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Islanddawn
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PostSubject: Renaissance women   Sat 18 Aug 2012, 02:24

Malay said: “Lady Anne’s Great Books of Record challenge the
notion that women in the 16th and 17th centuries lacked any power or
control over their own lives.

“There is this misplaced idea that the feminist movement is
predominantly a 1960s invention but debates and campaigns over women’s
rights and equality stretch back to the Middle Ages
.”

According to a new study women were not quite as powerless as we imagine. The full and fascinating article is here
http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/08/2012/renaissance-women-fought-men-and-won
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Renaissance women   Sat 18 Aug 2012, 08:16

Islanddawn wrote:
Malay said: “Lady Anne’s Great Books of Record challenge the
notion that women in the 16th and 17th centuries lacked any power or
control over their own lives.

“There is this misplaced idea that the feminist movement is
predominantly a 1960s invention but debates and campaigns over women’s
rights and equality stretch back to the Middle Ages
.”

According to a new study women were not quite as powerless as we imagine. The full and fascinating article is here
[url=http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/08/2012/renaissance-women-fought-men-and-won
http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/08/2012/renaissance-women-fought-men-and-won[/quote[/url]]

You read it here first, ID. May I remind you of your #10 and my reply #11 on the PG thread?

https://reshistorica.historyboard.net/t23-philippa-gregory-should-she-be-shot

You may be interested to read about Emilia Lanier, a fascinating woman who wrote poetry. She was possibly a very good chum of W. Shakespeare - I'll see if I can find a decent article about her to post. There are others too who were allowed to be creative - Susanna Horenbout (sometimes anglicised to Hornebolte) for example, born about 1503. She was the daughter of the artist Gerard Horenbout and the sister of Lucas Horenbout who worked for Henry VIII. Susanna, like her brother, was believed to have painted miniatures - none can be identified now, but Durer admired her work.

I've always doubted the feminist argument about *all* women having a rough time in the past. Some undoubtedly did, but many didn't. Nothing changes.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: Renaissance women   Sat 18 Aug 2012, 08:27

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PostSubject: Re: Renaissance women   Sat 18 Aug 2012, 10:12

Quote :
I've always doubted the feminist argument about *all* women having a rough time in the past. Some undoubtedly did, but many didn't. Nothing changes.

Is that really the feminist argument or is it more that women in the past have been given a rough time by historians and other commentators in their treatment of them?

You've reminded me though that I've been meaning to buy a book, by a 'feminist' archaeologist, that blows away many of the received understandings of medieval life as it was for the great majority of the population, not just the great and the powerful. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Medieval-Life-Archaeology-Course/dp/1843837226/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1345279488&sr=1-1

One of the revelations to me was that many ordinary young women, in their early teens, moved away from home to work in towns and that they often 'flat shared' there until they returned home to marry in their early 20s. Young men did the same so they had far more independence than is often thought.
We also often have a vision of different generations of the extended medieval family living closely together as well. They often didn't, granny or granddad were most likely lodging with some other couple elsewhere. 'Nuclear' families were the norm.
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PostSubject: Re: Renaissance women   Sat 18 Aug 2012, 15:07

No Temp, you may not remind me of things that I had completely forgotten! Typing whilst under the influence of PG should be outlawed and there should be health warnings printed on every book.

Good point ferval, until recently historians have been traditionally male and one has to wonder how much they actually understood of women and their lives.
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PostSubject: Re: Renaissance women   Sat 18 Aug 2012, 18:32

Islanddawn wrote:

Good point ferval, until recently historians have been traditionally male and one has to wonder how much they actually understood of women and their lives.

It is a fair point, but I don't think we can always blame *male* historians. Everything is always about somebody or other's agenda, isn't it? People - male or female - always end up telling their own tale.

Malay (in ID's article) reminds us that "Virginia Woolf argued that a woman with Shakespeare's gifts during the Renaissance Period would have been denied the opportunity to develop her talents due to social barriers restricting women."

