In the Puritan Commonwealth social mores emphasized godly discipline, moral reformation, humility, sobriety and good order. Thought after 1660 there was a general laxness in England, Wales and Ireland and overseas territories, however Scotland and New England kept their strict morality and puritism.


One of the most noticeable difference in the social classes in the Commonwealth was the absence of a monarchy and royal family. However aristocrats and nobility were still the upper class and the wealthiest. Followed by the peers, gentry, yeomen (farmers who own their own land,) the later two now involved in local government and parliamentary elections. the lower classes husbandmen, Cottagers, and Laborers (in rural areas) and tradesmen and shopkeepers (in urban areas). See also slavery in the Commonwealth

Poor relief

Poor relief in Puritan Commonwealth did not change much.

The government and ecclesiastical action to relieve poverty was still based on the mechanisms of the Act for the Relief of the Poor 1597, Poor Law of 1601, and Poor Relief Act 1662. Due to widespread and persistent poverty in Ireland its application was very common. The Poor laws of 1601 classified those needing relief (deserving poor) and those not (idle) in the following groups:

  • The impotent poor (people who can't work) were to be cared for in almshouse or a poorhouse. The law offered relief to people who were unable to work: mainly those who were "lame, impotent, old, blind"
  • The able-bodied poor were to be set to work in a House of Industry. Materials were to be provided for the poor to be set to work
  • The idle poor and vagrants were to be sent to a House of Correction or even prison.
  • Pauper children would become apprentices.

Also the 1662 legislation also created many sojourners, people who resided in different settlements that were not their legal one allowing them to be removed.

Most poor relief in the 17th century England, Ireland and Wales came from voluntary charity which mostly was in the form of food and clothing. Parishes distributed land and animals. Institutionalized charities offered loans to help craftsmen to almshouses, poorhouses and hospitals. The overseers of the poor, officials supervised by the justice of peace who administered poor relief such as money, food, and clothing were still the key agent.

Scotland had a different Poor Law system and the workings of the Scottish laws differed greatly to those applied in England, Ireland and Wales. Individual parishes, rather the the church, administered poor relief and magistrates were ordered to build correction houses or workhouses so that beggars could be made to work. The parishes were responsible for enumerating their own poor. More than merely enumerate, however, the purpose of the law was an "inquisition" into the circumstances of the individual poverty, so as to determine whether the poor were (a) able to work, (b) whether they had any other means of subsistence, and (c) whether there were other persons, family or others, who might assist them. The laws at that time codified the need to assist the poor—but at the same time as outlawing what were apparently considered public nuisances: begging and vagrancy. In 1595, Buttock Mail, a Scottish poor rate enforced by the ecclesiastical courts began to be levied.

Sunday and National Commonwealth Holidays

Sunday is legally a day of rest and Church attendance, so the law courts, government offices, commerce and places of entertainment are closed. All kind of work and recreational activities are banned. Marketplaces, bakeries, butcheries and fishmongers are allowed to be open until midday and must be at least 8 blocks away from any Church or place of worship. A major exception are hospitals that must attend year-round.

In 1647 Parliament abolished the observance of Christmas, Easter and many other religious days, this measured was reversed in 1661, but keeping fewer religious festivities then 1647. A major change from before 1647 was the absolute ban and prohibition of celebrating saints in public and severe constraints in Churches and worship places. The penalties for offenders (organizers and participants) were hefty fines.

At the same time it was retained the Ordinance of 1647 that established the Day of Leisure (2nd Tuesday of each month) for scholars, apprentices, and other servants.

However in the colonies of New England kept obligatory attendance to Church and the prohibition of celebrating Christmas and other holidays until its repeal in the 1680s. But even after that no attempt was given to celebrate it and officially it continued to frown upon gift giving and reveling.

