Life in England and Scotland in the 17th century
(English Literature Presentation)
1 – England and Scotland
During the 17th century England and Scotland became steadily richer. Trade and commerce grew and grew. By the late 17th century trade was an increasingly important part of their economy. Meanwhile industries such as glass, brick making, iron and coal mining expanded rapidly. Meanwhile the East India Company was founded in 1600. The English founded a trading post at Canton, China in 1637.
2 – Society
During the 17th century the status of merchants improved. People saw that trade was an increasingly important part of the country's wealth so merchants became more respected. However political power and influence was held by rich landowners. At the top of society were the nobility. Below them were the gentry. Gentlemen were not quite rich but they were certainly well off. Below them were yeomen, farmers who owned their own land. Yeomen were comfortably off but they often worked alongside their men. Gentlemen did not do manual work. Below them came the mass of the population, craftsmen, tenant farmers and labourers. At the end of the 17th century a writer estimated that half the population could afford to eat meat every day. In other words about 50% of the people were wealthy of at least reasonably well off. Below them about 30% of the population could afford to eat meat between 2 and 6 times a week. They were 'poor'. The bottom 20% could only eat meat once a week. They were very poor. At least part of the time they had to rely on poor relief. By an act of 1601 overseers of the poor were appointed by each parish. They had power to force people to pay a local tax to help the poor. Those who could not work such as the old and the disabled would be provided for.
3 – Towns
Stuart towns were dirty and unsanitary. People threw dirty water and other rubbish in the streets. Furthermore the streets were very narrow. At night they were dark and dangerous. However there were some improvements in the biggest cities. In the early 17th century a piped water supply was created. Water from a reservoir travelled along elm pipes through the streets then along lead pipes to individual houses. However you had to pay to be connected to the supply and it was not cheap. During the 17th century towns grew much larger. That was despite outbreaks of plague. Fleas that lived on rats transmitted bubonic plague. If the fleas bit humans they were likely to fall victim to the disease. Unfortunately at the time nobody knew what caused the plague and nobody had any idea how to treat it. Plague broke out in 1603, 1636 and in 1665 in towns like London, Glasgow, Ayr, etc. Each time it killed a significant part of the population. There were always plenty of poor people in the countryside willing to come and work in the town. However the plague of 1665, which affected London, Manchester and other towns, was the last.
4 – Rich and Poor People’s Homes
In the late 17th century furniture for the wealthy became more comfortable and much more finely decorated. In the early 17th century furniture was plain and heavy. It was usually made of oak. In the late 17th century furniture for the rich was often made of walnut or (from the 1680s) mahogany. Wood was carved out and the hollow was filled in with mother of pearl. At this time lacquering arrived in Scotlnad and England partly. Pieces of furniture were coated with lacquer in bright colours. Furthermore new types of furniture were introduced. In the mid 17th century chests of drawers became common. Grandfather clocks also became popular. Later in the century the bookcase was introduced. Chairs also became far more comfortable. Upholstered chairs became common in wealthy people's homes. In the 1680s the first real armchairs appeared.
However all the improvements in furniture did not apply to the poor. Their furniture was remained very...
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