Gender Place and Memory 1400-1900

Welcome to the website of the Gender, Place and Memory Research Cluster, based at the University of Hull. Starting in September 2016, members of the Cluster including senior academics, post-doctoral researchers, and doctoral students will be working on various projects examining women’s property and material culture; women and the law; gender and emotional attachment to land, landscape and environment.

Keep up-to-date with our discoveries by reading our Research Updates blog, and following our Twitter feed.


Pre-marital contracts: A study through history

Most people are familiar with the concept of a pre-nuptial agreement. The media is rife with salacious stories of celebrities whose marriage breakdowns are eased by the existence of a pre-nuptial agreement, and those who are drawn in to lengthy and costly proceedings over the lack of one. High profile cases, such as the 2016 divorces of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard, and Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, spark debate and breed speculation whether a breakdown of marriage is anticipated by entering in to such agreements. Either way, these agreements appear relevant only to the rich and famous.

stormm blog
Married To An Old Maid — A Rake’s Progress series, by William Hogarth

It may perhaps be surprising therefore for readers to learn that marriage settlements (or a pre-nuptial agreement in modern parlance) were used far more widely in the early modern period than they are today, nor were they something only used by the wealthy. Planning for life beyond a parties’ marriage was not an uncommon feature of marriage preparation and negotiation in the early modern period. Families often wished to protect their daughter’s property from being absorbed into their son-in-law’s family. Many were concerned to ensure that their daughter’s husbands could not ‘kiss or kick’ from her property which would have reverted to her (and thus her natal family) upon her husband’s death.[1]

As such, many families began from the mid seventeenth century onwards to use trusts in order to secure a wife’s separate property. This usually gave her access to income but also protected the realty and personal capital from harm; most importantly, such trusts could be (and were) enforced through the law of equity.

One example of how trusts functioned is demonstrated through the life of a widow named Catherine Langwith. Catherine sought to protect her assets when embarking on her marriage to her second husband, the Reverend Robert Younge in 1782. In the settlement, Catherine secured £20 per annum for her own separate use. During their short and difficult marriage, Younge attempted to assign some marital property away, but was rebuffed by lawyers, who advised him that without her agreement, or a court order, he could not dispose of property against which Catherine’s separate estate was secured.[2] After four years of marriage, the parties entered in to a separation agreement, once more protecting Catherine’s assets from her husband. Catherine continued to demonstrate financial shrewdness when she corresponded with her cousin after the death of her estranged husband, determining that she would seek to recover all she could, ruminating that “we had better take the very Best Counsil opinion upon it.”[3]

The existence and implementation of marriage settlements has bred debate amongst historians, particularly as to whether they benefited women. Scholars such as Lloyd Bonfield and Amy Louise Erickson argued that settlements represented a shift towards greater equality[4] and gave women ‘more power over property than previously allowed.’[5] By contrast, Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall suggested that trusts removed women’s independent economic agency over their estates and subsequently female access to the marketplace.[6]

It is these and other debates which inform my doctoral research. Over the next few years of my PhD research, I will be exploring women’s agency within early modern pre-marriage agreements, focusing in particular on the question of whether women had greater autonomy over their property than the letter of the law suggests. As is clear from the case of Catherine Langwith, even though trusts may have been set up to protect against overbearing husbands, many women were pro-active in using settlements for their own ends. Catherine would have been secure in the knowledge that such settlements were enforceable in equity. Today, a pre-nuptial agreement is only one factor that English courts will take in to account when deciding a disputed case. One reason given for this is that women may be pressurised into accepting an arrangement that is not in her best interests. As with Catherine Langwith, many eighteenth-century women were using legal devices with aplomb; perhaps the courts of today could reflect on these advantages.

In other words, examining the marriage settlements of the past may inform how we view pre-marriage arrangements of the future. In realising the extent to which pre-marriage settlements were used by a broad range of people in the early modern period, it may allow us to re-evaluate the benefit of using them now. This may also lead us to accept them as a feature of our everyday lives, rather than leaving us to uncomfortably peer and wonder at the private lives of the rich and famous.

Stormm Buxton-Hill, PhD Candidate, University of Hull

Image: The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.

[1] Courtney Stanhope Kenny, The History of the Law of England as to the Effects of Marriage on Property and on the Wife’s Legal Capacity (London: Reeves and Turner, 1879), p.204.