In the Commonwealth the national holidays (since 1661) are the following:

Commonwealth holidays 1661
Day England and Wales Scotland Ireland Isle of Man and Channel Islands Observations
2nd Tuesday of each month Day of Leisure Shops, warehouses and commerce closed
1st January New Year's Day
4th February Declaration of the Tender Union Day (or Tender Union Day)
variable Good Friday Sunday laws apply
variable Easter Monday Sunday laws apply
17th March (St. Patrick's Day) Not officially sanctioned
24th March Act of Irish Union
25th March Lady Day Lady Day Quarter Day. Old New Year's Day (outside Scotland and Ireland)
23th April (St. George's Day) Not officially sanctioned
1st May May Day (Spring Festival) Not officially sanctioned
19th May Declaration of the Commonwealth Day Law courts and government closed
24th June Midsummer Day Quarter Day
5th July Tynwald Day (Isle of Man only)
12th August Union and Mutual Partnership
29th September Michaelmas Quarter Day
1st November All Saints' Day To be celebrated as a remembrance day
5th November Gunpowder Treason Day
30th November (St. Andrews Day) Not officially sanctioned
25th December Christmas Day Sunday laws apply. Also Quarter Day
26th December Boxing Day / (St. Stephen's Day, only Wales)

Commonwealth Era

Before Charles I execution in January 1649, official government and legal documents of historical interest, notably parliamentary statutes used the regnal years of the monarchs of the Kingdom of England ("nth year of the reign of King X", etc).[1]After 1649 the common usage was 'in the year of our Lord of' (year) for all documents.

However it became an unofficial style and a fashion due to the Week of Celebration of the 25 years of the Declaration of the Commonwealth(1674) to use the term Commonwealth Year dated from 19 May 1649 as year one[2]. It became customary its use in important documents, celebrations, dates of foundation and cornerstones of buildings.

Dress codes

The Puritan Commonwealth marked a reversal from Elizabethan and Stuart extravagances of dress. Puritans advocated a conservative form of fashionable attire, characterized by "sad" or somber colors and modest cuts. Gowns with low necklines were filled in with high-necked smocks and wide collars. Married women covered their hair with a linen cap, over which they might wear a tall black hat. Men and women both avoided bright colors, shiny fabrics, and over-ornamentation. Make-up was banned and women found wearing make-up (pale complexion, and red cheeks and lips) would have their faces forcibly scrubbed.

Most Puritans and Calvinists did not wear black for everyday, especially in England, Scotland, and colonial America. Black dye was expensive and faded quickly, and black clothing was reserved for the most formal occasions (including having one's portrait painted), for elders in a community, and for those of higher rank. Richer puritans, like their Dutch Calvinist contemporaries, wear it often, but in silk, often patterned. More typical colors for most were brown, murrey (mulberry, a brownish-maroon), dull greens, and tawny colors. Wool and linen were preferred over silks and satins, though Puritan women of rank wore modest amounts of lace and embroidery as appropriate to their station, believing that the various ranks of society were divinely ordained and should be reflected even in the most modest dress. William Perkins wrote "...that apparel is necessary for Scholar, the Tradesman, the Countryman, the Gentleman; which serveth not only to defend their bodies from cold, but which belongs also to the place, degree, calling, and condition of them all" (Cases of Conscience, 1616).

Some Puritans rejected the long, curled hair as effeminate, and favored a shorter fashion which led to the nickname Roundheads for adherents of the English Parliamentary party, but the tastes for lavish or simple dress cut across both parties in the English Civil War.

The late 1660s marked the gradual end of these austere dress codes and more colorful clothes and fashion from France, with the exception in New England that were kept until the 1700s.


The Commonwealth advocated an austere lifestyle and restricted what they saw as the excesses of the previous regime. Most prominently, holidays such as Christmas and Easter were suppressed between 1647-1661 Pastimes such as the theatre (until 1662), horse racing and gambling were also banned. However, some forms of art that were thought to be "virtuous", such as opera were promoted.

Curiously when theatres open again, in Declaration of the Commonwealth Day a popular play attracting wide audiences everywhere was Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus. Theaters would be allowed but some plays would be censored or prohibited if they were pro-royalist or ungodly. However its enforcement, and list of plays censored would be inconsistent thru the Commonwealth.

All kind of sports and recreations were prohibited on Sundays or religious holidays (Christmas, Easter Monday, Good Friday, All Saints' Day and St. Andrews Day). Banned were cockfighting, bear- and bull-baiting.

For the Days of Leisure all activities or meetings that degenerated into a drunk and disorderly conduct were prohibited. However what was allowed or not as an honest recreation in leisure days was a contingent affair during the Puritan Commonwealth with contradictory actions taken by magistrates depending on the pressure of their local communities or ministers. In most instances all sports, maypoles and dancing would be banned or some allowed, and those allowed would not necessarily be the same across the parishes of a county.

See also

  1. For example the last use would be: 24th year of the reign of King Charles I of England, etc.
  2. date of the Act Declaring and Constituting the People of England to be a Commonwealth and Free-State

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