Home > Uncategorized > A Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Renaissance England

A Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Renaissance England

Source: Kathy Lynn Emerson, A Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Renaissance England from 1485-1649 (Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books, 1996).

[page 233]

Bristol: A separate county (from the fourteenth century) as well as a city and the seat of a bishopric, Bristol was a major urban center from about 1550 onward and the distribution center for southern Wales.  A population of 12,000 in 1600 made it the third largest English city.  An international port, second only to London in importance, it also had a virtual monopoly on the supply of cod.  In the sixteenth century it had a reputation for being cleaner than most cities.

Canterbury: The largest town in Kent, with a population of 6,000 by 1650, it remained an ecclesiastical center even after the destruction of the tomb of St. Thomas à BECKET and the subsequent decrease in its tourist trade.  The archbishop of Canterbury, highest prelate in the reformed church, had his seat there.

[page 193]


Training in crafts, trades, and sometimes even professions such as the law was primarily done through apprenticeship, which usually began at fourteen and lasted seven years, at which time the apprentice was tested by the guild to determine if he should become a journeyman.  During the apprenticeship, the apprentice received food, clothing, lodging and education, in particular an education in the “mystery” of the master’s trade.  During these years the apprentice was forbidden to contract a marriage (or fornicate), frequent alehouses or taverns, or engage in games of chance with cards and dice.  At the end of the apprenticeship, the apprentice received two suits of clothing, a sum of money, and/or a set of tools.

Under Elizabeth, younger sons of gentlemen began to be apprenticed in craft guilds, a career choice which would have been frowned upon in an earlier era.  About 10 percent of those apprenticed by their parents were girls.  The percentage was higher (25 to 30 percent) among pauper children apprenticed by their parish under the terms of the Statute of Laborers and Artificers (1563).

The usual “uniform” of an apprentice was of russet cloth, often in a dark blue but seldom black.  The doublet was tight-fitting, longer in the skirt than that of a gentleman, with tight sleeves of a different color, and buttons of polished pewter.  It was worn with loose upper hose, gray stockings and shoes, and a leather belt and pouch.  Apprentices also wore “sheep’s color” and the fabrics fustian, canvas, sackcloth and wool.  They wore blue cloaks in summer and blue gowns in winter, with breeches and stockings of white broadcloth.  Their points were of leather or thread.  They were forbidden to carry any weapon but a knife.

The round woolen “flat cap” (it had a low, flat crown) is particularly associated with London apprentices.

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