Women of Elizabeth’s England

This is some more from Thomas Platter’s Travels in England 1599. He mentions several times of how much freedom women had, perhaps reflecting the fact that a woman was on the throne, but I suspect also there were more of them than men, so strength in numbers. There are times, however, when I wonder if what he has been told by locals is more a wind-up than reality.

The women-folk of England, who have mostly blue-grey eyes and are fair and pretty, have far more liberty than in other lands, and know just how to make good use of it, for they often stroll out or drive by coach in very gorgeous clothes, and the men must put up with such ways, and may not punish them for it, indeed the goodwives often beat their men, and if this is discovered, the nearest neighbour is placed on a cart and paraded through the whole town a laughing stock for the victim, as a punishment – he is informed – for not having come to his neighbour’s assistance when his wife was beating him. They lay great store by ruffs and starch them blue, so that their complexion shall appear the whiter, and some may well wear velvet for the street – quite common with them – who cannot afford a crust of dry bread at home I have been told. English burgher women usually wear high hats covered with velvet or silk for headgear, with cut-away kirtles when they go out, in old-fashioned style. Instead of whalebone they wear a broad circular piece of wood over the breast to keep the body straighter and more erect. English women of the nobility dress very similarly to the French except for very long stomachers… and there is a proverb about tEngland, which runs, England is a woman’s paradise, a servant’s prison, because their masters and mistresses are very severe, and a horse’s hell or purgatory, because they re mostly hacks and ridden hard owing to the flat sandy country.

English customs, when Julius the first emperor came to England, were very different from today; for the common people lived in the country on milk and flesh, without bread, and clad themselves in animal pelts.

One women might have some 10 men in marriage, no matter whether they were brothers or relatives. They rode astride their horses like men, until a German became wedded to an english sovereign, and taught them how to ride differently. Nowadays the common people are still somewhat coarse and uncultured, especially those who never get away from home, and believe that the world beyond England is boarded off, and that no nation can compare with the English for virtue or comeliness.

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