Mitchell Carroll.

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regard to some circumstances, will bring them up ex-
cellently well." In the higher circles, where cynicism
frequently assumes the forms of wisdom, it was not
universally agreed that women should have the widest
opportunities of education. In one of his discourses,
Erasmus, possibly the most accomplished of the school-
men of the time, opens to our view the opinion of the
Church as to female scholarship when he represents an
abbot as contending that if women were learned they
could not be kept under subjection, "therefore it is a
wicked, mischievous thing to revive the ancient custom of
educating them." A remark in one of Erasmus's letters
lays him open to the suspicion of sharing somewhat in
this view, for, in his description of Sir Thomas More, he
speaks of him as wise with the wise, and jesting with
fools — " with women especially, and his own wife among

Besides the graver matters of study which claimed their
attention, the women of England were devoted to music,


needlework, and dancing, which were the favorite fashion-
able pastimes . Erasmus speaks of them as the most accom-
plished in musical skill of any people. Early as the reign of
Henry VIII., to read music at sight was not an uncommon
accomplishment, while those who aspired to the technique
of the subject were students of counterpoint. Musical
literature was scanty; the principal instruments were the
lute, the mandolin, the clavichord, and the virginals.

Notwithstanding its literary flavor and its identity with
the great themes of modern knowledge, the age of Eliza-
beth can hardly be called a serious one from the point of
view of the spirit and manners of the people. Amusement
was sought for its own sake, without regard to its character
or quality. The spirit of enjoyment was hearty and un-
restrained, and lacked discrimination and refinement. The
society of the age, like its culture, was a reflex of the
personality of the powerful queen, who stamped her char-
acter and her tastes upon her people. The queen, as well
as her courtiers, could restrain herself upon occasion; but
neither she nor her subjects felt that there was any moral
or conventional need to place a check upon the expression
of their emotions, and in consequence their manners were
often unbecoming. It did not offend the sense of personal
dignity of Elizabeth to spit at a courtier, the cut or color
of whose coat displeased her, just as she might box his
ears or rap out at him a flood of profanity. When Leices-
ter was kneeling to receive his earldom, the dignity of the
occasion was entirely destroyed by the volatile queen
bending over to tickle his neck. As it was a case of like
queen, like people, a man who could not or who would
not swear was accounted " a peasant, a clown, a patch, an
effeminate person." The shu qua non for obtaining the
queen's favor was to be amusing. It mattered nothing at
all at whose expense, or how personal the witticism, or


how sensitive the one who was made the butt of amuse-
ment; if the queen enjoyed it, and the boisterous laughter
of the court sycophants was evoked, the sufferer had to
appear gratified at the honor of his selection for his sover-
eign's entertainment. Coarse manners were but the
expression of coarser morals; even men of the cleanest
characters and highest intelligence did not shrink from
any allusion, however gross, and felt no impulse to check
their words either in speech or in writing. Nor were
women a whit more regardful of the proprieties of expres-
sion. Ascham blamed the degradation of English morals
in part on the custom of sending abroad young men to
Italy to finish their education, and alleged that the corrup-
tion which they underwent at the "court of Circe" was
responsible for the spread of vicious manners in English
society. He writes: " I know divers that went out of Eng-
land, men of innocent life, men of excellent learning, who
returned out of Italy, not only with worse manners, but
also with less learning." He complains of the introduction
of Italian books translated into English, which were sold
in every shop of London, by which the morals of the
youth were corrupted, and whose venom was the more
insidious because they appeared under honest titles and
were dedicated to virtuous and honorable personages. As
there was no public opinion to censure the reading of the
women, or standards to control their conversation, they
did not feel the impropriety of acquainting themselves
with such works and of openly discussing them. Indeed,
the women of the nobility felt themselves freed from all the
restraints which the modest of the sex normally cherish
for their protection.

