Life Cycles in England, 1560-1720: Cradle to Grave

By Mary Abbott | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5

Youth

It was the business of youth to acquire the knowledge and skills which would be needed in adult life. These, of course, varied with gender, rank and intended vocation. During this stage in their career young men and women were regarded as socially immature; they were expected to remain unmarried and subject to the tuition and domestic authority of the householder under whose roof they lived. In some cases this was their father, more often a master acting in loco parentis. Widowed mothers and widowed employers stood in for their husbands. The relationship between master and servant was peculiarly powerful. When Pall Pepys came to live in her brother Samuel's household, 'not as a sister…but as a servant' in January 1661, he underscored her altered status by refusing to let her 'sit at table' with him and his wife. Most young people were obliged to perform menial tasks for those in authority over them. Of young men, only the richest undergraduates, who engaged poorer students as their servants, were exempt. For the majority of English men and women, such dirty, and therefore demeaning, work would form a part of their daily routine until they were too frail to carry on but students and apprentices brought up in welloff families and destined for the upper ranks of urban society were unaccustomed to cleaning, fetching and carrying and were inclined to be resentful.


DURATION

Although it was conventional to divide life into seven-year spans, as Adam Martindale did when he described his schooling, in practice, chronological age was of less importance than 'capacity'. Accident often played a part-Ann Harrison's carefree youth ended when her mother died: at 15, she recalled, she was catapulted from the schoolroom into the full responsibilities of adulthood. She had to fling 'away those little childishnesses that had formerly possessed me and, by my father's command, took upon me the charge of the house and family'.

For training in some occupations, physical size and strength were prerequisites: boys born in the seventeenth century were almost certainly less well-grown than most boys of their age in our own time; there is some evidence that, in the past, boys matured later than they do today, that they were older when their voices broke and that young men were still

-73-

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Life Cycles in England, 1560-1720: Cradle to Grave
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction vii
  • Part One - Life Cycles in England 1560-1720 1
  • Part One Contents 3
  • Chapter 1 - Worlds of Difference 5
  • Chapter 2 - 'Live to Die' 24
  • Chapter 3 - Conception, Birth, Infancy 47
  • Chapter 4 - Childhood 57
  • Chapter 5 - Youth 73
  • Chapter 6 - Love and the Business of Marriage 93
  • Chapter 7 - Householders 111
  • Chapter 8 - Old Age 133
  • Part Two - Dossier of Illustrative Texts 147
  • Part Two Contents 149
  • Introduction 151
  • Exhibit 1 - The Biblical Account of Creation 153
  • Part Three - Dossier of Illustrative Images 241
  • Part Three Contents 243
  • Index 304
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