Category Archives: Women’s history

Books History Women's history

Notes from The Lives of Tudor Women by Elizabeth Norton

p. 97 “The London draper’s wife, Katherine Fenkyll, had her own views on the subordinate position of wives, which she made very plain. A few years after she was widowed, in 1499, her ‘familiar and old acquaintance’ Joanne Johnson, a wealthy widow, came to visit her on confidential business. It was, she admitted, a delicate matter, since she had agreed to marry a gentleman, Robert Long of Windridge, but there was the small matter of both her personal effects and her debts. She had, she believed, around £500 in goods, including furniture, plate, money and jewels, which Long was anxious to acquire as his own property on their wedding day. Nonetheless, the widow wanted to protect herself.  She agreed with Katherine, as well as two other friends, that they would hide away £300 of the goods, intending to ‘cloak and colour the same’ from her husband so that she ‘might give and have or otherwise bestow the same at her liberty and pleasure. Instead of acquiring his new wife’s fabulous jewels, Long therefore found himself liable for her existing debts of more than £200. This was a bad bargain, and he was furious, rushing to the courts … Joanna Johnson, however, as a wife, could not be sued in court independently of her husband.She got off scot free.”

p. 100 “At the end of the Tudor years, in 1604, the aristocratic Eleanor, Lady Fettiplace, compiled a book of more than 200 recipes, complete with her marginal notes and amendments indicating that she had tried and tasted them herself. Inexperienced housewives of sufficient means could also make use of published texts, with Gervase Markham’s The English Housewife being particularly influential in the early 17th century. He considered that the first step to gaining a profound understanding of cookery was to ‘have knowledge of all sorts of herbs belonging to the kitchen, whether they be for the pot, for salads, for sauces, for servings, or for any other seasonings, or adorning. This the young wife should learn through her own labour and experience. She must know what to sow in her garden, and when to sow it.”

p. 102 “In 1511, two years into the reign of King Henry VIII, the widow Dame Katherine Fenkyll arrived at the Guildhall in London, accompanied by a young man named Henry Lenton … she confirmed before witnesses that she had taken him on as an apprentice… Two years later, Katherine Fenkyll returned again to the Guildhall, this time with Raynold Love in tow, who had also come to learn a trade from her.”

p. 103 “There was normally nothing in the way of legality to stop women taking the Freedom too – but very few did. One draper who, in 1570, arrived in the company’s hall with a female apprentice, seeking her Freedom, was turned away…This case caused much murmuring, since many in the company suspected that the woman did indeed have the right to be enrolled – but it was not a trend they wanted to encourage. Indeed, only 73 women are known to have been enrolled as apprentices in 16th-century London, among the many thousands of men… Girls could sometimes have their apprenticeships secured by charitable institutions: the destitute Margaret Gyllam, for example, who had been a patient at London St Thomas’s Hospital, was sent after her discharge to learn needlework and button-making with one John Delow and his wife in 1564.

p. 118 “Many of the more modest buildings occupied a small area of just one small room, before rising precariously high above the street. At ground level, there was usually a shop of some kind; on the floor above a hall, and then sleeping quarters higher still. Those people who were lucky enough to have a small yard squeezed into their property’s tiny footprint could keep the privy a reasonable distance from the main living quarters. For others, with no outside space, there was only the attic, leaving residents with a long trek upstairs to answer the call of nature. The inhabitants of these poorer dwellings though, did have one advnatge over the residences of their social superiors: the single chimney stack running up through the house, like a spine, allowed fireplaces in every room. .. a well in the yard behind the house meant that the well-to-do had a private water supply, rather than relying on the nearest street pump or conduit.”

