top of page
Historical Facts: Renaissance

Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first wife, brought the Spanish fashion of eating salads with the main meal to England. Posted 2/15/2011

During the Renaissance, most people slept on the rushes strewn on the floor of the great hall.  You knew you were the guest of honor if they left the table set up, so you could sleep above the rest of the vermin. Posted 8/01/2012

For much of history a bed was, for most homeowners, the most valuable thing they owned.  During Shakespeare’s day, a decent canopied bed cost £5, half the annual salary of a typical schoolmaster. Posted 4/01/2014

During the Renaissance, part of a teacher’s education was to be taught how to flog a student. Posted 9/01/2016

During the Renaissance, handkerchiefs measured 12 to 15 in. A smaller variety of 4 to 5 inches were usually given as presents by women to men as love tokens. Posted 2/15/2017

The term "pin money" comes from the 1500s when a woman's garment had pieces literally pinned on (the stomacher in particular) with small straight pins. Some invariably fell out, so a husband provided his wife with a small amount of money to replenish her pin stock - thus her pin money. Posted 12/01/2017

In 1588, sailors in England's Royal Navy got one pound of biscuits and one gallon of beer per day as their rations. Posted 5/15/2018

In Stratford in the 1560s there were an average of 63 children baptized every year and 43 children buried. Child mortality was higher in town because of the spread of diseases, but even in rural areas, 21% of children died before they reached their 10th birthday, two-thirds of them in their first year of life. Posted 1/15/2019

In 1564 the king of France, Charles IX, issued the Edict of Roussillon declaring that henceforth the year would always begin on January 1, not March 25 or Christmas or Easter. Venice, the Holy Roman Empire, Spain, Prussia, Denmark, and Sweden had already shifted to the system by 1560; the Low Countries followed suit in the 1570s and 1580s; and Scotland also did so in 1600. This was most confusing for those living in Burwick, on the English-Scottish border, because England still started the year on March 25. Between January 1 and March 25 each year, the Scottish date was one year greater than the English one. Posted 1/01/2020

During the Renaissance a man’s doublet could include as much as four to six pounds of bombast, made from rags, cotton, horsehair, or bran. Posted 5/15/2020

In 1587, the first treatise on swimming, by Edward Digby, a fellow at Saint John's College, Cambridge, was published. It provided simple instructions for swimming safely, cheaply, and healthily. In 1595, it was translated into English by Christopher Middleton. Posted 8/15/2020

In England, tennis, played in indoor courts, was so popular that £1,699 pounds worth of tennis balls were imported in the year 1559 to 1560. Posted 2/01/2021

During the Renaissance poor, older women took care of plague victims. They volunteered to be boarded up in the house with them. They cleaned, cooked, and looked after the victims. There was a good chance they would die, too, but they were very well paid, as much as six shillings eight pence or even eight shillings per week. Six weeks’ isolation at six shillings eight pence per week is £2, which was quite a bit of money for a poor person. Posted 1/01/2022


By the late 15th Century, coffee had become a common beverage in Istanbul, the capital of the Ottoman Empire. It was prepared with cinnamon, anise, cardamon, and cloves. Coffee held an important place in society to the point that it became legal for a woman to divorce her husband if he failed to provide her with her daily quota of coffee. Posted 6/15/2022

In England in 1558, the chimney is the primary status symbol to show off to the neighbors; by 1598, it's glass in the windows. Posted 7/2022

In 1588, after taking 25 years to complete, William Morgan (1545-1604), a native of Penmachno, Conwy and a graduate of St. John's College, Cambridge, translated and oversaw the first publication of the Bible into Welsh. It was instrumental in preserving the language. Posted 12/15/2022

People during the Elizabethan era began to eat breakfast in the morning between 6 and 7 a.m. This is something that people in the Middle Ages almost never did. Breakfast was a small, simple meal, generally consisting of cold foods, such as leftovers, eggs, fruit, butter, bread, and small beer.

Posted 4/01/2023

During the Elizabethan era one in three adults living in London saw a play every month.  Posted 7/15/2023

A visard (or vizard) mask was a featureless mask meant to protect a woman’s pale face from the sun while she traveled in the 16th century. The mask was held onto the face not by a ribbon or cord, but by a button or bead sewn into the inside of the mask’s mouth and held between the wearer’s teeth. The masks were often covered in black velvet and sometimes did not even have a breathing hole at the mouth. A visard mask caused a lady traveler to be mysterious, dour, silent, and possibly oxygen-deprived. Posted 8/2/2023

On May 8, 1559, Queen Elizabeth I dissolved her first Parliament. She only summoned Parliament 10 times in the course of her 45-year reign. Most monarchs before her summoned it once a year. Posted 5/1/2024

