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The negotiation and fashioning of female honour in early modern London

By Tim Reinke-Williams


This thesis examines concepts of female honour circulating among the middling and poorer sorts in Elizabethan and seventeenth-century London. Utilising prescriptive advice books, secular and ecclesiastical court records, vestry minutes, ballads, diaries, pamphlets and plays, the thesis explores how ordinary women might fashion respectable identities for themselves. By negotiating some degree of autonomy within the restrictive boundaries imposed by a patriarchal society, women might earn praise and social credit from their families, friends, and neighbours. It starts from the premiss that while sexual honesty remained an essential pre-requisite for female honour, women who sought to acquire a good reputation were required to do much more than protect their virginity before marriage and remain sexually faithful to their husbands. Women as individuals were judged by their physical appearance and the clothes they wore; as members of families and households by the successful performance of their roles as mothers, housewives and mistresses; and as members of local communities by their interactions with their neighbours, both male and female. In addition female honour was linked to the skill with which women negotiated the unique physical environments of early modem London and its hinterlands, in particular the fields, streets, and alehouses of the capital. Women had to undergo constant scrutiny, and often criticism, from both male and female neighbours, but the thesis argues that contemporary codes of honour, reputation, and credit could also empower women, by bringing them respect and admiration

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