Fitzherbert’s “Boke of Husbandry”

[Taken from: “LIFE IN THE WIDECOMBE AREA IN AND AROUND THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY” BY FREDA WILKINSON at (website no longer available, as of 8 December 2005)]

Fitzherbert in his “Boke of Husbandry” 1523 describes the work a country housewife should do:

“First sweep thy house, dress up thy dishboard, and set all things in good order within they house: milk thy kine, suckle thy calves, sye up (strain) thy milk, take up thy children and array them, and provide for thy husband’s breakfast, dinner, supper, and for thy children and servants, and take thy part with them. Ordain corn and malt to the mill, to bake and brew withall when need is, and meete it to the mill (measure out what you send to the mill), and from the mill, and see that thou have thy measure again beside the tolle (the proportion the Miller kept as payment). Thou must make butter and cheese when thou mayest, serve thy swine both morning and evening, and give thy poleyn meat (feed your fowls) and when time of the year cometh, thou must take heed how thy hens, ducks and geese do lay, and to gather up their eggs, and when they wax broody, to settle them where no beasts, swine, nor vermin, hurt them. And thou must know that all whole footed fowls will (ducks) sit a month and all cloven-footed fowls will sit but three weeks. And when they have brought forth their birds, to see that they be well kept from the gleyd (kite), crows, fullymartes (polecats) and other vermin. And in the beginning of March, or a little time before, is time for a wife to make her garden, and to get as many good seeds and herbs as she can, and specially such as be good for the pot, and to eat, and as often as need shall require, it must be weeded.”

In addition to this she was expected to spin and weave, make clothes and blankets, winnow the corn and help make hay, shear the corn and if her husband needed her help to fill the muck waine or dung cart and also ride to market to sell butter, cheese, milk, eggs, capons, hens, pigs and geese. She was, however, advised “sometimes thou shalt have so many things to do, that thou shalt not know well where is best to begin – so do that first that she will lose most by not doing”.