The editors and owners of this site owe a particular debt of gratitude to Thomas Tusser. Complete non-gardeners until the day they picked up a copy of Tusser’s Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry twenty years ago, they owe him a great deal for the serenity and joy they have found in their own garden.
Thomas Tusser was born into a ‘gentle’ family at Rivenhall, near Witham in Essex, the fourth son of Isabella and William Tusser. The date of his birth is very uncertain, and is given variously as between 1515 to 1524. The register at the church of St Mildred supports the 1515 date, but other references in his youth make the year a little more uncertain. Tusser was elected to King’s College at Cambridge in 1543 and, as they did not allow anyone under the age of nineteen, that would put the date of his birth at 1524.
Tusser spent his early years as a chorister at Wallingford College. This was a particularly happy time for him, as Tusser later claimed he was ‘ill-treated, ill-clothed and ill-fed’. Eventually, however, Tusser had the luck (and perhaps the influence) to become a chorister at St Paul’s cathedral in London under the tutelage of John Redford.
From here Tusser moved to Eton and eventually to Cambridge, taking up residence at Trinity College where he lived and studied very happily among many congenial companions. He became ill at Cambridge, however, and this forced him to resign the studious life and join the employ of Lord William Paget, first baron Paget of Beaudesert, as a musician.
Tusser spent ten years with Lord Paget, but eventually left Paget’s employ (apparently against Paget’s wishes), married, and settled down as a farmer at Cattiwade in Suffolk. It was not so much the pleasures of marriage which tempted Tusser away from Paget’s service, but the possibility of military service – these were tense times during the English reformation, and wars constantly threatened.
It was at Cattiwade that Tusser wrote his first book, “One Hundred Points of Good Husbandry” (this was expanded to Five Hundred Points in 1573), while dabbling enthusiastically in the arts of husbandry. Here also his wife grew ill (her name has never been recorded) and ‘could no more toil abide, so near the sea side’. Tusser moved their household to Ipswich, but his wife no more liked the air there, and she soon died. Tusser later married Amy Moon (or Moone) by whom he had three sons, Thomas, John and Edmond.
Tusser eventually settled in Norwich where, under the patronage of Sir Robert Southwell, he found a living, possibly as a singing man in Norwich cathedral. Sickness again forced a move – to Essex, then to London (where his third son, Edmond, was born in early 1573), and then, when plague swept through London, back to Cambridge, then, eventually, back to London once more where he died a pauper in 1580, and was buried in the church of St Mildred in the Poultry.
Tusser, they tell me, when thou wert alive,
Thou, teaching thrift, thyself couldst never thrive;
So, like the whetstone, many men are wont,
To sharpen others when they themselves are blunt.
Henry Peacham, 1612.
Thomas Tusser’s Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry contain some of the most lively, descriptive and entertaining remarks on gardening and agriculture as it was practiced in England during the late sixteenth century. It brought Tusser no riches, but much acclaim in the centuries after his death. Tusser himself lives on through his verses, and through them we can share in Tusser’s richness of humour, and his love of tilling the soil.
List of Tusser excerpts on this site: (still minimal, but be assured we shall be adding more as the weeks pass.)
- A list of the implements needed by the farmer LINK TO BE ADDED
- Instructions on how to grow hops LINK TO BE ADDED