Considered the golden age of English history, the Elizabethan era saw a flowering of British culture in many different areas. Spanning the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, this period saw unprecedented peace and prosperity in England, especially when contrasted with the times just before and after it. In Elizabethan times, poetry, music, theater and literature dominated daily life at home, while the explorations of the British abroad brought a steady stream of exotic news and influences to England's shores. Here are 10 important facts about the Elizabethan era, each one a glimpse into what life was like in England's most decadent period.
The Elizabethan Period Lasted 45 Years
The reign of Queen Elizabeth I stretched from 1558 to 1603, covering an especially monumental time in British history. The church of England declared independence from the Catholic Church the same year the Elizabeth took power, and so the queen had absolute power over both church and state.
Shakespeare Published His First Play in the Elizabethan Era
Queen Elizabeth poured money into London's arts scene, building the city's first theaters and sponsoring productions. Shakespeare himself grew up and benefited from this atmosphere, and his first play, "Henry IV," was published near the end of her reign.
Elizabethan Society was Class Based
In Elizabethan times, society was divided into a strict social order that included six classes: the monarchy (or the Queen herself), the nobility, the gentry, the merchant class, the yeoman class (tradesmen) and laborers. Elizabethan laws even dictated what kind and color of clothes each class could wear so that they could be immediately identified.
Cuisine Exploded During the Elizabethan Period
The exploration of the New World and the South Pacific brought a slew of culinary treats into the kitchens and restaurants of England. Tomatoes, chili peppers, chocolate, cinnamon and avocados are just some of the hundreds of flavorful items that the British tasted for the first time during the Elizabethan era.
Nobody Drank Water in Elizabethan England
Except for country people, most British people in the Elizabethan era drank ale, beer, cider or wine instead of water. Water was contaminated and not safe to drink, especially in London, and the alcohol content of alcoholic beverages helped to kill germs and bacteria.
There Were Witch Hangings in Elizabethan England
Like the rest of Europe at the time, England went through a phase of witch hysteria during the Elizabethan era. In England, however, witches found guilty of murder were publicly hanged, not burned at the stake like in France.
England Became the Supreme Naval Power of the World
When the British defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588, it became the undisputed ruler of the seas. This accounts for the explosive growth in prosperity during the Elizabethan period, as the British navy controlled the world's naval trade.
There Was No Paper Money in the Elizabethan Era
In Elizabethan England money was made out of alloys of silver and gold, and the exact weight of the silver or gold in the coin (known as its fineness) determined its value. Pounds, made up of 240 pennies, were the common monetary standard.
Ghosts Were Common in the Elizabethan Era
Superstitions ran high in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and chief among them was the belief in ghosts and haunted houses. Castles were an especially common haunt for ghosts; in fact, the ghost of Queen Elizabeth herself has been reported to haunt Windsor Castle to this day.
Queen Elizabeth Loved Poetry
One of the queen's favorite art forms was poetry, and the written word flourished under her reign. Some poets even composed in dedication to Queen Elizabeth herself as a form of flattery, including the famous “The Faerie Queene” by Edmund Spencer.
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