Home  »  Volume V: English THE DRAMA TO 1642 Part One  »  § 16. Increased luxury in Diet and Dress

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

XIV. Some Political and Social Aspects of the Later Elizabethan and Earlier Stewart Period

§ 16. Increased luxury in Diet and Dress

The two favourite kinds of luxury in Elizabethan and Jacobean England, needless to say, were those associated with diet and with dress respectively. Already in queen Mary’s day, her Spanish visitors were astonished by the excellent table usually kept by Englishmen, as much as by the inferiority of the houses in which they were content to dwell. The building of English houses seems to have struck foreign observers as more or less unsubstantial; but, though the sometimes fantastic and sometimes slight style of house architecture in vogue may have been partly due to the influence of Italian example, even magnates of the land had ceased to care much for residing in castles. For the houses of the gentry, brick and stone were coming into use in the place of timber, although most English dwelling houses were still of the latter material. One of the most attractive features in English houses was to be found in the rich hangings usual in the houses of the nobility, and the less costly tapestry in those of the gentry, and even of farmers. Noticeable, too, was the store of plate, kept, in proportionate quantities, of course, in both upper and middle class houses, and even in the cupboards of many artisans. On the other hand, a sufficient number of chimneys was still wanting to many houses, where logs were piled up in the hall —stoves of course were not ordinarily used—and though the general quality of household furniture was imposing, bedding was still sparse in many houses, and a day bed or “couch” a quite exceptional indulgence.