p. 320 “The London hospitals not only took in women: they were staffed, in many respects, by women. Elizabeth Collston, possibly the wife of St Bartholomew’s hospital porter, was employed for more than 25 years as its matron, from 1597. She held a position of some authority, being in charge of all the women and children, as well as overseeing most of the female staff. The matron also took delivery of necessaries brought to the hospital, such as blankets and clothing for the inmates. The role of matron seems to have attracted capable, dedicated women. The first known matron was a widow named Rose Fisher, first appointed as a ‘sister’ of the hospital in 1551.. She was a no-nonsense woman, prepared to get her hands dirty. In 1552, for example, an order was given that all the ‘very feeble and sick’ inmates should eat in her presence, ensuring that she could monitor their sustenance. She also supervised the making of bed coverings for patients and the interrogating of pregnant inmates as to the father of their children, as well as being entrusted with money, collecting in bequests from charitable benefactors.”

p. 321 “Some forms of paid work could be a form of charity in themselves, and in this respect elderly women were often employed by their parishes to undertake work such as nursing care. One Mistress Peirson was paid by the parish of St Botolph’s in London to oversee the maid’s gallery in the church: she remained in office for at least 20 years and even after she had become blind… Older women, too, could find employment in the parish as ‘searchers,’ who were deputed by the parish clerk to view the bodies of the newly dead and make an appraisal of the cause … readily known to be susceptible to bribery and induced with ale, making their judgements hazy.”

Books History Women's history

Notes from Women and Political Insurgency: France in the Mid-Nineteenth Century by David Barry

p. 51 “The evidence about women arrested in June 1848 confirms in detail what contemporary writers say in general terms about accessory roles, but also reveals that some female participants plated a determined and assertive role … Forty of the 118 women convicted on the list in register F 2585 are known to have plated what may be termed a primary role in the June Days: specifically they built barricades, appeared armed on them, fired on troops from barricades or windows, sounded the alarm by ringing the local steeple bell, and organised the defence of their own quarter, including inciting men to battle. Undoubtedly some of these militant women were acting on political motives, and a few had a past history of insurgency. A 76-year-old veteran of previous revolutions, Veuve Anne-Marie Henry, a retired dressmaker, led women in the fighting on the barricade of Rue des Trois-Couronnes in Belleville. Described by the historian Pierre Dominique as ‘an old virago’, Veuve Henry demanded arms at the Mairie de Belleville with the dry ‘Kill and assassinate’. She threatened to stab those who dismantled the barricades, exclaiming ‘There they are, the brigands who took down the barricade, kill them.’ And declared that, had she had her knife to hand, she would have plunged it into their stomachs. In particular, she designated the home of a chandler named Lhomme for attack. A wood-carver, Elisabeth Guibal, of the Faubourg St Antoine, who had been wonded in the shooting on the Boulevard des Capucines on 23 February, lost her claim to a state pension when it was discovered that during the June Days she had run around the streets carrying a sabre, smashing gunshop windows in order to steal arms. Arrested on 25 June, Guibal was denounced by her whole neighbourhood for being constantly at the barricades of the Faubourg St Antoine, and attempting to terrorize the tenants of the quarter into joining the rebellion by threatening to set their houses on fire. … Augstine Falaise, a young piano-teacher of the Place des Vosges, (then still referred to as the Place Royale) tore up a pavement in the Rue du Temple with her two cousins, in Febrary 1848, for which action they earned the nickname Depauvesues; in June the three women helped erect barricades in the Rue Jarente and Rue du Val Ste Catherine, their radical affiliations leading many later to testify against them. Another woman with a revolutionary past who may well have participated in the June Days before evading arrest and disappearing for two years was Louise Bretagne, the veteran of 1830 and 1832. In 1848 she was living in the Rue Mouffetard and working as a washerwoman and was reported to be very poor and frequently drunk.
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Books History Politics Women's history

From Our Hidden Lives: The Everyday Diaries of a Forgotten Britain 1945-48 (ed) Simon Garfield

p. 74 Thursday 9 August, 1945, Edie Rutherford, (43 at the end of the war, a proud and sometimes sanctimonious housewife in Sheffield, married to a timber merchant and football fanatic, eager for news from her native South Africa,… delighted with the Labour government despite everything).
“Japan gets her second atomic bomb. How many more before she wakens? I brought up the subject of the new bomb at work yesterday. Horror of its power if definitely the chief reaction …All at work commented on the cost of this atomic bomb research and remembered the howl that always goes up if 2/6d weekly is suggested for adding to old-age pensions. We live in a mad world.”

