The conditions under which the obscure mass of women live and fulfil their duties as human beings, have a vital influence upon the destinies of the human race…
Alice Clark, 1919
It was this conviction that drove Alice Clark to write her pioneering study of the working life of women in seventeenth-century England. One hundred years later, few historians would now contest such a statement, and as a consequence the obscurity of women’s lives in the early modern past is less acute than in Clark’s time. But how far have we come in our understanding of women’s work? How have historians added to, and revised, the picture mapped out by Alice Clark?
The centenary of the publication of this seminal work presents a great opportunity to both celebrate the scholarship of Alice Clark, and to reflect on the current state of the history of early modern women’s work. And so, we would like to invite you, dear reader, to join an online reading group here on the many-headed monster that will do just that.
Between now and October of this year we will read one chapter a month of Working Life of Women in the Seventeenth Century (freely available on archive.org here). For each chapter a leading historian will offer their reflections on it in a blog post, which will serve as a starting point for discussion ‘below the line’ in the comments section (and/or on twitter, no doubt).
The blog posts will be published at the start of each month, on the following schedule, with a double-header in early April to kick us off: Continue reading
Guest Blog by Amanda Herbert Continue reading
Our next post in ‘The Voices of the People’ symposium (full programme here) is by the many-headed monster’s very own Brodie Waddell, Lecturer in Early Modern History at Birkbeck, University of London. Brodie reinforces the message that has emerged from our last few posts: that the voices of the people do survive in abundance in the archives of the early modern period. They may do so in ways that are mediated or formalised, yes, but he argues that this should not blind us to the enormous importance of these valuable historical documents. Brodie finishes with a rallying cry that echoes that of Helmut Groser and Ann Tlusty: these documents are too significant to be allowed to remain buried in archival repositories, or worse to be lost altogether to the vagaries of record survival. Instead they should be digistised and made freely available as a matter of priority to promote the ongoing renaissance of history from below.
As a historian, digging up the dead is part of my job. I arrive at the archives as a grave-robber intent on plunder. I riffle through their clean, grey cardboard boxes searching for a peculiar treasure – tatty papers recording dead people’s words in stark black ink.
I’m privileged enough to have the time, the funds and the training necessary to make such plundering expeditions a routine part of my professional life. As a result, I regularly emerge from the archives with prizes like the letter below, which lay among dozens of other papers in a box labelled ‘QS/4 box 134’, carefully preserved in the storeroom of the Devon Heritage Centre.
The letter, written in 1693, was sent from a widow named Elizabeth Snow to the county magistrates:
To John Elwell Esquire & the rest of the Honourable Bench,
Most Honoured Gentell men I hope your worships will take this my humble pittishon [=petition] in Consideration that I being here Commited form [=from] the bare [=bar] to this prison and am not able to paye the fine but must here pireish [=perish] without your mercyfull Consideration to take of[f] my fine for I have not one penny in the world to helpe my selfe with out of the Cherryty [=charity] of good people to relefe me for I have maintaind a Crippell Childe this 16 yeares and never had but one penny a day towards it[.] this being in great malish [=malice] sworen against me undeserving I hope you will for the Lords sake pitty my miserable Consdishon and relefe me out of this misry which shall be bounde in dewty Ever to pray for you all most Honnerable gentellmen which am a poore distressed widdow
I don’t know why she was imprisoned and I don’t know whether she was successful in her petition for release. In fact, I don’t know anything about Elizabeth apart from the claims in this letter, though further digging in the archives would probably reveal more. Continue reading
Guest Blog by Joanne Bailey Continue reading
Many ‘monster readers will have already deduced that I recently started a new job. So I thought it would be a nice idea to write a very short post introducing the project that I’m now working on. It is based at the University of Exeter, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, and will run until the summer of 2018. The leader of the project is Professor Jane Whittle and I will be the main researcher. Our aim is to gather an unprecedented level of information about the everyday working lives of early modern English women by extracting incidental information about work activities from witness statements given in court cases (and a few other types of record too). We hope that this innovative methodology will help us to capture aspects of women’s work – for instance domestic and other types of unpaid work – that more conventional history of work sources – such as wage data – do not.