An illustration of the freedom of the manners of the
women is found in the correspondence of Erasmus, who,
on coming to England as a young man, was impressed by


the prevalence of the custom of kissing. In a letter to a
friend in Holland, he says, in effect, that the women kiss
you on meeting you, kiss you on taking their leave; when
you enter their homes, you are greeted with kisses, and
are sped on your way by the same osculatory exercises;
and he adds, after you have once tasted the freshness of
the lips of the rosy English maidens, you will not want to
leave this delightful country. A further illustration of the
same thing is found in a manual of so-called English con-
versation, published in 1589: a traveller on arriving at an
inn is instructed to discourse as follows with the chamber-
maid, and her conventional replies are given: "My shee
frinde, is my bed made — is it good?" "Yea, sir, it is a
good feder-bed; the scheetes be very cleane." "Pull off
my hosen and warme my bed; drawe the curtines, and
pin them with a pin. My shee frinde, kisse me once, and
I shall sleape the better. I thank you, fayre mayden."
This suggestion of the manners obtaining in the English
inns is but an indication of a similar state of freedom
throughout the lower classes of society. For while the
glory of the Elizabethan age was found mostly at the top
of society, its coarseness pervaded all ranks.

The rough manners of the age extended to the counte-
nancing of all sorts of brawls. There was nothing that
would collect a crowd sooner than two boys whose pug-
nacity had led them from words to blows; the passers-by
considered such a scene fine sport, and gathered about the
young combatants to encourage them in their fighting.
Even the mothers themselves, far from punishing their
children for such conduct, encouraged it in them. Cock
fighting, bear baiting, wrestling, and sword play were
favorite pastimes. The girls delighted to play in the open
air, with little regard to grace or decorum; a game called
tennis ball was popular. The milkwomen had their dances,


into which they entered with zest. Pets were in favor
with the ladies almost as much as in the former century,
and exploration into new countries had increased the vari-
ety of them. In the prints of the times, ladies are often
represented with monkeys in attendance on them.

With the great multiplicity of new fashions, in novelties
in customs and in costumes, in manners and even in mor-
als, there came into vogue, from the East, hot, or, as they
were called, "sweating baths." They became very com-
mon throughout England, and the places where they were
to be gotten were commonly called " hothouses," although
their Persian name of hummums was also preserved. Ben
Jonson represents a character in the old play The Puritan
as saying in regard to a laborious undertaking: "Marry, it
will take me much sweat; I were better to go to sixteen
hothouses." They became the rendezvous of women, who
resorted to them for gossip and company. The rude man-
ners of the age were not conducive to the preservation of
these places from the illicit intrigues which made them
notorious, and caused the name "hothouse" to become a
synonym for "brothel." It was their acquired character
that probably led eventually to their disuse. They were
not necessarily vicious, and they furnished a convenience
for the sex, who did not have the shops and clubs of
to-day as places for meeting and the interchange of small
talk. It must be remembered that the taverns supplied
this need for the men, but, excepting in the case of the
lower orders of society, the women had no similar place
for such social intercourse as was secured to the men by
their tavern clubs. The hothouses were not simply bath
houses of the modern Turkish type, but were restaurants
as well. While seated in the steaming bath, refreshments
and lunch were served on tables conveniently arranged for
the purpose, and, after ablutions, the women remained as


long as they cared to, in conversation. The picnics which
had formerly taken place at the tavern were transferred to
the hot bath, each of the women carrying to the feast con-
tributions which were shared in common. This practice,
which began with the servant maids, passed to their mis-
tresses and on up the scale of society, and became fashion-
able for the ladies of the higher circles. In the absence
of the modern newspaper, these places became the dis-
tributing centres for the news of the day and the talk
of the town. The tavern served the same purpose for
the men.

Dancing was indulged in by all classes of society, and
the variety and curious names of the new styles which
were introduced during the Elizabethan era are well set
forth in the following quotation from a festal scene in
Haywood's Woman Kilde with Kindnesse :

"J. Slime. — I come to dance, not to quarrel Come, what shall it be?
Roger ?

JEM. — Rogero! no I we will dance the Beginning of the World.

SISLY. — I love no dance so well as John, Come Kiss Me Now.

NICH. — I that have ere now defer'd a cushion, call for the Cushion-dance.

R BRICK. — For my part, I like nothing so well as Tom Tyler.

