What Life Was Like in the 17th Century

The following information was emailed to me. I found it interesting, but cannot vouch for its veracity. After reading this, you can better understand how important a silver spoon was to a person of this era. I did not write this and there are a number of grammatical errors, but read on McDuff.

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 47 people


Most people got married in June. Why? They took their yearly

bath in May, so they were still smelling pretty good by June,

although they were starting to have an odor, so the brides would carry

a bouquet of flowers to hide their body odor. 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 children. 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 little. 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 the roof. 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 hung 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 was dirt. 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 bedroom. 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 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 off. That was a sign of wealth and that a

man "could really bring home the bacon." 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 "trench mouth." 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 from which 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 reuse 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." Amazing, eh?

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