Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Industry in Elizabethan England

          The 1540’s onward saw a great rise in home-made products for England. By the time Elizabeth’s reign ended, England was more autonomous than it had ever been before. 

As I often tell people at the museum where I work, King Henry VIII’s vested interest in the development of innovative arms and armor, to compete with continental Europe, greatly contributed to the increase in at-home armor production in the 16th century.

This suit was commissioned by Henry VIII. Hans Holbein the Younger, in cooperation with The Royal Workshops of Greenwich, produced this gilded suit. This is one of only two suits made for Henry VIII that feature a ventral plate, which is a piece worn strapped to the chest under the breastplate of the cuirass, to lessen the weight on the wearer's shoulders. Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons, courtesy of Claire Houck. Image public domain.
            In addition to armor and gun-smithing, England had a growth in glass blowing, mining, and the establishment of early textile companies. Many families in 16th century England were now fortunate enough to boast several trades. It was becoming common for the man of the house to be a master craftsman, or perhaps a merchant or business owner, while his wife, who would be able to read, write, book-keep, and do the buying and purchasing, would help him to run his business. Their eldest son, and perhaps another child, if they were lucky, would be apprenticed and train for years to master his own trade.

            Elizabethan London had its own specialized luxury crafts which rarely existed elsewhere in the country, like jewelry making, printing and clock making. Still, most towns with a substantial population, and other major cities, like York, could support more than a few specialists.