Life in Elizabethan England Next

Children and Childhood

Anne, Lady Pope, with her Sons and Daughter A little boy is dressed in skirts, pretty much like his sister. When he is between 3 and 7, depending on his parents' and nurse's assessment, he gets his first pair of breeches or breech hose.

This event, called breeching, is celebrated with a party. The boy is now said to have been breeched. Before this he was just "an unbreeched boy."

Infants are wrapped in swaddling bands for the first 6 to 12 months. It is considered unhealthy to give them the free use of their limbs.

Bastards cannot legally own or inherit property, hold public or ecclesiastical office, marry, or any number of ordinary things. It is not a romantic thing to be. A bastard "deserves to be slapped."

Hugh Rhodes's Book of Nurture (1577) provides lessons in the behavior expected from children and, presumably, from properly brought up adults. After all, "If a youth be void of virtue, in age he shall lack honour."

Here are a few of them. I have distilled some longer ones [*] to an easier mouthful.

Reverence thy father and mother as Nature requires.
*If you have been out of their presence for a long while, ask their blessing.
Stand not too fast in thy conceit.
Rise early in the morning to be holy, healthy, and wealthy.
*Say your morning prayers.
*In church, kneel, sit, or stand devoutly. Do not cast your eyes about or chatter with women, priests, or clerks.
At dinner, press not thyself too high; sit in the place appointed thee.
Sup not loud of thy pottage.
Dip not thy meat in the saltcellar, but take it with a knife.
Belch near no man's face with a corrupt fumosity.
Eat small morsels of meat; eat softly, and drink mannerly.
Corrupt not thy lips with eating, as a pig doth.
Scratch not thy head with thy fingers, nor spit you over the table.
If your teeth be putrefied, it is not right to touch meat that others eat.
Wipe thy mouth when thou shalt drink ale or wine on thy napkin only, not on the table cloth.
Blow not your nose in the napkin where ye wipe your hand.
*Chew with your mouth closed.

::  Love & Marriage
::  A Midwife's Oath 1567
::  Naming the Baby
::  Heirs & Inheritance
::  What Every Schoolboy Knows

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14 March 2010 mps