Poor Virginia. Her famous Judith Shakespeare has always sounded like George and Gerald Duckworth's abused half-sister to me, not some frustrated actress/poetess daughter of John and Mary Shakespeare. That grave at the crossroads was being dug for Virginia Woolf, not Shakespeare's unhappy sibling.

You can read Woolf's comments about Shakespeare's Sister here:

http://egophelia.free.fr/2femme/woolfroomsister.htm


Whole essay here:

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/w/woolf/virginia/w91r/chapter3.html


Woolf's ideas about artistic and sexual repression were undoubtedly true for her, but were they true for all females before the so-called "emancipation" of women? Having a vote and a university education - even when combined with immense talent - doesn't mean you're going to make it, either artistically or personally. Sylvia Plath had it all, but she, like the doomed VW, went bonkers in the end - "Very early in my life, it was too late." The fault, dear Virginia, is not in the social barriers, but in ourselves that we are underlings. Most likely in the stars too, if one is allowed to misquote/question/contradict Shakespeare (or Cassius rather).

Woolf also claimed in "A Room of One's Own" that a woman "must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction." Jane Austen, the Brontes, Ann Radcliffe, George Eliot - and others - may not have been exactly starving, but I don't think any of them had an independent income of £500 p.a. (the amount Woolf considered necessary) and private studies with locks on the doors. But I'd better check that.

I read ages ago in some book or other this quotation which I like very much:

"Long before Derrida and deconstruction, the Talmud said, 'We do not see things as they are. We see them as we are.' "

Makes me wonder sometimes if it's worth discussing anything with anyone actually, about history or anything else. We're all in our own little bubbles.


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PostSubject: Re: Renaissance women   Sat 18 Aug 2012, 19:43

Temperance wrote:
It is a fair point, but I don't think we can always blame *male* historians. Everything is always about somebody or other's agenda, isn't it? People - male or female - always end up telling their own tale.

I think that goes without saying Temp, everyone's perception cannot be anything but different. And it is what makes Lady Anne's Great Books of Record so interesting, as it is quite rare to have writings of that era from a female perspective.

Temperance wrote:
Makes me wonder sometimes if it's worth discussing anything with anyone actually, about history or anything else. We're all in our own little bubbles.

Isn't that the very reason that makes history (and other) discussion so worthwhile? A sharing of thoughts, ideas and experiences in order to give that little bubble a healthy jab occasionally?
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PostSubject: Re: Renaissance women   Sat 18 Aug 2012, 21:35

Islanddawn wrote:
Temperance wrote:
It is a fair point, but I don't think we can always blame *male* historians. Everything is always about somebody or other's agenda, isn't it? People - male or female - always end up telling their own tale.

I think that goes without saying Temp, everyone's perception cannot be anything but different. And it is what makes Lady Anne's Great Books of Record so interesting, as it is quite rare to have writings of that era from a female perspective.

Temperance wrote:
Makes me wonder sometimes if it's worth discussing anything with anyone actually, about history or anything else. We're all in our own little bubbles.

Isn't that the very reason that makes history (and other) discussion so worthwhile? A sharing of thoughts, ideas and experiences in order to give that little bubble a healthy jab occasionally?

It is interesting, but it is only one female's perspective of course - Lady Anne's.

Mmm - jabbing isn't a nice image. Is it ever healthy? I think I prefer the idea of the occasional, gentle, good-natured prod. And some people's bubbles are such huge inflated things - made of a nasty tough membrane which even the most vicious of jabbing wouldn't puncture. They walk round like bloody great Eden Project biospheres. Met two such this week. But perhaps it's just that my own little bubble is just a bit punctured - who can say? And in a hundred years' time who's going to care? By next Tuesday afternoon, in fact, who's going to care?

