My handwriting was a disaster. It looked nothing like what I’d seen of the chemist Robert Boyle’s neat, rounded script or that of his brilliant sister, Katherine. I hoped that women’s handwriting in the 1590’s was far messier than it was in the 1690’s.
The most common calligraphy style used in 16th century England was the secretary hand, a “more legible and universally recognizable” style than the book hand of the High Middle Ages. You may compare the two below. Educated people also used the “italic” hand, which developed in Italy during the Renaissance.
As you might imagine, students of history often have to learn to decipher different writing styles in order access primary resources. The study of historical writing styles is called paleography.
There are a number of great resources for those interested in increasing their knowledge of old writing styles. First, you might like to check out Muriel St. Clare Byrne’s article, “Elizabethan Handwriting for Beginners.” You could also check out St. Andrews’ Read Me! tutorials on deciphering fourteenth through sixteenth century script. The British National Archives maintains a great series of documents (and a game!) to try your hand at reading old manuscripts.
In SON, Diana uses a quill and ink to inscribe her name in her new book. Quills are specially-prepared feathers from large birds, such as geese or swans. Quills must be shaped and sharpened in order to write properly; an unprepared feather won’t hold sufficient ink, nor will its point deliver the kind of precise, well-shaped letters necessary to write in secretary or italic hand. If you felt inspired, you could buy yourself a quill and ink set and learn to write in secretary hand. This will prepare you either for a sixteenth century timewalk or for a new career in forging manuscripts. Very useful indeed.
Discussions with Francoise about my wardrobe revealed my ignorance of common names for ordinary colors. “Goose-turd green” was familiar to me, but the peculiar shade of grizzled brown known as “rat hair” was not.
As we discussed yesterday, the strict observance of England’s sumptuary laws meant that only certain people in Tudor England wore certain fabrics, garments, and colors.
None shall wear any cloth of gold, tissue, nor fur of sables: except duchesses, marquises, and countesses in their gowns, kirtles, partlets, and sleeves; cloth of gold, silver, tinseled satin, silk, or cloth mixed or embroidered with gold or silver or pearl, saving silk mixed with gold or silver in linings of cowls, partlets, and sleeves: except all degrees above viscountesses, and viscountesses, baronesses, and other personages of like degrees in their kirtles and sleeves”
Accordingly, Francoise potentially saved Diana from committing a terrible (and potentially criminal) faux pas. Elizabethans liked to describe color in peculiar ways. Some particular favorites uncovered in my research include:
- Puke – a dirty brown.
- Murrey – mulberry.
- Dead Spaniard – a “pale grayish tan.”
- Milk and water – bluish white.
- Maiden hair – bright tan.
- Lustie-gallant – light red.
- Maide’s blush – rose color.
For further reference, check out:
A Caudle for pains in the head
Set your water to boil. Beat two egge yolkes. Add white wine and beat some more. When the water boils, set it to cool, then add the wine and egge. Stirre as it boils again, adding saffron and honey.
In her commonplace book, Diana makes note of a home remedy meant to banish headache. It sounds foul. It’s also historically appropriate.
Medicine in the 16th century was… basic. Most people tried to manage their health with diet in order not to get sick in the first place; unlike you and me, however, they didn’t necessarily rely on green vegetables and good hydration. Instead, many relied on the humorous theory of body fluids and health. This bizarre theory held that good health required a balance between the four humors — blood, yellow bile, phlegm, and black bile. As you might have noticed, the colors of these humors correspond with the four colors of the stages of alchemy. As the Renaissance thinking went, your temperament was determined by an excess of one humor or another. Accordingly, you were supposed to eat foods that neutralized this humor and encouraged balance. This fascinating article from Shakespeare & Beyond tells you all sorts of things about eating according to the theory of the humors. Notably, the article does not tell you what to feed mischievous, jealous daemons or arrogant vampires.
For further reading, check out:
We covered Chapters 1-3 of SON in Episode 20, Elizabethan Vacation. Our friends at Daemons Discuss covered Chapters 1-2 in Take 26! The One with the Boys. Chapter 3 is in Take 27! The One with the Hag.
See you on November 4 in Chapter 4 of Shadow of Night!
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Cait and Jen