Jem. — No; we'll have the Hunting of the Fox.

i. SLIME. — The Hay; The Hay! there's nothing like The Hay!

NiCH. — I have said, do say, and will say again —

JEM. — Every man agree to have it as Nick says.

ALL.— Content.

NICH. — It hath been, it is now, and it shall be —

SISLY.— What, Master Nicholas? What?

NICH. — Put on your Smock 0' Monday.

JEM. — So the dance will come cleanly off. Come, for God's sake agree
on something; if you like not that, put it to the musicians; or let me speak
for all, and we'll have Sellengers Round."

The nuptial usages of the age included some curious
customs. Thus, we are told by Howe in his Additions to
Stowe's Chronicle that, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth,


" It was the custome for maydes and gentlewomen to giv&
their favourites, as tokens of their love, little Handkerchiefs,
of about three or four inches square, wrought round about,
and with a button or a tassel at each corner, and a little
one in the middle, with silke and thread; the best edged
with a small gold lace, or twist, which being foulded up in
foure crosse foldes, so as the middle might be seene,
gentlemen and other did usually weare them in their
hattes, as favours of their loves and mistresses. Some
cost six pence a piece, some twelve pence, and the richest
sixteen pence." Handkerchiefs were the customary mes-
sengers of Cupid; the present of a handkerchief with love
devices worked in the corners was a delicate expression of
the tender sentiment. Thus, in Haywood's Fayre Mayde
of the Exchange, Phyllis brings a handkerchief to the
Cripple of Fanchurch to be embroidered, and says:

"Only this hankercher; a young gentlewoman
Wish'd me to acquaint you witli her mind herein:
In one comer of the same, place wanton Love,
Drawing his bow, shooting an amorous dart —
Opposit against him an arrow in an heart;
In a third comer picture forth Disdain,
A cruel fate unto a loving vein ;
In the fourth, draw a springing laurel-tree,
Circled about with a ring of poesy."

Wedding contracts in the times of the Tudors were
peculiar, not being regarded as binding unless there had
been an exchange of gold or the drinking of wine. In the
old play of The Widow, Ricardo artfully entices the widow
into a verbal contract, whereupon one of her suitors draws
hope for himself through the possibility of the engagement
being invalid because it lacked the observance of this
custom. He says: "Stay, stay — you broke no Gold be-
tween you.'"' To which she answers: "We broke noth-
ing. Sir;" and on his adding: "Nor drank to each other?"


she replies: "Not a drop, Sir." Whence he draws this
conclusion: " That the contract cannot stand good in Law."
The custom of throwing rice after a wedded couple is a
continuance of the practice in the sixteenth century of
throwing wheat upon the head of the bride as she came
from the church. Marriage was not considered irrevo-
cable, because, aside from the regular forms of divorce, it
was not unusual for a husband to sell his wife for a satis-
factory consideration. Even down to recent times, the
people in some of the rural districts of England could not
understand why a husband had not a right so to dispose of
his wife, provided he delivered her over with a halter
around her neck. Henry Machyn notes in his Diary, in
1553, the following: "Dyd ryd in a cart Checken, parson
of Sant Necolas Coldabbay, round abowt London, for he
soldys zvyff to a bowcher." When the contracting parties
were too poor to pay for the ceremony and the wedding
feast, and the expenses of the occasion were met by the
guests clubbing together, the occasion was termed a
"penny wedding."

One of the popular customs of the day was to observe
Mayday in the country districts by erecting a brightly
decorated Maypole, about which the young people danced
the simple rustic dances. It is not unusual to find people
to-day sighing for a return of the good old customs of
yore, and a favorite lament is the lapse of the observance
of Mayday in the old English manner. There was, doubt-
less, some innocent amusement associated with this popu-
lar holiday, and only the most captious Puritan could
object to it because of its derivation from the old Roman
festival of Flora; but, unfortunately, the manners of the
sixteenth century did not leave room for much of innocent
observance of sports and pastimes in the open air, so that,
in fact, the dances about the Maypole were too frequently