But enough - back to the topic. Margaret Beaufort is a good example of a woman who took on the male world and won. She had a terrible early life which would have destroyed most young women. Not MB - she went from strength to strength, and emerged powerful, much feared and definitely top - er - female dog.
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PostSubject: Re: Renaissance women   Sat 18 Aug 2012, 21:57

I prefer to bounce the bubbles off each other, more fun and less aggressive. And given what's inside some of those spheres, I wouldn't want to be showered with it if they burst.
Get out the puncture repair kit Temp, and then re inflate that bubble of yours. Biggest is often not best, guid gear comes in wee bulk!

However, this discussion could all too easily slither into the slough of philosophical despond and I'm much more attracted by bawdy tales and the anything but sensible enjoyment of some alcohol in a disreputable bar. Does anybody know of one in the vicinity. Dear god, I wouldn't have wanted to spend an evening in one with V W.

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PostSubject: Re: Renaissance women   Sat 18 Aug 2012, 22:21

ferval wrote:


Dear god, I wouldn't have wanted to spend an evening in one with V W.


I wouldn't have wanted to spend an evening *anywhere" with VW!

Too tired to dig it out now, but VW's indignation when Vita Sackville-West went "nutting in the woods" (dear God - the mind boggles) with Mary Garman is actually very funny. But it's unkind to laugh at poor Virginia (snigger).

Several little patches have been successfully applied to my bubble, ferval. I'm bouncing along quite happily again now. I got into an argument about Cornish pasties and it sort of escalated into a major row about all sorts of things. I lost.
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PostSubject: Re: Renaissance women   Sun 19 Aug 2012, 05:20

I've never read Virginia W, and now I don't think I want to. But honestly, spending a night with VW and all I can think of is being cramped inside a Volkswagon Beetle.......
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PostSubject: Re: Renaissance women   Sun 19 Aug 2012, 06:32

I started Mrs Dalloway a while ago but didn't get past the first few pages. Might not be anything to do with Woolf's writing - I always get distracted from my own books by library books, book club books, easier reading etc. We did read some of hers at university, long time ago now.

Recently our book club read Deborah Shepard's Her Life's Work and she used that quote about money and the room of her own in her questions (it was interviews with 5 NZ women in the arts field and how they managed, had a feminist slant and a tendency to assume women were somewhat hard-done-by) but added another, which I don't remember now, but was about needing certain personal qualities. On her website I see she has asked about working spaces - one of them mentions the room isn't the problem; self-discipline is. And another said her environment didn't matter - once she got going she was oblivious to outside influences.

http://www.deborahshepardbooks.com/my-writing-space.html

I think women have had difficulties in finding space for themselves and their work, but I assume men do too, if they don't have money and a space of their own. Trollope used to get up at 4am and write before his post office job.
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PostSubject: Re: Renaissance women   Sun 19 Aug 2012, 07:38

Thank you for that link, Caro - I found those comments very interesting.

Caro wrote:

I think women have had difficulties in finding space for themselves and their work, but I assume men do too, if they don't have money and a space of their own. Trollope used to get up at 4am and write before his post office job.

Yes - and of course it is probably fair to say that it was the responsibiltity of looking after two very young children whilst being desperate to write that in the end drove Sylvia Plath over the edge. She did some of her best writing (in the weeks before she killed herself) in the early hours of the morning - when the effect of the sleeping pills she had taken the night before had worn off and the rest of the household was asleep.

Charlotte Bronte too nearly went crazy - having to teach when all she wanted to do was write. I know this is a history site, but may I still be permitted to quote from something CB wrote on 11th August 1836 when she was employed as a teacher at Roe Head? (As she wrote it - her punctuation!)

