The Elizabethan Era

The Elizabethan Era is the time period that is marked by the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Although Elizabeth's reign , may have only lasted for 50 years (1558-1603) we consider the early years of the 1600's as the Elizabethan Era as well. These years were also widely considered a Golden Age for England. Artistic and creative ideas flourished due to the surplus of money. During this time period, Europe, (primarily England) was bombarded by new inventions and innovations along with the surfacing of numerous authors, playwrights, and poets, including the famed Shakespeare himself. Another important part of the Elizabethan Era was the peace that took place between the Protestants and Catholics. Before Elizabeth took the throne, these two Christian factions had bitter grievances with each other and were constantly on war. The time that Elizabeth ruled in England marked a short time of peace between these to faction and brought peace upon the land for many years.

The Elizabethan Family

Elizabethan Family Life was extremely based on class divisions. The life style gap between the wealthy class and the lower classes were significant. Nevertheless, there was still an exception, which was religion. Everyone was expected to attend a Protestant Church Service despite the class, gender or age. The life of Elizabethan Family was determined by many laws of the country which were very fastidious. The laws not only impose upon religion but also the types of appropriate clothing's for each member of the family.

Life for Women

Clothing: called "dress" all together

  • underclothes
    • smock/ shift (chemise made of linen)
      this image shows how upper class women dressed during Elizabethan Era.
      this image shows how upper class women dressed during Elizabethan Era.
    • stockings/ hose
    • corset/bodice - make small waist
    • farthingale (hooped skirt)
    • roll/ rowle
    • stomacher
    • petticoat
    • kirtle
    • forepart
    • partlet
  • over clothes
    • doublet - emphasize hip and shoulders
    • gown
    • separate sleeves
    • ruff (neck& wrists ornament)
    • cloak
    • shoes
    • hat(coif) - always wore, indoor and out

Bodices and ruffles were common attire of upper class women.

Life for Men

The Elizabethan family life for men was much more favorable than the women. The men were in charged of the decisions and the women were expected to abide by the men's word. They were expected to support the family by various occupations. In addition, they were expected to advance the family members through influence and patronage from wealthier people as well as families than their own.
Clothingexternal image elizabethan-fashion-1.jpg
  • underclothes
    • shirt
    • stockings/hose
    • codpiece - conceal the opening of a man's tights or hose
    • corset-make small waist
  • over clothes
    • doublet - emphasize hip and shoulders
    • separate sleeves
    • breeches
    • belt
    • ruff (neck ornament)
    • cloak
    • shoes
    • hat(coif) - always wore, indoor and out


Life for Children

Children during the Elizabethan era were not significantly different from today. They were compliant to the adults in the family. and raised to respect and obey their parents. The greatest difference could be said as high infant mortality during the Elizabethan era, which made people to cherish the children. Like today, children played with a lot of toys such as dolls, toy soldiers, hobby horses and etc. Nevertheless, the strict system of class division applied to children as well. The wealthy class children were more educated with good etiquette and would be punished severely for bad behaviors than the lower class children.

Life of a Commoner


A commoner was a person who was not of noble rank. In the Elizabethan Era, commoners took up most of the population. 90% of people in the Elizabethan Era were commoners, 5-10% clergy, and 3% nobility. Though most commoners were poor, some were rich, as rich as lords. Commoners mostly worked on farms, but about 10-15% lived in the cities. Farming was a huge part of commoner’s lives, as most of them lived and worked on them. A bad harvest for any of these commoners would result in starvation or death. The commoners were divided up into multiple groups. Theses groups are: the bailiff, the craftsman, the servants, and the peasants. The job of the bailiffs was to collect the taxes and manage the fiefdom (a feudal estate). The job of the craftsman was to make cloths, candles, tables, and other things for the people of higher class. The job of the servants was to cook, clean, prepare beds, and other things for people of the higher class. The peasants were forced to work on the small amount of farmland in which they were granted, and sell their crops.

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Education today is in many ways similar to that of the Elizabethen Era's, but also very much unlike. Education was a luxury in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Women and men were in two very diverse situations, the women of the time usually had it worse than the men. No women could receive formal education, the exception was nobility. Men in the middle and high classes could be educated. Although before any formal education took place children were educated in basic living.
Common living habits parents taught their children were...
§ Respecting their mother and father
§ Asking their parents blessing
§ Rising early in the morning and saying their prayers
§ Table Manners - the correct behavior for eating small morsels, chewing properly , using a knife and using a napkin
§ Children would also be taught their 'place' in society which included where they should sit at the table
§ Elizabethan Girls would be taught obedience to the male members of the family. Their education would then generally diverse from the boys to concentrate on housewifely duties and sometimes music and dance
-italicized copied from, and info gathered from

