What the heck could I possibly know about a man who was baptised some time in 1590 and died in February of 1668.
Well, the answer is nothing! – and everything! The truth is that, whilst we don’t know the individual and there is no photographic evidence that he ever lived, we can learn about the documented times and conditions in which John Fuller lived, and follow the paper trail he left behind. Researching life in the Early Modern period will give us a glimpse into the man that was my 10 x great grandfather on my maternal side of the family, what he lived through, how he ate, worked and enjoyed life – so here goes.
Born in 1590, John Fuller came into a nation that was just a little less worried about witchcraft and evil spirits than his parents and grandparents were born into. The country was being ruled by Elizabeth 1 and it was also the year that Shakespear wrote Romeo and Juliet. But these things may as well have been a world and a lifetime away from the lifestyle of John’s family.
As far as we know, John was the first of five children born to Thomas and Jane Fuller who were living in or near Heathfield, England. There is no indication that the family was anything but a hard working peasant family; no wealth or prominent position within the community that I can find. I hope I am not assuming too much here. The life expectancy was very low with many, many dying before their 40th year.
What would family life have been like in the late 1500’s and early 1600’s for our John? It is likely that John’s parents were very young, especially his mother, as during this time there was no legal age for marriage . It was common at the time to consider a girl of 14 years to be too old for marriage. Jane’s role in life would have been to produce sons to carry on Thomas’s family name and help him work to provide for the family. This concept was held by royalty and peasant alike during the Early Modern period of history. Birthing was a dangerous time for the woman due to having no formal medical treatment available to them. The risk of infection or death to the mother and/or baby was high, so John’s survival and his mother’s recovery would have been very happy news.
Johns father’s word as male head of the house was law – a view that was taught by both parents and the church at the time. John’s mother Jane would have had little to no say in the running of the family. The only education that Jane would have had would have been instruction on how to run a home, tend to a vegetable garden and cook, which she would have received from her mother. It is unlikely though, that Thomas would have received a formal education of any kind either. It is likely that neither of John’s parents could read or write.
As peasants, his parents probably had a one or two room home made of wood by Thomas, with a small vegetable and herb garden close by. There would have been a fireplace in the house over which Jane cooked the family meals in a cauldron and prepared simple herbal remedies for illness, but it is unlikely that there was a fireplace . There was no glass in windows, only shutters to keep out the wind. A bed of straw, a table, a stool or bench, a chest to store clothing in, and perhaps a small box cradle would have been the only furniture. The floor was most likely compacted earth which, if they were lucky, was covered in straw for warmth and the family would have shared the house with their animals which would be cordoned off to one area. The house was most likely lit by rushes which had been dipped in animal fat, as candles were too expensive.
Into this house our John was born! In the next post we will find out a little of what John’s child hood would have been like.