Maids, Wives, Widows: Exploring Early Modern Women's Lives 1540 - 1714

Maids, Wives, Widows: Exploring Early Modern Women's Lives 1540 - 1714

by Sara Read


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Maids, Wives, Widows is a lively exploration of the everyday lives of women in early modern England, from 1540-1740. The book uncovers details of how women filled their days, what they liked to eat and drink, what jobs they held, and how they raised their children. With chapters devoted to beauty regimes, fashion, and literature, the book also examines the cultural as well as the domestic aspect of early modern women’s lives. Further, the book answers questions such as how women understood and dealt with their monthly periods and what it was like to give birth in a time before modern obstetric care was available.

The book also highlights key moments in women’s history such as the publication in 1671, of the first midwifery guide by an English woman, Jane Sharp. The turmoil caused by the Civil Wars of the 1640s gave rise to a number of religious sects in which women participated to a surprising extent and some of their stories are included in this book. Also scrutinized are cases of notorious criminals such as murderer Sarah Malcolm and confidence trickster Mary Toft who pretended to give birth to rabbits.

Overall the book describes the experiences of women over a two hundred year period noting the changes and continuities of daily life during this fascinating era.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781473823402
Publisher: Pen and Sword
Publication date: 08/19/2015
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Dr Sara Read is a lecturer in English at Loughborough University. She holds a PhD in early modern literature. Her particular interest is in representations of the female body in literature and she has published widely in this field. Her first book Menstruation and the Female Body in Early Modern England was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2013, and she has co-edited a collection of early modern women’s writings on the topic of health and spirituality called Flesh and Spirit: An Anthology of Seventeenth-century Women’s Writing for Manchester University Press, 2014. In addition, Dr Read has published a number of social history articles for Discover Your Ancestors magazine.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations vii

Acknowledgements x

A Note on Original Texts xii

Introduction xiv

Part I Women's Work 1

Chapter 1 'Goodwives': Marriage and Housewifery 3

Chapter 2 Women in Business: The Economic Lives of Early Modern Women 15

Chapter 3 Childcare: Raising Children from Infancy to Adulthood 27

Part II Personal Care 39

Chapter 4 Food and Drink 41

Chapter 5 Women and Dress 54

Chapter 6 Personal Hygiene and Beauty 65

Part III Women and Reproduction 75

Chapter 7 Menstruation: The Time of the Month 77

Chapter 8 Pregnancy: Being Big with Child 86

Chapter 9 Giving Birth 96

Chapter 10 Breastfeeding and Hiring a Wet Nurse 107

Part IV Women and Religion 117

Chapter 11 Religion and Worship in Early Modern Women's Lives 119

Chapter 12 Prophetesses and Preachers: Non-conformist Women 130

Part V Women in Public Life 145

Chapter 13 Courts and Criminals 147

Chapter 14 Women and Politics 158

Chapter 15 Literary Women 169

Bibliography 182

Index 189

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