During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance a salt cellar, which was a big bowl of salt, was placed in the center of the table.  If one was of the nobility, one sat above the salt, and if one was of lower class, one sat below the salt. Posted 12/15/2011

When the nobility of the Renaissance sat down to eat there was one plate and one cup for every two people, and even though they were provided with a two-pronged fork, spoon, and knife, most elected to eat with their fingers. Posted 11/15/2012

During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, when one entered the eating hall, someone would be standing there with a bowl of bread and a bowl of salt.  Each diner ripped off a piece of bread, dipped it in the salt and ate it to turn away any bad spirits that might have followed them from the church graveyard. Posted 10/15/2014

The plague of 1563 was so severe that the city authorities of London started to compile bills of mortality, recording the numbers of people who died in each parish. This marked the beginning of official health statistics. Posted 1/15/2017

Male literacy increased from about 10% in 1500 to about 25% in 1600. Female literacy went from less than 1% to about 10%. Posted 9/01/2017

Once Magellan reached the Pacific Ocean, he sailed for 98 days before reaching any habitable land. Posted 4/01/2018

During the Renaissance, the bright red dye called Scarlet used to dye broadcloth came from Kermes; a parasitic insect that lives on evergreen oaks in the Mediterranean and which, when pregnant, is killed with vinegar, dried in the sun, and open to extract it's wormlike larvae. When rolled into little balls called grains and soaked in water, these produce a bright red dye called grains, hence the word ingrained and, in connection with the worms, Vermilion. Posted 12/01/2018

During the Renaissance, 25% to 30% of all marriages were a remarriage. Posted 5/01/2019

One of the very few innovations that made the Renaissance game of football more like modern day rugby, apart from the medieval version, is that it is now played with an inflated leather ball rather than a pig's bladder filled with peas. Posted 2/01/2020

The practice of quarantine, as we know it, began during the 14th century in an effort to protect coastal cities from plague epidemics. Ships arriving in Venice from infected ports were required to sit at anchor for 40 days before landing. This practice, called quarantine, was derived from the Italian words quaranta giorni which mean 40 days. Posted 3/2020

From the late Middle Ages to the mid-19th century, no kitchen was without a turnspit dog.


Before this time, the fireplace spit was turned by the lowliest person in the kitchen staff--a small boy--who stood behind a bale of wet hay for protection from the heat, turning the iron spit for hours and hours until his hands frequently blistered. Then in the 16th century, these boys gave way to dogs.


When meat was to be roasted, a small dog was hoisted into a wooden wheel mounted high on the fireplace wall. The wheel was attached to a chain running down to the spit. As the dog ran like a hamster in a cage, the spit turned, and the large animal roasting over the fire turned with it, giving the food an even cook. The wheels were deliberately set away from the fire, so the dogs would not overheat and faint.


Turnspit dogs were bred to be able to run for hours without stopping. “A large solid piece of beef would take at least three hours before it was properly roasted.” If a dog couldn’t run for three hours without stopping, it might find a hot coal tossed into the wheel to motivate it.


The turnspit was bred especially to run on a wheel that turned meat, and that’s how the breed got its name: vernepator cur, Latin for "the dog that turns the wheel." These dogs were very small, with long backs and short legs. They were thick and a little stocky, with a short coat and longer snout. Their thick tails usually curled up and touched or almost touched their backs. The Turnspit dog came in a variety of colors, from red, brown, grey, and white to sometimes a mix of multiple colors. They also commonly had bent legs because of how long and hard they worked.


Turnspit dog mostly worked in kitchens or performed other tasks that required turning a large wheel, like butter churns, fruit presses, grain mills, and water pumps. In America, these dogs were used in large hotel kitchens in cities to turn spits until the 1850s, when the way the turnspit dogs were treated in the hotels of Manhattan led to the founding of the SPCA.


The availability of cheap, mechanical spit-turning machines, called clock jacks, which turned meat automatically, and the use of gas flames to replace large open kitchen fireplaces, ended the use of the turnspit dog. Although the breed became extinct, its nearest living canine relatives are probably the Welsh Corgi and the Welsh Bowsy Terrier. Posted 11/15/2021

It marked contrast to our modern legislation, which stipulates a minimum wage, the Labors Act of 1563 states that magistrates are annually to establish and enforce a local maximum for each occupation. For example, a paid farmhand should receive no more than 1 pound 13 shillings 4 pence per year, with six shillings 8 pence for cloth. Laborers and apprentices in the building trades may earn up to 6 pence per day or 8 pence if they are journeymen who have completed their apprenticeships, and 10 pence per day if they are masters of their craft. Posted 9/1/2023

bottom of page