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Facts About Living in the 1500s: Household and Food

During the 16th century, people lived in housing much different than the homes we know today. From the materials used in the roofing and flooring to the kinds of meals they ate , we’ve come a long way from the 1500’s. In this article, you will learn how the inside of a home looked, the typical meal, and common health concerns of the 16th century.

The Construction of the Common Home

Low thatched roofs capped off most of the home of the 16th century. Old straw was laid across to create a roof, which offered a warm hideaway for insects and rodents. If the roof became slippery or started to sag from rain showers, creatures had a way of entering the home by falling through the straw and landing on the floor below.

Flooring was comprised of dirt for many people during the 1500’s unless you were wealthy and could afford other materials, such as slate. The slate actually caused safety hazards because when wet, it was extremely slippery. A layer of straw (called thresh) was placed on the floor, especially during the winter season to prevent accidents. When the straw became dirty, additional layers were added.

Straw was also used to build beds, which easily became infested with lice, fleas, and ticks. Because of the sleeping materials and quality of homes, lice and fleas were a common problem for households. Rats also ran rampant in neighborhoods , responsible for spreading disease to those they came in contact with. A lack of adequate medical care and the many medical threats, a simple minor injury or cut to the skin often meant that death soon followed from a severe infection. During the 1500’s, the life expectancy for the average person was between 30 and 40 years.

A Meal During the 1500’s

A large pot hanging over a fireplace served as the main method of cooking food. At the start of each morning, a fire was lit and items were added to the pot throughout the day. The ingredients usually created a stew that continuously simmered to make dinner for a family. Leftovers stayed in the pot to cool overnight. Stews typically consisted of vegetables and when meat was added, it was often pork, which was generally reserved to celebrate special occasions. Bacon fat was considered a rare treat and was mostly consumed in its raw form.

If you thought the bathing habits of families sharing the same tub of water during the 1500’s were atrocious and detrimental to their health, then you’re really going to love how they ate. The wealthy dined on plates fashioned from pewter, but the material posed a serious health risk, as it possessed a high lead content. When eating foods with a high acid content, lead in the plates were allowed to leach into the meals, which caused poisoning that often led to death. Tomatoes were a common offender of compromising the safety of the plates. For many years, the tomato was considered poisonous because of the effect it had on pewter plates.

The majority of families ate out of bowls carved out of wood and at times, constructed out of stale pieces of bread.  The bowls had a reputation for turning moldy and becoming infested with worms. Bread also served as a status symbol, as it was divided up in regards to status. The burned bottom part of the crust was given to workers, while families received the middle of the loaf. The upper crust or the top of the bread was served to guests, as it was the softest part of the loaf.