Female servants in the early modern community: a study of church court depositions from the dioceses of Exeter and Gloucester, c.1550-1650
Mansell, Charmian Holly
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Embargo for 5 years
Reason for embargo
I am currently preparing my thesis for commercial publication. In order to have the book based on my thesis accepted for publication, it is important that the thesis is not available freely online, as this would make it unlikely I would be offered a book contract. Publishing the book is a key step in my academic career.
This thesis explores the demographic, geographical, economic and social experiences of service for early modern women. Considering service as a holistic experience, it challenges several orthodoxies in existing literature on service, including the typical profile of the female servant, the organisation and structure of service and the experiences of female servants in the early modern community. Using depositional evidence from the church courts of the dioceses of Gloucester and Exeter, it calls for a reinterpretation of service, reintegrating female servants into community economies and social networks. The first section of this thesis provides an outline of the methodology used and, importantly, analyses patterns of litigation and the demographic, social and economic profiles of witnesses and litigants who appeared in the church courts. The second section focuses on demographic and economic patterns of female service, demonstrating the significance of other experiences outside the ‘life-cycle’ model. It considers the economic conditions in which women entered service and the social backgrounds from which they came. The third section focuses on service as a form of work, unpicking what is meant by ‘service’, and considering how female servants found employment, how much they were paid and how long they remained with particular employers. The section challenges the traditional gendered dichotomy between service in husbandry and domestic service by analysing the types of work that they undertook. The fourth section considers female service from the perspective of geography and space, examining the distances travelled by female servants to show the varied experiences of mobility in service. The section also explores mobility on a parish level, exploring the spaces and locations in which female servants were described within the depositions to highlight the social and economic presence of these women within community spaces, not just the household. The final section moves away from the historiographical focus upon the relationships that female servants built with members of the household, in which the vulnerability of these women is consistently stressed. This section demonstrates that this was but one experience of service, and instead considers relationships forged outside the household with neighbours, friends and other community members.
Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
PhD in History