"All this day I have been in a dream half miserable and half ecstatic miserable because I could not follow it out uninterruptedly, ecstatic because it showed almost in the vivid light of reality the ongoings of the infernal world. I had been toiling for nearly an hour with Miss Lister, Miss Marriott and Ellen Cook striving to teach them the distinction betweeen an article and a substantive. The parsing lesson was completed, a dead silence had succeeded it in the schoolroom and I sat sinking from irritation and weariness into a kind of lethargy. The thought came over me am I to spend all the best part of my life in this wretched bondage, forcibly suppressing my rage at the idleness the apathy and the hyperbolical and most asinine stupidity of these fat-headed oafs and on compulsion assuming an air of kindness, patience and assiduity?...I felt as if I could have written gloriously - I longed to write - if I had had time to indulge it I felt the vague sensations of that moment would have settled down into some narrative better at least than anything I ever produced before. But just then a Dolt came up with a lesson. I thought I should have vomited."
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PostSubject: Re: Renaissance women   Sun 19 Aug 2012, 12:19

Just found this Telegraph article about Maeve Binchy, children and childlessness:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/9446816/If-Maeve-Binchy-had-been-a-mother-....html

The full Cyril Connolly quotation is interesting: "There is no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hallway."

One response to that is "misogynistic bollocks". I immediately thought of Mrs. Gaskell and Antonia Fraser who both produced six children *and* some pretty decent books. But then Gaskell and Fraser had money and the time and space that money can undoubtedly buy. They could afford maids/nannies and big houses. Mmm - back to VW? Connolly had a point - but then money problems and wailing babies are tough for men too. I'm remembering Edward Thomas's black depression here, and the resentment (and guilt because of that resentment) he felt at having to do what he bitterly called "hack" work to provide for his wife and offspring. Or can men always escape somehow in a way that is impossible for mothers? Sylvia Plath (sorry to bang on about her) nearly did a Medea and took the children with her, but in the end she decided that leaving them for the faithless Hughes to cope with would be a sweeter revenge.The vicious subtext of the suicide letter she didn't write was, "Your turn now, Ted."
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PostSubject: Re: Renaissance women   Sun 19 Aug 2012, 12:28

Retrospective analysis of women's situation in society in times past is hugely complicated by a series of recent social developments (recent as in from the industrial revolution onwards) which act as distorting prisms that all but obscure the truth. Nowadays, for example, if one was to make a broad statement along the lines of "women are more judgmental than men" it would form the basis of acrimonious debate concerning sexism, platitudinous slander and atavistic social ignorance. However in medieval times this perception was not only commonly accepted but was used to form the basis of social conventions and laws which, compared to modern society, often empowered women to a degree that their modern feminist counterparts would regard as an unfulfilled aim.

One area where women exerted huge influence and power was in the fundamentally crucial business of mating, an activity with potentially huge political implications at the time. In the twelfth century, for example, a much copied handbook that was almost compulsory reading for wives-to-be utilised this judgmentalism in the encouragement of a social norm which in this day and age strikes us as ludicrous. In matrimonial matters, it averred, there was only one sex qualified to judge their application and efficacaciousness, and how this judgment should be arrived at involved some real "hands on" arbitration, quite literally. An example:

"The man and the woman are to be placed together in one bed and wise women are to be summoned around the bed for many nights. And if the man's member is always found useless and as if dead, the couple are well able to be separated."

Impotency was a serious issue, and not trusted to men to arbitrate. In 1292, a century later, one Walter de Fonte was accused by his wife of being useless in bed. Walter objected to the slander and the case was referred by a magistrate to a jury of twelve women "of good reputation and honest life" who, literally, took the matter into their own hands and analysed the truth of Mrs de Fonte's claim objectively. Their unanimous conclusion after testing was the Wal's "virile member" was indeed useless. As late as 1433 similar juries were still in use. A case that year involving a man referred to only as "John" contains the testimony of one of these empanelled jurists who "exposed her naked breasts and with her hands warmed at the said fire, she held and rubbed the penis and testicles of the said John. And she embraced and frequently kissed the said John ..." John's member refused to cooperate however and the jurists "with one voice" cursed its owner for not being "better able to serve and please" his wife. John was fined.

