The Renaissance and Reformation and their consequences, 1400–1642

Signs of a coming change in the position of women can be seen in many European countries at the end of the Middle Ages. They were part of the enrichment of life which is commonly called the Renaissance. This movement came to England rather later than to other European countries, for it needed the establishment of the strong Tudor monarchy to free men from the fear of civil war. But already before the Wars of the Roses had begun in England the first of many female autobiographies had been written down for its author by a man. Whatever view of the Book of Margery Kempe is taken it remains a portent1. Written in English, it sets out the efforts of Margery, ‘this creature’, to live a life of chastity and Christ’s service. She herself thought that she was a true mystic whose virtues would be known all over the world. But it would not be unfair to conclude that she was a victim of hysteria whose sanity had been imperilled by too much child-bearing. It was not difficult to find celebate priests and anchorites eager to enter into the imaginings of such a woman. It is fortunate that two of them were ready to write them down. She travelled about England with her husband trying to persuade him to continence and at last succeeded in June 14132. She visited many parts of England and saw the Archbishops both of York and Canterbury. She and her husband went to the Bishop of Lincoln to take their vow of chastity and were affronted that the bishop would not give her ‘the mantle and the ring’3. She travelled to the Holy Land and visited Rome on her return. She went to St. James of Compostella in Spain, to Danzig, blown on to the coast of Norway as she went, and returned by way of Aachen and Calais. Her tears were continuous and called attention to her holiness. When she could not weep she was unhappy. Although she was more than once put in prison and she never hesitated to speak to the people, she had no serious trouble with those who feared and disliked the Lollards.

Margery Kempe was about a generation younger than the anchoress Juliana of Norwich, a Benedictine nun from Carrow, who went to live in the churchyard of St. Julian in Norwich as an anchoress and wrote meditations on divine love. Margery visited her and ‘much was the holy dalliance that the anchoress and this creature had communing in the love of our Lord Jesus Christ many days they were together’1. It is perhaps a sign of a coming change that these women could express themselves and arouse the respectful attention of their contemporaries. Margery Kempe came of burgess stock. She was proud of her father’s distinction in the town of Lynn, ‘mayor five times of that worshipful borough and alderman also many years’2. Her husband was also a burgess of Lynn, although Margery did not regard him as of so good birth as herself. All through the Middle Ages the women in the towns retained a strong tradition of independence. Although the inhabitants of towns were, like all other people, subject to the common law which developed in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries they preserved an attitude of mind alien to the feudal outlook of barons and knights and their ladies. Women took a prominent part in the business life of the community. As in country villages the trade of brewing was in their hands. When Margery Kempe wanted to make a show she set up as a brewer and ‘was one of the greatest brewers in the town for three or four years’, but she gave it up because something always went wrong with the ale however good her servants were. Then she acquired a horse-mill and a couple of good horses with a man to grind corn, but her horses would not work3. It is significant that the first woman to leave behind her an account of her life, her thoughts, and her dreams was a member of the urban aristocracy in an East Anglian town.

Margery Kempe was an individualist who would have seemed an isolated figure in any historical setting. In her own age, she stood apart from each of the two intellectual movements which agitated the fifteenth century, Lollardry and the scholarship of the early humanists. In the next century many women were to feel the excitement of the new learning in religion which accompanied the new learning in scholarship. But the change came slowly, and the woman of the fifteenth century who was most influential as a patroness of scholars belonged in spirit to the medieval world. The portrait of Margaret, Countess of Richmond, drawn by Bishop Fisher in her funeral sermon would have served in most of its features for any devout lady of the Middle Ages1. It is in her consciousness that she had missed much through her ignorance of Latin, in the spirit which made her translate devotional books from French into English, above all, in the lamentation of ‘the students of both Universities to whom she was as a mother, all the learned men of England to whom she was a very patroness’, that the signs of a coming age appear2. The accession of her grandson Henry VIII in 1509 brought to the throne a king responsive to the new learning and a queen imbued with the Renaissance spirit. Queen Katherine of Aragon was the daughter of Queen Isabella of Castile, who had learned Latin and taken care that all her daughters were educated to read and speak it.

The scholars of Renaissance Europe moved freely from country to country in search of patrons and kept up a close correspondence in the artificial Latin which was their common tongue. All were drawn to Italy to study for a time in one or other of the Italian universities, but they were ready to go where their scholarship could win them bread. Queen Katherine invited a Spanish scholar named Luis Vives to come to England to supervise the education of her daughter Mary, for whom he wrote A Plan of Studies for a Girl3. An English scholar, Thomas Linacre, who had studied in Italy, wrote a Latin grammar for the young princess. Already before Mary was born Sir Thomas More was bringing up his daughters in the new learning, providing them with the best teachers he could find. Margaret Roper, his eldest daughter, born in 1505, was the first of the learned English ladies of the sixteenth century. More was a friend of Vives, and of Erasmus, who had visited England for the first time as early as 1497. Erasmus thought that Vives was too hard on married women in his work The Instruction of a Christian Woman, and hoped that he was kinder to his own wife4. Sir Thomas More’s home life at Chelsea was a living proof that women could profit from a liberal education as had the ladies of the ancient classical world.

In England, the influence of such men as Erasmus, More, and Vives was far-reaching, and the example of the court was followed by aristocratic parents all over the country. Anne Boleyn (born in 1507) in Norfolk and Katherine Parr (born in 1512) in Westmorland were brought up to the new learning. Young women of high birth whose fathers employed one or more learned chaplains could be taught Greek, Latin, and even Hebrew, with their brothers. The skill and enthusiasm of their teachers contrasted favourably with their parents’ severity. Lady Jane Grey, whom Ascham found reading Greek while her parents were hunting in Bradgate Park, told him that she was thankful to have been blessed by God with ‘so sharp and severe Parents and so gentle a Schoolmaster’. Her parents ‘so sharply taunted, so cruelly threatened, yea presently sometimes with Pinches, Nips, and Bobs, and other ways (which I will not name for the Honour I bear them) so without Measure misorder’d, that I think myself in Hell, till Time come that I must go to Mr. Elmer; who teacheth me so gently … that I think all the Time nothing, while I am with him’1. Nevertheless firm parental control must have been necessary to enforce the long hours of study which alone could have produced young people as precocious as Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey, and even the Princess Elizabeth herself. The elegant Italianate handwriting of the day cannot have been easily achieved, but as a girl Queen Elizabeth wrote an amazingly beautiful and precise hand. Anne Boleyn, her mother, wrote almost as well, but in a somewhat earlier form of script2. She had entered the household of Mary, sister of Henry VIII, at the age of seven in 1514. Lady Jane Grey entered Queen Katherine Parr’s household in 1546 when she was nine years old, the youngest of the queen’s maids.

Proficiency in the mannered hands of the day was an accomplishment worth recording on a woman’s tombstone in this generation. Among the additions made to John Stow’s Survey of London in the first edition published after his death were many inscriptions from city churches, among them that put up to Elizabeth Lucar, who died on 29 October 1537, ‘of yeares not fully 27’, by her husband Emmanuel Lucar, merchant taylor of London in the church of St. Lawrence Pountney in Candlewick ward.

‘Every Christian heart seeketh to extoll

The glory of the Lord, our onely Redeemer:

Wherefore Dame Fame must needs enroll

Paul Withypoll his child, by loue and nature,

Elizabeth, the wife of Emanuel Lucar,

In whom was declared the goodnesse of the Lord,

With many high vertues, which truely I will record.

She wrote all Needle-workes that women exercise,

With Pen, Frame, or Stoole, all Pictures artificiall.

Curious Knots, or Trailes, what fancie could devise,

Beasts, Birds, or Flowers, even as things natural:

Three manner Hands could she write them faire all.

To speake of Algorisme, or accounts in euery fashion,

Of women, few like (I thinke) in all this Nation.

Dame Cunning1 her gave a gift right excellent,

The goodly practice of her Science Musicall,

In diuers Tongues to sing, and play with Instrument,

Both Viall and Lute, and also Virginall;

Not onely one, but excellent in all.

For all other vertues belonging to Nature

God her appointed a very perfect creature.

Latine and Spanish, and also Italian,

She spake, writ, and read, with perfect vtterance;

And for the English, she the Garland wan,

In Dame Prudence Schoole, by Graces purueyance,

Which cloathed her with Vertues, from naked Ignorance;

Reading the Scriptures, to judge Light from Darke,

Directing her faith to Christ, the onely Marke’2.

