Alice Clark’s *Working Life of Women in the 17th Century* at 100: An Online Reading Group

Mark Hailwood

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?

s-l1600The 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 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


Histories of London, 1640s to 1660s: Continuities and Turning Points

[Richard Bell is CMRS Career Development Fellow in Renaissance History at Keble College, Oxford. In this post he outlines his response to the questions raised in the opening post on Integrating Histories of London, focusing on continuities and turning points.]

During the middle decades of the seventeenth century, Londoners experienced civil war, revolution, plague and fire. Unsurprisingly, this period looms large in accounts of the early modern capital. It often features as the start or end point of social histories, or is studied alone (often in minute detail) by political historians. Yet why is this? Was this a turning point in the history of early modern London? Or does this periodisation have more to do with the nature of divisions between historians than a marked break in longer patterns of continuity and change between 1500 and 1800?


My own interest is in understanding how social and economic developments in early modern London contributed to (and were in turn shaped by) the political upheavals of the 1640s and 1650s. Since the work of Keith Lindley and Robert Brenner in the 1990s, there’s been relatively little written on the social history of revolutionary London and its connections to political conflict. Yet I think there’s a growing realisation that there’s a lot to be said on this topic.

We know London was central to, and acutely experienced, the social and economic changes of the early modern period. We also know that London was at the heart of the political conflicts of the mid-seventeenth century. Not only was Westminster obviously central, but the City of London and its suburbs were also important sites of political contest and mobilisation. Yet we know less about how these two things connected, and the relationship between long-term changes in London and the political events of the period. Continue reading

Histories of London, c.1650-1800: Institutions, Work, Poverty and Crime

[In this post, Brodie Waddell sets out another response to the issues raised in the opening post on Integrating Histories of London.]

The history of early modern London cannot be written without the people who are often neglected in sweeping national histories. Whereas monarchs and politicians still receive the most attention in conventional textbooks of early modern history, it is the merchants, shopkeepers, craftspeople, criminals and beggars who populate the pages of metropolitan histories, especially those that focus on the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

So, why were these ‘ordinary’ – or even ‘marginalised’ – people so important to development of London at this time?


Six people one might encounter on the streets of London: British Library.

As a historian whose research has wandered recklessly around early modern England, I have no unique expertise on the capital. Yet, the richness and accessibility of the sources held at the London Metropolitan Archives and freely available online at London Lives has encouraged me to spend more time working on the city’s history since arriving at Birkbeck in 2012. More importantly, working here has meant that I’ve benefitted hugely from the chance to learn from nearby colleagues who know much more about this field than I do. I’ve been able to read or hear a wonderful range of London-focused scholarship through conferences, seminars and supervisions as well as publications. Specifically, the impressions I set out below emerge mostly from what I have gleaned from Vanessa Harding, Jerry White, Mike Berlin, Matthew Davis, Sarah Birt, Charlie Taverner, Anna Cusack, Laura Gowing, Jenny Bishop, Richard Bell and the others at the workshop.

To my mind, if we are trying to understand how people outside the ruling civic elite fit into the ‘grand narratives’ of the metropolis, what we are really talking about is agency and structure. The question of the balance between agency and structure is one that features every historical subfield, but I think it has been especially important to recent work on London.

Before going any further, I know that this terminology is rather old-fashioned and simplistic, but simplicity can be useful when thinking about grand narratives. Moreover, obviously neither agency nor structure were all encompassing. The balance between them is always situational and historically contingent. This is precisely what makes it an interesting question for historians.

How much agency did different people have in ‘late’ early modern London (c.1650-1800)? Continue reading

Histories of London, c.1500-1650: Space, Narratives and Numbers

[Dr Jennifer Bishop is a College Lecturer at Peterhouse College, Cambridge. In this post, she outlines her response to the questions raised in the opening post on Integrating Histories of London, focusing on the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.]

‘She is certainly a great world, there are so many worlds in her’ (Donald Lupton, 1632).