p. 375 Wednesday 2 April , Maggie Joy Blunt, 1947 (a lyrical and talented writer in her mid-30s living in a cottage by Burnham Beeches, near Slough, eager to leave her job as a publicity assistant in a metals company, frustrated that she can’t put her public school and university training to better use) – she’ through the diaries trying to write an 18th-century biography, she eventually died as a retired bookseller, no book recorded).
“Sarah, of tolerant, liberal outlook, living in a very conservative, well-to do-country district where everyone grumbles as they do here, obtained via her MP a ticket for the House one evening and sat in the Members’ Gallery. Heard Eden and Shinwell and said it was very interesting, but thought they wasted too much time talking for the sake of it and on schoolboy backchat.”

p. 443 Tuesday, 2 September 1947 Maggie Joy Blunt
“We none of use really understand what it’s all about, what the Government is doing for the future. They are criticised for being in too much of a hurry, trying to impose their ideals too rapidly, yet future generations may bless their little hour of power.
Smallness of plaice. Fishmonger explained that young shoals were being netted instead of thrown back. “Soon the North Sea will be dry of fish – that’s what will happen.”

p. 455 Monday 6 October Maggie Joy Blunt
Last week, an article by Easterbrook in the Northern Chronicle on ‘Britain is Being Poisoned’ – our rivers polluted and creatures in it killed off by man’s carelessness. Now an RU book on man-eating tigers (by Jim Corbett) in which the author says that this magnificent beast is being threatened by extermination.; Man is a slovenly, careless, greedy creature allowed to live in a miraculously wonderful world, which he won’t appreciate.”

Books History Women's history

Notes from ‘The Gardens of the British Working Class’

With a focus on the women, who are more prominent in the early period and less so in the later …

From Thomas Tusser, in 1562, talks about the work of housewifery, which is much focused on the garden …
“In Marche, and in Aprill, from morning to night;
in sowing and setting, good huswives delight.
To have in their garden, or some other plot;
to trim up their house, and to furnish their plot.

Have millons (melons) at Milhelmas, parsnips in lent;
in June buttered beans, saveth fish to be spent.
With these, and good pottagethrough having than;
thou winnest the heart of thy labouring man.’

He also house the housewife planting raspberries and roses together, and keeping bees. p. 14

Samuel Hartlib reports the rise of market gardening in the UK, (although Cochester had a vegetable market by 1529, and one is reported outside St Paul’s in London in the 13th century) in the early 1600s, helped by the arrival of Dutch refugees and their skills from the late 1560s. Through the dearth of the 1590s they helped keep London fed, “One of the factors that made the Dutch and Flemish so successful was their intensive use of manure … these gardeners would dig through the gravel deposits that ringed London, selling the stone for ballast in ships and street repairs. The holes were then filled with ‘the filth of the city… as rich and black as thick ink’.” p. 29

But some Londoners “thought the intensive cultivation would ruin the soil, so were reluctant to rent out their land to Hugenot gardeners”. p. 31

“One hundred years earlier, vegetables were regarded as food for peasants, with the wealthy eating meat and fish dressed with rich sauces, followed by dishes of sweetmeats.By the early 17th century, new vegetables such as artichokes and asparagus were beginning to feature in the fashionable diet.”

“Goodwife Cantrey makes a tantalisingly fleeting appearance in the mid-17th century. The wife of a Northamptonshire yeoman farmer, she planted a herb plot with fennel for an infusion to ease weak eyes, camomile for headaches and goat’s rue as an antidote to the plague. An idea of some of the flowers and fruit that she cultivated in her garden has also survived in the form of a receipt for plants supplied on 28 July 1658 to the Harton family of Kirby Hall. The list inclused lupins, larkspurs, sabious, sweet wiliams, honeysuckle and ‘double hollioake’, along with four sorts of gooseberries – white, green, red and yellow – double currants and ‘violette plumbe’….

