Category Archives: Court

Court Education School

The Schoolmaster

These snippets come from Roger Ascham (1515-1568), noted Elizabethan educator and tutor to Elizabeth I.  His book The scholemaster or plaine and perfite way of teachyng children, to understand, write, and speake, the Latin tong but specially purposed for the priuate brynging up of youth in gentlemen and noble mens houses, and commodious also for all such, as have forgot the Latin tonge, was published in 1570. The fragments which follow regard the beating of children in schools, and Ascham’s recollections of a conversation with Lady Jane Grey. Both bear witness to an age in which education began to undergo its own renaissance.

When the great plauge was at London, the yeare 1563. the Queenes Maiestie Queene Elizabeth, lay at her Castle of Windsor: Where, upon the 10th day of December, it fortuned, that in Sir William Cicells chamber, her Highnesse Principall Secretarie, there dined together these personages, M. Secretarie him selfe, Sir William Peter, Sir I. Mason, D. Wotton, Sir Richard Sackville Treasurer of the Exchecker, Sir Walter Mildmaye Chauncellor of the Exchecker, M. Haddon Master of Requestes, M. John Astely Master of the Jewell house, M. Bernard Hampton, M. Nicasius, and I. Of which number, the most part were of her Maiesties most honourable privie Counsell, and the rest serving her in verie good place. I was glad then, and do rejoice yet to remember, that my chance was so happie, to be there that day, in the companie of so manie wise & good men together, as hardly than could haue beene picked out againe, out of all England beside.

M. Secretarie hath this accustomed manner, though his head be never so full of most weightie affaires of the Realme, yet, at dinner time he doth seeme to lay them alwaies aside: and findeth ever fitte occasion to talke pleasantlie of other matters, but most gladlie of some matter of learning: wherein, he will curteslie heare the minde of the meanest at his Table.

Not long after our sitting downe, I have strange newes brought me, sayth M. Secretarie, this morning, that diverse Scholers of Eaton, be runne awaie from the Schoole, for feare of beating. Whereupon, M. Secretarie tooke occasion, to wishe, that some more discretion were in many Scholemasters, in using correction, than commonlie there is. Who many times punishe rather the weakeness of nature, than the fault of the Scholer. Whereby, many Scholers, that might else prove well, be driven to hate learning, before they knowe what learning meaneth: and so, are made willing to forsake their booke, and be glad to be put to any other kinde of living.

M. Peter, as one somewhat severe of nature, said plainlie, that the Rodde onelie was the sworde that must keepe the Schoole in obedience, and the Scholer in good order. M. Wotton a man milde of nature, with soft voice, and fewe wordes, inclined to M. Secretaries judgement, and said, in mine opinion, the Scholehouse should be in deede, as it is called by name, the house of playe and pleasure, and not of feare and bondage: and as I do remember, so saith Socrates. And therefore, if a Rodde carrie the feare of a Sworde, it is no marvell, if those that be fearefull of nature, chose rather to forsake the Play, than to stand alwaies within the feare of a Sworde in a fonde mans handling. M. Mason after his manner, was verie merrie with both parties, pleasantlie playing, both with the shrewde touches of many course boyes, and with the small discretion of many lewde Scholemasters. M. Haddon was fullie of M. Peters opinion, and said, that the best Scholemaster of our time, was the greatest beater, and named the Person. Though, quoth I, it was his good fortune, to send from his Schole unto the Universitie, one of the best Scholers in deede of all our time, yet wise men do thinke, that that came so to passe, rather, by the great towardness of the Scholer, than by the great beating of the Master: and whether this be true or no, you your selfe are best witness.

Before I went into Germanie, I came to Brodegate in Leicestershire, to take my leave of that noble Ladie Jane Grey, to whom I was exceeding much beholdinge. Her parentes, the Duke and the Duchess, with all the household, Gentlemen and Gentlewomen, were huntinge in the Parke. I founde her, in her Chamber, readinge Phaedon Platonis in Greeke, and that with as much delighte as some gentleman would read a merrie tale. After salutation, and dutie done, with some other talke, I asked her, why she would lease such pastime in the Parke? Smiling she answered me: all their sporte in the Parke is but a shadow to that pleasure that I find in Plato. Alas good folke, they never felt what true pleasure meant.

And howe came you Madame, quoth I, to this deepe knowledge of pleasure, and what did chieflie allure you unto it: seeinge, not many women, but verie fewe men have attained thereunto.

