Elizabethan era is the epoch in the
Tudor period of the history of
England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558–1603).
Historians often depict it as the golden age in English history. The
Britannia (a female personification of Great Britain) was
first used in 1572, and often thereafter, to mark the Elizabethan age
as a renaissance that inspired national pride through classical
ideals, international expansion, and naval triumph over the Spanish
– at the time, a rival kingdom much hated by the people of the land.
In terms of the entire century, the historian John Guy (1988) argues
England was economically healthier, more expansive, and more
optimistic under the Tudors" than at any time in a thousand years.
This "golden age" represented the apogee of the English Renaissance
and saw the flowering of poetry, music and literature. The era is most
famous for theatre, as
William Shakespeare and many others composed
plays that broke free of England's past style of theatre. It was an
age of exploration and expansion abroad, while back at home, the
Protestant Reformation became more acceptable to the people, most
certainly after the
Spanish Armada was repulsed. It was also the end
of the period when
England was a separate realm before its royal union
The Elizabethan Age contrasts sharply with the previous and following
reigns. It was a brief period of internal peace between the English
Reformation and the religious battles between Protestants and
Catholics and then the political battles between parliament and the
monarchy that engulfed the remainder of the seventeenth century. The
Protestant/Catholic divide was settled, for a time, by the Elizabethan
Religious Settlement, and parliament was not yet strong enough to
challenge royal absolutism.
England was also well-off compared to the other nations of Europe. The
Italian Renaissance had come to an end under the weight of Spanish
domination of the peninsula. France was embroiled in its own religious
battles that were (temporarily) settled in 1598 by a policy of
tolerating Protestantism with the Edict of Nantes. In part because of
this, but also because the English had been expelled from their last
outposts on the continent by Spain's tercios, the centuries-long
conflict between France and
England was largely suspended for most of
The one great rival was Spain, with whom
England clashed both in
Europe and the Americas in skirmishes that exploded into the
Anglo-Spanish War of 1585–1604. An attempt by
Philip II of Spain
Philip II of Spain to
England with the
Spanish Armada in 1588 was famously defeated,
but the tide of war turned against
England with an unsuccessful
expedition to Portugal and the Azores, the Drake-Norris Expedition of
1589. Thereafter, Spain provided some support for Irish Catholics in a
debilitating rebellion against English rule, and Spanish naval and
land forces inflicted a series of reversals against English
offensives. This drained both the English Exchequer and economy that
had been so carefully restored under Elizabeth's prudent guidance.
English commercial and territorial expansion would be limited until
the signing of the Treaty of London the year following Elizabeth's
England during this period had a centralised, well-organised, and
effective government, largely a result of the reforms of Henry VII and
Henry VIII, as well as Elizabeth's harsh punishments for any
dissenters. Economically, the country began to benefit greatly from
the new era of trans-Atlantic trade, persistent theft of Spanish
treasure, and the African slave trade.
The National Armada memorial in
Plymouth using the
Britannia image to
celebrate the defeat of the
Spanish Armada in 1588 (William Charles
May, sculptor, 1888)
1 Romance and reality
2.1 Plots, intrigues and conspiracies
Royal Navy and defeat of the Armada
2.3 Colonising the New World
5 Science, technology and exploration
6 Social history
6.2 Homes and dwelling
7 High culture
7.3 Fine arts
8 Popular culture
8.2.2 Gambling and card games
8.3 Festivals, holidays and celebrations
9 See also
11 Further reading
Romance and reality
Elizabeth ushers in Peace and Plenty. Detail from The Family of Henry
VIII: An Allegory of the Tudor Succession, c. 1572, attributed to
Lucas de Heere.
Victorian era and the early 20th century idealised the Elizabethan
Encyclopædia Britannica maintains that "[T]he long reign of
Elizabeth I, 1558–1603, was England's Golden Age... 'Merry England',
in love with life, expressed itself in music and literature, in
architecture and in adventurous seafaring". This idealising
tendency was shared by Britain and an Anglophilic America. In popular
culture, the image of those adventurous Elizabethan seafarers was
embodied in the films of Errol Flynn.
In response and reaction to this hyperbole, modern historians and
biographers have tended to take a more dispassionate view of the Tudor
England was not particularly successful in a military
sense during the period, but it avoided major defeats and built up a
powerful navy. On balance, it can be said that Elizabeth provided the
country with a long period of general if not total peace and generally
increased prosperity due in large part to stealing from Spanish
treasure ships, raiding settlements with low defenses, and selling
African slaves. Having inherited a virtually bankrupt state from
previous reigns, her frugal policies restored fiscal responsibility.
Her fiscal restraint cleared the regime of debt by 1574, and ten years
later the Crown enjoyed a surplus of £300,000. Economically, Sir
Thomas Gresham's founding of the Royal Exchange (1565), the first
stock exchange in
England and one of the earliest in Europe, proved to
be a development of the first importance, for the economic development
England and soon for the world as a whole. With taxes lower than
other European countries of the period, the economy expanded; though
the wealth was distributed with wild unevenness, there was clearly
more wealth to go around at the end of Elizabeth's reign than at the
beginning. This general peace and prosperity allowed the attractive
developments that "Golden Age" advocates have stressed.