Elizabeth Lucar died before the difficult years when Henry VIII was forcing his subjects to acknowledge as Head of the Church in England a king who insisted on their conformity in doctrine with the Church of Rome. In those years, the queen herself, who was thought to be in sympathy with persons of advanced opinions about the court, only preserved her influence with the king by ostentatious deference to his authority as her husband. It was during this time that the Lincolnshire girl Anne Askew suffered martyrdom as a heretic. Her main interest seems to have lain in searching out the exact meaning of the Biblical text. Under the compulsion of his confessor, her husband, a member of the old Lincolnshire family of Kyme, turned her out of his house. She sought a divorce, basing her claim on the words of St. Paul: ‘But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases’. Many Puritans in the next century, and even some members of the Church of England, would have allowed divorce to either party for wilful desertion, as for adultery. Anne Askew went to London, perhaps to further her plea for divorce, but was soon arrested and charged with heresy. She was brought before the council, repeatedly examined, and tortured in the hope of extorting evidence against other persons suspected of religious disaffection. Refusing to betray any confidences, she was burned as a heretic on 16 July 1546, at the age of twenty-five. Many other women suffered for their faith during the next thirteen years; one in the reign of Edward VI and sixty under Queen Mary1.

In his reflections on the state of learning written late in the seventeenth century William Wotton, then chaplain to the Earl of Nottingham, remarked on the zeal for learning which marked the sixteenth century: ‘men fancied that everything could be done by it, and they were charmed by the Eloquence of its Professors. … It was so very modish that the Fair Sex seemed to believe that Greek and Latin added to their charms; and Plato and Aristotle untranslated, were frequent ornaments of their closets. One would think by the Effects that it was a proper Way of Educating them, since there are no Accounts in History of so many truly great Women in any one Age, as there are to be found between the years MD and MDC’2. It is more than a coincidence that in an age when women were enjoying an education equal in quality to that of men individual women held dominating positions in many European countries.

From the accession of Queen Mary in 1553 England was ruled by a woman for half a century, save for a few years between Mary’s marriage to Philip of Spain in 1554 and her death in November 1558, during which the face of Philip appeared with that of Mary on some issues of English coins. But no one in this country or in Europe can have regarded Philip of Spain as in any true sense the ruler of England. To Protestants exiled in Queen Mary’s reign from England and Scotland to Geneva, Frankfurt and other German cities the present and future of each country seemed to lie in a woman’s hands. In England Mary Tudor was intent on restoring the Catholic faith, and her heir was a woman. Mary of Guise was the Regent of Scotland for her daughter, Mary Stuart. Early in 1558 John Knox published anonymously at Geneva The First Blast of the Trumpet against the monstrous Regiment of Women, announcing in his preface that he intended ‘thrise to blow the trumpet in the same matter, if God so permitte: twise I intend to do it without name, but at the last blast to take the blame upon myself’1. The blast of the trumpet was in particular directed against ‘that horrible monstre Jesabal of England’, ‘the cursed Jesabel of England’, ‘that cruell monstre Marie (unworthie by reason of her bloudy tyranny, of the name of woman)’2. Mary died soon after the issue of the book and Queen Elizabeth was bitterly enraged at the author.

The opinion of exiled English Protestants about this tract was forcibly expressed by John Aylmer, the kindly teacher of Lady Jane Grey, in a treatise of some length which he called An Harborowe for Faithfull and Trewe Subjects agaynst the late blowne blast, concerninge the Government of Wemen, wherein be confuted all such reasons as a straunger of late made in that behalfe, with a breife exhortation to obedience3. Aylmer dated his book on the title-page ‘at Strasborowe 26 Aprill 1559’, but it seems to have been published in England. By this time Mary had been succeeded by Elizabeth and it was again politic to speak with respect of Anne Boleyn, the queen’s mother. ‘Was not’, he wrote, ‘Quene Anne, the mother of the blessed woman, the chief, first, and only cause of banyshing the beast of Rome with all his beggarly baggage’. Aylmer disposed decisively of all objections to a woman’s rule. Even the suggestion that a woman ‘is not mete to go to the warres’ was met by ‘some women have gone and sped well’. That a woman ‘is not of so sound judgment’ was countered by ‘peradventure better… as it happeneth at this tyme, that you can never shewe in al Englande synce the Conquest, so learned a Kyng as we have now a Quene’. John Aylmer was aggressively patriotic and went out of his way to point out how little impression the Norman Conquest had made upon England: ‘We have a few hunting termes and pedlars French in the lousye lawe brought in by the Normans, yet remayning: But the language and customs bee Englyshe and Saxonyshe’.

To all leading European Protestants Knox’s blast seemed untimely. They had looked for the accession of Queen Elizabeth in hope and deprecated anything that might anger her against them. John Calvin wrote to Sir William Cecil that ‘Two years ago [i.e. in 1557] John Knox asked of me in private conversation, what I thought about the Government of Women. I candidly replied that, as it was a deviation from the original and proper order of nature, it was to be ranked, no less than slavery, among the punishments consequent upon the fall of man; but that there were occasionally women so endowed’ that it was evident that they were ‘raised up by Divine authority’. ‘I brought forth’, he said, ‘Huldah and Deborah; and added that God did not vainly promise by the mouth of Isaiah that “Queens should be nursing mothers of the Church”; by which prerogative it is very evident that they are distinguished from females in private life’1. Such half-hearted acceptance of a woman’s rule contrasts sharply both with the warm welcome that her own subjects had given to the new queen and with the new attitude towards women’s place in society which individual scholars had recently expressed.

Fifty years before the accession of Queen Elizabeth the first modern treatise designed to prove the excellence of the female sex was foreshadowed in an oration in honour of the Princess Margaret of Austria, sister of the Emperor Charles V, by Henry Cornelius Agrippa on his appointment to the chair of Hebrew at the university of Dol. Cornelius Agrippa, a scholar, a soldier, and a magician, was a native of Cologne who taught, lectured, and practised in many cities and countries, London among them. At almost every place he became involved in quarrels and he stayed nowhere long. A quarrel prevented him from publishing his full treatise on the nobility of women until 1529. It was written in Latin, but an English translation was published in London in 1542 and again three times during the seventeenth century1. His work became a classic quoted by seventeenth-century English writers on behalf of women in the same sentence with Anna Comnena and the seventeenth-century Dutch scholar, Anna Maria à Schurman2. Agrippa’s treatise has been described as ‘a monument of varied learning’3. Already by 1547 an Italian, Lodivico Domenichi, librarian in the Medici court at Florence, had expanded Agrippa’s taut argument into a dialogue which was supposed to have taken place on successive evenings during a week of wedding festivities. Domenichi deserves mention only because an Englishman, William Bercher or Barker, who does not seem to have seen either the original or the English translation of Agrippa’s work, used his book in writing a treatise on The Nobylyttye of Wymen which he dedicated to Queen Elizabeth in 15594.

Bercher’s work was not published in his own lifetime. It remained in manuscript until 1904 when, edited by R. Warwick Bond, it was presented to the Roxburghe Club. But Bercher must have hoped to print it himself, for he set out the title, wrote a Preface and a letter of dedication to the queen, which he signed and dated. He reminded Queen Elizabeth that her mother ‘Quene of most worthy memorye earnestly myndinge the advauncement of learnenge’ had supported a number of students at Cambridge, of whom Bercher himself had been one. Some of them gave up their studies and left Cambridge ‘after that crewell deathe had beraft us her most desyred lyffe’, but Bercher stayed on for a time and then travelled abroad. Later he returned to England to enter the service of the Duke of Norfolk. His book purported to be an account of a discussion about the nobility of women held at the baths of Siena one evening for the entertainment of a countess who had gone there for her health. The particular importance of Bercher’s work lies in his own additions to the matter he derived from Domenichi, setting out the learned English ladies of the sixteenth century who could be quoted in support of women’s claims.

Bercher wrote his treatise while Edward VI was still alive, for he made an Italian gentleman, Mr. Orlando, who spoke on behalf of women, mention Mary, the king’s eldest, and Elizabeth, his youngest sister. Of Mary he said that he had heard that ‘she hath shewed marvelous examples of wisdom and constantness and by her godly and sincere life hath put to silence all her enemies and adversaries’. He described Elizabeth as ‘young of years’, but as one who had already ‘shewed such great and wonderful proof of royal heart in troubles that she of late have had as all men do honour her virtues and think she shall become a most noble princess’. Mr. Orlando said that he had heard of these two ladies when he was ambassador in Flanders, and added that one of the Englishmen present could tell the company more of them1. When towards the end of the talk an Englishman set out to tell of the learned ladies of England, he described Mary as ‘excellent and passing in all kind of learning and language as few have been the like’. He described Elizabeth as one ‘in whose tender years is seen so wonderful towardness of ancient virtue as is great comfort to all her country her learning is so notable in which she hath most delight; her other qualities be correspondent’. Another Italian gentleman in the company, Mr. Flaminio, added the three daughters of Sir Thomas More, a Knight of England, to his own list of learned ladies, for they could ‘speak well Latin, Greek, and Hebrew’.

