‘The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England’ Part 3 ‘Brave New World’

First Broadcast 14.06.2013

Ian Mortimer
Ian Mortimer

Ian Mortimer

Craftsmen, architects, writers, explorers, etc

Middle-classes who will radically alter our nation

Provinces – Stratford-upon-Avon = small-town merchants where money is king

Towns are driving social change

1570s buzz in the air, traders on the high street 6 days a week = wool merchants, butchers, bakers, tailors, etc


Great names of the age emerge from these towns – leave a lasting impact on society

William Shakespeare = upwardly mobile family, father a glover, tanyard at the back of the house

Unpleasant smells, chimneys come into vogue – can now heat every room in the home, can rise above one floor and keep them heated, cheap bricks

Affordable for the many, not just the few

Two storey houses show that you’re the gentry rather than the common people – on average, temperature 2 degrees lower than now

Houses redeveloped skywards

1598 glass is the ultimate status symbol – natural light, glass at the front and shutters at the back

Urbanisation – everyone moving into the town, ambitious traders

Towns changing beyond recognition – Stratford rises from 1500 people to 2000 people

Elizabethan England increases population from 3.2 million to 4.1 million

When you outgrow your town, you move to London – coming in from the north you pass Tyburn, the London gallows

A minor indiscretion can cost you your life

London had a lot of fine inns – shown to the innkeeper, given a candle to light to your bedchamber – wooden bedframe with mattresses, laundered sheets

Innkeeper legally responsible for keeping you safe

Tower of London including menagerie, royal mint, armour – cost of 12 weeks wages for the average labourer

Wealthy foreigners 1562 Alessandro Magno from Venice

London Map 16th Century
London Map 16th Century

London Bridge – every visitor to the city talks about it 28 feet wide, made from 20 arches and covered in buildings from shops to toilets and houses, also includes fortification

Royal authority, 30 heads of executed people seen there by 1603

Mermaid Tavern on Cheapside, a favourite haunt of William Shakespeare – at the heart of new London

Indulgences including food, drink, music and flirtation, as well as places of prostitution

Harsh realities of life

1599 Thomas Blatter – crowding in, observations by foreigners

Centre of law, politics, wealth, poverty and culture

London population increases from 70000 to 200000 between 1558 – 1603

Londoners pay 200x more tax than those in England’s second city, Norwich – more chances to make money and make your way

Elizabeth doesn’t like London encroaching on her palaces – no new buildings allowed outside London’s walls – green space around the city

Crowded, cramped and unhygienic – have to lie very close to your neighbours

Lack of space means that houses sometimes rise up to 7 stories high

No real drains and few toilets – smell of sewage is the smell of progress and people

Flaunt wealth through choice of transport = wealthy people like to use the river, the Queen has her own barge, cost a penny to cross the river to Southwark

Lots of ports – opportunities to make money and trade

Ports give novelties like sugar, spices, soap, marmalade and carpets, as well as the essentials

Movement of people and cargoes

Plaque = 1563 17,000 people in London die of bubonic plaque

Never predict where plaque might strike, carried by rat fleas which don’t travel fast, leave any infected area quickly

Plaque can be spread by your breath and by infected clothes

More rampant in poor areas than richer areas – once you have it there is nothing you can do

1578 subject to strict control measures – no amount of money will help

Boarded up for six weeks with your whole family and servants, ill or healthy

Positive changes including publication of increasing numbers of books in English – increases rapidly over the 16th century which encourages more common people to read

Published on cookery, medicine and how to fire a cannon

Tyndale's Bible
Tyndale’s Bible

Bible in English – read the word of God in their own homes and consider its meanings without relying on a priest or bishop

Literature can be a ticket to greatness

Beginning of 16th century, 1 in 10 men can read and write, by 1603 it’s 1 in 4. Beginning, only 1% of women could read, by 1603 it’s 10%

Amelia Lanyer – a lot to say for herself, witty and educated

Claims that it was Adam and not Eve that got mankind thrown from the Garden of Eden

Difficulty in reading handwriting – many different types of script in use, many people use ‘black letter’, almost gothic style, ‘printed italic’ much easier to read

