Elizabeth Ist coat of arms

Elizabethan Women

Queen Elizabeth Ist

"Queen Elizabeth Ist"

Upper Class Elizabethan Women
Elizabethan Women were subservient to men. They were dependent on their male relatives to support them. They were used to forge alliances with other powerful families through arranged marriages. There was little dispute over such arrangements as Elizabethan woman were raised to believe that they were inferior to men and that men knew better.

  • Elizabethan women were tutored at home - there were no schools for girls
  • Elizabethan women were not allowed to enter University
  • Elizabethan women could not be heirs to their father's titles ( except female royals)
  • Elizabethan women could not become Doctors or Lawyers
  • Elizabethan women did not have the vote and were not allowed to enter politics
  • There were no Elizabethan women in the Army or Navy
  • Elizabethan women were not allowed to act in the theatres ( but women at court were allowed to perform in the Masques)

Disobedience was seen as a crime against their religion. The Church firmly believed this and quoted the Bible in order to ensure the continued adherence to this principle. The Scottish protestant leader John Knox wrote:

"Women in her greatest perfection was made to serve and obey man."

The fabric of Elizabethan society was built with this belief and Elizabethan women could not be heirs to their father's titles. All titles would pass from father to son or brother to brother, depending on the circumstances. The only exception was the monarchy.

Royal Elizabethan Women
Understanding the subservient role of Elizabethan women provides an understanding as to why Queen Elizabeth was reluctant to marry. All of her immediate male relatives had died. She was answerable to no male member of the family. Had she married all this would have changed. Elizabeth would have been expected to obey her husband. Mary Queen of Scots placed herself in this situation when she married Lord Darnley. He expected Mary to obey his wishes. The same occurred when the Queen's own sister, Mary, married Philip of Spain - she was placed in a subservient role to this foreign prince. The tragic Lady Jane Grey was used as a pawn to further the ambitions of her powerful family by joining the family in marriage to the Dudleys. She was, first of all, forced to marry Guildford Dudley. Jane did raise objections saying that she was already promised to Edward, Lord Hertford. The punishment for disobey was the whipping stool - Elizabethan girls were beaten into submission and this happened to Lady Jane. She was later forced into taking the throne against her wishes. She was eventually executed by beheading - she was just seventeen years old. These stories about the lives of Elizabethan women illustrate how, even Royal Woman were totally dominated by the male members of their families.

The Education of Upper Class Elizabethan Women
The Elizabethan period brought the Renaissance, new thinking to England. Elizabethan women from wealthy and noble families were sometimes allowed the privilege of an Education. The girls of Noble families were invariably taught by tutors at home and Elizabethan women were taught from the age of five, or even younger. Various languages were taught including Latin, Italian, Greek and French. Music and dancing skills were essential for Elizabethan women. Elizabethan women were not allowed to go to university but might be sent away to complete their education. As young as seven years old girls would be sent away from their home to live with another noble family. Elizabethan women would be taught a range of subjects and skills. Manners and etiquette were of prime importance, including how to curtsey. Music, dancing , riding and archery were also taught. These young girls were expected to act as servants to the Ladies of the castle - their duties would be to look after clothes and the assist ladies with dressing and coiffure. Some housewifely duties such as preserving fruits and household management would be also be learnt. High ranking young women would take on the role of ladies-in-waiting to the Queen.

Lower Class Elizabethan Women
Elizabethan Women from the lower classes were also expected to obey the male members of their families without question. Lower class Elizabethan women would not have attended school or received any formal type of education. Elizabethan women would have had to learn how to govern a household and become skilled in all housewifely duties. Their education would have been purely of the domestic nature in preparation for the only real career option for a girl - marriage. Single Elizabethan women were sometimes looked upon with suspicion. It was often the single women who were thought to be witches by their neighbours. All Elizabethan women would be expected to marry, and would be dependant on her male relatives throughout her life.

Elizabethan Women and Marriage
Elizabethan women were expected to bring a dowry to the marriage. A dowry was an amount of money, goods, and property that the bride would bring to the marriage. It was also referred to as her marriage portion. After marriage Elizabethan women were expected to run the households and provide children. Large families were the norm as the mortality rate for children and babies was so high. Many Elizabethan woman made arrangement for the care of their children in case they themselves died during childbirth.

Elizabethan Women - Appearance
The appearance of a noble Elizabethan woman was important.  An Elizabethan woman aged quickly during this era. Constant child bearing and pregnancies took its toll on a woman's body. The Elizabethan diet lacked Vitamin C resulting in bad teeth and bleeding gums. A Medieval woman might even dye her hair yellow with a mixture of saffron, cumin seed, celandine and oil. Face make-up was applied to acquire a pale look. A pale complexion was so desirable that Elizabethan women were bled to achieve the desired look. Face paint made from plant roots and leaves was also applied. The white make-up was lead based and therefore poisonous - Elizabethan women who applied this make-up were often ill and if it was used in sufficient quantities it would result in death. The dress and clothing of Elizabethan women was a series of different layers. Uncomfortable corsets were worn to create the desired look dictated by fashion. The color and materials that were worn were not just a matter of choice. The type of clothing worn by Elizabethan women was dictated by the Sumptuary Laws.

Interesting Facts and Information about Elizabethan Life and Elizabethan Women
Some interesting facts and information about Elizabethan Life and Elizabethan Women. The life of Elizabethan Women was certainly not easy - arranged, loveless marriages, subservient to men, short life expectancy and constant child bearing.

Famous Elizabethan Women
Elizabethan Life
Elizabethan Era Index

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