An elderly lady from Essex, interviewed in the 1990s, recalled her grandmother using bottles of different tinctures on a sunny windowsil: one with marigold flowers in alcohol for sprains and sores, another of Madonna lily infused in oil to ease burns. A traditional recipe was to pick the flowers of St John’s wort on 24 June, the saint’s day, and put them on a windowsill in water until the sun turned the liquid red. The so-called blood of St John could then be used to treat skin complaints, as well as a balm against evil and the plague.” p. 37

In London … “Given that many physicians and apothecaries could not grow their own medicinal herbs, they had to turn to women gardeners. Early 17th-century records show that the physicians of St Thomas’s hospital in London employed a herb woman to provide the raw materials for the medicines and ointments that the chief medical officer, the apothecary, prescribed for his patients .. In 1629 it as noted that the apothecary was paid £60 per annum … the herb woman a mere £4. The apothecary was expected to pay for his ingredients out of his salary, so the herb woman may have received additional money.” p. 39

“By the end of the 17th century an increasing number of herbwomen were acquiring more respected social status, especially those able to rent stalls in London’s markets, where they sold not only medicinal plants but also herbs for stewing and cooking. .. The records for the Fleet Market for the years 1737-38 for instance, identify Mary Leech and Judith Vardey as specialists in ‘Physick Hrebs’. The records for the following years, 1739-40, go further, specifying the location of the hardens from which the herbs were gathered. Some herb women were located near the City, such as Hannah Smith from Grub Street in Finsbury, but most came from neighbouring suburbs such as Bethnal Green and stepney Green, Bermondsey, Camberwell and Vauxhall. … As well as selling planst at the herb market in Covent Garden, the women were employed toe strew halls in the hall in Southwark. One woman who held a long tenure as a regular supplier of herbs to Bridge House was Mary Earle, who died in 1758, leaving bequests to £20 to each of her granddaughters, £30 to her grandson, and her remaining estate to her daughter-in-law, a substantial estate for a woman.” pp. 42-3

For Michelmas 1698 John Risdall or Risden is recorded as the head gardener at Arbury, at an annual salary of £20 …. the Arbury records are particularly interesting in showing the range, albeit repetitive, of the tasks assigned to the women. Ann Suffolk and a woman named as Elizabeth were recorded working in the harden in April 1699, weeding and sweeping the grass. These two tasks took up a large proportion of their time throughout the summer, but they are also noted gathering herbs for the stillroom, carrying gravel, gathering strawberries and herbs for the kitchen, cutting rot out of apples, husking walnuts and cutting shreds. The last task refers to the lengths of cloth or leather that were cut into thin strips for fixing espaliers and climbers on walls. The women are recorded in February 2701 “straighting nails” for Risdall to use in tghe kitchen garden. During harvest time, they are often noted as absent, but appear in other account books for the estate, paid for bringing in the hay.” p. 75

Books History Women's history

An interesting character in a period of change

From Venantius Fortunatus: A Latin Poet in Merovingian Gaul by Judith George

p.2 “This period was one of cultural transition, the Gallo-Romans clinging their traditional Romanitas, the Franks assimilating it with verve and enthusiasm. The impact of a poet of Fortunatus’ calibre and pedigree, an embodiment of the literary tradition they revered, on so susceptible an audience was bound to be strong. Even two generations later, the grandson of Dynamius, a Provencal noble and patron of the poet, composed an epitaph for his grandparents, with pride in their association wjth Fortunatus… his influence can be seen in writers not only in Gaul, but also in Anglo-Saxon England and in Ireland, well into the Middle Ages.”

