Leading Apes in Hell or Leading a Life Free from a Husband’s Control? Singlewomen Choosing not to Marry in Early Modern England c.1604-1731

Browne, Sandra (2023) Leading Apes in Hell or Leading a Life Free from a Husband’s Control? Singlewomen Choosing not to Marry in Early Modern England c.1604-1731. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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This thesis explores the lives of singlewomen in the seventeenth and early eighteenth century, in England and in some transcontinental ventures using a new methodological approach. Historians began to take an interest in this previously overlooked significant minority in early modern society several decades ago. Much of the work done on singlewomen was quantitative using local records, such as those for businesses and probate courts, which provided an analysis of their numbers and activities. Quantitative work demonstrated that these women were an active part of their communities; occasionally individual lives were considered briefly. This approach did not address in any depth their lived experiences, tending to focus on a single aspect of their lives such as land-owning or moneylending. This thesis uses probate records and letters as well as knowledge of the material worlds in which they lived to give us a different understanding of their lives. In each of three case studies it asks questions and suggests answers about the subject’s experiences, exploring how each woman used the objects and activities available to her to achieve agency and control. In order to provide a context for these case studies, the thesis begins by examining the probate documents of a selection of unmarried women from the diocese of Norwich. These women ranged in age and circumstances, and their efforts as they approached death to control their property, however wealthy or poor they were, give us a picture of their lived experiences. The three case studies which follow used as a start point the work of previous historians, together with much archival material, but the subjects were approached in a new way. By identifying activities or incidents in their lives, which often had a start and an end point, and from there exploring the material possibilities open to them as singlewomen, it was possible to make reasonable assumptions about how and why they made choices and how they maintained degrees of freedom to live outside the constraints of marriage and childbearing. Paying attention to their material worlds by this approach, which is not chronological, shows their creativity and ingenuity, achieving independence and agency outside the normative heterosexual construct. This new intervention, asking questions about the lives of individuals, and answering with reasonable assumptions, is of particular value for considering the lives of women, where historical records are fewer than for the lives of men.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of History
Depositing User: Chris White
Date Deposited: 26 Mar 2024 13:50
Last Modified: 26 Mar 2024 13:50
URI: https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/id/eprint/94768


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