|From Heywood's Spider & the Flie. 1556|
John (or possibly his brother Anthony (1470-1538)) Fitzherbert's Book of Husbandry, first published 1523, is a classic in the history of English farming literature. It goes well beyond just farming, and below is the book's description of the work of a farmer's wife, from a 1548 edition. I have modernised spellings, and split it into paragraphs, as the original is one long paragraph.
"And when thou art up and ready, then first sweep thy house, dress up thy dishboard, and set all good things in order within thy house: milk thy cow, suckle thy calves, sye (strain) up thy milks, take up thy children, array them, provide for thy husband’s breakfast, dinner, supper, and for thy children and servants, and take thy part with them.
And to order corn and malt to the mill, and to bake and brew withal when need is. And mette (take) it to the mill, and fro the mill, and see that thou have thy measure against the desired toll, or else the miller dealeth not truely with thee, or else thy corn is not dry as it should be.
Thou must make butter and cheese when thou maist, serve thy swine both morning and evening, give thy poleyn(?) meat in the morning, and when time of the year cometh, thy must take heed how thy hens, ducks and geese do lay, and gather up their eggs, and when they wax broody, set then there as no beasts, swine, nor other vermin hurt them. And thou must know that all whole footed fowls will sit a month, and all cloven footed fowls will sit but three weeks, except a peahen, and great fowls as cranes, and bustards, and such other. And when they have bought forth their birds, so see, that they be kept from the gleyd (?), crows, fullymartens, and other vermin.
And in the beginning of March, or a little afore, is time for a wife to make her garden, and to get as many good seeds and herbs as she can, specially such as be good for the pot, and to eat: and as oft as need shall require, it must be weeded, for else the weeds will overgrow the herbs. And also in March is time to sow flax and hemp, for I have heard old housewives say, that better is March hurds (?) than April flax, the reason appeareth: but how it should be sown, weeded, pulled, reaped, watered, washed, dried, beaten, breaked, tawed, heckled, spun, wound, warped and woven, it needeth not for me to show, for they be wise enough, and thereof may they make sheets, boardcloths, towels, shirts, smocks and such other necessaries, and therefore let thy distaff be always ready for a pastime, that thou be not idle. And undoubted a woman can not get her living honestly with spinning on the distaff, but it stoppeth a cap and must needs be had. The boles of flax when they be ripiled of, mus be riddled from the weeds, and made dry with the sun, to get out the seeds. How be it that one manner of linseed, called loken seed, will not open by the sun, and therefore when they be dry, they must be sore bruised and broken, the wives know how, and then winnowed and kept dry, till their time come again.
It is convenient for a husband to have sheep of him own for many causes, and then may his wife have part of the wool, to make her husband and herself some clothes. And at the least way, she may have the locks of the sheep. either to make clothes or blankets and covelets or both, and if she have no wool of her own, she may take wool to spin of cloth makers, and by that mean she may have a convenient living, and many times do other works.
It is a wife’s occupation to know all many of corns, to make malt, to wash and wring, to make hay, shear corn, and in time of need to help her husband to fill the muck wain or dung cart, drive the plough, to load hay, corn and such other. And to go or ride to the market, to sell butter, cheese, milk, eggs, chickens, capons, hens, pigs, geese and all manner of corns. And also to buy all manner of necessary things belonging to household, and to make a true reckoning and account to her husband, what she hath received, and what she hath paid. And if the husband go to the market, to buy or sell, as they oft do, he then to show his wife in like manner. For if one of them should use to deceive the other, he deceiveth himself, and he is not like to thrive. And therefore they must be true either to other."