The first level of schooling much like today's elementary school, it was called petty school. Boys from the age of five to seven attended classes at their teacher's home. The teacher was usually a house wife with a higher degree of education who could teach the boys to read and write.
The second level was grammar school which educated boys between the age of 7 and 14.
They could then enter into a university.
Many wealthier children had their own personal tutors, this is the reason girls did not go to school. They were not aloud to attend unless they were high class, and if they were high class they had their own tutor.
For more details on Elizabethean England visit //


Styles in General

Hairstyles were important to the men and women of the Elizabethan Era. Men and women, especially the wealthy and elite took a lot of pride in making their hair look like someone who has just about the same amount of money or status as them. Both sexes would do almost anything to get their hair to look the way they want. For the wealthy, money was never an issue. They went through a lot to change their hairstyles when styles came and went.

Hairstyles for Men

Different Styles of Beards during the Elizabethan Era
The men of the Elizabethan Era paid a lot of attention to their facial hair. They spent a lot money keeping their beard trimmed so it was always in the new trend. For the men who had long beards, their beards didn’t require that much care except for the sporadic brushing. Men with short beards went to the hairdresser. Their beards could be cut pointed, square, round, oblong or T-shaped.

A Trip the Barbershop
Even Shakespeare had "Love Locks"
Even Shakespeare had "Love Locks"

When a man in the Elizabethan Era went to a barbershop, the barber usually stiffened, starched, powdered, perfumed, waxed and dyed the hair a fashionable red. The hair was usually shoulder length and then it curled with a hot iron to form what they called “love locks”. When men went bald, most depended on wigs to help them keep up the changing fashions. The wigs were usually their idea of a fashionable color, which was either white or yellow.

Care for the Beards
In the daytime, men with beards brushed it to keep it in shape and at night they fettered the beard in a special wooden press. To women, beards were considered to be attractive.

Hairstyles for Women

Women during the Elizabethan Era went through a lot to just get the look that was in. some died their hair blonde because it was considered a favorite tone amongst women. Other women spent their days in the sun because they believed that the sun would bleach their hair and give them some sort of gold tint. Some women even bleached their hair and dried it on the tops of their homes.
An example of the fake hair
An example of the fake hair

Many of the women of the Elizabethan Era used a lot of fake hair. Some of the hair was the hair of the peasantry and sometimes it was “hair” that had been formed from yellow and white silk.

An elaborate Hairstyle
An elaborate Hairstyle
n also wore many accessories in their hair. The most popular hair accessory was the hair net. The wealthy wore hair nets made of silk. Sometimes they wore their hair down so that it would fill the sack like bag which was then decorated fabulously with gold trimmings and jewels. Poor women who wanted to keep up with the changing fashions made their hair nets out of crepe. Hairpins and combs were added to the give the net an even better look!

(Link to all info regarding hairstyles:

Daily Life



Music was a very important art form to all classes in Elizabethan times. Elizabethan musiccould be played on instruments by trained musicians, or ballads or simple songs could be sang to ease the long workdays for the Lower Class. The fact that all people went to church every Sunday, the songs sung at church became very popular.

Food and Drinkexternal image tea_cup_small.jpg

Water and tea were not common, but ale was. It was very commonly drunk among people . The higher class drank wine.

The common drinks mentioned in the play include sack and bastard.

The diet of the rich was less healthy than the poor. The richer ate many less fruits and vegetables and used a large amount spices in their meals. Dairy was also considered inferior and was only eaten by the poor. The rich also ate much more sugar to blacken their teeth to follow the style of the time.
More Information on Elizebethan Food and Drink

Punishment Under Queen Elizabeth I

The Greatest Punishment

The greatest and most harshest punishment used in England towards a person who has committed an offense to the State was drawing the person from the prison to the place of execution on a hurdle or sled, where they are then hanged until they are half dead. then they are taken down, and quartered alive; After that, their intestines and bowels are cut form their bodies and thrown into a fire within their sight.

Varying Punishment for a Commoner & Nobility
A typical hanging in Elizabethan England
A typical hanging in Elizabethan England

Punishment varied for nobility and a commoner. In the cases of treason, felony or any other appalling crime and the person is a nobleman they choose not to confess then they are put on trial by a hearing and his peers. If the person who has committed the crime is a gentlemen or an inferior, then they are put on trial by God and the county. If found guilty then he is hung by the neck until pronounced dead, then cut down and buried. However, if the person has commited an intentional murder, notable robbery or pretended malice, and is convicted then he is either:

1) Hanged alive in chains near the palce where the crime was committed (or else upon their own selves choose to be strangled with a rope)
2) Or besides the hanging the offender has their right hand cut off near or the place where the crime was committed and then after, they are taken to the place of execution and then they are put to death.