I will tell you, quoth she, and tell you a truth, which perchance ye will marvell at. One of the greatest benefites, that ever God gave me, is, that he sent me so sharpe and severe Parentes, and so gentle a scholemaster. For when I am in presence either of father or mother, whether I speake, keepe silence, sit, stand, or go, eate, drinke, be merrie, or sad, be sawing, playing, dancing, or doing anie thing else, I must do it, as it were, in such weight, measure, and number, even so perfectlie as God made the world, or else I am so sharplie taunted, so cruellie threatened, yea presentlie some times, with pinches, nippes, and bobbes, and other waies, which I will not name, for the honor I beare them, so without measure misordered, that I thinke my selfe in hell, till time come, that I must go to M. Elmer, who teacheth me so gentlie, so pleasantlie, with such faire allurementes to learning, that I thinke all the time nothing, whiles I am with him. And when I am called from him, I fall on weeping, because, what soever I do else, but learning, is full of grief, trouble, feare, and whole misliking unto me.  And thus my booke hath beene so much my pleasure, & bringeth dayly to me more pleasure & more, that in respect of it, all other pleasures, in very deede, be but trifles and troubles unto me.

I remember this talke gladly, both because it is so worthy of memorie, & because also, it was the last talke that ever I had, and the last time, that ever I saw that noble and worthie Ladie.’

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Biography Court Elizabeth Love Marriage Poetry

In Stella’s face I read what love and beauty be

Penelope Rich was a notorious Elizabethan beauty, inspiring poetry and praise from the courtly male elite. But as a married women she also achieved a certain notoriety and fame by virtue of a serious of love affairs.   Born into the wealthy Essex family in 1563, Penelope was the daughter of Walter Devereux, first Earl of Essex and his wife, Lettice. Well-educated, she spoke several languages including French, and was accomplished in music. Before his death, her father had sought to have her contracted in marriage to the poet and courtier Philip Sydney, however Sydney opposed the match and seemed disinclined to marry. In 1581 Penelope arrived at court and became one of Elizabeth I’s maids of honour, and by the end of the year she was married to Robert Rich, Lord Rich of Essex, later first Earl of Warwick. The wedding took place in November, and afterwards Penelope developed a habit of visiting her mother, who by now had become wife of the Queen’s favourite, the Earl of Leicester; often staying with her brother Robert, earl of Essex (he of the famous Essex Rebellion of 1603).

At the time of her marriage, Sydney, who had previously discounted marriage to Penelope, appears to have had belated second thoughts, and attending court in 1581 he fell in love with her. Astrophil and Stella, his famous sonnet sequence, is thought to have been inspired by Penelope. There are several puns on the name Rich throughout the sequence, and in Sonnet 35 he claims:

long needy Fame
Doth even grow rich, naming my Stella’s name

No evidence survives to confirm Stella ever read Sydney’s poetry, neither is there proof the two became lovers, but Penelope’s biographer suggests it is likely, since ‘on his deathbed in 1586 Sidney reportedly told the preacher George Gifford of a vanity in which he had taken delight, of which he must now rid himself, naming Lady Rich.’


Philip Sydney


Penelope and her husband had five children, four of whom survived. But Penelope was not content to lead the life of a wife and mother, trapped in a country house with no diversions. She insisted on attending court, and soon attracted the advances of another courtier, Sir Charles Blount. Their affair became public knowledge in 1590 when he wore her colours at the Accession Day jousting tournament. Blount and Penelope went on to have six children together, the first, Penelope, born in 1592. However the child was given the surname Rich, and her mother continued to spend some time with her husband. She nursed him through a serious illness in 1600 and he appears to have at the very least accepted the situation he found himself in, even permitting all the children to be brought up together. This may have been because by this stage Penelope was quite a powerful force at court. People petitioned her for favours and for mediation with the Queen, and she would request favours for people from Robert Cecil. However after Essex’s debacle in Ireland in 1599, her brother fell dramatically out of favour with the Queen, and Penelope, ill-advisedly attempted to intervene. The result was a humiliating response from Elizabeth, castigating Penelope for daring to meddle, and although the two later resolved their differences, Penelope was never fully forgiven.

In 1603, Penelope’s relationship with court suffered a catastrophic failure when she was named as one of the ring-leaders in Essex’s botched attempt at a coup:

she had dined at Essex House with the leaders the previous night, and went to fetch the earl of Bedford on the morning of the revolt. After the trial, Essex reportedly insisted that she had urged him on by saying that all his friends and followers thought him a coward. She maintained that she had been more like a slave, and that her brother had wrongly accused her. After a brief confinement, and examination by the privy council, she was released.


