Life in the 1500’s —–
Anne Hathaway was the wife of William Shakespeare.
She married at the age of 26.
This is really unusual for the time. Most people married young, like at
the age of 11 or 12. Life was not as romantic as we may picture it.
Here are some examples:
Anne Hathaway’s home was a 3 bedroom house with a small parlor, which
was seldom used (only for company), kitchen, and no bathroom.
Mother and Father shared a bedroom. Anne had a queen sized bed, but did
not sleep alone. She also had 2 other sisters and they shared the bed
also with 6 servant girls. (this is before she married) They didn’t
sleep like we do lengthwise but all laid on the bed crosswise. At
least they had a bed.
The other bedroom was shared by her 6 brothers and 30 field workers.
They didn’t have a bed. Everyone just wrapped up in their blanket and
slept on the floor. They had no indoor heating so all the extra bodies
kept them warm.
They were also small people, the men only grew to be about 5’6″ and the
women were 4’8″.
SO in their house they had 27 people living. Most people got married in
Why? They took their yearly bath in May, so they were still smelling pretty good by June, although they were starting to smell, so the brides
would carry a bouquet of flowers to hide their b.o.
Like I said, they took their yearly bath in May, but it was just a big
tub that they would fill with hot water. The man of the house would get
the privilege of the nice clean water.
Then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the
Last of all the babies. By then the water was pretty thick. Thus, the
saying, “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water,” it was so dirty
you could actually lose someone in it. I’ll describe their houses a
You’ve heard of thatch roofs, well that’s all they were. Thick straw,
piled high, with no wood underneath.
They were the only place for the little animals to get warm. So all the
pets; dogs, cats and other small animals, mice, rats, bugs, all lived in
When it rained it became slippery so sometimes the animals would slip
and fall off the roof. Thus the saying, “it’s raining cats and dogs,”
Since there was nothing to stop things from falling into the house they
would just try to clean up a lot.
But this posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other
droppings from animals could really mess up your nice clean bed, so they
found if they would make beds with big posts and hang a sheet over the
top it would prevent that problem. That’s where those beautiful big 4
poster beds with canopies came from.
When you came into the house you would notice most times that the floor
Only the wealthy had something other than dirt, that’s where the saying
“dirt poor” came from.
The wealthy would have slate floors. That was fine but in the winter
they would get slippery when they got wet.
So they started to spread thresh on the floor to help keep their
footing. As the winter wore on they would just keep adding it and adding
it until when you opened the door it would all start slipping outside.
SO they put a piece of wood at the entry way, a “thresh hold”.
In the kitchen they would cook over the fire, they had a fireplace in
the kitchen/parlor, that was seldom used and sometimes in the master
They had a big kettle that always hung over the fire and every day they
would light the fire and start adding things to the pot. Mostly they ate
vegetables, they didn’t get much meat. They would eat the stew for
dinner then leave the leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and
then start over the next day.
Sometimes the stew would have food in
it that had been in there for a month!
Thus the rhyme: peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in
the pot nine days old.”
Sometimes they could get a hold on some pork. They really felt special
when that happened and when company came over they even had a rack in
the parlor where they would bring out some bacon and hang it to show it
That was a sign of wealth and that a man “could really bring home the
They would cut off a little to share with guests and they would all sit
around and “chew the fat.”
If you had money your plates were made out of pewter. Sometimes some of
their food had a high acid content and some of the lead would leach out
into the food. They really noticed it happened with tomatoes. So they
stopped eating tomatoes, for 400 years.
Most people didn’t have pewter plates though, they all had trenchers,
that was a piece of wood with the middle scooped out like a bowl.
They never washed their boards and a lot of times worms would get into
the wood. After eating off the trencher with worms they would get
If you were going traveling and wanted to stay at an Inn they usually
provided the bed but not the board.
The bread was divided according to status. The workers would get the
burnt bottom of the loaf, the family would get the middle and guests
would get the top, or the “upper crust”.
They also had lead cups and when they would drink their ale or whiskey.
The combination would sometimes knock them out for a couple of days.
They would be walking along the road and here would be someone knocked
out and they thought they were dead. So they would pick them up and take
them home and get them ready to bury. They realized if they were too
slow about it, the person would wake up. Also, maybe not all of the
people they were burying were dead. So they would lay them out on the
kitchen table for a couple of days, the family would gather around and
eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. That’s where the
custom of holding a “wake” came from.
Since England is so old and small they started running out of places to
bury people. So they started digging up some coffins and would take
their bones to a house and re-use the grave. They started opening these
coffins and found some had scratch marks on the inside.
One out of 25 coffins were that way and they realized they had still
been burying people alive. So they thought they would tie a string on
their wrist and lead it through the coffin and up through the ground and
tie it to a bell.
Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night to listen
for the bell. That is how the saying “graveyard shift” was made.
If the bell would ring they would know that someone was “saved by the
bell” or he was a “dead ringer”.
Life in the 1500’s —–
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