Plots, intrigues and conspiracies
The Elizabethan Age was also an age of plots and conspiracies,
frequently political in nature, and often involving the highest levels
of Elizabethan society. High officials in Madrid, Paris and Rome
sought to kill Elizabeth, a Protestant, and replace her with Mary,
Queen of Scots, a Catholic. That would be a prelude to the religious
England for Catholicism. In 1570, the
Ridolfi plot was
thwarted. In 1584, the Throckmorton Plot was discovered, after Francis
Throckmorton confessed his involvement in a plot to overthrow the
Queen and restore the Catholic Church in England. Another major
conspiracy was the
Babington Plot — the event which most directly
led to Mary's execution, the discovery of which involved a double
agent, Gilbert Gifford, acting under the direction of Francis
Walsingham, the Queen's highly effective spy master.
Essex Rebellion of 1601 has a dramatic element, as just before the
uprising, supporters of the Earl of Essex, among them Charles and
Joscelyn Percy (younger brothers of the Earl of Northumberland), paid
for a performance of Richard II at the Globe Theatre, apparently with
the goal of stirring public ill will towards the monarchy. It was
reported at the trial of Essex by Chamberlain's Men actor Augustine
Phillips, that the conspirators paid the company forty shillings
"above the ordinary" (i. e., above their usual rate) to stage the
play, which the players felt was too old and "out of use" to attract a
Bye Plot of 1603, two Catholic priests planned to kidnap King
James and hold him in the Tower of London until he agreed to be more
tolerant towards Catholics. Most dramatic was the 1605 Gunpowder Plot
to blow up the
House of Lords
House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament.
It was discovered in time with eight conspirators executed, including
Guy Fawkes, who became the iconic evil traitor in English lore.
Royal Navy and defeat of the Armada
Spanish Armada fighting the English navy at the Battle of
Gravelines in 1588.
While Henry VIII had launched the Royal Navy, Edward and Mary had
ignored it and it was little more than a system of coastal defense.
Elizabeth made naval strength a high priority. She risked war with
Spain by supporting the "Sea Dogs", such as John Hawkins and Francis
Drake, who preyed on the Spanish merchant ships carrying gold and
silver from the New World. The Navy yards were leaders in technical
innovation, and the captains devised new tactics. Parker (1996) argues
that the full-rigged ship was one of the greatest technological
advances of the century and permanently transformed naval warfare. In
1573 English shipwrights introduced designs, first demonstrated in the
"Dreadnaught", that allowed the ships to sail faster and maneuver
better and permitted heavier guns. Whereas before warships had
tried to grapple with each other so that soldiers could board the
enemy ship, now they stood off and fired broadsides that would sink
the enemy vessel. When Spain finally decided to invade and conquer
England it was a fiasco. Superior English ships and seamanship foiled
the invasion and led to the destruction of the
Spanish Armada in 1588,
marking the high point of Elizabeth's reign. Technically, the Armada
failed because Spain's over-complex strategy required coordination
between the invasion fleet and the Spanish army on shore. Moreover,
the poor design of the Spanish cannons meant they were much slower in
reloading in a close-range battle. Spain and France still had stronger
England was catching up.
Parker has speculated on the dire consequences if the Spanish had
landed their invasion army in 1588. He argues that the Spanish army
was larger, more experienced, better-equipped, more confident, and had
better financing. The English defenses, on the other hand, were thin
England had too few soldiers and they were at best only
partially trained. Spain had chosen England's weakest link and
probably could have captured London in a week. Parker adds that a
Catholic uprising in the north and in Ireland could have brought total
Colonising the New World
Main article: English colonial empire
The discoveries of Christopher Columbus electrified all of western
Europe, especially maritime powers like England. King Henry VII
John Cabot to lead a voyage to find a northern route to
the Spice Islands of Asia; this began the search for the North West
Passage. Cabot sailed in 1497 and reached Newfoundland. He led
another voyage to the Americas the following year, but nothing was
heard of him or his ships again.
In 1562 Elizabeth sent privateers Hawkins and Drake to seize booty
from Spanish and Portuguese ships off the coast of West Africa.
When the Anglo-Spanish Wars intensified after 1585, Elizabeth approved
further raids against Spanish ports in the Americas and against
shipping returning to Europe with treasure. Meanwhile, the
Richard Hakluyt and
John Dee were beginning to
press for the establishment of England's own overseas empire. Spain
was well established in the Americas, while Portugal, in union with
Spain from 1580, had an ambitious global empire in Africa, Asia and
South America. France was exploring North America.
stimulated to create its own colonies, with an emphasis on the West
Indies rather than in North America.
Martin Frobisher landed at
Frobisher Bay on
Baffin Island in August
1576; He returned in 1577, claiming it in Queen Elizabeth's name, and
in a third voyage tried but failed to found a settlement in Frobisher
Sir Francis Drake
From 1577 to 1580, Sir
Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe.
Combined with his daring raids against the Spanish and his great
victory over them at Cadiz in 1587, he became a famous
hero—his exploits are still celebrated—but
England did not
follow up on his claims. In 1583,
Humphrey Gilbert sailed to
Newfoundland, taking possession of the harbour of St John's together
with all land within two hundred leagues to the north and south of
In 1584, the queen granted Sir
Walter Raleigh a charter for the
colonisation of Virginia; it was named in her honour. Raleigh and
Elizabeth sought both immediate riches and a base for privateers to
raid the Spanish treasure fleets. Raleigh sent others to found the
Roanoke Colony; it remains a mystery why the settlers all
disappeared. In 1600, the queen chartered the East India Company.