This does not sound like a society completely controlled by men, does it?
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PostSubject: Re: Renaissance women   Sun 19 Aug 2012, 12:55

But couldn't impotent men like poor Walter and John get their revenge (and presumably get rid of an old, ugly wife) by declaring that their wives were witches? I read this in Retha M. Warnicke's chapter on sexual heresy:

"Witches were also accused of afflicting men, even their own spouses, with impotence, an act that was from the mid-twelfth century recognized by canon law as a marriage impediment. For the following 300 years, these cases were, according to George L. Kittredge, 'so numerous that this species of sorcery became an everyday matter.' "

(But is Warnicke's research and interpretation to be trusted? One is unsure these days.)
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PostSubject: Re: Renaissance women   Sun 19 Aug 2012, 13:09

Men had to be very careful before accusing their spouse of witchcraft, or at least so riled up with spite that they did not care. Contrary to popular modern belief medieval women held quite a lot of property in their own right after marriage and this property, if its owner was successfully prosecuted as a witch, reverted not to her husband or family upon conviction but to the church (later the state). In an impotency case, where the man's public honour was being impugned, it might indeed have appeared a worthwhile counterclaim on his part. However taking this course of action essentially consigned the man to single status for the rest of his life since a remarriage opened the possibility of a second accusation against him. If he chose to accuse his second wife of the same charge he ran a considerable risk, much greater than simply losing credibility - the penalty for false accusation of witchcraft was as severe as that for witchcraft itself.
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PostSubject: Re: Renaissance women   Sun 19 Aug 2012, 13:32

An interesting quote from Mary Prior's "Women in English Society 1500-1800" which in some way contradicts Warnicke's perception as cited by you above:

"The documented cases involving trial for witchcraft produce a telling statistic in that the figure of 95% applies not only to the percentage of those tried who were female but also to the percentage of female accusers and female witnesses named in the records."

While men might have sat in judgment it would appear that they were arbitrating in a peculiarly female sphere of activity.
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PostSubject: Re: Renaissance women   Sun 19 Aug 2012, 13:54

Here is a lovely example of the difficulty in retrospective analysis of women's self-perception and status in medieval times.

Heloise's letters to Abelard include comments typified by this one; "Sweeter to me will always be the word 'lover', or, if you will permit me, that of concubine or whore."

This assaults our modern sensibilities on so many levels that it is a struggle to imagine, let alone appreciate, the mood of intimacy and love in which the words were composed and which they were designed to convey so emphatically to their recipient. So much a struggle in fact that it has become commonplace now amongst "scholars" to assume that they are later forgeries inserted by men.
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PostSubject: Re: Renaissance women   Sun 19 Aug 2012, 17:36

nordmann wrote:
An interesting quote from Mary Prior's "Women in English Society 1500-1800" which in some way contradicts Warnicke's perception as cited by you above:

"The documented cases involving trial for witchcraft produce a telling statistic in that the figure of 95% applies not only to the percentage of those tried who were female but also to the percentage of female accusers and female witnesses named in the records."

While men might have sat in judgment it would appear that they were arbitrating in a peculiarly female sphere of activity.

Thank you for that information, Nordmann; it is indeed interesting, but rather depressing (on several levels). I'm honestly perplexed as to how a Professor of History at Arizona State University could have presented such skewed evidence. The quotation I gave may be found on page 192 of the 1989 paperback edition of Warnicke's now infamous "The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn."

I've been reading this review of Robin Briggs's book on witchcraft.

http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/4

Briggs seems to be someone whose research may be trusted: his comment that "most *informal* accusations were made by women" is perhaps relevant. I wonder if the "numerous" cases that Kittredge mentions were actually *formal* accusations - made by men and therefore taken more seriously than those made by unpleasant, vindictive women against other women? I have no idea. But presumably *informal* accusations were never brought to trial (?) and that contradicts what Prior says. So that horse won't run.