Sir Charles Blount, earl of Devonshire


After the death of the Queen, Penelope restored her status and social standing by escorting James I’s wife from the borders, and appearing in a series of masques at court alongside the new queen Anne. In 1605, her marriage to Rich was formally dissolved in the London consistory court, on the grounds of her acknowledged adultery. Although she named no one in the proceedings, she had by this point become involved with the earl of Devonshire, formerly Mountjoy, head of armed forces in Ireland. Remarriage remained illegal while her former spouse lived, but nevertheless the two were married on Boxing Day 1605.  Her new husband prepared a long defence of his marriage to Penelope, writing to James I, claiming that Penelope had ‘protested during the wedding with Rich, that after it Rich had tormented her, and had now not “enjoyed her” for twelve years.’ Their marriage however proved to be short lived. Devonshire died in April the following year, and Penelope outlived him by little more than a year, dying at Westminster in July 1607.

Penelope fascinated men throughout her life. She was celebrated in paintings, poetry, and songs; described as ‘the starre of honor, and the sphere of beautie’. Nicholas Hilliard painted her portrait, and named his daughter after her. The happiness of her relationship with Devonshire was celebrated by John Ford in his elegy Fame’s Memorial.

Sources: DNB; NPG; EBBO

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Clothing Court Women

Farthingales & Vizards – Elizabethan Women & their Dress

This post follows on from The History of the Ruff, and Elizabethan Men & Their Dress.

For women, the equivalent of the doublet was the bodice. It was sometimes known as a ‘pair of bodies’, and had curved seams which flattened the breasts. The bodice also had a wooden or bone insert in the front, which additionally pressed and flattened the breasts and stomach. It is this bodice which gives the torsos of Elizabethan women the unique inverted V shape. New advances meant metal eyelets could be incorporated, which enabled the bodice to be laced up much more tightly than had previously been the case. The bodice often revealed a whiff of cleavage, which could be brazonly sported, or hidden beneath a little smock or ‘partlet’ worn at the neck. As with the some doublets, the bodice had separate sleeves, pinned or fastened on at the shoulder.



Over the bodice women wore a skirt, under which was a farthingale. Early versions were made with hoops of willow or whale bone, sewn into an underskirt. Some women eschewed the farthingale in favour of padding round the hips, like an attachable French bolster. The flounce of a farthingale depended on how it was pinned, and in essence arranging it was like arranging a ruff; it could be altered depending on taste, seasons and fashions. The skirt worn over it could be endlessly adapted; folded and pinned in which ever manner suited the whim of the wearer. Early farthingales were quite simple affairs, but under the reign of Elizabeth the wheel farthingale became increasingly popular. Essentially a wheel shape constructed of wire or whale bone, or an underskirt in the same shape stiffened at regular intervals from waist to ankle, wheel farthingales were weildy and cumbersome. In both cases the skirt projected away from the waist at right angles and could be anything up to 120cm from side to side.



Skirts were made from a variety of fabrics, and were as elaborate as the wearer could afford.  Jewels, embroidery, ribbons, all could be stitched on, and removed to be worn on another outfit.  In chilly weather women would wear cloaks, often fur-lined with hoods. The favoured leg wear of women, as with men, was the stocking. Usually terminating under the knee, the fancier versions incorporated embroidery and were fashioned from silk, tied with garters. Poorer women, like their male counterparts, would have worn stockings of wool.



Some women, like men, did not wear knickers. The more aristocratic ladies may have sported linen drawers beneath their underskirts, but their poorer sisters were forced to endure long pant-free winters.  In bed, women wore nightcaps, and smocks made of linen.

Up until 1575, Elizabeth I had forty pairs of red velvet shoes, then she appears to have adopted shoes made from Spanish leather, presumbably for practical reasons. Most working women would have worn stout, unpretentious leather shoes but ladies at Court, following the Queen’s fashions, wore decorative shoes with heels made of wood. Most women over a certain age would cover their heads with caps and hoods, but young married women and virgins were allowed to gad about bare-headed. Nets of gold thread sprinkled with pearls and worn over the hair were very popular.



Women often wore silk or velvet masks, or vizards, when they were out and about to protect their complexions.


Extant Elizabethan Vizard (via The Portable Antiquities Scheme)


Gloves, scarves and furs were also available to those who could afford them. While a poor woman might have to make do with a plain woollen scarf, a woman of means could travel about swathed in sable or silver bear. Jewellery was fashionable with the wealthy – it was hip for both sexes to sport a single ear ring, and both women and men wore jewels on their fingers and around their necks.



For more on the extant vizard, see here
Sources as for the History of the Ruff & Elizabethan Men’s Clothing

© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved

Clothing Court Men

Mandillions & Netherstocks – Elizabethan Men & Their Dress

Following on from the history of the ruff, in this post I want to explore male clothing in Elizabethan England. 