Donald Lupton’s description of London in 1632 neatly encapsulates our view of the early modern city. London was, and indeed is, composed of multiple overlapping and interlocking “worlds” – and the task of the historian is to explore these worlds, and to try and understand the relationships between them. It is perhaps no surprise that many studies of the city have been strongly influenced by the ‘spatial turn’. This is evident in the digital mapping projects of recent years – the Map of Early Modern London being the best example – and also a number of microhistorical studies of the individual streets, parishes, suburbs, and landmarks that made up the physical city.


Visscher’s view of London, 1616

But equally as important as understanding London’s topography, the spatial turn has also directed our attention towards how ordinary people understood and navigated the early modern city. Historians now ask how and where different groups, individuals, and communities lived, worked, and socialised; which areas of the city were frequented by men and which were associated with women; which were popular with migrants and which were open only to citizens. We have a greater appreciation of the character and reputation of different spaces, and by asking how these changed over time (not only over the years, but also how they could also change simply in the transition from day to night), we can see a ‘microcosm’ of the changing urban world. Overall, by seeking to understand how disparate networks of people joined up and communicated across the metropolis, we have been able to recover some of the various overlapping and interlocking configurations that made up the early modern city. This approach to the history of London has resulted in some incredibly rich scholarship, with a special attention to minority and marginal groups, and a strong sense of London’s diversity and plurality as one of its key defining features.

The question we set out to discuss in this workshop was, how can we connect these diverse histories and stories together? Can we join up the histories of different groups and minorities in a meaningful way over the long early modern period, bringing them into dialogue over time as well as across space? In short, can we bring London’s multiple ‘worlds within worlds’ into a coherent, meaningful, whole? Continue reading

Integrating Histories of London, c.1500-1800

[Dom Birch, Esther Brot and Jonah Miller are doctoral students at King’s College London. In this post, they set out why and how they think the diverse histories of early modern London can be integrated with each other and with larger national narratives, reflecting on a workshop on this topic that they ran in autumn 2018.]

Between 1500 and 1800 the city of London changed—a lot. It was over this period that we begin to see the development of a London that we might recognise. By the end of the eighteenth century the city had many of its modern-day hallmarks: political power was linked to the metropolis, it was a driver of fashion and popular culture, it was a centre of a globalised world, and the city had grown to include what would have previously been considered its suburbs. The existential changes in London’s nature, and the way in which the history of London can be linked to the history of England, make it a compelling place to study. Understanding early modern London means understanding how it transformed from its medieval origins to an archetype of modernity. This field of study has, however, faced several difficulties recently. So, with this in mind, in October we brought together a group of historians whose work on London we felt is particularly innovative to talk through what, exactly, early modern London was.

The idea for this workshop originally came from the recognition that we were all working on the history of London in some capacity. This may sound obvious but as historians we’re often trained to think of the work we do in certain ways. We all think of ourselves as social historians and within that label as social scientists (Dom), historians of government (Esther) or cultural historians (Jonah). Despite these different fields of study, we were all researching groups of people who lived in London and would often find ourselves together in the London Metropolitan Archives—using sources from London. It then became apparent that this wasn’t an issue faced by us alone. There are plenty of historians working either in or on London who wouldn’t see themselves as historians of London. They might instead have as a primary motivator a historical theme (religious history) or a group of people (foodsellers or guild members). We thought it would be worthwhile to bring these different perspectives together for a discussion on early modern London more generally, and to ask what different focuses and methods could bring to the study of the city.

Braun and Hogenberg (1560-72) London map

London in the late sixteenth century: too big for one historian?

As we started to plan the workshop it became obvious that there are many issues in the history of London that can’t be solved by one single historian, or a small group of historians. Continue reading

‘Now, who the Divell taught thee so much Italian?’ Language-learning for historians of early modern England

[This guest post comes from John Gallagher of the University of Leeds. He also can be found on twitter talking about language, education and mobility.]

