Women & Children in Elizabethan Society: Commonly asked questions
What was the common age for marriage?
With parental permission the legal age for Elizabethan marriages was as follows:
It was legal for boys to marry at 14
It was legal for girls to marry at the age of 12
It was not usual or traditional for marriages at such young ages. The actual age of consent was 21. Elizabethan men would generally not marry until this age.
How was a household run?
Elizabethan Family Life was extremely close-knit. The lifestyle of Elizabethan family was determined by the wealth, status, prestige of the family. The Elizabethan family life for women was dominated by the men in the family. The Elizabethan family life for men was one of power. The men made the decisions and the women were expected to obey them. Children were subservient to the adults in the family.
They were raised to respect and obey their parents. The homes of the Elizabethan family were clearly dictated by wealth. The daily hours of Elizabethan families were dictated by daylight - very much early to bed and early to rise. Elizabethan Betrothal and Marriage customs were an important feature of Elizabethan family life. Elizabethan women were expected to marry to increase the wealth and position of the family and then to produce children - preferably male heirs.
What were the roles of women and children in Elizabethan society?
The roles of women in society were very limited. The Elizabethans had very clear expectations of men and women, and in general men were expected to be the breadwinners and women to be housewives and mothers. On average, a woman gave birth to a child every two years, but as a lot of babies and children died from sickness, families were not always large. Childbearing was considered a great honor to women, as children were seen as blessings from God, and Tudor women took great pride in being mothers. Women were not allowed to enter the professions i.e., law, medicine, politics, but they could work in domestic service as cooks, maids etc.
How do the roles of women today compare with those of the Renaissance?
Elizabethan Women were subservient to men. They were dependent on their male relatives to support them. Elizabethan woman were raised to believe that they were inferior to men and that men knew better!
Disobedience was seen as a crime against their religion. Elizabethan society was patriarchal, meaning that men were considered to be the leaders and women their inferiors. Women were regarded as "the weaker sex", not just in terms of physical strength, but emotionally too. It was believed that women always needed someone to look after them.
If they were married, their husband was expected to look after them. If they were single, then their father, brother or another male relative was expected to take care of them. This is very different from the current situation because now the women are strong and independent. Today's women are not the ones who would stay behind the four walls of the house. They are contributors to the men in earning bread and butter for the family.