Since Mr. Flaminio had mentioned Sir Thomas More the Englishman began his own speech by recalling that Magaret Roper had ‘proved so notable not only in learning but all other virtues that she may compare with any notable man’. After describing the merits of the two princesses the Englishman went on to speak of ‘a most noble house most unjustly afflicted, I mean the house of Howard whereof an ympe hath been so cruelly cut off and the old stock so rigourously dealt withall that it would make a stoney heart to rewe’. The ‘ympe’ or scion of the family who had been ‘cut off’ was the poet Henry, Earl of Surrey, executed by Henry VIII in 1547. The ‘old stock’ was his father, the third Duke of Norfolk, who, saved from execution by the king’s death, remained in prison throughout the reign of Edward VI. The Englishman’s excuse for mentioning this tragedy was that ‘of this family be three sisters, whereof one Lady Jane Howard, who is of such marvellous towardness in learning as few men may compare with her, both Greek and Latin is vulgar unto her; her composition in verses is so notable, that all the world doth acknowledge her a worthy daughter of a most worthy father’. The three Howard sisters, Jane, Catherine, and Margaret, were daughters of Henry, Earl of Surrey, and sisters of Bercher’s later patron and employer, the fourth Duke of Norfolk. They all made marriages suitable to their rank. The Lady Jane Howard, who married Charles Neville, Earl of Westmorland, was one of ‘the ladyes of Honour now being with the court and about London’ in the first years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign1.

The Englishman next mentioned ‘the daughters of the Duke of Somerset uncle to the king by the mother’s side and late Protector of the realm which be well trained in learning; of whom one named Jane likewise doth prosper very much both in Latin and in other languages’. It is probable that Bercher wrote his treatise before 22 January 1552, for on that day the Duke of Somerset was executed. His three daughters, Anne, Margaret, and Jane Seymour are known for the Latin poems they wrote on the death of Margaret of Valois, Queen of Navarre and grandmother of Henry IV of France. Their poems were translated into French, Greek, and Italian by French poets and scholars and published in France in 1551. The book was dedicated to another Margaret de Valois, niece of the lady in whose memory the verses were written2. An ode in honour of the three sisters was included in the book. The Lady Jane Seymour, who was specially praised by Bercher, was a maid of honour to Queen Elizabeth at the beginning of her reign ‘and in great favour with her royal mistress’. She died unmarried on 20 March 1561 and was buried in Westminster Abbey six days later3.

The next lady who earned mention in this company was the Lady Jane Grey. ‘A marquis we have also’, said the Englishman, ‘whose daughters be brought up in learning and one of them as I hear, called Jane, proveth very notable in Greek and Latin and of very good conditions as may be requisite in so worthy a person’. To a contemporary, writing under Edward VI, the Lady Jane Grey is simply one of a number of young women of high birth who were educated as scholars. Her unhappy fate has singled her out from the rest to be remembered where they are now forgotten1. From the Lady Jane Grey the Englishman passed on to speak of the two daughters of the Earl of Arundel ‘Lady Jane and Lady Mary which be brought up in knowledge and do so prosper in it as the one already hath shewn great testimony of her profit therein and the other goeth forward in the study of good letters as they both be like to match with any of the other that have purchased fame thereby and be of so good qualities besides in any manner of virtue as they augment the honour of their most honourable house’. The Lady Jane married Lord Lumley and the Lady Mary was the first wife of the Duke of Norfolk, later Bercher’s patron. The duchess died in childbirth in 1557. The learned exercises of these two young scholars have reached the British Museum through their preservation in Lord Lumley’s library. Lady Lumley was one of the ‘Ladies of Honour’ at Queen Elizabeth’s court in the early years of the reign2.

‘Divers other lords and gentlemen there be’, went on the Englishman, ‘whose daughters prove well learned, in especially the daughters of Sir Anthony Cooke a knight, which for Greek and Latin be not inferior to any that we have named’3. The learning of the daughters of Sir Anthony Cooke, of Giddy Hall in Essex, was as famous in the middle years of the century as that of Sir Thomas More’s daughters half a generation earlier. In recording the death of their father in 1576 William Camden described him as ‘a man of severe Gravity and great Learning, having been Schoolmaster to King Edward the sixth in his childhood’. He was, says Camden, ‘happy in his daughters, whom having brought up in Learning, both Greek and Latine, above their Sex, he married to men of good Account; namely to Sir William Cecyl, who was Treasurer of England, to Sir Anthony Bacon, Lord Keeper, and Sir Thomas Hobey, who died Embassadour in France, Sir Rolf Roulet, and Sir Henry Killegrew’4.

Sir Anthony’s second daughter, Anne Bacon, was the most learned of the sisters and is said to have been associated with her father in teaching the young king, Edward VI. As early as 1550, when only twenty-two, she published a translation of twenty-five sermons on predestination. Later, she translated into English Bishop Jewel’s Apology for the Church of England. Both Matthew Parker and Jewel himself read her translation before it was published, but did not alter a single word. This work was published in 1564 and reissued in 16001. A few of her letters have survived and are printed in the life of Sir Francis Bacon, by James Spedding. One long letter written to Burleigh in 1584 reveals her intervening in the quarrel between the bishops and preachers, as the Protestant Nonconformists were at that time called. She declared how she herself had profited by the public exercises of the preachers and besought Burghley to ‘choose two or three of them, which it likes best, and licence them before your own self, or other at your pleasure, to declare and prove the truth of the cause, with a quiet and attentive ear’2. Anne Bacon remained, as she had been bred, a Protestant against anything that savoured of Popery. She was deeply troubled by her son Anthony’s long residence in Roman Catholic France, and by his employment of servants suspected of Roman Catholicism. Her letters to both her sons are full of anxious affection, advice, and warning about untrustworthy servants. ‘Be not speedy of speech nor talk suddenly, but where discretion requireth, and that soberly then. For the property of our world is to sound out at first coming and after to contain. Courtesy is necessary, but too common familiarity in talking and words is very unprofitable, and not without hurt taking, ut nunc sunt tempora. Remember you have no father’, wrote Anne Bacon to her son Anthony in February 1592 when he was thirty-four3. She survived until 1610, but her mind gave way before the end.

The marriage of Mildred Cooke and Sir William Cecil lasted forty-two years and was a happy one, save for the early deaths of many of their children. When she died in 1589 her husband, then Lord Burleigh, sought consolation in writing what he called a Meditation. He gave thanks to Almighty God for His favour in permitting her to live so many years with him and he set out her merits and good deeds. Many of them he did not know until after she was dead. They were not the haphazard charities of the unthinking, but imaginatively conceived by a clever woman. Among them were books for the libraries of learned institutions, fires in the hall of St. John’s College, Cambridge, in the depth of winter, and wool and flax distributed ‘to poor women of Cheshunt parish to work into yarn and bring it to her to see their manner of working; and for the most part she gave them the stuff by way of alms. Sometyme she caused the same to be wrought into cloth and gave it to the poore, paying first for the spynning more than it was worth’1.

If Sir Anthony Cooke was ‘happy in his daughters’ they were no less happy in their father, for unlike most parents, he did not marry them off as children. Anne must have been nearly thirty when she married Sir Anthony Bacon. Mildred, the eldest sister, was close on twenty when she married Sir William Cecil in 1546. Since Katherine Cooke married Sir Henry Killigrew in 1565, she must have been at least thirty when she married. The marriage between Elizabeth and Sir Thomas Hoby was certainly arranged by Cecil, for the first hint of it in Sir Thomas Hoby’s commonplace book is a notice of a visit paid to the Hobys at Bisham by ‘Sir William Cecill, my Lady Bourne, my Lady Cecill, and her sister Elizabeth Cooke’ at Midsummer 1557. In 1558 he recorded that he went to London on 11 May and ‘retourned again the xiij, taking my way by Wimblton, where I communed with Mrs. Elizabeth Cook in the way of marriage’. Since she was twenty-eight or nine and Hoby himself twenty-eight there was no reason for delay and the bridegroom records that ‘Monday the xxvij June, the marriage was made and solemnised betweene me and Elizabeth Cooke, daughter of Sir Anthony Cooke, knight. The same day also was her sister Margaret, the Quene’s maide, maried to Sir Rauf Rowlet, knight, who shortlie after departed out of this lief ‘. Margaret died within a year of her marriage. ‘The rest of the sommer’, added Sir Thomas, ‘my wief and I passed at Burleighe, in Northamptonshire’2.

