is usually an educated woman

Operations are done by barber surgeons – same people who cut your hair – can practise on four executed people per year

After an operation quite likely to die of infection

Medical help not cheap – 13s in 1600 for a course of treatment

Construction boom doesn’t extend up to the nobility – more likely to live in medieval castles built by their ancestors

Inherited money belongs to the whole family and is often tied up in loans and the like

Hardwick Hall
Hardwick Hall

House for a nobleman would have to equal the likes of Hardwick Hall – lots of glass on display

Of £5000 to built a house, around £300 goes on glass alone, not including fittings, shutters and frames

New breed of rich men – merchants, lawyers and civil servants

William Cecil, £2000 a year on building projects like Cecil House

Francis Willoughby – exploits coal mines and nearly bankrupts himself on building projects

Hardwick Hall built by Bess of Hardwick, born a commoner – profound change in social attitudes

Medieval homes designed for defence, but Elizabethan homes designed to see and be seen – no central courtyard for the first time

Long gallery = many portraits of great figures, including the Queen and other nobles

Every detail designed to show off

Local and national prestige, but very expensive

Entertaining the Queen at your home could be ruinously expensive – Queen travels with about 2000 people who all need to be housed and fed and entertained

Fruit and vegetables are seen to contribute to ill humours

Eating meat on the wrong days could earn you a hefty fine

Royal court gets through 2500 gallons of beer, but wine serves as a status symbol – around 450 gallons of wine over 2 days

Seating at banquets means that you may not even be in the same room as the Queen

Some etiquette is unusual to us = doff your cap if someone wees in your presence

Faster dances like galliards and la volte become more popular

Elizabeth I Darnley Portrait 1575
Elizabeth I Darnley Portrait 1575

Earl of Oxford bows in front of the Queen and breaks wind – leaves court immediately and doesn’t return for 7 years – when he returns “my lord, I had quite forgotten the fart”

A few careless words could see your wealth, power and life lost

Servants could be at a nearby inn or tavern

Could say too much about a master or mistress which gets back to the Queen’s Secretary – eavesdroppers in your own household – Francis Walsingham

Any hint of treason, sedition or disloyalty = spy has to report any question of this to authorities

Queen has lots of enemies – religious grounds, foreign adversaries, MPs

Puritans and Catholics – latter more dangerous as alternative Queen in Mary Queen of Scots, could be forced to choose sides

1580s attempt on Elizabeth’s life almost every year

Effectiveness of Elizabethan spy network – Anthony Babington 1586, aim to assassinate the Queen and replace her with Mary Queen of Scots

Walsingham’s spy network intercept the letters and decode them, but don’t raise the alarm immediately – Mary incriminates herself and 14 conspirators are caught and executed, along with Mary Queen of Scots

Poor are too busy trying to survive

Star Chamber = elite court made up from nobles, strikes fear

Doesn’t abide by the legal system and can proceed by rumour alone – no jury, every councillor is a judge

Elizabethans pioneered state-authorised torture

Pit, rack,scavenger’s daughter, fetters, chains or manacles

Executions = demonstrating government power and social control, removing enemies of the state, also hugely popular as entertainment

Standard punishment is hanging, but nobles can petition the Queen for a beheading

Traitors – hanging, drawing and quartering – drawn to the gallows on a hurdle, hanged until nearly dead, intestines cut out and burnt, head cut off and body cut into quarters

Portrait of Mary Queen of Scots after François Clouet, c. 1559.
Portrait of Mary Queen of Scots after François Clouet, c. 1559.

Babington and six others are hung, drawn and quartered, but the crowd begins to sympathise so the others are fully hanged before their entrails are burnt

If a plot against Elizabeth succeeds, she will be beheaded

Any of the rich and powerful are vulnerable – society is changing and new wealth is created

New opportunities for wealth and status

Movement towards freedom that we experience today

Enterprise and endeavour becoming more important than birth

Science, exploration, literature and the arts

New middle classes have arrived

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