Tudor Troubles

Problems of youth in Elizabethan England

Authored by: Paul Griffiths

The Elizabethan World

Print publication date:  September  2010
Online publication date:  September  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415409599
eBook ISBN: 9781315736044
Adobe ISBN: 9781317565796


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Was there ever seen less obedience in youth of all sorts’, Philip Stubbes ranted and raved in 1583, none do as they are told, and they could not care less about ‘superiors, parents, masters, and governors’. 1 Little was right in his topsyturvy world, and Stubbes let people know this in words that soared to new peaks of hyperbole and hysteria. But he was on more solid ground this time. Not only was his one voice in a chorus that saw a misspent youth as a root of evil, but in his fairly short lifetime (c. 1555–c. 1610) new strictures and structures emerged to control this ‘most dangerous age of all’. 2 In a nutshell, problems of youth were re-imagined in Elizabethan England, all the more poignant in a nation still young in its Protestant bearing. The Reformation was on the rollercoaster ride of troubled adolescence in 1560, the reign had teething troubles, the Queen was not a fully adult woman with marriage behind her, and empire was rocking in its cradle. This ‘beleaguered isle’ was first and foremost young with the raw imperfections pinned on youth: stormy, impulsive, in two minds and not yet steady on its feet. 3 Like youth, the nation was unsettled. The true Protestant anti-Catholic patriot still had growing up to do. And wistful Catholics did not rule out a return to the aged wrong-headed religion. England’s new-found youth was at risk from all sides in an anxious age where many died short of adulthood. No one could remember a time when metaphors and meanings of youth were so contemporary and sensitive. Old folks are ‘out of date’, John Stockwood said in 1578. 4 There was more reason corres-pondingly to make the young toe the line, to keep the socialisation clock ticking over with no hitches, one generation replacing another without a glitch, this the first generation not to come of age in a Catholic land. The turning of generations was more acute if royal succession was a crunch issue. William Gouge later called ‘continual and perpetual succession’ of ‘callings’ the ‘necessity of all necessities’. 5 So youth could not be imagined in terms of doom and gloom alone. Something brighter gave hope that a young Protestant nation and its first youth would reach level-headed maturity. In an apparent contradiction that was in fact a calculated juxtaposition, youth was called a hopeful age when good might grow from promising seed. Change was in the air after 1558, but traditional regulatory principles and practices could not cope with the realities and perceptions of the youth problem.

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