Sir Thomas and his wife had similar tastes, for he had already published a translation of Martin Bucer’s Gratulation … unto the churche of Englande for the restitution of Christes religion. In 1561 he published an even more popular translation, The Courtyer, by Count Baldesar Castiglione, which passed through several editions. It first appeared in 1528 and is one of the first of the many books of the sixteenth century which deal with the relations between men and women3. Sir Thomas died in Paris where he was ambassador to France in 1566. Elizabeth Hoby brought his body home to Bisham, where she erected a splendid monument to his memory and that of his elder brother, Sir Philip Hoby, with epitaphs in Latin and Greek verse written by herself. She had given birth to a son and two daughters before her husband’s death. Thomas Posthumus Hoby, unborn when his father died, may perhaps have found his mother’s upbringing somewhat harsh. She wrote to Burleigh that she had wanted to put him ‘in the Innes of Court for his better instruction’, but ‘the boy sayth that by no meanes he can frame himself to lyke or to take that course to his own good and my comfort’. He wanted to travel, but she would not let him: ‘The danger most great, I have but two sons. The profit uncertain, frivolous; the language to be learned with the sight of countries, [can be acquired] here at home by books with less danger than in these dayes by journey. The certain fruits daily found of young mens travel nowadays nothing but pride, charge, and vanity’1. Lady Hoby had married again in 1574 and in this letter to Burleigh she prided herself on not allowing her second husband to have the wardship of her sons. He was Lord John Russell, heir to the earldom of Bedford, who died in 1584 before his father. Lady Russell herself wrote the inscriptions in Greek, Latin, and English on her second husband’s tomb in Westminster Abbey. She died in 1609.

The daughters of Sir Anthony Cooke were perhaps more austerely learned than most of their contemporaries, but during the reign of such a queen as Elizabeth no man of position whose daughters might go to court could fail to pay some attention to their early education. An uneducated girl would have cut a poor figure at the court of a queen whose teacher, writing between 1563 and 1568, could say that ‘she readeth here now at Windsor more Greek every day than some Prebendary of this Church doth read Latin in a whole Week. And that which is most praiseworthy of all, within the Walls of her privy Chamber, she hath obtained that Excellency of Learning to understand, speak and write both wittily with Head, and fair with Hand as scarce one or two rare Wits in both the Universities have in many years reached unto’2. It was customary for girls of good birth to enter the queen’s service so young that their education was completed under the eyes of their mistress and the mistress of the queen’s maids. If they did not marry they stayed in her service until death.

The inscription on the monument of Blanche Parry in Bacton Church in her native county of Hereford reveals something about the outlook of one of the queen’s women who passed her whole life at court. Blanche Parry’s name appears regularly from the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign among those who gave the queen new year’s presents and received presents from her1.

‘I lived always as handmaide to a Queen,

In chamber chiefe my tyme did overpasse,

Uncarefull of my welthe there was I sene,

Whylst I abode the rynnynge of my glasse,

Not doubtyng wante whylst that my mystresse lyvde,

In woman’s state whose cradell saw I rockte,

Her servant then, as when she her crown atcheeved,

And so remayned till death he my doore had knockte:

Preferrynge still the causes of each wyghte,

As far as I doorste move her grace’s eare

For to reward decerts by course of ryghte

As needs resyte of sarvys done eache wheare.

So that my tyme I thus did passe awaye

A maed in court, and never no man’s wyfe,

Sworne of Queene Ellsbeths hedd chamber allways,

With Maeden Queene a mayde did end my lyfe’2.

Blanche Parry died on 12 February 1589, in her eighty-second year. Her monument at Bacton shows her kneeling before Elizabeth, who is sitting in majesty. Blanche Parry is dressed in a full gown with tight-fitting bodice and sleeves. She has ruffs round her wrists and her dress has a high collar with a small ruff. On her head she is wearing a flat cap with a veil flowing down her back3.

The queen was fortunate that at least one of the ladies who had been with her almost from the beginning of her reign was with her to its end. Anne, Countess of Warwick, the eldest daughter of the Earl of Bedford, was with the queen as maid, wife and widow and was ‘more beloved and in greater favour with the queen than any other woman in the kingdom’. Both Lady Warwick and her sister, Margaret, Countess of Cumberland, were praised by Henry Constable, a contemporary poet, for their learning and virtue. The Lady Anne Clifford was named after her aunt, Lady Warwick, and always wrote of her with the warmest affection, describing her as ‘a great friend to virtue and a helper to many petitioners and others in distress’1. The present writer possesses a little vellum-covered book, printed in 1609, which is dedicated to Anne, Countess of Warwick. It contains a translation of The markes of the Children of God, and of their comforts in Afflictions, which was written in French by John Taffin and addressed by him to ‘the faithfull of the Low Countrie’. The translator was named Anne Prowse, of whom nothing seems to be known. Her work was done between 1588 and 1603, for in her dedicatory letter the writer speaks of the ‘Halcion daies’ which were then in England and of Queen Elizabeth as alive2. Lady Warwick herself died in 1604. ‘And because your honour hath bin of long time, not onely a professour, but also a louer of the truth, whom the Lord (exalting to an higher place of dignitie than many other) hath set up, as it were a light upon an high candlesticke to give light unto many, I have especially dedicated unto your Honour This my poore travaile’, wrote Anne Prowse. She explained that she had undertaken the work because ‘everyone in his calling is bound to doe somewhat to the furtherance of the holy building; but because great things by reason of my sexe I may not doe, and that which I may, I ought to doe, I have according to my duetie brought my poor basket of stones to the strengthening of the wals of that Jerusalem, whereof (by Grace) we are all both Citizens and members’. Anne Prowse was in more than her Christian name at one with Anne Bacon.

The work of Anne Prowse is but one illustration of the fact that the daughters of noble families were not the only women who could acquire a good education in the sixteenth century. The desire to read the words of Christ in the language in which the words were spoken was a powerful motive driving the women of Puritan stock to take every opportunity of learning which their circumstances offered. The mother of Edward Rainbowe, who was born in 1608 and died as Bishop of Carlisle in 1684, was Rachel, daughter of David Allen, Rector of Ludborough, Lincolnshire. She was learned in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and doubtless acquired her knowledge from her father. His name appears in the records at Lincoln early in James I’s reign as one of the nonconforming ministers of religion in the diocese1. He was still the incumbent of Ludborough in 16142. Sir Simonds d’Ewes, himself a man of strong Puritan tendencies, describes how early in 1615 he went to school in St. Mary Axe at the house of Mr. Reynolds, who ‘had a daughter named Bathshua, being his eldest, that had an exact knowledge in the Greek, Latin, and French tongues, with some insight also into the Hebrew and Syriac; much more learning she had doubtless than her father, who was a mere pretender to it; and by the fame of her abilities which she had acquired from others, he got many scholars which else would never have repaired to him’3.

Learning in women was not confined to those of Puritan stock. It even led a daughter of the Church of England back to the Roman Catholic Church. Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of Lawrence Tanfield, Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer, was born in 1585 and early applied herself to learning both ancient and modern languages. She mastered the French, Spanish, Italian, Latin, Hebrew, and Transylvanian tongues and applied herself to a study of the fathers of the Church. When she was sixteen she married the first Viscount Falkland and three years later was received into the Roman Catholic Church. She concealed this change of religion from her husband for twenty years, but in 1625 it became known and he would no longer live with her. She died in 1639. Lord Clarendon, looking back over the history of the Great Rebellion, remembered Lady Falkland as ‘a woman of a most masculine understanding, allayed with the passions and infirmities of her sex’4. All her four daughters eventually became nuns in the convent of Cambrai. The life of Lady Falkland may well have seemed to many a sound argument against encouraging women to be learned.

It was perhaps natural that the classical learning of the Elizabethan Age should fall out of fashion in the next generations, but women were moved by the outbreak of romantic poetry which marked the age. Lady Carey, a kinswoman of Spenser, is one of the patrons he commemorates in an introductory sonnet to the Faery Queene. Her daughter, another Elizabeth Carey, was a patron of Nash and herself the author of The Tragedie of Marian the faire Queene of Iewry, published in 1613, a work which is deservedly forgotten. Here and there women were appearing who could think and write about those matters which all regarded as their particular concern. The first of a vast library of books written, and still being written, by women on the upbringing of children appeared early in the seventeenth century. Mistress Dorothy Leigh, whose name does not figure in the Dictionary of National Biography, wrote The Mother’s Blessing, which had reached its seventh edition by 1621. She addressed her work to her ‘beloved sonnes, George, John, and William Leigh, saying that she was moved to write it because God had ‘taken their father out of this vale of teares’. The book contains much wisdom. The author dedicated it to the Princess Elizabeth, daughter of James I and wife of the Elector Palatine. Her work is worth remembering because, despite the harsh treatment children often received in her day, she pointed out that ‘What disposition so ever they bee of, gentlenesse will soonest bring them to virtue’1.

It is not easy to judge how much influence such a writer had in her own day, but in 1651 a certain Charles Gerbier wrote a little book in praise of women and, in his chapter on ‘Pious and religious Women’, named Dorothy Leigh, whom he described, perhaps taking his description from her own title-page, as ‘not long deceased’ and ‘a pious and religious gentlewoman’. Her book was, he said, ‘godly counsel, containing many good exhortations and admonitions’2. When George Ballard, in the early eighteenth century, wrote his book about learned British ladies he could find out very little about her3. Another lady of this period whose affection for her children prompted her to write was Elizabeth, Countess of Lincoln, one of the daughters and coheiresses of Sir Henry Knevet, of Charlton, Wiltshire. In 1628 she published what Ballard describes as ‘a small, but valuable treatise’, which was already ‘very scarce’. It consisted of twenty-one pages ‘full of fine arguments’ and was addressed to her daughter-in-law, Bridget, Countess of Lincoln, setting out the ‘necessity and advantages of mothers nursing their own children’1.

