The Elizabethan Era – An A to Z

Peter Cooke – Author

K is for:


The Elizabethans had a more robust approach to kissing as a greeting. Perhaps the best viewpoint on kissing comes from the recorded observations of various foreign(alien) visitors. On visiting a citizen’s house for a social visit, or even on business, any man would be welcomed by the master’s lady or daughter and it was the custom of the country to ‘take them by the arm to kiss them, with a hearty kiss on the lips.’ Not to do this was considered as ill-breeding. Most of the observers felt that to do this on first acquaintance was very strange. Rather like the general situation today where an air-kiss near the cheek is more often then not the rule, even with family.

Dancing too was another opportunity for the Elizabethans to kiss the ladies. During a dance, when the players struck up a lively galliard or the even faster version, a lavolta (the Volt).  This was a particular favourite of Queen Elizabeth, especially when dancing with the Earl of Leicester, a celebrated dancer.  The young men took off their rapiers and cloaks and danced in their doublets, leaping, running and lifting their partners in the air. One reformer described it as ‘the horrible vice of pestiferous dancing … what kissing and bussing (more kissing)’.

Amongst the working class, things were very much less formal than in a merchant, or an aristocratic household. Leisure time was very restricted, since working hours were long, thus, every opportunity must be utilised to the full. One startled young Venetian visitor observed the following … ‘many of the young women gather outside Moorgate and play with the young lads, even though they do not know them. Often, during these games, the women are thrown to the ground by the young men, who only allow them to get up after they have kissed them.’

As they all remarked … ‘they kiss each other a lot!’

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