Life in the 1500’s

Life in the 1500'sLife in the 1500’s was a lot different than  now.  These interesting facts first came to my attention through a newsletter in our mobile home village. I’ve found the website they came from for verification and decided to share them with you.  To avoid being accused of plagiarism  I’ll tell you up front – these are taken directly from the website.  The link is here, the name of the site is

Life in the 1500’s says that tradition shows that June is the most popular month for weddings. Why? Most people took their yearly bath in May, so they still smelled pretty good by June, although they were starting to smell. The brides would carry a bouquet of flowers to help hide their body odor.

Baths equaled a big tub filled with hot water. The man of the house had the privilege of the nice clean water, then all the other sons and men, then the women, the children, and last of all the babies. By then the water was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it. Hence the saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”

Commonly, thatch was used for the roofs of most houses. Thick straw piled high, with no wood underneath. This was a great place for all the little animals to get warm. So all the pets; dogs, cats, and other small animals; mice, rats, bugs; all lived in the roof. When it rained it would become so slippery that sometimes the animals would slip and fall from the roof. Thus the saying “It’s raining cats and dogs”.

There was nothing to stop things falling from the roof into the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom, where bugs and other animal droppings could really mess up your bed. They found that making beds with big posts to hang sheets from would prevent that problem; and that’s where those beautiful big canopy beds come from.

When you entered a house you would notice that the floor was usually just dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt, which is where the saying “dirt poor” came from.

The wealthy would usually have beautiful slate floors. In the winter they would get wet and slippery. So they started to spread thresh on the floor to help keep their footing (thresh is the remaining straw after beating your grains to remove the grains or seeds). As the winter wore on they would just keep adding more thresh. Eventually, when you opened the door it would all start to work it’s way outside, so a piece of wood or stone was added at the door to keep it from slipping outside. It was called a “thresh hold”.

They cooked in the kitchen in a big kettle that always hung over the fire. Every day they lit the fire and added things to the pot. This stew, or “pottage”, was made of vegetables that they grew in their fields. Since human excrement was used as fertilizer, the pottage was boiled for at least two hours. Vegetables, like cabbage, were the primary ingredient, and they didn’t get much meat. They would eat this pottage leaving the leftovers in the pot overnight, starting over again the next day. Sometimes the pottage had food in it that had been in there for a month. The origin of the rhyme: peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old” comes from this.

Sometimes the field workers would carry a dried version of the pottage them. When they got hungry, they would break it up in a bowl, add some moisture to it and eat it. Of course they didn’t use water for this, it was too dirty. They used beer to mix with the pottage.

Sometimes they could get a hold of some pork. They really felt special when that happened, and when company came over they would bring out some bacon and hang it on a rack in the parlor to show it off. That was a sign of wealth; that a man “could really bring home the bacon.” They would cut off a little bit to share with guests, and they would all sit around and “chew the fat”.

In many countries, people drank from shallow bowls or trenchers rather than stemmed goblets. The idea of the latter came from contact with the Eastern world through the crusades. When Eleanor of Aquitaine visited her uncle in Jerusalem , she brought back many “new” ideas to France first, and later (with her marriage to King Henry II) to England . Among these new ideas were taking tapestries from the walls putting them on the floors (becoming rugs), and stemmed drinking goblets.

If you had money your plates were often made out of pewter. As you may know, pewter of the period had a high lead content. Sometimes some their food had a high acid content, which would cause some of the lead to leach out into the food. They really noticed it that it happened with tomatoes, so they stopped eating tomatoes for four hundred years.

Most people didn’t have pewter plates though, they all had trenchers. That was a piece of wood or a board with the middle scooped out like a bowl. They rarely washed their boards or trenchers, and a lot of times worms would get into the wood. People that would get cold sores and such would be said to have “trench mouth”, especially if they ate from infested trenchers or boards.

“Room and Board”. If you were going traveling and wanted to stay at an Inn they usually provided the bed, but not the board to eat off of.

The bread was divided according to status, not sliced, as we know it today. The workers would get the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family would get the middle and guests would the top, or the “upper crust”.

Since England is so old and small they started running out of places to bury people, so they started digging up some graves relocating the bones, and reuse the grave. When they started opening the coffins they found that some had scratch marks on the inside! One out of twenty five coffins were that way and they realized that they had still been burying people alive! One solution was to tie a string to the wrist of the deceased and lead it through the coffin, up through the ground and tie it to a bell. Someone would have to sit out in the graveyard all night to listen for the bell, and the person that did this was said to work the “graveyard shift”. If the bell would ring they would know that someone was “saved by the bell”, or that he was a “dead ringer”.

They also had lead pewter cups and when they would drink their ale or whiskey the combination of liquor and lead would sometimes knock them out for a couple of days. They would be found by someone walking along the road, and thought to be dead. So they would be picked up and taken home, where they were prepared to be buried. It was realized however that not all of the people that were buried in the past were actually dead. If they were too slow about preparing someone for burial, the “dead” person would sometimes wake up! So the suspected dead would be laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days while the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait to see if they would wake up. That’s where the custom of serving food and holding a “wake” came from. Life in the 1500’s could be deadly.

Now you know how life in the 1500’s was the origin of some of our sayings. History isn’t boring after all is it, and now you have trivia information for the ‘vast storehouse of useless stuff’ we all have.

Life in the 1500’s


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