I’ve immersed myself into 17th century England while writing about Martha Wenlock’s life and the back story leading up to her death in 1651. In my book, Martha’s father was a wool merchant, and her mother, a feather-headed woman who’s only desire in life is to return to her childhood’s home and continue going to dances. I’m trying to stay focused on getting the first draft down, but little things keep popping up nagging at me as I write. Things like, how many rooms did Martha’s parents have in their house? Would her father have a study, an office, or would it just be a small area off the withdrawing room, where he would keep his business records and conduct his business concerns. If the child Martha stood at the top of the stairs could she see where her parents were in the house.

I like to get things right. When I read a book, especially a historical novel I don’t fact-check the author. Obviously, if something is too modern it’ll jumps out at me. If the book was set in Anglo-Saxon Britain I might notice a detail which might be too modern for the era, but on the whole I will assume the author has done their homework and my job, as a reader, is to read and enjoy the book. As for writing the whole book in the language spoken in the 16th to 17th century the reader would have a problem understanding it. So it’s a case of giving the reader a flavour of the spoken language by using the common words we still use today or allow our characters to explain the words in some way so the reader will understand.

Unlike today things in Martha’s world moved at a slower pace. In Tudor Britain, house building entered a busy phase as wealthy landowners felt safer as the danger of civil war receded. They no longer wished to live in huge, dark, draughty ill-lit castles or fortified manor houses. The rich landowners and business men wanted a show home to entertain others while exhibiting their wealth. Large mansions of brick and stone began to appear all over Britain. These homes were glazed with substantial window areas.

Inside, they featured new spacious rooms like withdrawing rooms, and long galleries on an upper floor that often overlooked the gardens. Walls were often panelled with oak and ceilings covered with decorative plaster-work with intricate designs. Another major feature was a main staircase. No longer a cold, twisting stone affair, but beautifully crafted work of art, with wide wooden steps enclosed in a framework of carved posts and balustrades.

Shibden Hall, Halifax, interior (photograph taken by me in 2019)

By the Elizabethan times, house furniture first began to appear less like an assortment of functional items and more in keeping with the highly decorative homes. It wasn’t until the 14th century in England we had a single moveable chair. We used uncomfortable benches or stalls to sit on for long hours but now these began to be upholstered and chairs had such things as cushions. Sofas and day beds had padded mattresses and quantities of luxurious covers.

By the 1600’s, English towns was still no larger than they were in 1485. In most towns the buildings remained unchanged, with the familiar half-timber, first or second storeys projecting over the ground floor and they still had lattice windows. The streets were still narrow, uncleaned, smelly and cluttered with rubbish, carts, and animals. Most of the people still lived and worked in the countryside as they hadn’t started drifting to the towns yet for a better life.

The roads around England in the 17th century were just the same as they were during the Middle Ages. The letters and diaries written during this time expressed the anger of anyone trying to travel. It was the state of the roads which kept towns and villages isolated and stop the country from developing at a faster pace. A journey of 40 kilometres (25 miles) could take all day and be so uncomfortable as the carriages ran the risk of being submerged in mud, or overturned in ruts so you would have be better of walking.

As I uncover more I will post about it.

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