In an English-Italian phrasebook written in 1578, one character complained about the rudeness of the English towards foreigners, muttering that ‘fewe of these English men delight to haue their chyldren learne diuers languages, whiche thing displeaseth me’. He and his fellow-speakers discussed how best to learn languages, how fast it could be done, and whether it was worthwhile, with one speaker complaining that ‘I reade, write, and speake three or foure tongues, and yet I finde no profite’.[1] Four centuries ago, the usefulness of language-learning was already up for debate.

Early modern England, like England today, was multilingual. It was a country where Latin (and Greek and Hebrew) was heard in schools and universities, where Law French and Latin were spoken in the courts, where Dutch and French were languages of London courtrooms and fenland towns. While English tourists polished their Italian at home and abroad, soldiers and sailors encountered languages from Swedish and Spanish to Ottoman Turkish or Akan. From Ireland to India and from the Americas to Japan, England’s global expansion was shaped by multilingual meetings.


Irish/Latin/English phrasebook compiled for and used by Elizabeth I of England (Wikimedia Commons)

Studying a language other than English can be of enormous value to historians. For students of early modern England, language skills can highlight new voices, new sources, and new perspectives on familiar histories. The UK – and the historical profession – seem to be facing a language crisis, so it couldn’t be more important to support our students in developing language skills or in putting ones they already have to use in their work as historians. From students who want to start a language from scratch to those who come to us with excellent Welsh, Polish, or Punjabi, as teachers we can always do more to show our students how their skills and interests can enrich their work as historians of all places and periods.

With this in mind, and partly prompted by Rebecca Rideal’s twitter discussion on the topic, I’ve put together some suggestions for students, researchers, and teachers who are interested in the rich and multilingual histories of early modern England and the early modern world (and hopefully many that will be of use beyond this period). Here are some resources that might be helpful to any early modernist seeking to learn a new language, or looking to brush up on one they’ve studied before: Continue reading

Seventeenth-century England: A Symposium to celebrate Professor Bernard Capp’s 50 Years at Warwick

Laura Sangha

On Saturday 20 October I had the great pleasure of returning to my alma mater to attend ‘Seventeenth-Century England’, a symposium to mark and celebrate Professor Bernard Capp’s fifty years at the University of Warwick. All of the many-headed monster co-authors were fortunate enough to benefit from Bernard’s advice and knowledge when we were postgraduates at Warwick in the 2000s, so this review of the Symposium is our way of joining the chorus of congratulations and commendations that characterised the day.

Fifty years’ service.

Professor Capp was appointed as Lecturer in History in 1968, when Harold Wilson was Prime Minister, the Kray twins were arrested, the M1 was completed, and the Race Relations Act was passed. The University of Warwick had admitted its first undergraduates just four years earlier.

alex W

Alexandra Walsham exhorting us to undertake our own ‘generation work’

Whilst at Warwick Professor Capp became established as one of the leading historians of early modern England, his teaching and publications demonstrating an extraordinary breadth of research interests and expertise. The Symposium organisers, Peter Marshall and Naomi Pullin, did an excellent job of creating a programme that gave space to all the themes that underpin this work. Many papers explored gendered aspects of the seventeenth-century as well as the ‘religious marketplace’ of the age. Amanda Flather discussed the impact of Laudian ceremonialism on women worshippers, explaining how matters of conscience could be corrosive of female obedience. Tim Reinke-Williams regaled us with the masculine ‘banter’ of the early modern jestbook and laid bare the emotions that structured them. Ann Hughes’ paper on dissenting culture in Restoration England revealed the ways that religion connected single women to broad social networks and kinship. Hughes’ focus on the Gell family of Hopton Hall and the siblings in the family connected neatly to Alexandra Walsham’s paper on the ‘revolutionary generation’ of the 1640s and in particular the Fifth Monarchy Men, religious radicals bonded in solidarity by their conception of Christian history and the conviction that they were the ones to carry out a turbulent age’s vital ‘generation work’. Continue reading