[2] UDDDU/21/25

[3] UDDDU/20/9

[4] Lloyd Bonfield, Marriage settlements, 1660-1740 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), p. 120

[5] Amy Louise Erickson, Women and Property in Early Modern England (London: Routledge, 1995), p.19;

[6] Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780-1850, (London: Routledge, 2002), p. 209-11

*CALL FOR PAPERS* Women’s Negotiations of Space, 1500-1900

cfp logoWelcome to the ‘Women’s Negotiations of Space, 1500-1900’ conference, to be held at the University of Hull on Thursday January 18th 2018. This one-day conference, organised by PhD students from the Gender, Place and Memory Research Cluster, is generously supported by the Women’s History Network Small Grants Postgraduate Scheme and the University of Hull Graduate School. We aim to bring together scholars, early career researchers and postgraduate researchers working on all aspects of women’s spatial histories between 1500-1900.

Contact us at womensspace18@outlook.com

Follow us at @womensspace18 and @Women_and_Land

CFP 2Abraham Bosse, Salon de dames, 17th century.


Date: Thursday 18th January 2018 (9.30am to 5pm, to be followed by a wine reception and conference dinner)

Location: University of Hull

Keynote Speakers: Dr Ruth Larsen (University of Derby) and Dr Nicola Whyte (University of Exeter)

Doreen Massey argued that ‘particular ways of thinking about space and place are tied up with, both directly and indirectly, particular social constructions of gender relations.’[1] This conference will investigate how women have used their agency to negotiate gender constructions in space-time; and the ways in which women’s agency has been curtailed through constructed spatial limitations.

Due to generous funding from the Women’s History Network and the University of Hull Graduate School, we are able to offer a number of small travel or accommodation bursaries to PG students and ECRs. Details will be available shortly.

Possible themes include, but are not limited to, women’s roles and experiences in:

  • Mobility and travel across space and life-cycles
  • Domestic spaces and families
  • Working and professional spaces
  • Negotiations in legal spaces and engagement with the law
  • Experiences of property ownership and relationships with property
  • Agriculture, estate and land management
  • Movements and impact on political spaces
  • Social spaces and networks
  • Building, renovating, and managing country houses and estates
  • Geographical, social and familial networks of and between women
  • Women’s histories in heritage spaces and public history: reflections and methodologies

Please send an abstract of up to 350 words for 15 minute papers, including a short biography, to the conference organisers at: womensspace18@outlook.com by 30th September 2017.

Organisers: Stormm Buxton-Hill, Helen Manning, Lizzie Rogers, Sarah Shields, Alice Whiteoak.

[1] Doreen Massey, Space, Place and Gender, (Polity Press, Cambridge, 1994), p. 2.

‘I will be mistress of my own’: newly-widowed women in the Georgian elites.

In series two of BBC’s Poldark, the death of Francis Poldark left his wife Elizabeth a young
widow and guardian of their son who was heir to the estates. As guardian Elizabeth became the overseer of the Poldark estates and mines, and in episode 8 she expresses her frustrations at her new responsibilities:


Poldark: Series 2, Episode 8: BBC

I’m at my wits’ end with Tabb. He contradicts everything I say – as if he thinks he is master here now. And now these letters have come – all these questions which apparently only I can answer: a tithe of one pound, six shillings on the seines of certain fishing boats in Sawle. Should the fishermen be pressed for money? I don’t know? Should they? Can I afford not to press them? Whose need is greater?

Elite Georgian widows often found themselves with new responsibilities upon the deaths of their husbands. Some, like Elizabeth, were reluctant managers. Martha Baker of Penn in Buckinghamshire was widowed in 1727 after 41 years of marriage and 17 children. She wrote to her brother in 1728 that ‘before [her husband’s death] I was not concern’d with these affairs & indeed never liked it’. Despite this, Martha sought advice in aspects of estate management and became an efficient and capable businesswoman for the rest of her life, and even managed her son’s estates when he was ill or absent. Martha, like Elizabeth, was keen to assert that she had the ultimate authority in regards to the property and estate and not stewards such as Tabb, or, in Martha’s case, her interfering son. When her son Dan went behind her back to cut and sell wood on one of her jointure estates, Martha demanded the process be stopped until she was in agreement, writing to her brother Joseph Mellish that ‘while I live I will be mistress of my own’.

Likewise, Lady Anne Cust of Grantham in Lincolnshire was widowed in 1734 and had nine minor children’s property and fortunes to manage as well as her own jointure estates. She quickly took advice as to how to keep efficient accounts and was respected as a landowner and estate manager in her own right. Not only was Lady Anne a custodian of her children’s property but she invested in new land and increased their assets. Her business acumen extended well into old-age. In a letter to her grandson in 1771 when she was 77 years old, Lady Anne wrote ‘I wish you may bye, both the estate at Normanton & Barkston & if you have not money now to do it, I will readely sell out of the Funds to assist you’.

