Shipboard Life in the 16 Century

Mel bookw:compass 0

Writing Melaynie’s Masquerade was a multi-level challenge. I’d always been fascinated with the changing roles of men and women through the ages.   I decided to play with the concept of a female disguised as a man almost as soon as I decided to turn “Drake,” my screenplay, into a book. How close are men and women in preferences and personality, not to mention looks? History is peppered with sexual “masquerades” and lately sex change operations have gained acceptance as those who believe they were born the wrong sex take action to change it.

Since my heroine, Melaynie, plays both female and male roles, I had plenty of research to do. I had somewhat of an advantage since I’d spent a few years attending Renaissance Pleasure Faires and had some idea of life in England during the 1500s. The era of Queen Elizabeth I has been a major topic of movies, plays and books.

I wanted to start at the basics underneath all the layers of clothing—what did people wear? What was the requirement for underwear for both men and women: clothing or lack of it that we take for granted these days? Since modern women consider underwear a priority, that was one of my first research topics. I even found a fascinating little book called The History of Underclothes. Doing laundry wasn’t a major undertaking in the 16th century since the undergarments, made from various grades of linen, were seldom washed, even for the wealthy. To make them smell better, sweet spices were added on the few occasions they were laundered. It probably made little difference since everybody smelled bad anyway, and the nose is a forgiving orifice once it gets used to certain smells.

Englishwomen wore at least three layers of petticoats but no “drawers” (underpants) before the end of the 18th century. Corsets, like girdles or Spanx of more modern times, were and are punishing to wear. Oddly, men did wear drawers, which were loose fitting, gathered at the waist, ended at the knee, and were sometimes fancied up with embroidery

I used to wonder how men “had their way” with women so easily in some movies depicting Elizabethan times, but if they weren’t wearing underwear, all a man had to do was to lift a woman’s triple-layered skirt. One of the petticoats usually had hoops, so it lifted fairly easily.

Deciding where Melaynie was going to sleep on Drake’s ship in order to keep her sex secret was a challenge. From what I’d read about him, Drake truly cared about his crew. I wrote him as ignorant of Melaynie’s true sex, of course. For Drake, Melaynie was a young man named Christopher. Concerned that Christopher wouldn’t have an easy time sleeping on a hammock below decks with the rest of the rowdy sailors, Drake would have decided she’d be perfect sleeping at his cabin door, a protected area. Melaynie had extra help aboard ship because her brother had also signed on as a seaman.

If you’re curious about the entire adventure story, which is based on a true voyage to the Caribbean by Francis Drake and his crew, check out Melaynie’s Masquerade on Amazon.  Check out the book at:


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