It established trading posts, which in later centuries evolved into
British India, on the coasts of what is now India and Bangladesh.
Larger scale colonisation began shortly after Elizabeth's death.
England in this era had some positive aspects that set it apart from
contemporaneous continental European societies. Torture was rare,
since the English legal system reserved torture only for capital
crimes like treason—though forms of corporal punishment, some of
them extreme, were practised. The persecution of witches began in
1563, and hundreds were executed, although there was nothing like the
frenzy on the Continent. Mary had tried her hand at an aggressive
anti-Protestant Inquisition and was hated for it; it was not to be
Tudor period § English Reformation
Elizabeth managed to moderate and quell the intense religious passions
of the time. This was in significant contrast to previous and
succeeding eras of marked religious violence.
Elizabeth said "I have no desire to make windows into mens' souls".
Her desire to moderate the religious persecutions of previous Tudor
reigns — the persecution of Catholics under Edward VI, and of
Protestants under Mary I — appears to have had a moderating effect
on English society. Elizabeth reinstated the Protestant bible and
English Mass, yet for a number of years refrained from persecuting
Pope Pius V
Pope Pius V declared Elizabeth a heretic who was not the
legitimate queen and that her subjects no longer owed her obedience.
The pope sent Jesuits and seminarians to secretly evangelize and
support Catholics. After several plots to overthrow her, Catholic
clergy were mostly considered to be traitors, and were pursued
aggressively in England. Often priests were tortured or executed after
capture unless they cooperated with the English authorities. People
who publicly supported Catholicism were excluded from the professions;
sometimes fined or imprisoned.
Science, technology and exploration
Francis Bacon, pioneer of modern scientific thought.
Lacking a dominant genius or a formal structure for research (the
following century had both Sir
Isaac Newton and the Royal Society),
Elizabethan era nonetheless saw significant scientific progress.
Thomas Digges and
Thomas Harriot made important
contributions; William Gilbert published his seminal study of
magnetism, De Magnete, in 1600. Substantial advancements were made in
the fields of cartography and surveying. The eccentric but influential
John Dee also merits mention.
Much of this scientific and technological progress related to the
practical skill of navigation. English achievements in exploration
were noteworthy in the Elizabethan era. Sir Francis Drake
circumnavigated the globe between 1577 and 1581, and Martin Frobisher
explored the Arctic. The first attempt at English settlement of the
eastern seaboard of North America occurred in this era—the abortive
Roanoke Island in 1587.
England is not thought of as an age of technological
innovation, some progress did occur. In 1564 Guilliam Boonen came from
Netherlands to be Queen Elizabeth's first coach-builder —thus
introducing the new European invention of the spring-suspension coach
to England, as a replacement for the litters and carts of an earlier
transportation mode. Coaches quickly became as fashionable as sports
cars in a later century; social critics, especially Puritan
commentators, noted the "diverse great ladies" who rode "up and down
the countryside" in their new coaches.
Historians since the 1960s have explored many facets of the social
history, covering every class of the population.
See also: Health and diet in Elizabethan England
Although home to only a small part of the population the Tudor
municipalities were overcrowded and unhygienic. Most towns were
unpaved with poor public sanitation. There were no sewers or drains,
and rubbish was simply abandoned in the street. Animals such as rats
thrived in these conditions. In larger towns and cities, such as
London, common diseases arising from lack of sanitation included
smallpox, measles, malaria, typhus, diphtheria, Scarlet fever, and
Outbreaks of the
Black Death pandemic occurred in 1498, 1535, 1543,
1563, 1589 and 1603. The reason for the speedy spread of the disease
was the increase of rats infected by fleas carrying the disease.
Child mortality was low in comparison with earlier and later periods,
at about 150 or fewer deaths per 1000 babies. By age 15 a person
could expect 40–50 more years of life.
Homes and dwelling
The great majority were tenant farmers who lived in small villages.
Their homes were, as in earlier centuries, thatched huts with one or
two rooms, although later on during this period, roofs were also
tiled. Furniture was basic, with stools being commonplace rather than
chairs. The walls of Tudor houses were often made from timber and
wattle and daub, or brick; stone and tiles were more common in the
wealthier homes. The daub was usually then painted with limewash,
making it white, and the wood was painted with black tar to prevent
rotting, but not in Tudor times; the Victorians did this afterwards.
The bricks were handmade and thinner than modern bricks. The wooden
beams were cut by hand, which makes telling the difference between
Tudor houses and Tudor-style houses easy, as the original beams are
not straight. The upper floors of Tudor houses were often larger than
the ground floors, which would create an overhang (or jetty). This
would create more floor-surface above while also keeping maximum
street width. During the Tudor period, the use of glass when building
houses was first used, and became widespread. It was very expensive
and difficult to make, so the panes were made small and held together
with a lead lattice, in casement windows. People who could not afford
glass often used polished horn, cloth or paper. Tudor chimneys were
tall, thin, and often decorated with symmetrical patterns of molded or
cut brick. Early Tudor houses, and the homes of poorer people, did not
have chimneys. The smoke in these cases would be let out through a
simple hole in the roof.
