Wives and Daughters: The Women of Sixteenth Century England

Wives and Daughters: The Women of Sixteenth Century England

Wives and Daughters: The Women of Sixteenth Century England

Wives and Daughters: The Women of Sixteenth Century England

Synopsis

Sixteenth-century England was scarcely a paradise for anyone by modern standards. Yet despite huge obstacles, many sixteenth-century women achieved personal success and even personal wealth. This is a resource for all interested in this time-period.

Excerpt

Englishwomen were liberated long before their sisters in Europe. In the sixteenth century they were enterprising, educated, contributing members of society. Although their activities were more apparent during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, individuality in women was not a new trend. The proverb that England is a paradise for women, a prison for servants and a hell for horses was old even before a Dutch traveler, Emmanuel Van Meteren, quoted it in 1575. He recorded that although English wives were "entirely in the power of their husbands, except for their lives" they were "not kept so strictly as . . . elsewhere." Englishwomen persisted "in retaining their customs."

Sixteenth century England was scarcely a paradise for anyone by modern standards, and women in particular had few rights. At birth their fate was in the hands of their fathers and after marriage everything they had belonged to their husbands. Yet in large numbers sixteenth century women managed to work around these disadvantages and achieve personal success, even personal wealth. Many, like Shakespeare's Lady Macbeth, had stronger and more resourceful characters than their husbands. Some were "spinsters and knitters in the sun," akin to the Fates, who wrought much more than cloth (Twelfth Night, II, iv), for in those days the word spinster also meant a spinner, either of wool or of intrigue.

In order to study the real women of this century, one must have a guide to sort out names and relationships. Standard works tend to identify women only by their relationship to husbands (of which many women had several) and fathers. It is often impossible to find life dates. Until 1538 the parishes of England were not required to register births, deaths and marriages. After . . .

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