The attitude of an uncompromising idealist of this period towards the education of women is brought out in the life of James Harrington, published by John Toland in 1700. Toland was helped in the preparation of this life by the survivor of Harrington’s two sisters, Dorothy, widow of Alan Bellingham, of Levens, Westmorland. Toland obtained from her the ‘collections and observations’ about Harrington which had been recorded by the other sister, Elizabeth, wife of Sir Ralf Ashton. According to these reminiscences, Harrington took ‘all the care of a parent in the education of his sisters, and would himself make large discourses to ’em concerning the reverence that was due to Almighty God; the benevolence they were obliged to shew to all mankind; how they ought to furnish their minds with knowledge by reading of useful books, and to shew the goodness of their disposition by a constant practice of virtue: in a word he taught ’em the true rules of humanity and decency, always inculcating to ’em that good manners did not so much consist in a fashionable carriage (which ought not to be neglected) as in becoming words and actions, an obliging address and a modest behaviour’2. It sounds a formidable programme, but it seems to have been successful. Toland describes Lady Ashton as ‘a woman of extraordinary parts and accomplishments’3.

Two more famous women, associated in tragedy, owed much of their distinction to their upbringing. Each of them had fond and careful parents and each of them married happily. Their husbands were close friends who fell together at the first battle of Newbury in 1643. Dorothy Sidney, daughter of the Earl of Leicester, was immortalized by Edmund Waller under the name Sacharissa. In 1639 she married Henry, Lord Spenser, who was created Earl of Sunderland in 1643. After his death Lady Sunderland and her children lived with her parents for a time at Penshurst, but moved to her husband’s house at Althorpe in 1650. To many of those who suffered for their loyalty to the king ‘her house was a sanctuary, her interests a protection, her estate a maintenance, and the livings in her gift a preferment’4. She married again in 1652, but as she married a man of lower rank than her own she continued to be referred to as ‘the Lady Sunderland’. Her husband, Robert Smith or Smythe, was an old admirer and, according to Dorothy Osborne, ‘a very fine gentleman’1. Lady Sunderland outlived her second husband and died in 1684.

Lettice Cary, Lady Falkland, survived her husband by only four years, but she had been his wife since 1630 or 1631. She was thirty-five when she died in 1647. Her father was Sir Richard Morrison of Tooley Park, Leicestershire, and her marriage was a love-match, opposed by Lucius Cary’s father, Lord Falkland, because she had no portion. According to her biographer she ‘set out early in the ways of God in the dawn or morning of her age’ and ‘these riches, of her piety, wisdom, quickness of wit, discretion, judgment, sobriety, and gravity of behaviour being perceived by Sir Lucius Cary seemed portion enough to him’2. Lucius Cary was independent of his father, for his grandfather, Sir Lawrence Tanfield, had made him his heir, passing over his daughter and her husband, perhaps because he knew of her tendency to Roman Catholicism. At Great Tew, which was part of this inheritance, Falkland passed the years before the war, making his home a centre of hospitality for learned men from Oxford and poets and wits from London. After his death in battle his widow lived on at Great Tew giving herself to works of piety and charity. An account of her many good deeds was written by her chaplain, John Duncon, who described himself as ‘parson (sequestered)’3, in the form of a letter addressed to her mother, Lady Morrison, at Great Tew. ‘Neither’, he wrote, ‘was her care of improving others confined to the present age; designs and projects she had also for posterity; of setting up schools, and manufacture trades in the Parish; to shut out (by those engines) for ever, ignorance, idleness, and want. But that magnificent, and most religious contrivement, that there might be places of education for Gentlewomen, and for the retirement of widows, (as Colleges and the Inns of Court and Chancery are for men) in several parts of the Kingdom, this was much in her thoughts, hoping thereby that learning and religion might flourish more in her own sex, than heretofor having such opportunities to serve the Lord without distraction; A project this, adequate to the wisdom and piety, of this Mother in Israel; and not beyond the power and interest she had with great ones, to have effected it’1. The writer dated this letter 15 April 1647.

The mere existence of the highly educated ladies of the Elizabethan age and their highly intelligent successors of the early seventeenth century forced men to reflect on the social and legal position of all women. Such a woman as Mary, Countess of Pembroke—Sidney’s sister, Pembroke’s mother—could no more be ignored than Queen Elizabeth herself. Even John Aubrey, writing his brief lives of seventeenth-century characters between the years 1669 and 1696, was constrained to record what gossip he could collect about her2. It was natural that in a note-book of the sort he was compiling he should include something about the famous harlots and beauties of the age. That he thought it worth while to include such women of distinction as the Countess of Pembroke, Elizabeth Danvers3 and Katherine Philips4—‘the matchless Orinda’—shows that even a gossip writer was conscious of a new quality in women. Women were as yet making no open challenge to male authority, but an unconscious reaction by men can be discerned to the intelligence which the Renaissance and the Reformation had called out in women.

It was not long before this male reaction was expressed brutally in print. In 1615 a writer under the unlikely name of Joseph Swetnam put out a pamphlet which was a general attack on women. The title was The arraignment of Lewde, idle, froward, and unconstant women: or the vanitie of them, choose you whether, with a Commendation of wise, vertuous and honest women. Pleasant for married men, profitable for young men, and hurtfull to none5. ‘There is’, he said, ‘no woman so good but hath one idle part or other in her which may be amended’. He could find little to say in favour of any woman. Widows he regarded with especial dislike: ‘Woe be unto that unfortunate man that matcheth himself unto a widowe, for a widowe will be the cause of a thousand woes’6. Two years later a reply to this tract was issued by someone who hid behind the pseudonym of Ester Sowernam, ‘neither maide, wife nor widdowe, yet really all, and therefore experienced to defend all’1. She, or perhaps he, called the reply Ester hath hanged Haman: or an answer to a lewd Pamphlet, entitled, The Arraignment of Women. With the arraignment of lewd, idle, froward and unconstant men, and Husbands. From this time at latest it is clear that the position of women, the education of daughters, the relations between husband and wife were not only in the forefront of men’s thoughts, but had become a theme for journalistic by-play.

In 1599, while he was still King of Scotland only, King James I had written a book, full of wisdom, for the training of his eldest son, Prince Henry. It was published in England in his collected works in 16162. He reminded his son that ‘marriage is one of the greatest actions that a man doeth in all his time, especially in the taking of his first wife’. She should belong to the same Church as her husband. She should not be ‘beneath his rank’. She should come ‘of a whole and cleane race, not subject to the hereditary sicknesses either of the soule or the body’. The Scripture, says the king, ‘can give best counsell’ on how to treat a wife. ‘Treat her as your owne flesh, command her as her Lord, cherish her as your helper, rule her as your pupill, and please her in all things reasonable; but teach her not to be curious in things that belong her not: Ye are the head, shee is your body: It is your office to command, and hers to obey; but yet with such a sweet harmonye, as she should be as ready to obey, as ye to command; as willing to follow, as ye to go before’. Three rules in regard to a wife the king lays down: She must never be allowed to meddle in the government, but kept to ‘the oeconomicke rule of the house; and yet all to be under your direction’. Secondly, ‘good and chaste company’ must be kept about her, ‘for women are the frailest sex’. Thirdly, a husband should never allow himself and his wife to be angry at the same time; ‘when ye see her in a passion, ye should with reason danton yours: for both when yee are settled, ye are meetest to judge her errours; and when she is come to herselfe, she may be best made to apprehend her offence, and reverence your rebuke’3.

Here in the calm prose of royal, and indeed, Divine authority the king sets out the attitude of a reasonable man towards his wife. Already before the publication of the complete edition of King James’s works this advice had attracted attention. A Discourse on Marriage and Wiving and of the Mystery contained therein1, published as a tract in 1615, quotes with approbation the king’s words on choosing a healthy wife. The author condemns early marriage, saying that ‘forward Virgins of our Age’, asked what is the best age to marry, will say that ‘fourteen is the best time of their Age, if Thirteen be not better, and they for the most Part have the Example of their Mothers before them’. But, he points out, the results of so early marriage are ‘dangerous Births, Diminution of Stature, Brevity of Life and such like’2. The author of this tract describes himself as ‘Alex Niccholes, Batchelor of the Art he never yet put in practice’. He advises the prospective husband to make sure of a competency and ‘prevent Indigence and Want, two Great Allayers of Affection’; to plant religion in his wife, ‘for so she cannot love God, but, withal, she must honour thee’; and to give her ‘Assurance and Testimony of thy love’. These things ‘discretely put in practice’ will, he assures his reader, preserve a wife’s loyalty far better than spying upon her, showing jealousy, or putting her under restraint3. There is much sense in this tract, for the author has realized that no husband will get much profit by insisting on his authority, a lesson which the Church was slow to learn.