Mansions had many chimneys for the many fireplaces required to keep
the vast rooms warm. These fires were also the only way of cooking
food. Wealthy Tudor homes needed many rooms, where a large number of
guests and servants could be accommodated, fed and entertained. Wealth
was demonstrated by the extensive use of glass. Windows became the
main feature of Tudor mansions, and were often a fashion statement.
Mansions were often designed to a symmetrical plan; "E" and "H" shapes
Main article: Poor Law
A woodcut from circa 1536 depicting a vagrant being punished in the
streets in Tudor England.
About one-third of the population lived in poverty, with the wealthy
expected to give alms to assist the impotent poor. Tudor law was
harsh on the able-bodied poor, i.e., those unable to find work. Those
who left their parishes in order to locate work were termed vagabonds
and could be subjected to punishments, including whipping and putting
at the stocks.
The idea of the workhouse for the able-bodied poor was first suggested
There was an unprecedented expansion of education in the Tudor period.
Until then, few children went to school. Those that did go were
mainly the sons of wealthy or ambitious fathers who could afford to
pay the attendance fee. Boys were allowed to go to school and began at
the age of 4, they then moved to grammar school when they were 7 years
old. Girls were either kept at home by their parents to help with
housework or sent out to work to bring money in for the family. They
were not sent to school. Boys were educated for work and the girls for
marriage and running a household so when they married they could look
after the house and children. Wealthy families hired a tutor to
teach the boys at home. Many Tudor towns and villages had a parish
school where the local vicar taught boys to read and write. Brothers
could teach their sisters these skills. At school, pupils were taught
English, Latin, Greek, catechism and arithmetic. The pupils practised
writing in ink by copying the alphabet and the Lord's Prayer. There
were few books, so pupils read from hornbooks instead. These wooden
boards had the alphabet, prayers or other writings pinned to them and
were covered with a thin layer of transparent cow's horn. There were
two types of school in Tudor times: petty school was where young boys
were taught to read and write; grammar school was where abler boys
were taught English and Latin. It was usual for students to attend
six days a week. The school day started at 7:00 am in winter and 6:00
am in summer and finished about 5:00 pm. Petty schools had shorter
hours, mostly to allow poorer boys the opportunity to work as well.
Schools were harsh and teachers were very strict, often beating pupils
Education would begin at home, where children were taught the basic
etiquette of proper manners and respecting others. It was
necessary for boys to attend grammar school, but girls were rarely
allowed in any place of education other than petty schools, and then
only with a restricted curriculum. Petty schools were for all
children aged from 5 to 7 years of age. Only the most wealthy people
allowed their daughters to be taught, and only at home. During this
time, endowed schooling became available. This meant that even boys of
very poor families were able to attend school if they were not needed
to work at home, but only in a few localities were funds available to
provide support as well as the necessary education scholarship.
Boys from wealthy families were taught at home by a private tutor.
When Henry VIII shut the monasteries he closed their schools. He
refounded many former monastic schools—they are known as "King's
schools" and are found all over England. During the reign of Edward VI
many free grammar schools were set up to take in non-fee paying
students. There were two universities in Tudor England: Oxford and
Cambridge. Some boys went to university at the age of about 14.
England's food supply was plentiful throughout most of the reign;
there were no famines. Bad harvests caused distress, but they were
usually localized. The most widespread came in 1555–57 and
1596–98. In the towns the price of staples was fixed by law; in
hard times the size of the loaf of bread sold by the baker was
The poor consumed a diet largely of bread, cheese, milk, and beer,
with small portions of meat, fish and vegetables, and occasionally
some fruit. Potatoes were just arriving at the end of the period, and
became increasingly important. The typical poor farmer sold his best
products on the market, keeping the cheap food for the family. Stale
bread could be used to make bread puddings, and bread crumbs served to
thicken soups, stews, and sauces. At a somewhat higher social
level families ate an enormous variety of meats, especially beef,
mutton, veal, lamb, and pork, as well as chickens, and ducks. The
holiday goose was a special treat. Many rural folk and some
townspeople tended a small garden which produced vegetables such as
asparagus, cucumbers, spinach, lettuce, beans, cabbage, carrots,
leeks, and peas, as well as medicinal and flavoring herbs. Some grew
their own apricots, grapes, berries, apples, pears, plums, currants,
and cherries. Families without a garden could trade with their
neighbors to obtain vegetables and fruits at low cost.
England was exposed to new foods (such as the potato imported from
South America), and developed new tastes during the era. The more
prosperous enjoyed a wide variety of food and drink, including exotic
new drinks such as tea, coffee, and chocolate. French and Italian
chefs appeared in the country houses and palaces bringing new
standards of food preparation and taste. For example, the English
developed a taste for acidic foods—such as oranges for the upper
class—and started to use vinegar heavily. The gentry paid increasing
attention to their gardens, with new fruits, vegetables and herbs;
pasta, pastries, and dried mustard balls first appeared on the table.
The apricot was a special treat at fancy banquets. Roast beef remained
a staple for those who could afford it. The rest ate a great deal of
bread and fish. Every class had a taste for beer and rum.
