A Sixteenth-Century Farmer’s Year

Michael Paffard opens for the visitor Thomas Tusser’s books on husbandry, which expounded the practical virtues of ‘thrift’ to Tudor farmers.

In 1523 Sir Anthony Fitzherbert produced the first book on agriculture to be printed in England, his Boke of Husbondrye. He was a judge of the Court of Common Pleas who farmed in his vacations and, no doubt, had ample opportunity for observing the agricultural scene when he travelled the circuit.

The work, which some experts attribute to his brother, has been followed by a constant stream of books offering advice to the farmer. Although some are unabashed plagiarisms, evidently written by contemporary hacks, many are of the greatest interest to the social historian, and mines of information about folklore, superstition and regional dialect.

The second book to appear, in 1557, is certainly one of the most fascinating. It is Thomas Tusser’s A Hundreth Good Pointes of Husbandrie, which, in 1573, he enlarged into Five Hundred Pointes, adding in subsequent editions Pointes of Hus-wiferie, a life of the author and a ‘dyalogue of wyvenyng and thryvening’ about the advantages and disadvantages of matrimony. Tusser wrote in rhyme. Often his verses have a proverbial pithiness but they do not aspire to be more than memorable doggerel, as he warns ‘the buier of this booke’:

What lookest thou herein to have?

Fine verses thy fansie to please?

Of many my betters that crave,

Looke nothing but rudeness in thease.

His object was to impress his advice on the supposedly sluggish minds of country people; and in this he clearly succeeded. His book ran through sixteen editions before the end of the seventeenth century; but surviving copies are scarce, most of them, no doubt, having been thumbed to destruction by their owners.

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