gross and unseemly. Charles Francis Adams, in his editing
of Morton's Narrative, in the Prince Society Publications,
in commenting upon the Merrie JVlount incident in the early
settlement of New England, calls attention in a footnote to
the judgment of a contemporary writer as to the iniquities
which were practised in connection with what in the popu-
lar imagination of the day was a wholesome and happy
pastime. The statement in the passage quoted by him of
the startling depravity which signalized the day throughout
rural England awakens the pertinent question as to what
was the moral state of the women of the rural population of
the country. The testimony of the manners and customs
of the day, and the effect upon England of the indescribable
profligacy of the peoples of France and Italy, force the un-
pleasant conclusion, after making all extenuation for the
standards which then obtained, that the vice which in the
higher circles was as "the creeping thing that flieth" ap-
peared in the lower circles of society in all of its foulness.
Life in the country was very delightful; buildings of
fanciful architecture were erected, the majority of them
still being of wood, the better sort plastered inside and the
walls hung with tapestry or wainscoted with oak, against
which stood out in bold relief the glittering gold and silver
plate, which not alone the nobles and gentry, but the mer-
chants and even the farmers and artisans, loved to possess.
But in spite of their love of plate, Venetian glassware, be-
cause of its rarity, was preferred for drinking vessels.
The housewife of quality no longer had to strew rushes
upon the floor, for Turkish rugs were imported and used
by the wealthy. Beds were hung with the finest silk or
tapestry, and the tables were covered with linen. The
homes of all classes showed the increase in the comfort of
living. Even the poorest women could boast of chimneys
to their houses, and were no longer suffocated by the


smoke which for egress depended upon a hole in the roof.
In 1589 a wise law was passed that no cottage should be
built on a tract of less than four acres of land, and that only
one family was to live in each cottage. Feather pillows
and beds took the place of straw pallets with a log of wood
for a headrest. The poorer homes, which could not afford
expensive rugs, were still strewn with sweet herbs, which,
however, were renewed and kept fresh, and the bedcham-
bers were made fragrant with flowers. The economy of the
kitchen was not the hard problem it had formerly been, for
in the time of Elizabeth, the period of which we are speak-
ing, the laboring classes could obtain meat in abundance.
The " gentry ate wheaten, and the poor barley bread; beer
was mostly brewed at home; wine was drunk in the richer
houses. Trade brought many luxuries to the English table;
spices, sugar, currants, almonds, dates, etc., came from the
East." Indeed, so many currants were imported into the
country that it is said that the people of the places from
whence they were shipped supposed that they were used
for the extraction of dye or else were fed to the hogs; but
the real explanation was the great fondness of the English
people for currants and raisins in their pastry. While they
were not gluttonous, the English then, as now, were fond of
the table, and gave much attention to eating and drinking.
The old people of the age regretfully looked back over
their lives to former days, when, as they said, although the
houses were but of willow, Englishmen were oaken, but
now the houses were oaken and the Englishmen of straw.
The appearance of chimneys was not greeted as an im-
provement, for the poor had never fared so well as in the
smoky halls of other days; they could not bear the thought
that their windows, which were formerly of wickerwork,
were now of glass, or that now, instead of sweet rushes, for-
eign carpets were upon the floors of many houses; or that so


many houses were being built of brick and stone, plastered
inside. It was regarded as a sure indication of a decline in
virility that the sons of the sturdy yeomen of a past genera-
tion should crave comfortable beds hung with tapestry, and
use pillows — luxuries which once were thought suited only
for women in childbed. In the midst of an influx of new
comforts, there was a barrenness of things considered to-day
to be essential, and the absence of which was made the more
glaring by reason of the many comforts and luxuries with
which life was surrounded. "Good soap was an almost
impossible luxury, and the clothes had to be washed with
cow-dung, hemlock, nettles, and refuse soap, than which, in
Harrison's opinion, 'there is none more unkindly savor.' "

A Dutch traveller, who in 1560 visited England and re-
corded his impressions of the English home, introduces us
to a pleasant picture of the home life of the times, in the
following words: "The neat cleanliness, the exquisite
fineness, the pleasant and delightful furniture in every
point for household, wonderfully rejoiced me; their cham-
bers and parlors strawed over with sweet herbs, refreshed
me; their nosegays, finely intermingled with sundry sorts
of fragrant flowers in their bedchambers and privy rooms,
with comfortable smell cheered me up." The parlors were
freshened with green boughs and fresh herbs throughout
the summer, and with evergreens during the winter.