p. 13 “The nuns of Radegund’s community in Poitiers adopted the Rule of Caesarius, which specified they should learn to read, and spend two hours a day doing so. Caesaria, abbess of the convent of St Jean in Arles, advised them: ‘COnstantly read and listen to the holy writings … gather from them previous pearls to hand on your ears, make from them rings and bracelets’… one of the biographies of their founder was written by a nun, Baudonivia, confirms the general practice of more than basic literacy.”

p. 163 “Baudonivia records of Radegund that: “She was always anxious for peace, always concerned with the wellbeing of her country. When there was tension between the kingdoms, since she loved all the kings, she prayed for the life of all and taught us to pray without ceasing for their settled state. When she heard there was any ill feeling between them, she feared with all her being and sent letters to both sides alike, so they would not resort to arms or war between themselves, but should establish peace, and thus the country not come to disaster. Likewise, she directed requests to their chief men that they should give peaceable advice to the high kings, so that, under their government, the wellbeing of the people and country should be improved.”

p. 35 “Panegyric was one of the most important literary genres in public and ceremonial life in the classical world, a vital tool of political communication and negotiation, especially between a ruler and his people. .. the fourth-century panegyrists under the Tetrarchy and the Gallic rhetorical schools that this genre reached a peak in its popularity, its recognized part in cultural life, its wide use as a subtle and influential political tool and in the full exploration of its literary potential.”

p. 59 “the address to Chilperic … was given in a tense political situation, where Fortunatus was playing an active and interventionist role. The formal structure of the genre brought to bear on Chilperic the full prestigious weight of Roman panegyric, playing on the king’s cultural aspirations, and holding up to him a mirror of the ideal statesman, the Christian ruler.”

Books History Politics Women's history

An astonishing veil of royal protection

What’s really most astonishing about The Mystery of Princess Louise: Queen Victoria’s Rebellious Daughter is what’s missing. That’s no fault of the author, Lucinda Hawksley, but she has to leave large gaps in her biography, for documents relating to Princess Louise, who died in 1939, and her husband, who may have had his own secrets, as a homosexual in an intolerant age, remain classified and closed away.

We’re not talking about matters of state here, some deep secret about the First World War and relations with Germany that might somehow, distantly, have modern ramifications, or impact on anyone alive today – what we’re talking about are documents that probably, Hawksley concludes, show that Louise had an illegitimate child.

But when she went to the Royal Archives,she found a brick wall: “We regret that Princess Louise’s files are closed.” And she found that archivists in the National Gallery, Royal Academ and the V&A, as well as overseas collections in Malta, Bermuda and Canada, we bemused to find that material they expected to hold had been removed to the Royal archive.

Hawksley traces that probable child, adopted by the Queen’s accoucher, and family. She reports how his descendant, Nick Locock, tried to get his grandfather’s body exhumed, from a family mausoleum in Kent to establish that through DNA tests, which would have involved drilling through the coffin and removing a fragment of bone. A long legal battle ended with that being denied on the basis of “the sanctity of Christian burial”. “As Nick commented to me with a wry smile a few years after losing the court case: ‘I wouldn’t have minded so much if the very same church hadn’t recently moved about 200 bodies to make way for a coffee shop in the crypt!” (p. 93)

And the records of Queen Victoria – her volumninous letters and diaries are apparently available, but as Hawksley notes, not what they seem. For they aren’t the originals, but were heavily edited by Princess Beatrice. Given how much of a nasty, self-centred, vindictive character the Queen appears, it’s hard to imagine just how bad the originals are, Hawksley concludes.

Despite her upbringing, Louise was, for a royal, an interesting character. She tried to support Josephine Butler’s campaign against the Contagious Diseases Act – and although she was stopped from that on the basis of “this is politics”, she maintained a friendship with Butler, as well as many deeply “unsuitable”campaigners and artists. Perhaps not surprising that a central London pub was named after her.

This is definitely worth a read for a glimpse into another world – and a perspective on current debates on child abuse and neglect – for Queen Victoria certainly treated her children in a way that would count as emotional abuse under proposed new laws. Of course whether she’d get arrested would be another question…