Women's Voices in Tudor Wills, 1485–1603: Authority, Influence and Material Culture
Contributing an original dimension to the significant body of published scholarship on women in 16th-century England, this study examines the largest corpus of women’s private writings available to historians: their wills. In these, female voices speak out, commenting on their daily lives, on identity, gender, status, familial relationships and social engagement. Wills show women to have been active participants in a civil society, well aware of their personal authority and potential influence, whose committed actions during life and charitable strategies after death could and did impact the health of that society. From an intensive analysis of more than 1200 wills, this pioneering work focuses on women from all parts of the country and all strata of society, revealing an entire population of articulate, opportunistic, and capable individuals who found the spaces between the lines of the law and used those spaces to achieve personal goals. Author Susan James demonstrates how wills describe strategies for end-of-life care, create platforms of remembrance, and offer insights into the myriad occupational endeavors in which women were engaged. James illuminates how these documents were not simply instruments of bequest and inheritance, but were statements of power and control, catalogues of material culture from which we are able to gauge a woman’s understanding of her own reality and the context that formed her environment. Wills were tools and the way in which women wielded these tools offers new ways to look at England in the 16th century and reveals the seminal role women played in its development.
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A. L. Erickson Agnes Alice Anne Apprentice Book apprentices Barbara Harris bequeathed bequests Bess of Hardwick Bristol burial Cantlowe Chidham church Countess Countess of Sussex court Dame Mawde daughter death debt Duchess of Northumberland Durham Early Modern England elite Elizabeth enfeoffment England English Essex Wills 107 executors female Feminine Dynamic gift gold gown Guild Hatfield House heirs Honor household husband Image Reference 102–3 income inheritance investment Isabel Jane Jehane Norton jewelry Joan Viscountesse Lisle Johan John Kateryn Parr Katherine land late husband’s legacy legatees levels of society Lincolnshire living London Margaret Taylor Margaret Wright Margery marriage married Mary Medieval memorial mercer merchant mistress Oxford painted cloths parish poor portrait PROB11/12 Image Reference Reformation religious remembrance ring S. E. James servants sixteenth century Smythe social soul Southampton Probate Inventories Swaledale Thomas Tudor widow wife William willmaker willmaker’s Wodington woman Women and Property