However, I do not wish to derail an interesting thread. Witchcraft discussions can quickly become tedious and, to quote Robin Briggs once more, "common assumptions about the subject tend to have one very marked feature in common which is that they are hopelessly wrong." I'm just a tad embarrassed that Warnicke - whose work I have unashamedly admired - seems (perhaps) also to have got it hopelessly wrong.
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PostSubject: Re: Renaissance women   Sun 19 Aug 2012, 18:02

Witchcraft trials were rarely trials in a purely legal sense, with recourse to solicited legal representation and reliance on statute as in normal civil cases. They were either run by ecclesiastics or as part of periodic "drives" against witchery using ad-hoc "courts". In that context I am not sure what an "informal" accusation might actually be. In both scenarios I imagine any such accusation would be taken seriously by the often self-appointed authorities who wanted to prosecute such cases.
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PostSubject: Re: Renaissance women   Sun 19 Aug 2012, 18:38

Hold on - just read the dates again. Prior presumably was discussing accusations of witchcraft during the period her book covers - 1500 to 1800. Warnicke and Kittredge were talking about the period of 300 years from the mid-twelfth century onwards. That's quite interesting. Things changed after 1500 perhaps?

Briggs's comment about informal trials is in this article - the section headed "Who was responsible?" Note Briggs's comment that "crystallization into formal prosecution, however, needed the intervention of men of fairly high status in the community"

http://www.gendercide.org/case_witchhunts.html

The Deborah Willis study cited is interesting too - seems to confirm what Prior says. Nevertheless, accusations still appear to have been "a collaborative enterprise between men and women at local level."


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PostSubject: Re: Renaissance women   Sun 19 Aug 2012, 18:51

The book on which I relied for my impotency examples, Terry Jones and Alan Ereira's "Medieval Lives", cites the 16th century - and in particular Henry VIII's government and his social reforms - as spelling doom for women's rights. Intriguing if it dovetails with a change in approach to witchcraft prosecution. Hmmm ...
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PostSubject: Re: Renaissance women   Sun 19 Aug 2012, 19:56

nordmann wrote:
The book on which I relied for my impotency examples, Terry Jones and Alan Ereira's "Medieval Lives", cites the 16th century - and in particular Henry VIII's government and his social reforms - as spelling doom for women's rights. Intriguing if it dovetails with a change in approach to witchcraft prosecution.

Women, especially royal ladies in the 16th century, did ask for trouble though. It was bad enough that they insisted on having a go at writing, but they churned out such *dreary* stuff. Catherine Parr bored Henry to tears with her "Lamentations of a Sinner" (although it's unlikely he ever read it - the title was enough), while Marguerite of Navarre - the sister of Francis I - also got religion quite badly (unfortunately the wrong kind) and penned "The Mirror of the Sinful Soul" - over 1,400 lines of self-accusation and self-abasement. Theologians at the Sorbonne were appalled, and condemned Marguerite as a heretic. One outraged monk recommended that she should be sewn into a sack and hurled into the Seine.

But to be fair to the witty and brilliantly learned Marguerite, it should be noted that she also produced some merry and improper stories in her "Heptameron". They didn't give nearly as much offence - oddly - as the edifying sentiments of her religious poetry had done. But then edifying sentiments, especially when expressed in what has been called "a profusion of confused dullness," never do go down well.


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PostSubject: Re: Renaissance women   Mon 20 Aug 2012, 09:03

Checking out Cromwell's social reforms and how they affected women's rights will keep me quiet and happy all day. As ever one doesn't know what or whom to believe. According to John Schofield (and Hilary Mantel of course) Cromwell was pretty decent to women, even Catherine of Aragon who - unbelievably - called him "my special friend". Women (again according to the Schofield biography) often sought Cromwell's legal advice when they were in difficulties. But did the legislation that Cromwell pushed through during the 1530s really spell doom for women's rights?