At the rich end of the scale the manor houses and palaces were awash
with large, elaborately prepared meals, usually for many people and
often accompanied by entertainment. The upper classes often celebrated
religious festivals, weddings, alliances and the whims of the king or
queen. Feasts were commonly used to commemorate the "procession" of
the crowned heads of state in the summer months, when the king or
queen would travel through a circuit of other nobles' lands both to
avoid the plague season of London, and alleviate the royal coffers,
often drained through the winter to provide for the needs of the royal
family and court. This would include a few days or even a week of
feasting in each noble's home, who depending on his or her production
and display of fashion, generosity and entertainment, could have his
way made in court and elevate his or her status for months or even
Special courses after a feast or dinner which often involved a special
room or outdoor gazebo (sometimes known as a folly) with a central
table set with dainties of "medicinal" value to help with digestion.
These would include wafers, comfits of sugar-spun anise or other
spices, jellies and marmalades (a firmer variety than we are used to,
these would be more similar to our gelatin jigglers), candied fruits,
spiced nuts and other such niceties. These would be eaten while
standing and drinking warm, spiced wines (known as hypocras) or other
drinks known to aid in digestion. One must remember that sugar in the
Middle Ages or Early Modern Period was often considered medicinal, and
used heavily in such things. This was not a course of pleasure, though
it could be as everything was a treat, but one of healthful eating and
abetting the digestive capabilities of the body. It also, of course,
allowed those standing to show off their gorgeous new clothes and the
holders of the dinner and banquet to show off the wealth of their
estate, what with having a special room just for banqueting.
The Procession Picture, c. 1600, showing Elizabeth I borne along by
While the Tudor era presents an abundance of material on the women of
the nobility—especially royal wives and queens—historians have
recovered scant documentation about the average lives of women. There
has, however, been extensive statistical analysis of demographic and
population data which includes women, especially in their childbearing
roles. The role of women in society was, for the historical era,
relatively unconstrained; Spanish and Italian visitors to England
commented regularly, and sometimes caustically, on the freedom that
women enjoyed in England, in contrast to their home cultures. England
had more well-educated upper class women than was common anywhere in
The Queen's marital status was a major political and diplomatic topic.
It also entered into the popular culture. Elizabeth's unmarried status
inspired a cult of virginity. In poetry and portraiture, she was
depicted as a virgin or a goddess or both, not as a normal woman.
Elizabeth made a virtue of her virginity: in 1559, she told the
Commons, "And, in the end, this shall be for me sufficient, that a
marble stone shall declare that a queen, having reigned such a time,
lived and died a virgin". Public tributes to the Virgin by 1578
acted as a coded assertion of opposition to the queen's marriage
negotiations with the Duc d'Alençon.
In contrast to her father's emphasis on masculinity and physical
prowess, Elizabeth emphasized the maternalism theme, saying often that
she was married to her kingdom and subjects. She explained "I keep the
good will of all my husbands — my good people — for if they did
not rest assured of some special love towards them, they would not
readily yield me such good obedience," and promised in 1563 they
would never have a more natural mother than she. Coch (1996)
argues that her figurative motherhood played a central role in her
complex self-representation, shaping and legitimating the personal
rule of a divinely appointed female prince.
Over ninety percent of English women (and adults, in general) entered
marriage at the end of the 1500s and beginning of the 1600s, at an
average age of about 25–26 years for the bride and 27–28 years for
the groom, with the most common ages being 25-26 for grooms and 23 for
brides. Among the nobility and gentry, the average was
around 19-21 for brides and 24-26 for grooms. Many city and
townswomen married for the first time in their thirties and
forties and it was not unusual for orphaned young women to delay
marriage until the late twenties or early thirties to help support
their younger siblings, and roughly a quarter of all English
brides were pregnant at their weddings.
A reconstruction of the
Globe Theatre in London, originally built in
1599 and used by Shakespeare
English Renaissance theatre
William Shakespeare at his peak, as well as Christopher Marlowe
and many other playwrights, actors and theatres constantly busy, the
high culture of the Elizabethan Renaissance was best expressed in its
theatre. Historical topics were especially popular, not to mention the
usual comedies and tragedies.
Main article: Music in the Elizabethan era
Travelling musicians were in great demand at Court, in churches, at
country houses, and at local festivals. Important composers included
William Byrd (1543–1623),
John Dowland (1563–1626) Thomas Campion
(1567–1620), and Robert Johnson (c. 1583–c. 1634). The composers
were commissioned by church and Court, and deployed two main styles,
madrigal and ayre. The popular culture showed a strong interest in
folk songs and ballads (folk songs that tell a story). It became the
fashion in the late 19th century to collect and sing the old
Portraiture of Elizabeth I
Portraiture of Elizabeth I and Artists of the Tudor
It has often been said that the Renaissance came late to England, in
contrast to Italy and the other states of continental Europe; the fine
England during the Tudor and Stuart eras were dominated by
foreign and imported talent—from
Hans Holbein the Younger
Hans Holbein the Younger under
Henry VIII to
Anthony van Dyck
Anthony van Dyck under Charles I. Yet within this
general trend, a native school of painting was developing. In
Elizabeth's reign, Nicholas Hilliard, the Queen's "limner and
goldsmith," is the most widely recognized figure in this native
George Gower has begun to attract greater notice and
appreciation as knowledge of him and his art and career has
Main article: Elizabethan leisure
The Annual Summer
Fair and other seasonal fairs such as May Day were
often bawdy affairs.
