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Women in Elizabethan times.

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Introduction

This can be a difficult subject to study objectively, as women had few rights in the early modern period. There is the danger of supposing that because women were very much confined to the domestic sphere that they were unhappy, oppressed, and abused by tyrannical husbands. While tyrannical husbands certainly existed, there is no evidence to suggest that they were the norm and that women were generally mistreated and unhappy. There is, quite the contrary, abundance of evidence of happy marriages and happy families. The roles of women were confined, but this was arguably the result of practical reasons. It was simply impossible for women to work in the public sphere in an age lacking effective birth control. A woman had, on average, a baby every 2 years. Childbearing was a considerable honour to women and they prided in it. The roles of men and women were simply different. The woman stayed at home and looked after the family, while the man went out to work to earn a living, or worked his own land. Both husband and wife worked extremely hard, and both roles were as important as the other. It is only as society moved into the capitalist era that the public sphere began to be seen as more important than the private, because in a capitalist society the worth of a role is judged by it's relation to the means of production. ...read more.

Middle

It was not always clear what happened to these estates when the woman married, whether they became the property of their husband, but this was not automatically the case and if the wife died, he could lose the properties. Marriages of the nobility were very complicated affairs indeed and marriage treaties invariably had to be drawn up so that each party knew exactly where they stood in such matters. The laws of inheritance meant that fathers were anxious to have a son, but that does not mean that daughters were unloved and unwanted. The attitude of Henry VIII to his daughters was unusual, and was probably the result of his obsession with providing the country with a male heir and subsequent ruler. Parents did love their daughters and saw them as precious gifts from God. Of all the children Thomas More had, his daughter Margaret was his favourite, and William Cecil was a devoted father to all his children, male and female. Queen Elizabeth would write letters of condolence on the death of daughters as well as the deaths of sons. 5.A man had the legal right to chastise his wife as he was seen as the head of the marriage. However, it is important to understand what this "headship" meant. ...read more.

Conclusion

Noble women as well as men were given a good education, and subjected to the classics, mathematics, and all other academic subjects of the day. Women were not allowed to enter the universities, but it was thought essential that noble women were educated to a high standard. With Elizabeth being on the throne, this was encouraged, as men did not want their daughters to look like dim in the presence of their very intelligent and highly educated queen. The women that perhaps suffered the most in this period were ironically those like the Queen who did not wish to marry. Tudor society did not have many avenues open to single women and the avenues were even less following the Reformation. Before then, women could become nuns and look forward to a rewarding life in Abbeys, perhaps be a Mother Superior one day. But with the Reformation, the convents were closed. Wealthy women, heiresses of property, could look forward to being mistress of their estates and wield the power in the community this would bring, but for poor women, the only "career" really open to them was domestic service. It was not surprising, therefore, that most women married. Marriage was seen as the desirable state for both men and women, and single women were sometimes looked upon with suspicion. It was often single women who were thought to be witches by their neighbours. English Context Handout 10/10/2003 3 of 3 ...read more.

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