Review: Love’s Victory, Penshurst Place

In August WSG member and PhD student at Birkbeck College Miriam al Jamil went to the ‘premiere’ of Lady Mary Wroth’s Love’s Victory at Penshurst Place, Kent. She reviews it here:

Inspired by a WSG notice, I obtained a last-minute ticket for the first ever professional performance of Love’s Victory (MS transcription here) which was staged in the beautiful medieval Baron’s Hall at Penshurst Place in Kent. Penshurst was the home of Lady Mary Wroth (1587-1651/3) whose prose romance Urania and sonnets are better known than this pastoral tragi-comedy, written between 1617 and 1619.  It exists in only two manuscript copies, an incomplete Huntingdon MS and a Penshurst version on which the performance was based. The project to revive the play has been funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of Lancaster University’s Shakespeare and his Sisters project which Professor Alison Findlay has been running for two years, and a film of the performance will shortly be posted on their website. It will be a valuable resource and interesting I am sure for many WSG members.

The gallery of the hall served as Venus’s heavenly domain, from which she and Cupid observe the entangled trysts of four pairs of lovers, echoing aspects of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Venus demands that her power is respected and the complex web of the lovers’ desires and misunderstandings is formed and untangled through rhyming couplets, in song and music. The lovers devise word games and singing competitions to while away the time. Each represents aspects of love, its fickleness and calculation, vulnerability and yearning. The dilemma of an arranged marriage makes all true love secondary, an offence to Venus which results in the tragic death pact of the true lovers Musella and Philisses in her Temple. The Penshurst MS provides the denouement of the plot which is missing in the Huntingdon version. Musella’s mother is brought in and rebuked for making a forced marriage arrangement which has led to the death of her daughter. Her shame and grief convince Venus to reverse the tragic ending and restore the lovers to life again. So we all celebrate the joyful triumph of love. How could it be otherwise?

The language, arguments for love in all its aspects and guises framed in a pastoral setting was suitable entertainment for Wroth’s private audience in her country house. It reflects traditions of courtly masque entertainments and aristocratic participation. Professor Findlay suggests it may have brought Wroth together with her cousin William Herbert if they both performed in the play. Certainly Mary entered into a relationship with William after her husband died. The final scene lays the blame for miserable marriages squarely on the mother and it is tempting to read Mary’s personal story through the twists and turns of the plot. The performers gave energy and insight to their roles, and the evening was an encouraging contribution to the ongoing rediscoveries of women’s skill and creativity to which we all subscribe at WSG. Interested readers may want to order the forthcoming edition of Love’s Victory edited by Findlay and Michael Brennan once it is available on the Manchester University Press website.

Cfp WSG Seminars 2018-19

The Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837 is a small, informal, multidisciplinary group formed to promote women’s studies in the early modern period and the long eighteenth century.  Since it was established in the 1980s, the group has enabled those interested in women’s and gender studies to keep in touch, to hear about one another’s research and publications, and to meet regularly to discuss relevant topics.

We organize regular weekend seminars and an annual workshop at the Foundling Museum, where members can meet and discuss women’s studies topics. We can also offer advice and opportunities to engage in activities that increase opportunities for publication, or enhance professional profiles in other ways.

For our 2017-18 seminars, we invite papers related to any aspect of women’s studies: not only women writers, but any activity of a woman or women in the period of our concern, or anything that affects or is affected by women in this period, such as the law, religion, etc. Male writers writing about women or male historical figures relevant to the condition of women in this period are also a potential topic. Papers tackling aspects of women’s studies within or alongside the wider histories of gender and sexuality are particularly welcome; so are topics from the early part of our period. We would also welcome how-to presentations for discussion: examples of suitable topics would include, but are not limited to, applying for grants, setting up research networks, becoming a curator, co-authorship, using specialised data, and writing about images.  These would be particularly appropriate for our December 8 meeting, as would accounts of new research and publication projects from members of all levels of experience. Papers should normally be 25 minutes or under, but will have a maximum of 15 minutes on December 8, to allow time for some celebratory revelry. The seminar dates are:

  • Saturday 29th September, 2018, 1-4pm
  • Saturday 8th December, 2018, 1-4pm. ‘Women’s Studies 1558-1837: 2018 and Beyond’, celebrating the launch of WSG’s 30th anniversary book, Exploring the Lives of Women 1558-1837.
  • Saturday 26th January, 2019, 1-4pm
  • Saturday 30th March, 2019, 1-4pm

The full address for the Foundling Museum is 40 Brunswick Square, London, WC1N 1AZ. It is a wheelchair accessible venue.  We are allowed into the room at 12.30pm to give us time to sort out paperwork and technology, but sessions will run from 1-4pm. So please arrive a little early if you can.

The WSG is open to men, women, and non-binary people, students, faculty, and independent scholars, all of whom are invited to join our group and to give papers.

Find out more about us at https://womensstudiesgroup.org

Check the Book section for progress on Exploring the Lives of Women

Please reply to WSG seminars organiser Carolyn D. Williams at cdwilliamslyle@aol.com

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.

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.

Reminder: WSG seminar January 2018

*Please note: Karen Lipsedge will now be presenting her paper at the 11 March seminar. In her stead on 14 Jan a paper from Brianna Robertson-Kirkland will be read*

Has everyone recovered from new year celebrations? Ready for more early modern women’s studies research? WSG’s January seminar takes place in just under a fortnight, with three papers on Aphra Behn, reading women, and the eighteenth-century stage.

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 14 January, 2018. Chair: TBC
Maryann Feola: Aphra Behn and the shaping of an imagined Naples.
Karen Lipsedge: Reading women and the eighteenth-century home.
Sarah Burdett: From bloodthirsty Amazon to ‘Desp’rate Mother’: Sarah Yates’s re-invention of Queen Margaret of Anjou on the 1790s London stage.