Other women were not so fortunate as to be ‘mistress of their own’ when their husbands died. Widows with no children were often expected to make way for the (usually male) heir and set up a new, smaller establishment for themselves in a town or ‘retired place’. While widowhood meant the loss of status and estates for some women, for others it was a time when they flourished in their new roles as estate managers. It was certainly not unusual for widowed women to take control of property and estates, nor, as seen from the examples above, was it frowned upon. Newly-widowed women could be encouraged by brothers, lawyers, and stewards to maintain and increase their assets by becoming capable and efficient managers in their own right.

Sarah Shields, PhD Candidate, University of Hull

Making memory, crafting reform: the ballads of Anne Askew and the Duchess of Suffolk

Ballads and folk songs have a long and diverse history in Europe and they continue to be used as a means of raising awareness about political and social issues around the world. Designed to be sung to simple formulaic tunes and phasing, balladry is a flexible art form that can easily be committed to memory. This lends ballads an inherent social dimension in keeping with and testimony to their historically important place in popular social movements.

The Ballad of Anne Askew

During the late medieval and early modern period, and especially with the advent of print culture, the potential for the wider dissemination of ballads grew and ballads eventually made their way onto broadsheets. For the religious reformers of the sixteenth century, the broadside ballad was an important device for galvanising communities and cultivating popular support, since the ballad, as an innovative form of anthem or hymn, could work with the popular imagination, and, as research in the history of emotions has shown, was readily responsive to the emotional regimes current in the cultural milieu.[1] The ballads of Anne Askew and the Duchess of Suffolk are two very good examples of ballads that manipulate emotional conventions and invert expectations of gender, artfully invoking issues of place and memory in order to present a compelling and rousing popular history.

Anne Askew (ca. 1521-1546) was condemned as a heretic Protestant divorcee during the reign of Henry VIII. In the ‘Ballad of Anne Askew’, Anne, a self-cast authoress of reformed spiritual practice, moulds her prison cell and the ballad she performs into platforms for protest and instruction. In her ballad, Anne rejects and condemns out-dated and corrupt rituals and performances of penance, framing the story of her imprisonment in a lament for a much longed for garden – suggesting a new Eden. Working in dialogue with echoes of the written Word of God in Scripture, Anne reinvigorates the instructive power of the written word for a new age, making the history of her persecution in its ballad form complement the ‘new learning’ so feared by the establishment and so fundamental to the Protestant Reformist movement of the fifteenth century.

Katherine, Duchess of Suffolk

The broadside ballad also proved to be a fitting devise for cementing the legacy of another female religious reformer of the Early Modern era: Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk (1519-1580). Katherine was an important patron of Protestant culture during the reign of Edward VI. However, when the crown passed to Queen Mary in 1553 and the primacy of Roman Catholicism was reinstalled, Katherine was placed in a dangerous position. Katherine fled to the continent with her family and servants. The family’s exile was made famous in the ballad of The Duchess of Suffolkes Calamite, a ballad which retained its popularity well into the eighteenth century, demonstrating the efficacy of the ballad form as a means of crafting and fixing commemoration of a protest figure. In the Duchess’s ballad, in ways resonant to those in the ‘Ballad of Anne Askew’, moments of implied literary and religio-historical parallelization operate as nexuses capable of integrating the reader (with his/her own storehouse of emotional memories and iconic exempla) into the ballad’s story. Thus, the ballad becomes a site for establishing a community bound by cultural memory.

Broadside ballads are complex multi-media devices for spreading news and ideas and for disseminating tools in the form of stories and histories vital to social and political movements. In the case of the histories of Anne Askew and the Duchess of Suffolk, their ballads were a means of presenting female figures of reform and resistance in ways that invoked the shared emotions, memories and cultural histories of readers so that these figures of resistance were aligned with the socially integrated currency and gendered agency of past icons and instigators of reform. In the face of political and religious strife, broadside ballads and ballad culture offered its audiences roles in the making of the reform by enabling readers and singers to participate in moments of memorialization, and in so doing, to become agents of protest and change.

Dr Sarah McKeon, Academic Coordinator Heritage Consortium, University of Hull

[1] See Sandra Garridos and Jane Davidson, ‘Emotional Regimes Reflected in a Popular Ballad: Perspectives on Gender, Love and Protest in ‘Scarborough Fair’, Musicology Australia, 38.1 (2016), 65-78.


Image of The Ballad of Anne Askew: A ballad of Anne Askew, intituled: I am a woman poore and blind, 1624. Tract Supplement / A3:3[57], Bib name / number: STC (2nd ed.) / 853.5. Early English Books Online.

