The Elizabethan's Hornbook

ImageThis is a web version of a handbook I put together back in 1990 as a basic primer on the historical background that a participant in an Elizabethan Renaissance Faire should know or have at hand.

It went out of print ages ago, so now it is going up on the web. Make of it what you will.


The intent of this "hornbook" is to serve as a basic resource for those engaged in 16th Century "Living History" programs, Renaissance Faires, or to help performers of Shakespeare or other Elizabethan/Jacobean playwrights, better understand the context in which the plays were written. I also hope that it might serve as a useful introduction to the would-be student of Elizabethan society or a reference for the historical novelist.

The body of this work consists of a general introduction to the daily concerns of the Elizabethan, followed by a series of appendices that cover the minutiae of daily life. Such detail is often difficult to find in the sources available to the average lay researcher, but is vital to the "living history" interpreter, and useful to the student (i.e. what is a "Groat" worth? How much wine is in a Pipe? etc). The purpose of this is to lay out in a readily accessible form, the structures, attitudes and details that were the essence of Elizabethan daily life.

I make no claim to being complete in my coverage of Elizabethan life. True completeness is beyond the scope of a single work. It is my hope that a person who is new to the subject might extract from this work enough basic information to meet most immediate needs.

This is not, however, a substitute for real research. It may at most serve as a starting point from which you may become more perfect in some specific area of interest. If you wish to become knowledgeable in a particular aspect of Elizabethan history, you will have to read more than this poor work.

The final intent of this however, is to better equip you to step out in front of an audience and be Elizabethan, or to provide you in your studies some feeling for what it was like to be an Elizabethan. In this, I hope I have not fallen too short of the mark.

Walter Nelson

Los Angeles, California