Foreign visitors were surprised that women in England had greater freedom than anywhere else in Europe. Although they had to obey their husbands, they had self-confidence and were not kept hidden in their homes as women were in Spain and other countries. They were allowed free and easy ways with strangers.
However, there was a dark side to married life. Most women bore between eight and fifteen children, and many women died in childbirth. Those who did not saw half their children die at a young age. No one dared hope for a long married life because the dangers to life were too great. For this reason, and because marriage was often an economic arrangement, deep emotional ties often seem to have been absent. When a wife died, a husband looked for another.
Both rich and poor lived in small family groups. Brothers and sisters usually did not live with each other or with their parents once they had grown up. They tried to find a place of their own. Over half the population was under twenty-five, while few were over sixty. Queen Elizabeth reached the age of seventy, but this was unusual. People expected to work hard and to die young. Poor children started work at the age of six or seven.
An Italian visitor to England gives an interesting view of English society in Tudor times: "The English are great lovers of themselves, and of everything belonging to them; they think that there are no other men than themselves, and no other world but England: and whenever they see a handsome foreigner, they say that 'he looks like an Englishman'." The English did not love their children, he thought, for "having kept them at home till they arrive at the age of seven or nine years at the most, they put them out, boys and girls, to hard service in the houses of other people, holding them to seven or eight years' hard service. They say they do it in order that their children might learn better manners. But I believe that they do it because they are better served by strangers than they would be by their own children."
In spite of the hard conditions of life, most people had a larger and better home to live in than ever before. Chimneys, which before had only been found in the homes of the rich, were now built in every house. This technical development made cooking and heating easier and more comfortable. For the first time more than one room could be used in winter.
Between 1530 and 1600 almost everyone doubled their living space. After 1570 the wealthy yeoman's family had eight or more rooms and workers' families had three rooms instead of one, and more furniture was used than ever before.
One group of people suffered particularly badly during the Tudor period. These were the unmarried women. Before the Reformation many of these women could become nuns, and be assured that in the religious life they would be safe and respected. After the dissolution of the monasteries, thousands became beggars on the roads of England. In future an unmarried woman could only hope to be a servant in someone else's house, or to be kept by her own family. She had little choice in life.
Date: 2015-01-02; view: 703