For a person who has committed suicide, they are buried in a field with a stake (a type of pole with a sharp end) driven through their bodies.


During the Elizabethan Era, there were strict laws limiting activities and rights based on one's class.
Not only were there specific laws, but the punishment for violating them were harsh as well.

Definition of Sumptuary

Sump-tu-ar-y (adj.): regulating or limiting personal expenditures
Sumptuary laws date back to Roman periods. Originated from the Latin word meaning expenditure, the laws were imposed by rulers who desired extreme power and previleges. Sumptuary laws could apply to food, furniture, beverage, jewelry, and clothing.

Sumptuary Laws were well known by everyone in England. The main purposes of these laws were to control behavior and to ensure that specific class structure was maintained. Also, it was an easy and immediate way to identify rank and previliges. The idea of these laws was that people should dress according to their social class or position in life.

Statues of Apparel
Queen Elizabeth I enforced new sumptuary laws called "Statues of Apparel" on June 125th 1574 in Greenwich.

  • People who were not members of the royal family were not allowed to wear red or purple silk, gold (gold ornaments, gold tissue), and fur.
  • If you were not of a high social class and your sword was too long, then it would be broken in half.

Cost for Violation:
The result for violating the sumptuary laws were very harsh - you had the possibility of having to pay fines, losing your property, title or even life!



In the Elizabethan Era, the lives of wealthy citizens and nobility revolved around entertainment, but peasants and common people also loved it. The kingdom loved social events and entertainment so they housed people just for entertainment. People such as jesters, mummers, minstrels, jugglers, acting troupes, and troubadours were always around the castle to entertain the king and queen by juggling, dancing, singing, or acting. Feasts and banquets were often held in the court when someone was being honored for something, a wedding anniversary, or just for nightly fun. Fairs were also an enormous amount of fun. The Annual Summer Fair was an extremely popular affair that drew large crowds. Plays and mystery plays were also a big hit and occurred often in the town square or in a theatre. Other festivities held for entertainment were jousting contests, dancing, singing, sports and contests, animal sports (watching animals fight), and hunting.


In the Elizabethan Era, sports were a way of entertainment for everyone, but especially for Nobility. There are various types of sports that range from individual to team sports, and sports that include animals. The Elizabethan Era was known as a very aggressive and bloody time, so the sports which included animals usually included animals such as deer, rabbit, fox, boar, game birds, and stags. Many of the individual sports involved bets and gambling. For example, people would place bets on who would win, very much like horse races nowadays.

Team Sports

  • Elizabethan Hunting: Hunting was known as the sport of Kings and was one of the most popular sports. There were two types of hunting: 'At-Force' and 'Bow and Stable'. The 'At-Force' hunts were very strenuous and were designed for very fit people. 'Bow and Stable' hunts were less strenuous, and many women partook in these hunts.
  • Battledore and Shuttlecock: the ancestor of modern day badminton.
  • Gameball: this game was football, but it was extremely rough and violent.
  • Hurling (often known as Shinty): a game similar to ice hockey.
  • Pall Mall: this game is the ancestor to Croquet.quaterstaff.jpg
  • Rounders: this game was played with a bat and a ball, and is very similar to baseball.
  • Skittles: 10 pin bowling
  • Stoolball: this is an ancestor of the game Cricket.

Individual Sports
  • Elizabethan Archery: archery was a well-known and very popular sport in this era and is the same as modern day archery.
  • Billiards: the same game as it is played today, known as 'Pool'.
  • Colf: the ancestor game of Golf. The balls were covered in a leather casing (bulls hide), soaked in alum, and stuffed with goose feathers. The word "colf" means "club" in Dutch, which is where the name Golf came from.
  • Elizabethan Fencing: Fencing was a skill that was needed by all upperclassmen Nobility. Fencing was looked at as a noble sport because the art of being skilled with a sword was a skill of high upperclassmen. For example, Knights were trained in sword fighting from ages 7-21. Fencing became very popular in the Elizabethan Era and the sword also became an important piece of Noble apparel.
  • Hammer Throwing: this was a sport that required strength and skill. This game was mainly based off of bets and gambling.
  • Horseshoes: this game is different than the modern version. In this era, horseshoes were thrown at targets.
  • Quarter-Staff Contests: A quarter-staff is a long wooden pole with metal spikes at the end. These contests were between two people and is most similar to the sport of fencing.
  • Elizabethan Tennis: this game was played very differently than today's game of tennis. In this era, a person would wear a glove (which was later replaced by a racket) and the ball would be hit between courtyard walls. At first, the balls were made of solid wood, but after they were replaced by leather balls stuffed with bran.

