Let not the Christian servant murmur nor grudge at suffering if it be laid upon him.
Thomas Fosset, The Servants Dutie or the Calling and Condition of Servants (1613), 21.
Good servitudes are those colleges of sobriety that checks in the giddy and wild-headed youth from his uneven course of life by a limited constrainment.
G. Alsop, A Character of the Province of Maryland (1666), 28.
How grievous a sin the disobedience of servants is. 'Tis a downright contempt of God's revealed word ... a violation of the law of nature.
Richard Lucas, The Duty of Servants (1685), 88.
Deep-seated anxieties and convictions, such as those embodied in the quotations above, frequently give rise to attempts at social engineering. This article examines one such long-lasting example of the correlation. In England from the 1590s-a troubled, disjointed decade in which inflation, harvest failures, enclosure riots, and the destabilizing effects of war all featured-and for over a hundred years thereafter, an uninterrupted succession of manuals for the well-ordering of households appeared in print. (1) Invariably written by clergymen, many of them London-based, these books blended doctrine with the fruits of practical experience gained in particular ministries. The pre-English Civil War decades produced the largest single crop of such publications. A significant sub-group appeared in the 1650s under the Republic. A larger number followed in the later decades of the seventeenth century intended to confront the looser morals of the new post-Restoration age. The genre was still flourishing in the early eighteenth century and, indeed, Edmund Gibson's Family Devotion (1726), one of the most successful of all these manuals, was still being reprinted in the middle of the nineteenth century.
Puritans were in the vanguard of the authors of such texts and, unquestionably, William Perkins's Christian Oeconomie (1590) and Robert Cleaver's Godly Forme of Household Government (1598) did much to define the characteristics of this kind of writing in the first place. William Gouge's Of Domesticall Duties (1622), Thomas Carter's Christian Commonwealth (1627), Philip Goodwin's Family Religion Revived (1655), and Richard Baxter's The Poor Man's Family Book (1675) were later landmarks in the tradition. Though puritan writers predominated and set the pace, however, they did not monopolize such publications. Bethel, or a Forme for Families (1633) was written by Matthew Griffith (1599?-1665), a royalist who was sequestered of his London living in 1642 and later involved in the stubborn and protracted defence of the besieged Basing House in Hampshire (home of the Marquis of Winchester) in 1645. (2) Much later, Edmund Gibson, author of the hugely popular Family Devotion (1726), was successively Bishop of Lincoln and London. (3)
The post-Reformation spiritualization of the household, to which Louis B. Wright, Christopher Hill, and other historians have drawn attention, was indeed one of the hallmarks of early modern England. (4) At its most basic level puritan organization rested on a molecular network of family cells that also provided the setting for the exercise of the puritans' godly discipline. Therefore, the family, declared John Downame in A Guide to Godlynesse (1629), is like "a particular church ... and the master of the family representeth the minister and the rest of the house the people in the congregation." (5) In the larger picture godly families underpinned both church and state. If only the godly discipline were practiced in all households, Lewis Bayly insisted in 1613, churches would be filled to capacity, the number of lawsuits would plummet, prisons would be empty, and the streets would be cleared of drunkards, swearers, whoremongers, and other undesirables. (6) "A household is, as it were, a little commonwealth," declared Robert Cleaver in his influential treatise mentioned above, "by the good government whereof God's glory may be advanced." (7) But godly rule in the state could not be expected without the prior establishment of godly households. "An error in the foundation," declared William Perkins in 1590, "puts the body and parts of the whole building in apparent hazard." (8) Writing more than sixty years later, Thomas Hilder in his Conjugall Counsell (1653) was in complete agreement. "Every family," he confidently echoed, "is a little nursery to the great orchards of church and commonwealth." (9) Thus the family was seen as a training ground, the most natural and regular setting in which sound religion and principles of good conduct could be instilled. The larger units of church and state reaped the benefits of family instruction. The household, declared William Perkins, is "the seminary of all other societies. It followeth that the holy and righteous government thereof is a direct means for the good ordering of church and commonwealth.... For this first society is, as it were, the school wherein are taught and learned the principles of authority and subjection" ("Epistle Dedicatory"). John Downame offered the same message about the fundamental religious and socio-political importance of families. As "the seminary of the church and commonwealth" they functioned as a kind of "private school wherein children and servants are fitted for the public assemblies, as it were the universities, to perform when they meet together." (10)
These household manuals or conduct books were clearly written to inspire. "Good and holy books," said Robert Cleaver, "are as ladders to climb up to heaven" ("Epistle Dedicatory"). In one after another the duties of husbands and wives and parents and children were set forth. Indeed in some of these publications this represented almost the full extent of their coverage; Thomas Gataker's Marriage Duties (1620) is the prime example. But households in this period, as historians have long recognized, did not consist only of blood relations. Servants and apprentices were considered integral members of families and the concept of the godly household embraced them no less than the master and his immediate circle. (11) Master-servant relations occupied a secure place in the great majority of these publications. Indeed some of them-Thomas Fosset's The Servants Dutie (1613), Abraham Jackson's The Pious Prentice (1640), Richard Lucas's The Duty of Servants (1685), Richard Mayo's A Present for Servants (1693), and Cotton Mather's A Good Master Well Served (1696)--focused exclusively on the role and duties of servants and on the religious imperatives that ought to inspire and frame their labor. (12)
God-fearing servants and masters were constantly advised to seek out each other. "Thus godly servants will go through difficulties to get into such families where religion is," declared Philip Goodman in 1655, "putting themselves into such houses where they may honour God and have helps for heaven." (13) Richard Lucas advised servants in search of a place that they would find "that family the best for you which is in itself the most religious, the best for your temporal and the best for your eternal interest." (14) The initiative in employing servants, however, most commonly lay with masters, and it was their responsibility to ensure that they recruited the best staff. Robert Cleaver in 1598 advised "religious and godly masters [to] be very wary and circumspect when they hire and entertain any servants into their service that they be such as are godly, honest and religious" (391). William Gouge in his influential treatise Of Domesticall Duties (1622) heartily agreed and underlined the practical advantages. "When good servants are chosen there is hope of receiving the more good from them and doing more good unto them. They will be pliable to all good admonition, docible by all good instruction, serviceable in all things they take in hand." (15) Gouge recognized, however, that godly servants, if they could not be found, could certainly be trained. "Take such," he advised, "as are of mean and poor estate and know not how to maintain themselves but by service. Thus will a double work of charity be done therein, and thus mayest thou look for better service for commonly such are most industrious and most obedient to their masters" (649). Robert Cleaver had also said as much. Though godly masters ought always to be on the look out for godly servants, if they were simply unavailable masters would have to make do with "such at least [who] will be tractable and obedient to such good order and godly government" (391). Servants known to be unrepentantly committed to sinful ways were best avoided. "It were better to be without servants"--an unthinkable prospect in this age--"than to have such as hate goodness." (16)
That so many manuals on household government were published in this period is indicative of the importance …