The basic components of male dress in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were the doublet, hose, cloak, and ubiquitous ruff. The doublet was a fitted jacket worn over a shirt; padded and boned, with buttons down the front. As with all clothes, for both rich and poor, the stylings may have been similar, but the details varied greatly depending on the purse of the wearer, so doublet buttons would run from plain wood to fancy jewels. During the latter part of the 16th Century the padding in doublets evolved into the ‘peascod belly’; a style which ballooned out from the stomach, lending a curious pregnant air to the wearer.

Sleeves were either sewn in, or were detachable to allow for changing moods and climate. By 1575 sleeves were quite padded, and fashioned into leg of mutton shapes.  Jerkins, similar to a doublet but sleeveless, could be worn over the doublet for extra warmth. The aristocracy favoured jerkins of silver cloth, or silk, in fact anything elaborate and show offy, but the poor man made do with one of simple plain leather.  Over all this came the gown. Older men wore long gowns, which reached down to the ankle, the sleeves hanging at a similar length.

Younger, fashionable men wore them short, or chose a cloak instead. The Elizabethan cloak was something of a fashion statement. It could either be circular or semi-circular, and was often fastened at the neck. Usually waist-length, it was lined, fur-trimmed and ornate. The traditional way to wear it was over one shoulder, Walter Raleigh style. One version, known as the mandillion, trendy in the 1580s, was a sort of hip-length jacket with sleeves, worn sideways, so the neck rested on the shoulder, and the sleeves were rendered obsolete, making the wearer look, frankly, ridiculous.

Men’s waists were defined by a girdle, usually made of leather, although again, this could be accessorised with jewels and embroidery. The average man would use his girdle to carry his purse, and perhaps a few tools. For the toffs, the girdle was another chance to flash the cash. By the time of Elizabeth it was no longer necessary for the aristocracy to wear armour on a regular basis, but many kept an ornamental set or two, to wear to impress the Queen at jousting events.

Moving on down, we come to the hose, which covered the legs and was made in two parts; upper and nether. The upper hose, essentially breeches, surrounded the body from the waist down as far as the knee, and ‘trunk’ hose was especially popular. Trunk hose resembled a large pair of inflated shorts  – ballooning out from the waist, and tapering in around the upper thigh. This look was fashionable with men who really wanted to display their shapely legs. The less physically fortunate might prefer something slightly longer and more modest.  Trunk hose could be and often was ludicrous, with enormous amounts of padding and stiffening, and even ‘panes’; panels sewn into the hose, in gaudy silks, which the wearer could pull through the outer fabric and puff up before strutting off to Court.

The infamous codpieces of early modern England were thankfully on the decline by the time of Elizabeth’s reign.  Essentially a pouch which fastened to the crotch of the upper hose, held together with string or buttons, or presumably ribbons if one could afford it, the codpiece was designed to draw attention to the endowments of a gentleman.  Hollow and stiff, they came in a variety of shapes, and sizes. Some were discreet, some were generously padded; and in essence it came down to the taste, and perhaps the modesty (or not), of the individual.

Below the knee, men wore lower hose; essentially stockings, the fineness of which would depend, as with all else, on the wealth of the wearer. Poor men might make do with wool stockings, and a plain set of garters [bands designed to keep the stocking in place].  The fashionable man about town might have netherstocks of finest silk, held up with beribboned garters, and perhaps decorated with fancy designs. When it comes to  underwear, knickers as such had  not yet been born, so men were forced to use their shirt tails as a pair of makeshift pants. There were linen drawers available to men, but many would have considered these an unnecessary luxury.In cold weather men wore waistcoats under their doublets, and nightcaps to sleep in. Sleeping smocks of linen were also available, but seem to have been somewhat interchangeable with the linen shirt worn under the doublet. An indoor version of the outer gown, the nightgown, could be worn for relaxing by the fire.

In terms of footwear, sturdy leather shoes or boots known as ‘start-ups’ were worn when walking anywhere of any distance. As is clear from many portraits of the period, men also wore neat little pumps; perhaps reserved for parties and when having one’s portrait painted, to show off the legs to good effect. Thigh-length  boots were also worn, with fancy stockings called boot hose, which would be rolled down over the top of the boot to reveal fine embroidery or intricate patterns.

Hats were common place. Serving to keep the head warm, they could also be serious fashion statements. Serving all tastes, from the puritan to the flamboyant, hats existed in a multitude of styles and designs, and could be topped off with jewels, embroidery, and even jaunty feathers. Gloves, like hats, were both essential in cold weather, and provided a final opportunity to show off.

Sources: as For A Brief History of the Ruff

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