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MEDIEVAL AND EARLY MODERN WOMEN

Part 2: Household Books, Correspondence and Manuscripts owned by women from the British Library, London

Publisher's Note

Part 1 of our series Medieval and Early Modern Women consists of a collection of manuscripts from the British Library, London. Part 2 expands the range of material documenting women's lives in the medieval and early modern periods and contains a significant collection of Household Books and related materials; a range of noteworthy association copies; and correspondence by and between women.

The Household Books and related materials offer a variety of Recipe Books, Accounts, Household Books and Medical recipes dating from 1465 to 1700. The earliest is the Household Book of the Duchess of Buckingham, 1465, (Add Ms 34213). The most detailed are the accounts Anne Archer, daughter and co-heiress of Simon Crouche, alderman of London, and wife of Henry Archer, 1608-1617 (Add Mss 27622 and 30494).


Other items include the Recipe Book, c1682, of Mary Doggett, wife of Thomas Doggett, the actor (Add Ms 27466); the Recipe Book of Anne Glydd, c1656-1700, covering cookery, medicine and veterinary recipes (Add Ms 45196); the Medical Recipe Book of Anne Brockman, c1638 (Add Ms 45197); Cookery Recipes of Mrs Bates, Mrs Burbidge and Mrs Meymott, c1700 (Add Ms 45931); the recipe collection of Mary, Lady Dacres for cookery and domestic medicine, 1666-1696 (Add Ms 56248); Lady Harley's Medical recipes, c1680 (Egerton Ms 2214); and the culinary and medical recipes of Mary Birkhead and Mary Alexander (featuring an "aple tart the Queene Mothers way" (Egerton Mss 2415 and 2561).


There are thirteen distinguished Association Copies that provide evidence of texts read and owned by women starting with the Prayers and Meditations composed by Queen Katharine Parr, c1545 including a copy written by the Princess (later Queen) Elizabeth in her twelfth year and presented to her father, Henry VIII (King's 10).


There are six manuscripts formerly held by Syon Abbey, the religious order of women founded in England and devoted to the teaching of the visionary, St Birgitta of Sweden (1303-1373). These include a Confessor Generalis (Arundel Ms 11), a set of orders and constitutions for the nuns and Rules of the Abbey, both of the fifteenth century (Arundel Ms 146 and Add Ms 5208), a Martyrologium, Hours of the Virgin and Vulgate Bible, all of the fifteenth century (Add Mss 22285, 30514 and 40006). These texts all help scholars to better understand this religious order, which placed a premium on texts written by women for women.


There is also a Book of Saints presented to Margaret, mother of Henry VII (Add Ms 33772); The Compendion Historiall, 1528 (Add Ms 38691) owned by and bearing the signature of Jane Wriothsley, wife of the 1st Earl of Southampton; and The Romance of Diana done out of Spanish in 1596, once owned by Elizabeth and Anne Bourchier. Finally there are two Books of Hours, one owned by Margaret Beaufort, c1400 (Royal 2 A xviii), and the other by Elizabeth, Queen of Henry VII (Add Ms 50001).


The final section of Correspondence and records of medieval and early modern women commences with a curious eighteenth century volume compiled by Thomas Birch concerning Learned Women, but is dominated by the correspondence of three families. The correspondence and Religious Conversations at Little Gidding, c1630, between John Ferrar, his sister Susanna Collet, and her daughters are justly famous. They reveal much about religious and family anxieties and the proximity of death in early modern England.


Original correspondence of the Evelyn family, from 1634, includes much about Mary Evelyn, including an account of "money adventured" by her (Add Mss 15948-15949). The letters of the Conways (Add Mss 23213-23214) cover much of the seventeenth century and include letters by Dorothy, Katherine and Anne Conway. Another intriguing item (Add Ms 28023) is the medical case-book of a physician practising in Hampshire, 1565-1575. Many of his patients were women including Jane Wriothsley, Mrs Mylton, Elizabeth Sandys and Mary Wriothsley. There are also letters of Lady Jane Grey and Arabella Stuart (Add Ms 22563); Helena Southwell (Egerton Ms 1634); Anne Bourchier and Anne Herbert (Harleian Ms 7001).


These sources bring us closer to the social and domestic lives of women in the medieval and early modern period and offer insights into women's reading and women's learning. They provide a wealth of material to be explored and will be of interest to all centres of medieval and renaissance studies, as well as to scholars in History, English, French and Women's Studies.

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