Female service in Early Modern England

Dr Charmian Mansell | Research Associate, Women’s Work in Rural England, 1500-1700 | University of Exeter

A woman hard at work distilling. Illustration from J. S., The accomplished ladies rich closet of rarities: or, the ingenius gentlewoman and servant-maids delightful companion (1691).
Image courtesy Wellcome Library, London.

As an Early Career Researcher, it is often difficult to access bursaries and grants for research. Visiting archives and undertaking other forms of research for the completion of articles, monographs and other publications that are so necessary to secure postdoctoral employment can therefore be extremely difficult. In December 2016, I was delighted to be awarded the Women’s Studies Group 30th anniversary bursary for my research on female servants in early modern England. This was the first year that this £500 bursary had been awarded and I am pleased to hear that the group have been able to award two more grants this year.

The award was granted for me to undertake archival research for the preparation of my monograph, Female Service in Early Modern England, which is based on my doctoral thesis. This thesis explored the experiences of around 500 female servants recorded in the church court depositions of the dioceses of Exeter and Gloucester (covering today’s counties of Devon, Cornwall and Gloucestershire). These diocesan courts were charged with enforcing morality and discipline in early modern society. Witnesses from across the social spectrum were asked to provide evidence of what they had seen or heard in relation to illicit behaviour such as adultery and inter-party disputes including defamation and broken marriage promises. Their depositions are almost unrivalled in the detail they provide of both the everyday and the extraordinary. Few other sources allow the study of female servants’ experiences, nor can they offer such rich detail of their lives. Through a female servant’s account of the events she had witnessed, we learn details of her employment, her age and residence history as well as the type of work she performed, the spaces in which her life played out and the interactions she had with her employers, neighbours and friends.

Church court deposition, Somerset Archives, SHC D\D/cd/64. Image taken by Charmian Mansell and used courtesy Somerset Archives.

Over the course of 2017, I made trips to the London Metropolitan Archive and Somerset Archives to gather additional source material from their collections of ecclesiastical court depositions (covering London and Somerset respectively). I am still analysing this new data but it appears that these two archives will provide snapshot information of approximately 250 additional female servants. Prior to receiving the bursary, I also collected data from the diocese of Winchester court (covering Hampshire and the Isle pf Wight), amounting to an additional 126 female servants. Although the evidence is at times fragmentary, the monograph will explore the working and social lives of at least 800 English women employed in service between 1550 and 1650.

The monograph breaks new ground by challenging several deeply-entrenched tropes within the scholarship of early modern female service. Analysing service from demographic, geographical, economic and social perspectives, this book demonstrates the variety of experiences of female service that extended across the life-cycle and challenges its conception as a rigid institution designed to regulate youth. It presents a richer, more textured picture of female service, moving beyond its conceptualisation as domestic. It highlights the various forms of work they performed and the range of relationships they forged beyond the household. The book demonstrates the important role that women in service played in the early modern community, makes an important intervention in early modern British social history and raises fundamental questions about how historians understand women, community and work.

Thank you, Charmian, for this WSG bursary report, and for the insight into the journey from PhD thesis to monograph. For more information on Charmian’s job while she’s writing up her book, namely the Women’s Work in Rural England, 1500-1700 project at Exeter University, click here.

Women artists at the AAH conference 2018

WSG member Helen Draper, with Dr Carol Jacobi of Tate, will be co-convening the session ‘In/visibility and influence: the impact of women artists and their work’ at the Association for Art History Annual Conference 2018.

The session’s themes are biography and reputation, legacy and longevity, and the artists include Artemisia Gentileschi, Elisabetta Sirani, Angelica
Kauffmann, Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal, Elizabeth Butler, Ethel Walker, Louise
Joplin, Isabel Rawsthorne, Frances Hodgkins (below), Vanessa Bell, Eva
Hesse, Lee Lozano, Anne Truitt, Anne Schille, Pauline Boty, Kristin Jones,
Paula Rego and Adriana Varejão, and Judy Chicago (filmed in conversation).

AAH 2018 takes places 5-7 April 2018 at the Courtauld Institute and King’s College London.  For further information, including registration, please see the AAH website.

 

Reminder: WSG seminar March 2018

WSG’s final seminar of the year focuses on “works in progress” papers, or with more of a “how to” element.  These three by Valerie Schutte, Cheryl Duncan and Catriona Cooper look at life writing, the use of legal documents, and audio research.

Seminars take place at the Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, WC1N 1AZ, starting promptly at 1pm and finishing at 4pm.  Doors open at 12.30. Directions for getting to the Museum can be found here.  All seminars are free and open to the public, though refreshments will cost £2 to those who aren’t WSG members.  Those attending the seminars are welcome to look round the museum before or after.

Sunday 11 March, 2018 (This is a ‘how-to’ session that also involves a measure of ‘work in progress’).   Chair: TBC
Valerie Schutte: Princess, Duchess, Queen: Mary Tudor as represented in the long eighteenth century.
Cheryll Duncan: Music, women and the law: the challenges and rewards of legal documents.
Catriona Cooper: Listening to the Commons: the sounds of debate and the experience of women in Parliament c.1800.
Karen Lipsedge: Reading women and the eighteenth-century home.

Cfp: Women, Money and Markets 1750-1850 pt 2

Last year the first Women, Money and Markets 1750-1850 conference was held at King’s College London. Co-organised by WSG member Emma Newport and Amy Murat, the conference was a great success (not least because it featured a WSG panel, ‘Material Girls’).

This year the second is co-organized by Joyce Goggin and Emma Newport and will take place at the University of Amsterdam, 7-8 June 2018.   The call for papers ends on 15 March, so get your abstracts in quick.

The conference organisers welcome submissions in the form of individual papers, panels and roundtable discussions on the following themes:

  • The varying practices of women associated with currency, global and/or domestic markets and marketability
  • Material practices associated with value, exchange and/or female creativity
  • Women as producers and/or consumers in the literary or other marketplaces (including, but not limited to, food, clothing, agriculture and raw materials)
  • Representations of women at work or women’s involvement in: Trade and industry / Professional services (e.g. law, finance, hospitality and the media) / Domestic service / The rural economy / The stock market and speculation
  • The place of women in the literary marketplace (past and present)

They particularly welcome cross-cultural considerations of the above issues.

Guide for submissions:
Please send 300 word abstracts to the conference email address (womenmoneymarkets@gmail.com) plus a covering email outlining briefly your proposed format (individual paper, panel, roundtable, etc.).  If you are submitting a proposal for a panel, please include an abstract for each paper (up to 300 words each). Please indicate if you would like your paper to be considered for a monograph to be published in conjunction with the conference.

WSG Workshop 2018 music and domestic craft: registration open

Keynote speaker: Jeanice Brooks, University of Southampton

“Music and the culture of domestic craft in Georgian Britain”

Date: Sunday 13 May 2018
Time: 11.30am-4.30pm (registration from 11)
Venue: Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, WC1N 1AZ

Cost (inc lunch & refreshments): £19 (WSG members), £16 (students/unwaged), £21 (non-WSG members)

To register, please fill in and return the registration form

All attendees should bring a 5-minute presentation, from any discipline and any period covered by the Group, exploring the workshop theme. Topics might include:

* representations of domestic music-making (in fine & decorative art & in literature) * material aspects of domestic music * concepts of art and domestic craft * craft and gender *

(Please note that due to time constraints, presentations cannot use PowerPoint, instead a handout (25 copies) can be prepared and given to delegates)
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For readers who would like to publicise the event, please download the WSG Workshop 2018 poster and form.

For further information, see the annual workshop page.