Notes for Unknown Wife Of William:
Good Ol’ Days Not So Great!
Life was not as romantic as we may picture it.
Here are some examples:
Most people married young, often at the age of 11 or 12, probably often because they were orphaned and had to marry or otherwise become wards of the Court of Wards, which would take all their property. Anne Hathaway married William Shakespeare when she was 26, unusually old for the times. Anne Hathaway’s home was a 3 bedroom house with a small parlor, which was seldom used(only for company), kitchen, and no bathroom.
Her mother and father shared a bedroom. Anne had a queen sized bed, but did not sleep alone. She also had two sisters and they shared the bed with six servant girls(this is before she married). They didn’t sleep length-wise like we do, but all laid on the bed cross-wise. At least they had a bed. The other bedroom was shared by her 6 brothers and 30 field workers. They didn’t have a bed. Everyone just wrapped up in their blanket and slept on the floor. So, they had 27 people living in their house. They had no indoor heating, so all the extra bodies kept them warm.
They were also small people, the men only grew to be about 5’6" and the women averaged about 4’8". Most people got married in June. Why? They took their yearly bath in May, so they were still smelling pretty good by June, although they were starting to smell, so the brides would carry a bouquet of flowers to hide their b.o. Their bath was in a big tub that they would fill with hot water. The man of the house would get the privilege of the nice clean water. Then all the other sons and men, then the women and finally the children. Last were the babies. By then the water was pretty thick. Thus, the saying, "don’t throw the baby out with the bath water," it was so dirty you could actually lose someone in it.
Some aspects of their houses left something to be disired. You’ve heard of thatch roofs. Well, that’s all they were. Thick straw, piled high, with no wood underneath. They were the only place for 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 became slippery so sometimes the animals would slip and fall off the roof. Thus the saying, "it’s raining cats and dogs."
Since there was nothing to stop things from falling into the house they would just try to clean up a lot. But this posed a real problem in the bedroom where bugs and other droppings from animals could really mess up your nice clean bed, so they found if they would make beds with big posts and hang a sheet over the top it would prevent that problem. That’s where those beautiful big 4 poster beds with canopies came from.
When you came into the house you would notice most times that the floor was dirt. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt, that’s where the saying "dirt poor" came from. The wealthy would have slate floors. That was fine but in the winter they would get slippery when they got wet. So they started to spread thresh on the floor to help keep their footing. As the winter wore on they would just keep adding it and adding it until when you opened the door it would all start slipping outside. So they put a piece of wood at the entry way, a "thresh hold".
In the kitchen they would cook over the fire; they had a fireplace in the kitchen/parlor, that was seldom used and sometimes in the master bedroom. They had a big kettle that always hung over the fire and every day they would light the fire and start adding things to the pot. Mostly they ate vegetables, they didn’t get much meat. They would eat the stew for dinner then leave the leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes the stew would have food in it that had been in there for a month! Thus the rhyme: "Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old."
Sometimes they could get a hold of some pork. They really felt special when that happened and when company came over they even had a rack in the parlor where they would bring out some bacon and hang it to show it off. That was a sign of wealth and that a man "could really bring home the bacon." They would cut off a little to share with guests and they would all sit around and "chew the fat."
If you had money your plates were made out of pewter. Sometimes some of their food had a high acid content and some of the lead would leach out into the food. They really noticed it happened with tomatoes. So they stopped eating tomatoes, for 400 years. Most people didn’t have pewter plates though, they all had trenchers, that was a piece of wood with the middle scooped out like a bowl. They never washed their boards and a lot of times worms would get into the wood. After eating off the trencher with worms they would get "trench mouth."
If you were going traveling and wanted to stay at an Inn they usually provided the bed but not the board. The bread was divided according to status. The workers would get the burnt bottom of the loaf, the family would get the middle and guests would get the top, or the "upper crust".
They also had lead cups, and when they would drink their ale or whiskey, the combination would sometimes knock them out for a couple of days. They would be walking along the road and here would be someone knocked out and they thought they were dead. So they would pick them up and take them home and get them ready to bury. They realized if they were too slow about it, the person would wake up; also, maybe not. So they would lay them out on the kitchen table for a couple of days, the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait and see if they would wake up. That’s where the custom of holding a "wake" came from.
Since England is so old and small they started running out of places to bury people. So they started digging up some coffins and would take their bones to a house and re-use the grave. They started opening these coffins and found some had scratch marks on the inside. One out of 25 coffins were that way and they realized they had still been burying people alive. So they thought they would tie a string on their wrist and lead it through the coffin and 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. That is how the saying "graveyard shift" was made. If the bell would ring they would know that someone was "saved by the bell" or he was a "dead ringer".
In English pubs, ale is ordered by pints and quarts. So in old England, when customers got unruly, the bartender would yell at them to mind their own pints and quarts and settle down. It’s where we get the phrase "mind your P’s and Q’s." In old England, containers for liquids such as beer were made of leather coated with pitch, hence the name "pitcher."
After consuming a bucket or two of vibrant brew they called aul, or ale, the Vikings would head fearlessly into battle often without armor or even shirts. In fact, the term "berserk" means "bare shirt" in Norse, who invaded and settled northern England, and eventually took on the English meaning of their wild battles.
In 1740, Admiral Vernon of the British fleet decided to water down the Navy’s rum. Needless to say, the sailors weren’t too pleased and called Admiral Vernon, Old Grog, after the stiff wool grogram coats he wore. The term "grog" soon began to mean the watered down drink itself. When you were drunk on this grog, you were "groggy", a word still in use today.
Many years ago in England, pub frequenters had a whistle baked into the rim or handle of their ceramic cups. When they needed a refill, they used the whistle to get some service. "Wet your whistle," is the phrase inspired by this practice.
Other interesting origins of English words:
In Baltimore, in the mid 1800’s there was a man who sold corpses to the hospital for research. He stored the cadavers in cheap whiskey to ferment them before turning them over to the researchers. He then sold the whiskey to the medical students…thus the term "rot gut."
It was the accepted practice in Babylonia 4,000 years ago that for a month after the wedding, the bride’s father would supply his son-in-law with all the mead he could drink. Mead is a honey beer, and because their calendar was lunar based, this period was called the "honey month" or what we know today as the "honeymoon." Before thermometers were invented, brewers would dip a thumb or finger into the mix to find the right temperature for adding yeast. Too cold, and the yeast wouldn’t grow. Too hot, and the yeast would die. This thumb in the beer is where we get the phrase "rule of thumb."
Courtesy of Mary Lou Iverson