This vivid and complete historical picture of the London of Queen Elizabeth (1558-1603) is the result of Liza Picard's curiosity about the practical details of daily life that most history books ignore. As seen in her two previous and highly acclaimed books—Restoration London and Dr. Johnson's London—this author is most gifted in her ability to immerse herself in contemporary sources of every kind.
Picard begins with the River Thames, the lifeblood of the city in Elizabethan times. London proper, on the north bank of the river, was still largely confined within its old Roman walls. Upriver at Westminster were the royal palaces, and between them and the crowded city the mansions of the great and the good commanded the river frontage. the author turns her spotlight on the streets and the traffic in them. She surveys buildings and building methods—London was a vast development site as the former monastic properties were absorbed into the housing stock—and shows us the interior décor of the rich and the not-so-rich, and what both camps were likely to be growing in their gardens.
Next the Londoners themselves are explored, in all their amazing finery. Plague, smallpox, and other diseases afflicted them. But food and drink, sex and marriage, work and family life all provided comfort, a good education was always useful, and cares could be forgotten in a playhouse or in the bull-baiting or bear-baiting rings—or by watching a good cockfight.
Immigrants from the Low Countries and France posed problems. Londoners were proud of the religious tolerance that attracted Protestant victims from the Continent, but were not so sure about how these skillful migrants might affect their own livelihoods. This was a city ruled by the livery companies and their apprentice system, and thus foreigners were closely watched. For many, poverty was never far away. And Henry VIII's destruction of the monasteries had caused an acute crisis in poverty management. Begging was one answer. Forcing the wealthy to pay for the poor—through a parochial poor rate—was another.
Picard's wonderfully skillful and meticulous evocation of the London of four hundred years ago enables all students and scholars to share in the common delights—and the constant horrors—of 16th-century Britons.