Cromwell, however, was dead by 1540, and *Henry's* attitude to women was perhaps rather different. It can perhaps best be summed up by his comment on the death of his first wife. When told that cancer had finally killed Catherine, that noble Spanish princess whom he had persecuted for so long, the king is reported to have exclaimed, "Thank God the old harridan is dead!" It's a good story and may not be true, but according to Starkey what *is* true is that Henry was determined "to get his hands on what was left of her property."

The treatment of Anne Askew in 1546 appalled everyone. Women had been burnt before, but the repeated *torture* of a gentlewoman during interrogation was unheard of. Anne was cruelly racked with Henry's knowledge and consent. Her official crime was heresy - not witchcraft - but really she was destroyed for being an uppity bitch who would not back down. Catherine Parr - who held the same religious views as Anne - was not so foolish: she backed down, shut up - and survived.


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PostSubject: Re: Renaissance women   Tue 21 Aug 2012, 05:33

There’s quite a lot of difficulties talking of how independent women in the past were (or how anything any large group of people are). Women varied from being the first daughter of extremely wealthy families to working girls of large rural or inner-city families. And are we just talking about English/British women here – Spanish women, for instance seem to have been much more circumscribed by church and family than those in northern countries. It ‘s also difficult to extrapolate from just a few writings or quotes. People in a lifetime say a lot and if literate write a lot, and grabbing a couple of quotations from them seems to me a recipe for assumptions, which I quite often come across in biographies where the writer seem to force the subject into something of a straitjacket based on very little.

And as Nordmann said we see things differently now and it’s extremely hard to change that. A trivial example I heard not long ago was about a bookclub choice where it involved the problems of a woman who had given her child up for adoption in the 1950s. The younger women in the group were just condemnatory of her – ‘what sort of woman would ever give up their child?’ They had no concept of how hard it was with absolutely no state backing to help and how harsh society attitudes could be on families in this situation. Or understanding of how 17-year-olds are persuaded. And older members telling them made no difference – they couldn’t listen or understand.

I will have mentioned before Olwen Hufton’s The Prospect Before Her - A history of Women in Western Europe, 1500 – 1800. She talks (well she talks for 500 detailed highly researched pages of all sorts of aspects which I haven’t time to read through in any depth) of the importance of marriage in a woman’s life. French and Spanish people from high-born families were especially led from the family down, so that “a child who is was feared was yielding to passion and in danger of trying to escape parental prohibitions...could until the 1780s be imprisoned for a short cautionary period under a lettre de cachet.” But this was really for the aristocracy. Then she said, “Young people from the country labouring on their own account in the towns were supposed to alert their parents to their intentions and secure their approval, and the parochial clergy worked hard to see that this was done. However, many couples intending to marry as they approached their thirties were already orphans and distance limited the intervention which parents might have wished to exert. It could be virtually impossible to control the actions of people who had worked for themselves and whose parents could settle nothing upon them...Control diminished the further down the social scale you went.”

She quotes Sybil Powell in 1607, 20-year-old whose father had died. She had worked for seven years in London away from her mother, who was poor, and moved in with her prospective husband’s brother till they married. “One could not in any society at any time arrange marriages for people of 24-plus who had laboured for twelve or more years to support themselves. Such couples were old enough to be capable of mature judgements. The literature of good adv ice counselled writing home to one’s parents of the character and assets of the intended partner...But at this time only a small proportion of working girls could write and we cannot know how many of their parents could read. Distance imposed independence.”

“Attraction and affection, however, had to coexist with the prospect of sufficiency.”

I suppose if there is one over-riding theme to this book it is that financial considerations trump everything else. Except perhaps religious belief.

The introduction to this book begins, “In the late 1950s Keith Thomas was rash enough to offer a series of lectures on seventeenth-century women to Oxford undergraduates. His colleagues found the subject bizarre and the students simply did not turn up to listen. There were doubtless many good reasons. Oxford was virtually a male bastion at the time and the odds on getting a question about women in the final examination papers were probably a million to one against. Above all, however, the subject was perceived as neither relevant nor interesting.”
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Renaissance women

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