If you want to know more about the aims, methods and sources we will be using I have set up a website for the project here, that contains a lot more detail about what we will be doing. I’ll also be blogging over there about our progress from time to time, so if you are interested please do follow the project.
In fact, we already have a couple of blog posts up:
- ‘What is Work?’ – project leader Jane Whittle challenges some of the more conventional definitions of work that historians use, and offers a more suitable alternative that we will be adopting for the project.
- ‘Did Women Work in Agriculture?’ – in this post I examine some of our first archival gleanings, and use them to raise some questions about the gendered division of agricultural work in rural England.
Finally, I should mention that we are looking for a third person to complete our project team, and as such are offering a fully-funded PhD studentship at Exeter. So, if you like the sound of the project or know of someone who you think might like to apply, then all the relevant details can be found here. The deadline for applications is 1st June.
A large part of my job will be working through thousands of witness testimonies from quarter sessions and church courts, with their rich and fascinating vignettes of everyday life. In addition to the information I am after for the project this will turn up plenty of stories about the lives of ordinary men and women in early modern England for me to regale ‘monster readers with, so keep watching this space!
Christ Church, Oxford
The marriage of Protestant clergymen was one of the most controversial aspects of the reformation, in England as elsewhere. Opprobrium was heaped upon clergy who married, and also upon their wives. Even death was no escape from censure. During the reign of Mary I, Strype tells us, Richard Marshall, the dean of Christ Church, exhumed the body of Peter Martyr Vermigli’s wife from its resting place in the cathedral, and had it thrown onto a dunghill, presumably because in the eyes of the Catholic authorities she was no better than a heretical priest’s whore.
Historical interest in clerical marriage and clergy wives has increased substantially in recent years, with our understanding of the field primarily shaped by the work of Eric Carlson and Helen Parish. This also seems to be a topic that really captures the imagination of students: when I ask my seminar groups to look at the Marian Injunctions of 1554, for example, they often marvel at the amount of attention given to clerical marriage, together with the uncompromising and uncharitable tone of the articles (the ones that say that married priests must no longer be allowed to be working priests, or to remain ‘married’). I’ve recently finished supervising an undergraduate dissertation on clerical marriage, and whilst the student, Helena Theo, worked extremely hard, and turned up some interesting material, it is clear that there is not exactly a wealth of sources giving an intimate picture of the relationships of the first generation of married clergy and their wives, especially from the female point of view (thank you Helena, for a very enjoyable supervisory experience, and for your permission to mention you here!).
The Zurich Letters
In this post, I want to try to explore this relationship in a little more detail, and especially the extent to which marriage was an important aspect of the identity these early reformers constructed for themselves. I’m going to do so using a very well-known source, but one which (to my knowledge) has not been extensively mined for this sort of material, either by any historian of clerical marriage, or indeed by Helena, whose project went off in a slightly different direction. That source is the two-volumes of The Zurich Letters, published by the Parker Society in the 1840s, and, as it says on the title page, ‘comprising the correspondence of several English bishops and others with some of the Helvetian reformers during the reign of Queen Elizabeth’. Continue reading
In 1658, the Czech scholar John Amos Comenius published what’s been called ‘the first children’s picture book’. It proved extremely popular and was republished many times, in many different languages. What brought it to my attention was the fact that it included 150 pictures of ‘the visible world’, a rare treat in an early modern publication.
It was designed to teach Latin and, in the 1705 edition, English to young people, so most of its illustrations depicted the sorts of things a child might be expected to know from life. They would find, for example, pictures of youth at study and at play, stilt-walking or bowling.
However, the ones that caught my eye were the many illustrations of working life. If you, like me, teach or write about early modern economic history, you’ll know that this particular subfield has an ‘image problem’. Perhaps thanks to a strong seam of ‘iconophobic’ Calvinism, post-Reformation England was not exactly awash in imagery of any kind and I have often found it particularly difficult to find images of economic life. One can find many pictures of kings and noblemen. But there are frustratingly few depictions of ordinary people doing their jobs, whether as artisans, traders or labourers. This gap is partly filled by the broadside ballad woodcuts on EBBA that Mark Hailwood has discussed here before. However, it remains difficult to find the sort of rich visual material that one can find, for instance, in Dutch ‘Golden Age’ paintings or in nineteenth-century periodicals. Continue reading