Women in town and country alike heard the authority of the male sex preached from the pulpit on texts drawn from St. Paul. The Homilies had long been driving home the same lesson in those parishes where incumbents were not presumptuous enough to make up their own sermons4. The reading public was offered treatises on the relations between men and women which were often expanded versions of the author’s sermons. What William Whately’s country parishioners heard at Banbury was offered in print to a larger public and found eager buyers5. The congregation at the church of St. Anne, Blackfriars, were the first to hear the sermons which Dr. William Gouge afterwards published in a volume of over seven hundred pages under the title Of Domesticall Duties, Eight Treatises.6 He prefaced his book with a dedicatory letter to ‘the Right Honourable, Right Worshipfull, and other of my beloved parishioners’ and in it dealt with criticisms which had been made of his general statements. He had been censured by some of his congregation when he first preached on the subject of his book because he set out very clearly the duties of the wife and her subjection to her husband. He had said from the pulpit that a wife could not dispose of the common goods of the family without or against her husband’s consent1. In saying this he was stating the law of the land. It is revealing to find that the womenfolk of Blackfriars were clearly independent enough to think and act for themselves.

Gouge goes on to say that ‘other exceptions were made against some other particular duties of wives. For many that can patiently enough heare their duties declared in generall tearmes cannot endure to heare those generals exemplified in their particular branches’. All that Gouge could say in justification was that he had set out first the wives’ duties ‘according to the Apostles method’ and ‘taught (as must have been taught, except the truth should have been betrayed) what a wife, in the uttermost extent of that subjection under which God hath put her, is bound unto, in case her husband will stand upon the uttermost of his authority; which was so taken, as if I had taught that an husband might and ought to exact the uttermost, and that a wife was bound in that uttermost extent to doe all that was delivered as dutie, whether her husband exact it or no. But when I came to the Husbands duties, I shewed that he ought not to exact whatsoever his wife was bound unto (in case it were exacted by him) but that he ought to make her a joynt Governour of the family with himself, and deferre the ordering of many things to her discretion, and with all honourable and kinde respect to carrie himself towards her’2. Gouge himself was a gentle, kindly scholar, happily married, and the father of seven sons and six daughters3. ‘This just apologie’ which he ‘had been forced to make that I might not ever be judged (as some have censured me) an hater of women4’ perhaps expresses his true nature and that of the best of his contemporaries, but no woman can have listened to him with much enjoyment.

One London lady of the generation which was affronted by Gouge’s preaching caused a young curate to write a book of devotions especially for women. ‘Mistress Elizabeth Keate, wife of Mr. Gilbert Keate, a grave and eminent citizen of London much complained’ to John Featley, then his uncle’s curate at Lambeth, ‘that her sex was so much neglected by Divines that they had not penned Devotions, for all their several sufferances that are common to many: only here and there she found a few small gleanings proper for some occasions of grief’. Featley set about repairing this deficiency and after about five years completed his book, but Mrs. Keate’s ‘house was visited by the pestilence, and shut up by her own appointment: one of her sweet and tender children and a gracious Matron cosin unto her, died of that uncomfortable disease: And her weak self was moulting and crumbling away in a Consumption’. This book was published some years afterwards as A Fountain of Tears emptying itself into three rivolets, viz. of 1. Compunction. 2. Compassion. 3. Devotion, or Sobs of Nature sanctified by Grace1. It aimed at providing tears for twenty-seven different occasions of life ending with tears in the distressed time of civil wars, which ‘could not chuse but put her in mind of the Almighty, who in Psal. 89, 10. is said to have scattered his enemies with his strong arm.… For her dear sake, these Soliloquies and Prayers were fitted for Females, and taught to speak in the persons of the weaker Vessels: 1. Peter 3, 7. I hope no Man will blame me for it’.

Women unlikely to be moved by the argument of William Gouge or the lacrimosity of John Featley were approached for their improvement with compliment by the learned north-country layman, Richard Brathwaite. In 1631 he published The English Gentlewoman2, a companion piece to his book The English Gentleman of 16303. Nothing could be more virtuous, restrained, or, indeed, dull than the English lady described by Richard Brathwaite. The title-page has a full-length picture of the perfect English lady surrounded by eight little pictures portraying her qualities discussed in the book4. It is not for her to be a scholar. No ‘tutoresses’ are more suitable to educate a young lady than her mother and the young lady herself must in her turn grow up and educate her own children5. The possibility that she might be instructed by a man is not considered. ‘She desires not to have the esteeme of any She-clarke; shee had rather be approved by her living than learning.… Some bookes she reads, and those powerfull to stirre up devotion and fervour to prayer; others she reads, and those usefull for the direction of her household affaires. Herbals she peruseth, which she seconds with conference’6. A gentlewoman must beware of the company she keeps. She can hardly go into company without ‘a maiden blush, a modest tincture’1. She should not ‘enter into much discourse or familiarity with strangers’, for it argues ‘lightness or indiscretion: what is spoken of Maids, may be properly applied by an usefull consequence to all women: They should be seen and not heard: A Traveller sets himself out best by his discourse, whereas their best setting is silence’2. Her ‘carriage should be neither too precise, nor too loose.… Modesty and mildnesse hold sweetest correspondence’3.

Modesty, piety, and skill to keep her husband’s love and to care for her family in health and sickness were the chief characteristics of the perfect English gentlewoman conceived in the mind of Richard Brathwaite. This is, indeed, the reactionary’s ideal woman of whom her friends could say with Charles Kingsley ‘Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever’. It is a little surprising to meet this Victorian conception of womanhood so clearly portrayed in the first half of the seventeenth century. In view of other writings by the same author his English gentlewoman becomes even more unreal. Richard Brathwaite is best known today as the author of Drunken Barnaby’s Four Journeys to the North of England, lighthearted verses, in Latin on the left-hand and in English on the right-hand page, setting out the adventures of the author on the roads and in the inns of contemporary England. The writer was skilled in the technique of writing Latin verse and had few inhibitions in describing the drunken and amorous progresses of his Barnaby. The verses were very popular in the eighteenth century and can be read with entertainment today4. Perhaps it was natural that one who could describe with such relish the unseemly pleasures of the road should glorify the modest flower of English womanhood.

He expressed an ideal which long retained its power and was accepted by many women without question. But among Drunken Barnaby’s contemporaries were men who delighted in seeing women develop their full capacity. Thomas Heywood was one of the most laborious writers of his day. He was an actor and playwright, a translator and writer of epitaphs. Many of his plays have been lost, for they were written on odd scraps of paper in eating houses, but he published two considerable books in praise of women, ‘intimating’, he says, ‘to myself that it is a kind of duty in all that have had mothers, as far as they can to dignifie the sex’. The first was published in 1624, Nine Books of Various history concerninge Women1. It was reissued after his death in 1657 as The General History of Women. The work was thought of, begun and printed in seventeen weeks, as he records in a concluding sentence2. Heywood dedicated it to the Earl of Worcester, saying ‘To whom more pertinently may I recommend the patronage of good women, than to your Honor, who hath been the Happy Husband and fortunate father of such’3.

To Heywood, a true Elizabethan, although he lived until about the middle of the seventeenth century, all sorts of women were worthy of description. ‘Here thou mayest reade of all degrees, from the Scepter in the Court to the Sheepehooke in the Cottage: of all Times from the first Rainbow to the last blazing Starre’4. Each of the nine books was given the name of one of the Muses, and history and legend were searched for stories which might entertain his readers. His fifth book deals with ‘Amazons, and other women famous for valour or beauty’. His three English ‘viragos’ are Æthelflæd, King Alfred’s daughter, the Empress Maud, daughter of Henry I, and King Stephen’s wife. He gives an English rendering of the Latin verses which Henry of Huntingdon had devoted to Æthelflæd in the twelfth century. It begins:

‘Oh Elphlede, mighty both in strength and mind,

The dread of men and victresse of thy kind’

and ends:

‘Great Cæsar’s acts thy noble deeds excell,

So sleepe in peace, Virago maide farewell’5.

Heywood’s second book appeared in 1640 under the title The Exemplary Lives and memorable acts of nine of the most famous women of the world. They are prefaced by dedications which show him the friend and admirer of contemporary women of distinction and charm. The first dedication is a poem to ‘the Lady Theophilia, the learned consort of the Right Worshipfull Sir Robert Cooke, knight’. She excelled in the ‘Greek, Roman, French, Castillian, and Teutonic’ tongues, and her ‘learning morall and Divine’ could lift her ‘to a tenth muse among the nine’. The second dedication is a letter addressing ‘Mistress Elizabeth the vertuous consort of Clovill Tanfield of Copt-Fold Hall in Essex (Esquire)’, as ‘Excellent Creature’. Beauty and charm seem to be her attributes rather than learning. Neither of these ladies has earned a place in the Dictionary of National Biography, nor are they mentioned by George Ballard among his famous women. But the learning of Lady Cooke deserves notice for she was carrying the Elizabethan tradition into a later age1.

