January 19, 2018

1500’s Fun Facts & Popular Sayings

Fun Facts About the 1500’s – Popular Sayings Explained

Below we have some fun facts about the 1500’s and how certain sayings, expressions, and traditions – still popular today – got their start.

Bride Bouquet of Flowers
Bride’s Bouquet of Flowers
Most couples in the 1500’s got married in the month of June. This was because people generally took their YEARLY bath in May, so they still smelled pretty good by the time June rolled around. As you can imagine, however, they were starting to smell, so brides carried a bouquet of flowers to hide the body odor. Hence the custom today of the bride carrying a bouquet when getting married.

Baby with Bath Water
Don’t Throw the Baby Out with the Bath Water
During the 1500’s, bathing was a luxury. Back then, taking a bath consisted of a big tub filled with hot water. The “man of the house” had the honor of going first and got the nice, clean water. Then, all the sons and/or other men got their turn, then the women, and finally the children. Babies were last. By the time the youngest got their turn, the water was so dirty you could literally lose someone in it. Hence the saying, Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

Raining Cats and Dogs
It’s Raining Cats and Dogs
Houses in the 1500’s had simple thatched roofs (thick straw-piled high), typically with no wood underneath. This roof area became a place for animals to get warm. So, all the cats and other small animals (mice, bugs, you name it) essentially lived in the roof. When it would rain extra hard, the roof became slippery and loose. And, sometimes the animals would slip through and/or fall off the roof. Hence the saying… It’s raining cats and dogs.

Source – skylark

Invention of the Canopy Bed
Invention of “Canopy” Beds
Since most houses in the 1500’s had these poor-quality roofs, there was nothing to stop things from falling into various rooms of the house. This posed a real problem in the bedroom, especially, where bugs and other droppings could mess up your nice clean bed. So, someone got the bright idea to build their bed with a sheet draped over it, either using tall posts on each corner of the bed or with strings from the ceiling. This provided an extra layer of protection against objects falling from the roof. The invention caught on and, voila, that’s how canopy beds came into existence.

Photo Credit – MatthewPaulson

Dirt Poor Saying Origination
Dirt Poor
Floors of most 1500’s houses were simply made from the ground on which the house was built upon. Only the wealthy had something other than dirt. This is where the saying “dirt poor” got its start.

Credit – TravisGray

Carry Bride Over Threshold
Carry the Bride Across the Threshold
Wealthy families in the 1500’s had stone floors that were very cold in the Winter and slippery when wet. So, naturally, they spread thresh (straw) on their floors to help keep them warm and prevent falls. As Winter would ware on, they added more and more thresh until, when you opened the door, it would all start slipping outside. To help keep their thresh inside the house, they would place a piece of wood in the entrance way. Thus, the term “thresh hold” (shortened to “threshold”) got its name.

Photo – swiv

Learning a lot about the 1500’s and how some of our popular sayings got started, aren’t you?

In these trying times, families cooked their meals in a large kettle (pot) that always hung in the fireplace. With each new day, they lit a fire and added things (food sources of all kinds) to the pot. Meat was difficult to come by, so they mostly cooked and ate vegetables. They would eat the mixed stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight. They would then start the cycle all over again the next day. Sometimes this stew had food in it that had been there for days on end. Hence the rhyme… Peas Porridge Hot, Peas Porridge Cold, Peas Porridge in the Pot Nine Days Old.

Bring Home the Bacon
Bringing Home the Bacon
Sometimes these familiies could get their hands on some pork, which made them feel quite special. When visitors came over, the family would hang-up their bacon to show off. It was a sign of wealth, that a man could “bring home the bacon.” They would then cut off a little of the bacon to share with their guests, and all sit around and “chew the fat.”

Photo – moofbong

Pewter Plate - Lead Poisoning
Those families with money had plates made of pewter. Food with high acid content caused some of the lead from these plates to leach out onto the food, causing lead poisoning and sometimes death. This poisoning happened most frequently with tomatoes. So, for approximately the next 400 years, most people considered tomatoes to be poisonous.

Photo – Leo Reynolds

Bread, made from readily available wheat, was a staple in the 1500’s. And, the bread was typically divided-up according to status. Workers got the burnt, bottom portion of the loaf. The residing family got the middle. And, guests got the top, or the “upper crust.”

Lead Ale Cup
Lead cups were commonly used to drink ale (beer) or whiskey. The combination of lead with heavy amounts of alcohol would sometimes knock the drinker unconscious for several days. These people would be found by strangers, friends, or family members and assumed dead, where they would then be prepared for burial. The person, again presumed dead, would be laid out on the kitchen table for a couple of days, while the family would gather around and eat and drink and wait to see if he/she would wake up. Hence the tradition of holding a “wake” came to be.

Photo – PostBear

Saved By The Bell - Dead Ringer Sayings Origins
“Saved by the Bell” and “Dead Ringer”
England is an old civilization and relatively small, given the population – even in the 1500’s. As such, the local folks back then started running out of places to bury their dead. So they started the process of digging up coffins and taking the bones to a bone-house, and then reusing the grave. When reopening the coffins, about 1 out of every 25 coffins were found to have scratch marks on the inside. Alarming, this made them realize they had been burying people alive. So, they then started a tradition of tying a string on the wrist of the corpse. This string was then thread through the coffin and up through the ground, where it was then tied to a bell. This was great, but also required someone to sit out in the graveyard all night (the “graveyard shift”) to listen for the bell. Thus, someone could be “saved by the bell” or was considered a “dead ringer.”

Photo – sujo

So, there you have some fun facts about the 1500’s and how lots of common sayings got their starts!


  1. I have doubts regarding the theory of poisonous tomatoes.

    The lead poisoning is a very slow and cumulative process.
    Thus, it wouldn’t be possible to attribute the poisoning to the consumption of any specific food.

    Also, I wonder why couldn’t the bride shower before the wedding. After all, it’s just the once-in-a-lifetime event.

    • Yes, a lot of these are utter nonsense! Tomatoes for instance, weren’t even common in England until roughly the 1700s.

      Also the common people bathed as often as they could throughout medieval times, even in the midst of winter so I’m doubtful about the baby/bathwater one too.

  2. These “facts” are mostly myths. See article form History Magazine:

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