During the reign of Elizabeth, the hours for meals were
the same as in the fifteenth century, although between the
first meal and dinner it was customary to have a small
luncheon, mostly composed of beverages, and called a
hever. A character in one of Middleton's plays says: "We
drink, that's mouth-hour; at eleven, lay about us for vict-
uals — that's hand-hour; at twelve, go to dinner — that's
eating-hour." Dinner was the most substantial meal of
the day, and its hearty character was commented upon by


foreign travellers in England. It was preceded by the
same ceremony of washing the hands as in former times,
and the ewers and basins used for the purpose were often
elaborate and showy. It must be remembered that at
table persons of all ranks used their fingers instead of
forks, and the laving of the hands during the meals was
important for comfort and cleanliness. After the introduc-
tion of forks, the washing of hands during the meal, though
no longer so necessary as before, was continued as a polite
form for a while, although the after-meal washing appears
to have been discontinued. The pageantry and splendor
which attended feasting reached their greatest height in
the first half of the sixteenth century. The tables were
arranged around the side of the hall, some for the guests,
and others to hold the tankards, the ewers, and the dishes
of food; for it had not yet become the practice to put any-
thing on the table in setting it other than the plates, the
drinking vessels, the saltcellars, and the napkins. The
dresser, or the cupboard, was the greatest display article
of furniture in the hall of the houses of the higher orders of
society, who invested large amounts of money in vessels
of the precious metals and of crystal, which were some-
times set with precious stones and were always of the
most beautiful patterns and of odd and elaborate forms.
To such lengths went personal pride in the appearance of
the dresser, that points of etiquette were raised by careful
housewives as to how many steps, or gradations on which
the rows of plate were placed above each other, members
of the different ranks of society might have on their cup-
boards. Five for a princess of royal blood, four for noble
ladies of the highest rank, three for nobility under the
rank of duke, two for knights-bannerets, and one for per-
sons who were merely of gentle blood, was fixed as proper
form. Dinner was still served in three courses, without


any great distinction in the character of the dishes served
at each course. One of the writers of the times says:
"In number of dishes and changes of meat the nobility
of England do most exceed." " No day passes but they
have not only beef, mutton, veal, lamb, kid, pork, coney,
capon, pig, or so many of them as the season yields, but
also fish in variety, venison, wildfowl, and sweets." As
there were but two full meals in the day, and as the house-
holds of the nobility, including the many servants and re-
tainers, were large, and as it was the practice for the chief
servants to dine with the family and the guests, it will be
seen that a large and varied supply of food was needed.
The upper table having been served, the lower servants
were supplied, and what remained was bestowed upon the
poor, who gathered in great numbers at the gates of the
nobility to receive the leavings from their meals. It can be
seen that the labors of the women in supervising the
affairs of the household were onerous. Among gentlemen
and merchants, four, five, or six dishes sufficed, and if
there were no guests, two or three. Fish was the article
of greatest consumption among the poor, and could be
obtained at all seasons. Fowls, pigeons, and all kinds of
game were abundant and cheap. Butter, milk, cheese,
and curds were "reputed as food appurtenant to the in-
ferior sort." The very poor usually had enough ground
in which to raise cabbages, parsnips, carrots, pumpkins,
and such like vegetables, which constituted their principal
food, and of which both the raising and the preparation for
the table were largely the work of the women. Among the
lower classes, the various feasts of the year and the bridal
occasions were celebrated with great festivity, and it was
the custom for each guest to contribute one or more dishes.
"Sham" is the keynote to an understanding of Eliza-
bethan society; the Virgin Queen herself, with all her


undoubted worth and abilities, was the embodiment of the
vanity and pretence of her age. Young unmarried women
loved "to show coyness in gestures, mince in words and

Online LibraryMitchell CarrollWoman: in all ages and in all countries → online text (page 17 of 30)