Watching plays became very popular during the Tudor period. Most towns
sponsored plays enacted in town squares followed by the actors using
the courtyards of taverns or inns (referred to as Inn-yards) followed
by the first theatres (great open air amphitheatres and then the
introduction of indoor theatres called Playhouses.) This popularity
was helped by the rise of great playwrights such as William
Christopher Marlowe using London theatres such as the
Globe Theatre. By 1595, 15,000 people a week were watching plays in
London. It was during Elizabeth's reign that the first real theatres
were built in England. Before theatres were built, actors travelled
from town to town and performed in the streets or outside inns.
Miracle plays were local re-enactments of stories from the Bible. They
derived from the old custom of Mystery Plays, in which stories and
fables were enacted to teach lessons or educate about life in general.
They influenced Shakespeare.
Festivals were popular seasonal entertainments
There were many different types of Elizabethan sports and
entertainment. Animal sports included bear and bull baiting, dog
fighting and cock fighting.
The rich enjoyed tennis, fencing, and jousting. Hunting was strictly
limuited to the upper class. They favoured their packs of dogs and
hounds trained to chase foxes, hares and boars. The rich also enjoyed
hunting small game and birds with hawks, known as falconry.
Jousting was an upscale, very expensive sport where warriors on
horseback raced toward each other in full armor trying to use their
lance to knock the other off his horse. It was a violent sport--King
Henry II of France
Henry II of France was killed in a tournament in 1559, as were many
lesser men. King Henry VIII was a champion; he finally retired from
the lists after a hard fall left him unconscious for hours.
Other sports included archery, bowling, hammer-throwing, quarter-staff
contests, troco, quoits, skittles, wrestling and mob football.
Gambling and card games
Dice was a popular activity in all social classes. Cards appeared in
Spain and Italy about 1370, but they probably came from Egypt. They
began to spread throughout Europe and came into
England around 1460.
By the time of Elizabeth’s reign, gambling was a common sport. Cards
were not played only by the upper class. Many of the lower classes had
access to playing cards. The card suits tended to change over time.
The first Italian and Spanish decks had the same suits: Swords,
Batons/ Clubs, Cups, and Coins. The suits often changed from country
England probably followed the Latin version, initially
using cards imported from Spain but later relying on more convenient
supplies from France. Most of the decks that have survived use the
French Suit: Spades, Hearts, Clubs, and Diamonds. Yet even before
Elizabeth had begun to reign, the number of cards had been
standardized to 52 cards per deck. The lowest court subject in England
was called the “knave.” The lowest court card was therefore called
the knave until later when the term “Jack” became more common.
Popular card games included Maw, One and Thirty, Bone-ace. (These are
all games for small group players.) Ruff and Honors was a team game.
Festivals, holidays and celebrations
A wedding feast, c. 1569.
During the Elizabethan era, people looked forward to holidays because
opportunities for leisure were limited, with time away from hard work
being restricted to periods after church on Sundays. For the most
part, leisure and festivities took place on a public church holy day.
Every month had its own holiday, some of which are listed below:
The first Monday after Twelfth Night of January (any time between 7
January and 14 January) was Plough Monday. It celebrated returning to
work after the Christmas celebrations and the New Year.
2 February: Candlemas. Although often still very cold,
celebrated as the first day of spring. All Christmas decorations were
burned on this day, in candlelight and torchlight processions.
14 February: Valentine's Day.
Between 3 March and 9 March:
Shrove Tuesday (known as
Mardi Gras or
Carnival on the Continent). On this day, apprentices were allowed to
run amok in the city in mobs, wreaking havoc, because it supposedly
cleansed the city of vices before Lent.
The day after
Shrove Tuesday was Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent
when all were to abstain from eating and drinking certain things.
Lady Day or the feast of the Annunciation, the first of the
Quarter Days on which rents and salaries were due and payable. It was
a legal New Year when courts of law convened after a winter break, and
it marked the supposed moment when the Angel
Gabriel came to announce
Virgin Mary that she would bear a child.
1 May: May Day, celebrated as the first day of summer. This was one of
the few Celtic festivals with no connection to Christianity and
patterned on Beltane. It featured crowning a May Queen, a Green Man
and dancing around a maypole.
21 June: Midsummer, (Christianized as the feast of John the Baptist)
and another Quarter Day.
1 August: Lammastide, or
Lammas Day. Traditionally, the first day of
August, in which it was customary to bring a loaf of bread to the
29 September: Michaelmas. Another Quarter Day.
the beginning of autumn, and Michael the Archangel.
25 October: St. Crispin's Day. Bonfires, revels, and an elected 'King
Crispin' were all featured in this celebration. Dramatized by
Shakespeare in Henry V.
28 October: The Lord Mayor's Show, which still takes place today in
All Hallows Eve
All Hallows Eve or Halloween. The beginning celebration of
the days of the dead.
1 November: All Hallows or All Saints' Day, followed by All Souls'
Accession Day or Queen's Day, the anniversary of Queen
Elizabeth's accession to the throne, celebrated with lavish court
festivities featuring jousting during her lifetime and as a national
holiday for dozens of years after her death.
24 December: The
Twelve days of Christmas
Twelve days of Christmas started at sundown and
lasted until Epiphany on 6 January. Christmas was the last of the
Quarter Days for the year.