Heywood’s books in praise of women had several imitators in the generations immediately following him. Charles Gerbier’s Elogium Heroinum, or The Praise of Worthy Women, was largely derived from it. Gerbier introduced his little book with three separate dedications. The first commended it to ‘the most excellent, most illustrious, and highborn Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia’, whom he described as ‘a Minerva in the Temple of Virtue’. Her ‘marvellous wisdom and profound knowledge in the Arts, Sciences, and Languages, is’, he said, ‘admired by all men’. The second dedication was to ‘the most honourable the Countess Dowager of Claire, The Patroness of all Vertue and Learning’. To her ‘knowing judgement’, he said, ‘all learned men have recourse’. She was the wife of the first Earl of Clare and died on 26 November 16512. The third dedication was to ‘the vertuous accomplish’t lady, Anne Hudson’, whose modesty, the mildness of her discourse and her ‘gracious humility’ he described as ‘precious jewels which do atchieve your renown’3.

Heywood wrote to entertain his contemporaries, but the anonymous author of The Lawes Resolutions of Womens Rights had a more serious purpose. His book has been discussed in a previous chapter, but deserves mention here because it marks an important stage in the development of a new attitude towards women. Both the I. J. who wrote the book and the T. E. who ‘in the compasse of a Lent Vacation’ revised it and added further ‘reasons, opinions, cases and resolutions of cases to the Author’s store’ were men with an extensive knowledge of the common law. They were conscious that the law dealt hardly with women and took care to point out for their benefit the pitfalls which they must avoid. It is remarkable to find a writer of this date suggesting, about one particular instance of legal inequality between husband and wife, that women should ‘have patience’ and ‘move for redress by Parliament’1. This book was published in 1632, the year following the appearance of Richard Brathwaite’s English Gentlewoman.

The Lawes Resolutions of Womens Rights makes grim reading, for over and over again the point is driven home that against her husband a wife is almost rightless. But the fact that even lawyers could be concerned at the legal inequality between the sexes is at any rate a sign of changing times. It would seem that two schools of thought were taking shape. One, to which Richard Brathwaite belonged, would keep women where feudal law had placed them and would have them simply submissive, devout, unselfish, obedient wives and good housekeepers. The other point of view is expressed in no uncertain terms by William Austin in his little tract Haec Homo wherein the Excellency of the Creation of Women is described by way of an Essaie2. Austin was born in 1587. His reputation was high for his name was on the list of members proposed for the abortive Royal Academy of Letters. None of his writings was published in his lifetime, but they circulated among his friends in manuscript. He died in 1634 and in the next year a volume of his meditations was published with a portrait of the author on the title-page. The work was ‘set forth after his decease by his deare wife and executrix, Mrs. Anne Austin’. A second edition was issued in 1637 and Haec Homo in 1638. Haec Homo has been described as ‘a dreary scholastic disquisition’ and today it seems almost unreadable. But its argument, that homo stands equally for man and woman, and that each have souls, which are equal before God, is incontrovertible. ‘What’, says Austin, ‘should make man so proud, as to Despise, and, with so many sought for words to contemn woman (his other self)? Doubtles, it proceeds from his ignorance or forgetfulnesse: in That he knowes not, or will not remember his lowe beginnings, (even out of Dust)’. The first edition of this book was quickly exhausted and another was published in the next year3.

The Puritan view of the right relations of husband and wife is set out again at considerable length in a book published at the end of the period covered by this chapter. The author of Matrimonial Honour1 was Daniel Rogers, a Puritan minister of Wethersfield, Essex, who was born in 1573 and died in 1652 at the age of eighty. He came of a family strongly Puritan in traditions. His father, who was also ‘preacher’ at Wethersfield, had been suspended for not conforming with the Elizabethan settlement2. No Puritan minister could ignore the Scriptural texts which stress the wife’s subordination to her husband. The three special duties of the wife to the husband are, he considered, subjection, ‘which is the first and maine comprehending all the rest’; the second is helpfulness and the third gracefulness3. But Rogers had grown away from the violent rhetoric of William Whately4 and the uneasy firmness of William Gouge. He was a scholar, who could hold his own in a debate with Archbishop Laud. He was clearly far from happy about the absolute subjection of the wife to her husband which the Scriptures might seem to demand. To women who said that ‘ordinary husbands’ do not deserve the subjection of their wives, he replied that God ‘puts this burden of subjection on no woman, who takes not the yoke of marriage upon herselfe; which the Lord doth force upon none, but allowes each woman to be her own Refuser’. Moreover, Rogers could conceive of circumstances which might be exceptions and modifications to the wife’s subjection. If a husband orders his wife to do unlawful things she must rather obey God than him. Also every woman is allowed ‘such a libertie in Gods matters with her husband, as to prompt and occasion him unto Christian speech, good counsell, with modestie and in season: for the subjection we treat of is not slavish, but equall and royall in a sort’. Nor should a woman be forced to obey her husband if he wishes to enter upon a course of action which might imperil her and her home, such as ‘removall from present dwelling, upon great charge and losse, or, to places of ill health, ill neighbours, with losse of Gospell, long voyages by sea to remote Plantations, or in the sudden change of Trades, or venturing a stock in some new project, lending out or borrowing of great sums’5.

A woman, said Rogers, must be subject to her husband ‘in matters of God’s worship’. He recalled the words of the Apostle: ‘I suffer not the woman to teach, or usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence’1. ‘I would not’, he wrote, ‘be taken to patronage the pride and licentious impudency of women, who having shaken off the bridle of all subjection to their husbands, take upon them to expound the Scriptures, in private assemblyes, and to be the mouth of God to both Sexes. Not blushing one whit to undertake by the 4. or 5. houres together, yea whole dayes (if their vainglorious humor masked under the colours of humility be suffred) to interpret the word: applying it according to their way by Reproofe, Comfort, Admonition and the like, as if Shee-preachers were come abroad into the world’. But before giving vent to this denunciation, this seventeenth-century minister had felt bound to set out the occasions when a woman ‘may undertake the service of God in her family’. She can pray with and teach her maids and her family in the absence of her husband. Her servants are her inferiors and she ‘has the duty of a Governor to them’. Rogers also concludes that, under certain conditions, she may even conduct the service of God in her household when her husband is present. ‘First, she may attempt it, in case of utter insufficiency of parts in her husband, I meane knowledge and understanding. 2. In case of invincible defects of expression and utterance in the husband. 3. And much more when there is an utter looseness and carelessness in him to look after it, much more a vicious contempt, so that (so far as lieth in him) the worke were like to be quite cashierd out of the family. 4. If her husband do allow her with all cheerfulnesse, or request her to undertake it…. 5. If she (beside, her ablenesse to performe it) bee also, qualified with singular modesty and humility, awe and reverence’2. Rogers was even prepared to admit that ‘the Lord hath gifted and graced many women above some men, especially with holy affections’. The sureness of touch with which William Whately and the writers of the homilies had put women in their place has gone. They are still in subjection, both in law and theory, but in fact they are confounding those who would keep them there.

1 The Book of Margery Kempe, ed. S. Brown Meech with Prefatory note by Hope Emily Allen, E.E.T.S., London, 1940.

2 Ibid., p. 24 and n.

3 Ibid., p. 35.

1 The Book of Margery Kempe, p. 43.

2 Ibid., p. III.

3 Ibid., pp. 910.

1 The Funeral Sermon of Margaret countess of Richmond and Derby, reprint in black-letter facsimile. London, 1708; the text of the sermon was Dixit Martha ad Jhesum.

2 Ibid., pp. 13 and 22.

3 Foster Watson, Vives: on Education, Cambridge, 1913, p. lxxiv.

4 Ibid., p. lxxxviii. Vives’ś books were written in Latin. This work was translated by Richard Hyrde, London, 1557, under the title A very fruitful and pleasant book called the Instruction of a Christian Woman.

1 The Schoolmaster by Roger Ascham, ed. James Upton, London, 1711, pp. 345.

2 W. J. Hardy, The Handwriting of the Kings and Queens of England, 1893, opposite p. 62.

1 The reference to Dame Cunning has been taken to imply a Dame’s School for the children of London citizens, but the writer was certainly using Dame in an allegorical sense. He speaks also of ‘Dame Fame’ and ‘Dame Prudence’.

2 The Survey of London, written in the yeare 1598, by John Stow, Citizen of London. Since then continued, corrected, and much enlarged. London, 1618, pp. 415–16. Quoted by George Ballard, Memoirs of several Ladies of Great Britain who have been celebrated for their writings, or skill in the learned languages or arts and sciences, Oxford, 1752, pp. 367, from the 1633 ed. of Stow. Ballard assigned the monument to the wrong church.