Also ‘secretary hand’ which is never printed

Arabic and Roman numerals in constant use, Arabic in more use (1068) rather than MLXIII

Schools become more common, including grammar schools which teach Latin

William Shakespeare goes to grammar school in Stratford – lessons start at 6 or 7am and usually carry on for around 10 hours, learn by rote in Latin

Increasingly literate society

Take advantage of new opportunities – exploration, discovery and scientific revolution

Religion and scientific fact – won’t hear ‘science’ but ‘natural philosophy’ but also includes the occult and astrologer

Dr John Dee
Dr John Dee

John Dee = astrologer, 1582 Edward Kelly try and study angels through séances, instructed to share everything including their wives, make love to each other’s wives

No scientific boundaries – every scientific discovery is a religious act

Science and religion are the same thing

Francis Bacon – sets Elizabethan apart from Medieval – compass, printing and gunpowder

“Dwarves standing on the shoulders of giants”

1492 Colombus discovered America – leading scientists and geographers can’t underestimate this, scientific discovery goes hand in hand with exploration

Appetite for discovery driven by money

John Hawkins, adventurer – 1550s money making venture, sending slaves from Africa to the Caribbean

Queen Elizabeth invests in his next expedition

Sir Francis Drake – Elizabethan self made man, one of the richest and most celebrated men in the kingdom

1577 200 men, returns with just 56 men but a mountain of treasure, state-sanctioned pirate, extends knowledge of the Pacific Ocean

Spanish estimate his loot at £600,000, twice the English court’s revenue

Golden Hind – flagship, traditional to break a piece off as a souvenir

Chandos Portrait of William Shakespeare 1610 possibly by John Taylor
Chandos Portrait of William Shakespeare 1610 possibly by John Taylor

Gunpowder and cannon – superior firepower

Golden Hind has 18 cannon, sends iron cannonballs, majority of English vessels more manoeuvrable than the bigger Spanish galleons

English challenge the Spanish for mastery of the world’s oceans

Life on a ship is hard – no private space, likely to get scurvy and food horrendous, no washing or shaving facilities, covered in lice and fleas

82% of mariners under the age of 30 as mortality was so high

Elizabeth knights Francis Drake – one of the most famous men of the age

Men like Drake are the key to England’s future – recognised by the Queen and high society

Darker side of human nature = racism and prejudice, by 1596 black men are so many in England that Elizabeth asks most of them deported, use as an excuse the lack of food

Elizabeth I 1588 Armada portrait by George Gower
Elizabeth I 1588 Armada portrait by George Gower

Claimed that the devil has black skin

Black skinned people found serving in the noble households – rich men lending out black female servants to friends or relatives for sexual experimentation

New discoveries to enhance understanding of natural world – plants and animals like tobacco, turkey, tomato, potato, etc

Botanical gardens become more popular to keep these plants together – John Gerard, botanist

Tobacco first becomes available in 1573, a quarter ounce costs 10 pence = divides opinion, effects like being drunk or provides medicinal qualities, makes your breath smell

New world waiting to be discovered and exploited

England profoundly different between start of Elizabeth’s reign and the end

Set England against powerful rivals like Spain and Portugal – post-1577 John Dee suggests the establishment of an English empire

Collision course with Spain – Spanish Armada 1588, defining event of Elizabeth’s reign

122 Spanish ships wanted to land an army to overthrow Elizabeth = entered the Channel and come across an English fleet commanded by Drake and Lord Howard

Fire ships sent in off Calais and the Armada is driven north and the weather does the rest – ships are destroyed in storms off Scotland and Ireland

Armada portrait – one side has the English fleet in light and the other has the wrecked Spanish fleet in darkness = God’s favour is with Elizabeth’s England

Urbanisation, education and advances in knowledge

Changing world

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre
Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

Shakespeare’s globe theatre = prospers through hard work 1599 Shakespeare writes five plays (Hamlet, As You Like It, Julius Caesar included)

A third of all Londoners watched a play every month

2000-strong audience, be on guard against pickpockets

Shakespeare wrote parts for specific people that he knew – Ben Jonson knew that Shakespeare was a great writer

Shakespeare mirrors reality to reflect a rapidly changing society

Rides the crest of a cultural wave still breaking on the shores of the world

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