Music in Elizabethan Era
Tudor Revival architecture
Tudor Revival architecture (Tudorbethan)
Nine Years' War (Ireland)
1550–1600 in fashion
Health and diet in Elizabethan England
Artists of the Tudor court
Accession Day tilt
Jacobethan (Revival architecture)
^ John Guy (1988) Tudor England, Oxford University Press, p. 32
^ From the 1944 Clark lectures by C. S. Lewis; Lewis, English
Literature in the Sixteenth Century (Oxford, 1954) p. 1,
^ Elizabeth I and England's Golden Age. Britannica Student
The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex
The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939) and The Sea Hawk
Patrick Collinson (2003). "Elizabeth I and the verdicts of history".
Historical Research. 76 (194): 469–91.
^ Melissa D. Aaron, Global Economics (2005), p. 25. In the later
decades of the reign, the costs of warfare — defeating the English
Armada of 1589 and funding the campaigns in the
obliterated the surplus;
England had a debt of £350,000 at
Elizabeth's death in 1603.
^ Ann Jennalie Cook (1981) The Privileged Playgoers of Shakespeare's
London, 1576–1642,, Princeton University Press, pp. 49–96
^ Christopher Hibbert (1991) The Virgin Queen: Elizabeth I, Genius of
the Golden Age, Da Capo Press, ISBN 0201608170.
^ a b
Jonathan Bate (2008). Soul of the Age. London: Penguin.
pp. 256–286. ISBN 978-0-670-91482-1.
^ J. A. Sharpe (2005) Remember, Remember: A Cultural History of Guy
Fawkes Day, Harvard University Press ISBN 0674019350
^ Julian S. Corbett (1898) Drake and the Tudor Navy, With a History of
the Rise of
England as a Maritime Power 2 vol.
^ Geoffrey Parker (1996). "The 'Dreadnought' Revolution of Tudor
England". Mariner's Mirror. 82 (3): 269–300.
^ Geoffrey Parker (1888). "Why the Armada Failed". History Today. 38
^ Geoffrey Parker (1976). "If the Armada Had Landed". History. 61
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^ Kenneth Andrews (1984) Trade, Plunder and Settlement: Maritime
Enterprise and the Genesis of the British Empire, 1480–1630
(Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-27698-5) p. 45
Niall Ferguson (2004) Colossus: The Price of America's Empire,
Penguin Books, p. 4 ISBN 0143034790
^ Hugh Thomas (1997) The Slave Trade: the History of the Atlantic
Slave Trade, Simon & Schuster, pp. 155–158 ISBN 0684810638
Niall Ferguson (2004) Colossus: The Price of America's Empire,
Penguin Books, p. 7 ISBN 0143034790
^ Trevor Owen Lloyd (1994) The
British Empire 1558–1995, Oxford
University Press, ISBN 0-19-873134-5, pp. 4–8.
^ Cooke, Alan (1979) . "Frobisher, Sir Martin". In Brown, George
Williams. Dictionary of Canadian Biography. I (1000–1700) (online
ed.). University of Toronto Press.
^ James McDermott (2001) Martin Frobisher: Elizabethan privateer (Yale
University Press, ISBN 0-300-08380-7) p. 190
^ John Cummins (1996). "'That golden knight': Drake and his
reputation". History Today. 46 (1): 14–21.
^ Bruce Wathen (2009) Sir Francis Drake: The Construction of a Hero,
D.S.Brewer ISBN 184384186X
^ John Sugden (1990) Sir Francis Drake, Random House, p. 118
^ Quinn, David B. (1979) . "Gilbert, Sir Humphrey". In Brown,
George Williams. Dictionary of Canadian Biography. I (1000–1700)
(online ed.). University of Toronto Press.
^ David B. Quinn (1985) Set fair for Roanoke: voyages and colonies,
1584–1606, UNC Press Books, ISBN 0807841234
^ Kenneth R. Andrews (1985) Trade, Plunder, and Settlement: Maritime
Enterprise and the Genesis of the British Empire, 1480–1630,
Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521276985
^ George Macaulay Trevelyan (1949)
England Under the Stuarts, p. 25.
^ With over 5% of Europe's population in 1600,
England executed only
1% of the 40,000 witches killed in the period 1400–1800. William
Monter (2004). "Re-contextualizing British Witchcraft". Journal of
Interdisciplinary History. 35 (1): 105–111 (106).
^ John Edwards (2000). "A Spanish Inquisition? The Repression of
Protestantism under Mary Tudor". Reformation and Renaissance Review.
Patrick Collinson (2003). "The Monarchical Republic of Queen
Elizabeth I". Elizabethans. London: Hambledon. p. 43.
^ J. B. Black, The Reign of Elizabeth: 1558–1603 (2nd ed. 1959) pp.
^ Ann Jennalie Cook (1981) The Privileged Playgoers of Shakespeare's
London, 1576–1642,, Princeton University Press, pp. 81–82
^ On the social and demographic history see D. M. Palliser (1992) The
Age of Elizabeth:
England Under the Later Tudors, 1547–1603 (2nd
ed.), pp 35-110
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"Crisis" of the Early Fourteenth Century. Manchester U.P.
^ Richard Grassby (2002). The Business Community of
Seventeenth-Century England. Cambridge U.P. p. 94.
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original on 10 May 2010. Retrieved 10 August 2010.
