Perhaps one of the most interesting periods of entertainment development occurred in England and Wales in the 17th century. One of the most interesting aspects of the change that happened in the country at the time was the fact that the population grew from 4 million in 1600 to nearly 5.5 million by 1700, which is quite significant!
During the 17th century, people in the UK became increasingly richer, with trade and commerce growing. By the late 17th century trade grew to be increasingly important for the British economy and industries such as glass, brick making, iron and coal mining expanded rapidly. This resulted in the status of merchants improving and they became more respected as a result. And this is what triggered the development of better and more frequent entertainment opportunities. At the top of the 17th-century society was the nobility and below them was the gentry- gentlemen were not rich but they were certainly better off. For the upper and middle classes, life became more comfortable and this meant that people were not only able to eat better but were able to enjoy their spare time more often. We are going to explore what this meant for the type of entertainment people participated in as a result of their new found wealth…
Music And Dance
Most people in the 17th century enjoyed music and dancing and many people would also pursue learning to play musical instruments and to sing. Wealthy households were able to employ their own professional musicians to entertain them, but for the most people loved to make their own music.
Board games were all the rage in the 17th century, with games such as chess, draughts and backgammon being popular. Cards and dice were also acceptable pastimes, as were bowls and skittles with all classes. The 17th century saw the divide of classes begin to reduce, even if this was very slightly.
Hunting and hawking were popular with the upper classes in the 17th century and even the poor were able to hunt with dogs if they couldn’t afford guns. Fishing was another popular occupation enjoyed with all classes as people were able to travel further for their leisure and be near the water. People could hire boats if they ventured into the countryside this is not too dissimilar to us looking for party boat hire in London, really!
In the towns, the theater was popular and people of all classes would attend plays. Plays were acted in the afternoons as the stages could not be well lit at night. In those days people got up very early and did most of their work in the morning, meaning their evenings were free to enjoy. In the UK women’s parts were still played by men but after the Restoration in 1660, women began to find their way onto the stage. In some other European countries, women were able to act on stage throughout the century.
There were fairs being held all over the UK during the summer months and people would go to buy and sell goods. Fairs were also ideal to see acrobats, rope-dancers, wrestlers and trained apes doing tricks.