"Elizabethan Sports." Elizabethan Era. Web. 1 Mar. 2010. <>

Social Classes in Shakespeare’s England

In the England during the Shakespeare’s era, English had a strong sense of which social class that they belonged in. The social class of a person was usually determined by his occupation, wealth, power and ancestry.The Social classes could effect and limit people’s lives in many ways; from what people could wear and eat to what they can buy. Therefore, when looking through anything related to the Elizabethan England, it is important to keep in mind that the class system had significant effect on the English’s’ daily lives. This class system can be divided into four different classes; Nobility, Gentry, Yeomanry and the poor.

The Nobility
external image elizabethan-fashion-1.jpg
In the Elizabethan England, the most important people after the king were the prince, dukes, earls and barons. These were the few men of greater sort, or commonly called, noblemen. In Shakespearean’s era there were only 55 noble families in England. This was the consequence of War of the Roses, a civil war in England from 1455-1485 when nobles fought for the Throne of England. This war wiped out a great number of noblemen in England. However, the number was kept constant because king believed that nobles were threat to the crown.
Compared to other classes, nobles had much greater privileges in many parts of their lives. Noblemen could keep large households, and numerous numbers of servants. For example, the house of earl of Northumberland could support 166 people. Also, meals of noblemen were extravagant; they ate breakfast as a small snack and dinner as the main supper, which went on for three hours if long. They had privilege of using silver and glass utilities too.

The Gentry
external image med_53.jpg
In the Elizabethan England, gentries were who

- Practiced law
- Were teachers in Universities
- Practiced sciences
- Was a captain in a war
- Practiced governing (serves in government)
- Do not labor for living
- Able to afford necessary costs of a gentleman

The College of Heralds made a set of clothes for these people, which showed the antiquity, with exuberant decorations. The people who wear these clothes were referred as masters, which was a title for gentleman. Most of these people attained great wealth, some of them even reaching the point where they owned a house which a rich noble would have. However, these people could not buy themselves into nobility, but their offspring frequently became nobles. These people were the basis of Elizabethan society and the external image social3.jpgnumber of gentries grows gradually throughout the Elizabethan England.

The Yeomanry

Yeomanry was a class between two distinct groups of people, the wealthy and the poor. Being a middling class, they had enough wealth to live a good life, but at any time could fall into poverty. They usually did not hold much status in their society because they were usually farmers, tradesmen or craftsmen. This group only existed in England, when in other parts of Europe, people were either noble and wealthy or extremely poor with little in-between. However, just like the Gentries, few Yeomanry were extremely wealthy. The factor that distinguished the Yeomanry from the Gentries was how they spent their wealth; while gentries spent their wealth on extravagant items, trying to imitate a noble life, the Yeomanry spent their wealth simply.

The Poor external image Elizabethan_pauper.jpg

Like every other society, the Elizabethan England had poor people. There were a great number of poor people due to the enclosure, a movement by government to divide equal amount of land with less people which increased the practicality. This act resulted in great number of jobless people, who became the poor. To help the poor, Queen Elizabeth established the famous Elizabethan Poor Laws, which was a first government-sponsored welfare program. In the beginning, the welfare was sponsored by the wealthy. Few years later, the Queen levied the “poor tax” on everyone. The poor law had three goals; first to take care of people who could not take care of themselves by keeping them in hospitals. Secondly, to make able-bodied people to work. And finally to discourage the people the rogues and beggars.
Briscoe, Alexandra. "Poverty in Elizabethan England." BBC Homepage: History. 11 Jan. 2005. BBC.
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Lace, William W. Elizabethan England. San Diego: Lucent Books, 1995.

Religion in England

In England the religion was dictated by the ruler. Schools would teach the religion favored by King or Queen. Failures to adhere to the religion could result in different severity depending
on the ruler at the time.
The two main religions in England were Catholic and Protestant.
Queen Mary I (1553-1558) who was Queen Elizabeth's sister was a firm believer in the Catholic religion. She persecuted people of other religions very harshly. Imprisonment, torture, or execution were not uncommon. In many instances Protestants were burned to death because of there religion.
Queen Elizabeth took the throne next and made Protestant the official religion of England. This was a dramatic shift in ideals, for previously protestants were killed. It was difficult to practice religion in England during the 16th century and confusing for the people. Queen Elizabeth did not believe it was necessary to punish people of differing religions unless that religion was a threat to the well being of England. This caused two different emotions among the people of England. Some were very happy with the Queen while others believed that the country should stay Catholic.