Friday, November 27, 2009

Question from Renee - Farm labourers, marriage rules, etc.

Hello there!
I am trying to source information for a novel I am writing (fiction) in which I have a small section based in tudor-stuart eras (around 1605). Any help would be greatly appreciated, I live in Australia so I am mainly relying on internet sources, I have ordered a few books from my local library that people have suggested here so thankyou for the information I have so far received on this site! I have several questions...sorry!! I'm desperate!:

1. My central character is the daughter of a wealthy yeoman (farmer). If the farm estate had labourers employed seasonally would they have stayed in the same house as the yeoman and his family? Would they have 'socialised' such as at supper or about town?

2. Would said daughter of the yeoman been able to marry without the father's consent? Would it have been faesible that he would disapprove of a farm labourer as a husband for his daughter?

3. Would people have travelled long distances (say from northern England to London) on foot, were there "roads" the whole way? If so, where would they have stayed along the way?

Thanking you in advance, I know I have asked a lot but I have been searching for weeks and I am no closer to knowing the answers! Cheers,


kb said...

There are a lot of questions here and the middling and lower sorts are not my area of expertise. You mention that some books have been suggested to you and I hope they will be useful to you. Below are my best suggestions but - again - this is not my area of expertise.

1. There were serious concerns about people who traveled from town to town without the protection of a patron. For example, actors could be thrown in jail when they arrived in town unless under the patronage of someone recognizable by their livery. So seasonal workers would have had a hard time of it. I doubt they would have stayed in the main house of a wealthy yeoman farmer. Much more likely that they stayed in outbuildings on the farm. They would have seen each other frequently in the normal course of the day. Depending on the wealth of the yeoman there may not have been very many servants to help out and so the daughter would have been helping with food for the worker.

2. While people married without their parent's consent it was unlikely and unusual. Any possessions were under the control of the family not the individual. So a girl who married without consent would have been very lucky to take her clothes with her. A wealthy yeoman farmer would have disapproved strongly of his daughter marrying a farm labourer without a house or income.

3. People regularly traveled long distances by foot from the north to London and back again. If they had the money they would stay at inns, sometimes in the stables. If they had no money they would camp just off the road, sleeping in their cloak if they had one.

You might want to look at the Compendium of Elizabethan life if you haven't already. It's full of everyday details.

Good luck!

kb said...

I'm not sure I put enough emphasis on the economic nature of marriage and traveling workers in my previous post.

Love was rarely the catalyst for marriage. Economic security and advancement was the motivating factor unless the woman was pregnant at which point if the father was known the community of family, church and town would sometimes force the marriage through.

There was social and cultural fear of poverty. Orphans would be a drain on the community as they would have to provided for somehow.

The assumption was that a young couple performing their duty to each other would respect and be fond of each other. If they loved their spouse - bonus.

Reading wills of the time indicates how much store was put in any and all belongings. People with very few possessions were quite specific about their disposition. For example, there are wills listing which spoons, pots, pans, curtains, etc should be given to whom. In this climate, a young woman of some means would have to overcome significant obstacles to actually marry someone with no permanent home or possessions.

Lower sorts (your seasonal workers for example) who traveled were suspected of being thieves - as were actors without recognizable patronage. For example, during Elizabeth's reign travelers could only spend 2 nights within the town of Plymouth before coming under criminal suspicion.

Hope this helps somewhat.

Renee said...

Hi kb,thankyou so much for your comments, they were very helpful. Its been really difficult to find in depth information about the "regular" people of the times rather than Gentry etc, I will check out the link you have posted. I'm just trying to make my story line as plausible as possible so I'm at the planning stages right now. Thanks again for your information.
If anyone else has any comments about I'd love to hear them.

tudor fanatic said...

Just to add to kb's comment - a yeoman would probably want to plan his daughter's marriage out carefully in order to ally himself to someone else of good fortune. Also, when kb says that a yeoman would "disapprove strongly" of his daughter marrying a farm labourer, it would be quite probable that he would even disown her.
I hope you get on OK with your novel! Good luck, and if you get it published eventually then come on here and tell us and I'll definitely buy a copy!

Renee said...

Thanks tudor fantastic. It's funny you should mention disowning because at the moment that's what I have planned out to occur. I'm thinking of making the male character something like an apprentice now to give him more prospect for employment once he becomes a journeyman, so they're not completely destitute beggars on the street. I'm still researching, as apprentices lived with their masters so I'm not sure how well a wife would have been received into the household if at all...she'd have to earn her keep I suspect.
I have another question if anyone reads this, what would have been the typical burial procedure for a suicide? I know it was frowned upon but I've read everything from being buried in a special part of a graveyard to being buried at a crossroad with a stake through the heart...just wondering if anyone knows for sure. Thanks a heap.

kb said...

You might want to take a look at Dafoe's 'The Complete English Tradesman'. It was written in the early 1700's but does a good job of delineating the journeyman/apprentice/wife system.