1 J. D. Mackie, The Earlier Tudors, Oxford, 1952, pp. 520, 524, and 553.

2 William Wotton, Reflections upon Ancient and Modern Learning, 2nd ed., London, 1697, p. 412.

1 The English Scholar’s Library of Old and Modern Works, Old Series, Limited Library Edition, No. 2. John Knox, The First Blast of the Trumpet, etc., 1558 (1880), p. 10.

2 Ibid., pp. 52 and 45.

3 This book is unpaged. I have consulted the copy in the British Museum.

1 John Knox, The First Blast, quoted in Introduction from David Laing’s Preface, pp. xvi-xvii.

1 William Bercher’s Nobility of Women, ed. by R. Warwick Bond for the Roxburghe Club, 1904, pp. 51 and 81.

2 E.g. Hannah Woolley, The Gentlewoman’s Companion; or a Guide to the Female Sex, London, 1675, p. 29.

3 Nobility of Women, p. 47.

4 Domenichi had also plagiarized another work in praise of women published by Galazzo Flavio Capella in 1525 which Warwick Bond, who owned a copy of the book, was convinced Bercher did not use. I am indebted for my knowledge of all these works to R. Warwick Bond’s learned introduction to Bercher’s tract.

1 Nobility of Women, pp. 1001.

1 J. Nichols, The Progresses and Public Processions of Queen Elizabeth, London, 1823, vol. i, p. 37; hereafter cited as Progresses.

2 Le Tombeau de Marguerite de Valois Royne de Navarre, Paris, 1551.

3 Progresses, vol. 1, p. 88.

1 The Englishman made no reference to Lady Jane’s two sisters, Catherine and Mary, who survived to become maids of honour to Queen Elizabeth: Catherine was well educated; Mary was almost a dwarf. They both suffered for their connection with the royal line, see D.N.B, Seymour, Lady Catherine, Countess of Hertford, and Keys, Lady Mary.

2 Progresses, vol. i, p. 37.

3 Nobility of Women, pp. 1535, contain the whole section on English women.

4 William Camden, The History of the most Renowned and Victorious Princess Elizabeth, late Queen of England, 3rd. ed., London, 1675, p. 218.

1 G. Ballard, Memoirs of British Ladies …, pp. 18893.

2 Spedding, The Letters and The Life of Francis Bacon, London, 1861, vol. i, p. 41.

3 Ibid., pp. 11213.

1 Ballard, pp. 1847.

2 The Camden Miscellany, vol. x, Camden Soc., 3rd series, vol. iv (1902), where ‘A Booke of Travaile and the Life of one Thomas Hoby’ is printed in full, pp. 1130. The passages quoted are on pp. 126 and 127.

3 Nobility of Women, p. 77.

1 Ballard, pp. 1957 n.

2 Roger Ascham, The Schoolmaster, London, 1711, pp. 623. This book was first published in 1570 after Ascham’s death and dedicated to Sir William Cecil.

1 Progresses, vol. i, pp. 116, 125; vol. ii, pp. 87, 270.

2 Quoted by Ballard, Memoirs of British Ladies.…, pp. 1789.

3 A photograph of the tomb appears in Royal Commission on Historical Monuments, Herefordshire, vol. i, plate 82, and a description on p. 19.

1 George C. Williamson, Lady Anne Clifford, p. 37. The first mention of Lady Warwick in Progresses is the account of the tourney held at Westminster ‘for the honour and celebration’ of her marriage, vol. i, p. 199. It took place on 11 November 1565.

2 Overseene Againe, and augmented by The Author, and translated out of French by Anne Prowse, London, 1609. The ‘Epistle Dedicatorie’ is unpaged. It is signed ‘Your Honors in the Lord, most humbly. A. P.’ First printed 1591, B. M. Catalogue.

1 The State of the Church, ed. C. W. Foster, Lincoln Record Society, vol. xxiii (1926), p. 365.

2 Ibid., p. 367 n.

3 The Autobiography and Correspondence of Sir Simonds d’Ewes, ed. F. O. Halliwell, London (1845), vol. i, p. 63.

4 Clarendon, History of the Great Rebellion, Book VII, par. 221.

1 The Mother’s Blessing or Godly Counsaile of a Gentlewoman not long deceased, left behind her for her Children, by Mistress Dorothy Leigh, 7th ed., London, 1621. The pages of the British Museum copy are in the wrong order.

2 Elogium Heroinum, or The Praise of Worthy Women, by C. G. Gent, London, 1651, p. 144. This book was kindly lent me by Mr. Edwards, antiquarian bookseller of Ashmore Green, near Newbury.

3 Ballard, p. vii.

1 Ballard, pp. 2656.

2 The Oceana and other works of James Harrington with an account of his Life by John Toland, London, 1771, p. xiii.

3 Ibid., p. xi.

4 Quoted in the introduction to Diary of the Times of Charles the Second by the Honourable Henry Sidney, ed. R. W. Blencowe, London, 1843, vol. i, p. xii from Lloyd’s Memoirs of the Loyalists.

1 The Love Letters of Dorothy Osborne to Sir William Temple, ed. I. Gollancz, London, 1903, p. 30.

2 The Returnes of Spiritual comfort and grief in a Devout Soul. …, London, 1648, p. 189.

3 On the title-page of the 3rd ed., 1653. The 1st ed. bears no author’s name on the title-page.

1 The Returnes of Spiritual comfort and grief in a Devout Soul.…, 1st ed., pp. 1901.

2 Brief Lives, chiefly of contemporaries, set down by John Aubrey, between the years 1669 and 1696, ed. A. Clark, Oxford, 1898, vol. i, pp. 31013.

3 Elizabeth Danvers had ‘prodigious parts for a woman’. She knew Italian and ‘had Chaucer at her fingers’ ends’. Ibid., vol. i, p. 193.

4 Ibid., vol. ii, pp. 1525; see below, p. 167.

5 London. Printed by Edw: Allde for Thomas Archer, 1615.

6 Ibid., p. 89.

1 London, for Nicholas Browne, 1617.

2 Ed. James, Bishop of Winchester and Deane of His Majesty’s Chappell Royall, London.

3 Ibid., pp. 1723.

1 The Harleian Miscellany, London, 1744, vol. ii, pp. 14167.

2 Ibid., pp. 1478.

3 Ibid., p. 158.

4 See pp. 1056 above.

5 See pp. 1079 above.

6 William Gouge, Of Domesticall Duties, Eight Treatises, 1st ed., London, 1622.

1 Domesticall Duties, p. 3d.

2 Ibid., pp. 3d–4.

3 D.N.B.

4 Domesticall Duties, p. 4.

1 At Amsterdam, 1646. Featley wrote the preface from his home at Flushing. My copy was printed at London in 1683.

2 The English Gentlewoman, drawne out to the full Body, London, 1631.

3 In 1641 the two books were issued in one volume: The Gentleman dedicated to the Earl of Pembroke and The Gentlewoman to the countess. In the dedication to the Countess of Pembroke Brathwaite reminds her that his father held his land of her ‘noble and heroick’ father.

4 See plate opposite p. 160.

5 The Gentlewoman, pp. 1823.

6 Ibid. The end of the book, unpaged. The character of a Gentlewoman.

1 The Gentlewoman, p. 41.

2 Loc. cit.

3 Ibid., p. 42.

4 A new edition printed from the edition of 1778, London, 1822.

1 By Thomas Heywoode, London, 1624.

2 In capitals: opus excogitatum, inchoatum, explicitum, et a typographo excusum, inter septemdecem septimanas. laus deo. p. 466.

3 Ibid., Dedication unpaged, A3 d.

4 Ibid., A4.

5 Ibid., p. 237.

1 It is remarkable how many women in the seventeenth century earned a mention by some writer or other for qualities which women of that age are not much credited with. Nothing is known of some of them. Occasionally they even published books, now almost forgotten; e.g. Lady Mary Wroath, The Countess of Mountgomeries Urania, London, 1621; and Anna Weamys, A Continuation of Arcadia, by Mrs. A. W., London, 1651. Dorothy Gardiner, English Girlhood at School, Oxford, 1921, p. 233.

2 Complete Peerage.

3 The book was published in London by William Nott. Its preliminary pages, including the dedications and commendatory poems, are unnumbered.

1 P. 146. See above, p. 63.

2 London, 1637.

3 Each of the four copies of Haec Homo which I have seen has been well read and much worn by contemporaries.

William Austin’s line of argument was carried further in 1686 by John Shirley in his Illustrious History of Women. He devoted a section of the book to ‘Reasons and Arguments for the capacities of the Soul of Women, etc.; in relation to learning, Arts, and Sciences etc.’, The Illustrious History of Women, pp. 12331.

1 Matrimonial Honour, London, 1642.

2 T. W. David, Annals of Evangelical Nonconformity in Essex, London, 1863, p. 108.

3 Matrimonial Honour, p. 253.

4 See above, pp. 1079.

5 Matrimonial Honour, pp, 260–4.

1 Matrimonial Honour, p. 266.

2 Ibid., pp. 2689, 284.

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