^ John F. Pound, Poverty and vagrancy in
Tudor England (Routledge,
^ "Poverty in Tudor Times". Spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk. Archived from
the original on 22 November 2008. Retrieved 10 August 2010.
^ Paul Slack, Poverty and policy in Tudor and Stuart
^ Martin Pugh (1999), Britain since 1789: A Concise History. La Nuova
Italia Scientifica, Roma.
^ Joan Simon (1970). Education and Society in Tudor England. Cambridge
^ Alison Sim (2001). The Tudor Housewife. McGill-Queen's Press.
^ William Nelson, "The Teaching of English in Tudor Grammar Schools,"
Studies in Philology (1952) 49#2 pp. 119-143 in JSTOR
^ David Cressy, "Educational Opportunity in Tudor and Stuart England."
History of Education Quarterly (1976): 301-320. in JSTOR
^ a b Lee E. Pearson (1957). "Education of children". Elizabethans at
home. Stanford University Press. pp. 140–41.
^ Joan Simon (1966). Education and Society in Tudor England. London:
Cambridge University Press. p. 373.
^ "Tudor Schools". Woodlands-junior.kent.sch.uk. 1 January 2004.
Archived from the original on 18 June 2010. Retrieved 10 August
^ John Guy (1988) Tudor England, Oxford University Press, pp. 30–31
^ R. H. Britnell (1996). "Price-setting in English borough markets,
1349–1500". Canadian Journal of History. 31 (1): 1–15.
^ Emmison, F. G. (1976) Elizabethan Life: Home, Work and Land, Essex
Record Office, v. 3, pp. 29–31 ISBN 090036047X
^ Jeffrey L. Singman (1995) Daily Life in Elizabethan England,
Greenwood Publishing Group, pp. 133–36 ISBN 031329335X
^ Joan Thirsk (2006) Food in Early Modern England: Phases, Fads,
Fashions 1500–1760, Continuum, ISBN 0826442331
^ Minna F. Weinstein (1978). "Reconstructing Our Past: Reflections on
Tudor Women". International Journal of Women's Studies. 1 (2):
^ Susan C. Shapiro (1977). "Feminists in Elizabethan England". History
Today. 27 (11): 703–711.
^ Joyce A. Youings (1984) Sixteenth-century England, Penguin Books,
^ John N. King (1990). "Queen Elizabeth I: Representations of the
Virgin Queen". Renaissance Quarterly. 43 (1): 30–74.
doi:10.2307/2861792. JSTOR 2861792.
^ Christopher Haigh (2000) Elizabeth I (2nd ed.), Longman, p. 23
^ Susan Doran (1995). "Juno Versus Diana: The Treatment of Elizabeth
Marriage in Plays and Entertainments, 1561–1581". Historical
Journal. 38: 257–274. JSTOR 2639984.
^ Agnes Strickland, The life of Queen Elizabeth (1910) p. 424
^ Carole Levin and Patricia Ann Sullivan (1995) Political rhetoric,
power, and Renaissance women, State Univ of New York p. 90
^ Christine Coch (1996). "'Mother of my Contreye': Elizabeth I and
Tudor construction of Motherhood". English Literary Renaissance. 26
(3): 423–60. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6757.1996.tb01506.x.
^ David Cressy. Birth, Marriage, and Death : Ritual, Religion,
and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England. Oxford University
Press, May 29, 1997. Pg 285
^ De Moor, Tine and Jan Luiten van Zanden. 2009. Girl power: the
European marriage pattern and labour markets in the North Sea region
in the late medieval and early modern period. Wiley Online Library.
^ Life in Elizabethan England: Weddings and Betrothals
^ Young, Bruce W. 2008. Family Life in the Age of Shakespeare.
Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. p 41
^ Coontz, Stephanie. 2005. Marriage, a History: From Obedience to
Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage. New York, New York: Viking
Press, Penguin Group Inc.
^ Greer, Germaine Shakespeare's Wife, Bloomsbury 2007.
^ Cressy. 1997. Pg 74
^ M. C. Bradbrook (1979) The Living Monument: Shakespeare and the
Theatre of his Time, Cambridge University Press ISBN 0521295300
^ Comegys Boyd (1973) Elizabethan music and musical criticism,
Greenwood Press ISBN 0837168058
^ Helen Child Sargent and George Lyman Kittredge, eds. (1904) English
and Scottish popular ballads: edited from the collection of Francis
^ Ellis Waterhouse (1978) Painting in Britain: 1530–1790, 4th ed.,
New York, Viking Penguin, pp. 34–39 ISBN 0300058322.
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Archived from the original on 18 June 2010. Retrieved 10 August
^ Theresa Coletti (2007). "The Chester Cycle in Sixteenth-Century
Religious Culture". Journal of Medieval & Early Modern Studies. 37
(3): 531–547. doi:10.1215/10829636-2007-012.
^ François Laroque (1993) Shakespeare's festive world: Elizabethan
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^ Richard Barber and Juliet Barker, Tournaments: Jousts, Chivalry and
Pageants in the Middle Ages (Boydell Press, 1998) ISBN 0851157815
Daines Barrington (1787). Archaeologia, or, Miscellaneous tracts
relating to antiquity. 8. London: Society of Antiquaries of London.
^ Hutton 1994, p. 146–151
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