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Elizabeth's London by Liza Picard

Elizabeth's London (original 2003; edition 2003)

by Liza Picard

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485631,448 (3.97)10
Title:Elizabeth's London
Authors:Liza Picard
Info:London : Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003.
Collections:Your library
Tags:history, social history, town life, London, 16th century, read 2018

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Elizabeth's London: Everyday Life in Elizabethan London by Liza Picard (2003)


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A well-researched and highly entertaining overview of life in Tudor London. It's not an academic history, but it is a pleasure to read. ( )
  GaylaBassham | May 27, 2018 |
This is one of a series of descriptions of London life at various pivotal times, by a retired English civil servant. It's a pleasant read; every chapter has some interesting detail about life in Elizabethan times that I didn't suspect. One enlightening item was the degree to which economic life was controlled (you can't say it was anti capitalist, because the word "capitalism" hadn't been coined yet.) Bread prices were fixed. What you could sell and where you could sell it were also controlled:

*No "root-seller" could display more than three baskets of produce.

*You could not sell bread in the street, only in the marketplace or directly to a customer's house.

*You could not eat meat on Wednesdays, Fridays or Saturdays without a license.

*You could not "forestall" - intercept goods before they got to market.

*You could not buy goods in one market and sell them in another.

And that's just for food; similar laws governed housebuilding, cloth making, etc.

I checked for evidence of climate, and there is some - but it's equivocal. On one hand, many plants that seem unlikely to grow in England now are attested - pomegranates and figs. On the other, the Thames froze solid enough to support horses in 1537 and 1564.

There's a handy table of costs for various things - an unskilled laborer would get 7d a day; a skilled carpenter got 1s 2d; a surgeon at St. Bartholomew's got L30 a year; Elizabeth spent about L9000 per year on her wardrobe. A loaf a bread was 1d, two dozen eggs were 8d, 10 lbs of sugar cost 12s 3d and a year at an Inn of Court was L40.

There were a lot of fractional coins, including happence, half-groats, three farthings, etc. The was also a "money of account" called a mark, equal to 2/3 of a pound; a lot of financial transactions were done in marks or fractions of a mark but there were no coins for these values. Couple that with a mix of Roman and Arabic numbers and it must have made life pretty interesting for the accountant.

There was no copper or brass money; only silver or gold (and, of course, no bank notes). That must have made for severe money shortages.

In the Victoria and Albert museum, I've seen a lot of nicely carved ivory discs dating from medieval to Tudor times and described as "tokens" without further explanation. Well, this book explains that. Every shop-keeper had a set of these and some lines or squares ruled on a handy flat surface (or perhaps a cloth with a similar pattern, for portability). The first line was for 1's, the second for 10's and so on. You put the tokens on it and used it as an abacus. Thus, when a customer wanted to buy something and there was a complicated amount of money involved, she had to take her purchase to the "counter". I had an etymological epiphany. Not to mention the "exchequer".

Lastly, the discussion of personal hygiene and medical treatment should be enough to deter anybody who's based their impressions of courtly life on romance novels.
( )
  setnahkt | Dec 8, 2017 |
A great read, full of interesting gems about social life in Elizabethan London, covering all levels of society where relevant details are known or can reasonably be inferred. ( )
  john257hopper | Aug 12, 2010 |

Picard has written several other books about London in different eras, but none the less makes her material here sound entirely fresh. There is a mass of detail on most aspects of London life, and I understand much better the role of institutions like the foreigners' churches and the city companies; plus I have more on my reading list for the moment when I crank my own research up a gear. Unfortunately she doesn't say much on the two subjects I most wanted to read about: the court (though this does come up in discussion of clothes) and the Irish in London - I think I spotted precisely one mention, of an Irish woman who died and whose children were therefore supported by the parish. On the other hand she has plenty of entertaining asides, the majority of which are buried in the endnotes (yet another book which irritatingly does not have footnotes), including numerous reminiscences of Tanganyika in the 1950s, some of which are even relevant to Elizabethan London. ( )
1 vote nwhyte | Mar 22, 2009 |
I found the first part on the physical lay-out of London and architecture a bit heavy going, but when I got onto the second part on people and their lives it was fascinating. Ms. Picard has a great eye for the telling anecdote or detail in the records. ( )
  Robertgreaves | Dec 12, 2008 |
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To the Reader

Diverse writers of histories write diversely ... For though it be written homely, yet it is not (as I trust) written untruly. And in histories the chief thing that is to be desired is truth. Wherefore, if thou find that in it, I beseech thee, wink at small faults, or at the least, let the consideration of my well meaning drown them.
John Stow
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You only have to open Samuel Pepy's Diary and you are back in the London of Charles II.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312325665, Paperback)

This picture of the London of Queen Elizabeth (1558-1603) is the result of Liza Picard's curiosity about the practical details of daily life that almost every history book ignores. As seen in her two previous, highly acclaimed books-Restoration London and Dr. Johnson's London-she has immersed herself in contemporary sources of every kind. She begins with the River Thames, the lifeblood of Elizabethan London. The city, on the north bank of the river, was still largely confined within old Roman walls. Upriver at Westminster were the royal palaces, and between them and the crowded city the mansions of the great and the good commanded the river frontage. She shows us the interior décor of the rich and the not-so-rich, and what they were likely to be growing in their gardens. Then the Londoners of the time take the stage, in all their amazing finery. Plague, small-pox, and other diseases afflicted them. But food and drink, sex and marriage and family life provided comfort, a good education was always useful, and cares could be forgotten in a playhouse or the bear-baiting rings, or watching a good cockfight. Liza Picard's wonderfully skillful and vivid evocation of the London of four hundred years ago enables us to share the delights, as well as the horrors, of the everyday lives of sixteenth century Britain.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:02 -0400)

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"This picture of the London of Queen Elizabeth (1558-1603) is the result of Liza Picard's curiosity about the practical details of daily life that almost every history book ignores." "Liza Picard's evocation of the London of four hundred years ago enables us to share the delights, as well as the horrors, of the everyday lives of sixteenth-century Britons."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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