Image of Katherine, Duchess of Suffolk: Portrait of Katherine, Duchess of Suffolk, Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/1498–1543) – Royal Collection, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6384466

Gender, Place and Memory Research Cluster Seminar Series

In a break from our usual #womenshistorywed blog posts, the GPM team are delighted to announce the inaugural Gender, Place and Memory Research Cluster Seminar Series. We will be welcoming five academics from across the UK to the University of Hull to share their research on a wide variety of topics connected to our research aims from across the medieval, early modern and modern periods. Our exciting programme will launch on International Women’s Day where Professor James Daybell (Plymouth) will be exploring gender, power and materiality in early modern England, and then continue through April, May and June. Full programme details are below, all are welcome and we look forward to seeing you there!

Wednesday 8th March

Cohen Lecture Theatre 1


Gender, Place & Memory International Women’s Day Seminar

‘Ungloved: Gender, Power and Materiality of Early Modern English Gloves’

Professor James Daybell, Plymouth University

Wednesday 5th April

Cohen Lecture Theatre 1


Urban Topography, Municipal Texts, and Memory in late medieval England and Ireland

 Dr Eliza Hartrich, University of Sheffield

Wednesday 26th April

Cohen Lecture Theatre 1


Gender and Economic Development in early modern England: The Role of Asset Formation

Dr Judith Spicksley, University of York

Wednesday 17th May

Cohen Lecture Theatre 1


Local Concerns, Global Impact: The influence of early Anglo-American firms at home and abroad, 1815-1840

 Dr Emily Buchnea, University of Newcastle

Wednesday 7th June

Cohen Lecture Theatre 1


Men’s use of space in early modern medical interactions

 Dr Jennifer Evans, University of Hertfordshire



Her ladyship’s Christmas bounty: elite women, charity and the festive season

‘Father Christmas’, Fun, 24 December 1879

250 years ago, it was common for landed families to make gifts to the poor at Christmas and other set times of the year. The goods involved varied from estate to estate and year to year. At Wrest Park in Bedfordshire, beef was distributed on the 21st December every year on behalf of Lady Lucas, while at Stoke Gifford and Stapleton in Gloucestershire – estates owned by Elizabeth, dowager duchess of Beaufort – both beef and bread were given out.[i] Elizabeth Prowse of Wicken in Northamptonshire, sold a beef cow to the poor every winter at the subsidized price of 2d. a pound and in 1783 gave them the meat for free ‘it having been a hard winter for them’.[ii] Much the same thing was happening at Lanhydrock in Cornwall where beef and potatoes – or sometimes beef soup – were provided to poor families.[iii]

‘The Awakening of Father Christmas’ Punch, 26 December 1891

At Ashby St Ledgers in Northamptonshire, the Ashley family held a Christmas dinner for their tenants from at least 1740 onwards. The men and women were seated separately and were served with a range of meats including beef, mutton, goose and rabbit, plus some greens and plum pudding to finish the meal. By the early 1760s, two dinners were being held: one for the cottage tenants and one for the poor. No mention of the dinners was made in the early nineteenth-century accounts but meat and coals were being given to the poor at Christmas, as well as flour for pancakes on Shrove Tuesday and a Valentine’s penny to 30 poor children.[iv] At times of the year when the weather was often harsh and people were in great need – especially following poor harvests – such charity could prove crucial to the survival of the rural poor.

This form of country house charity had long been in existence and was typically seen as a peculiarly feminine responsibility. It fell to the landowner’s wife to oversee as part of her well-established role as ‘Lady Bountiful’. This included making gifts of money, clothing, food and medicine to the poor, as well as patronising or even founding schools, churches and almshouses, achievements celebrated both in these women’s lifetimes and in post-mortem obituaries and memorials. Yet, as propertied women themselves, Lady Lucas, the duchess of Beaufort and Elizabeth Prowse embodied both the landowner and Lady Bountiful; the iron fist and the velvet glove. This was a responsibility which sat differently with different women, so that for some female landowners, charity went well beyond the customary and expected giving at Christmas to encompass much more strategic efforts to relieve poverty and improve living conditions amongst the least fortunate. Indeed, some even combined their philanthropy with managing the estate, overseeing building works and pushing forward schemes for agricultural improvement and landscape change. But this is a story for another day!

In the meantime, Happy Christmas from all of us in the Gender, Place and Memory research cluster @UniofHull. We hope you have a wonderful, well-deserved break!

Dr Briony McDonagh, University of Hull


[i] Gloucs Archives, D2700/QP14/1; Beds RO, L30/11/132/27, 60, 62, 63, 90; L30/11/40/9.

[ii] Northants RO, 364p/67-70.

[iii] See, for example, Cornwall RO, CL/5/406.

[iv] Northants RO, ASL 1226 and 351.

Illustration of ‘Image of Father Christmas’ from “Fun” (London, England), Issue 763, 24 December 1879, p 256, Public Domain https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Father_Christmas#/media/File:Father_Christmas_from_England,_1879.jpg

Illustration of ‘The Awakening of Father Christmas’ By John Tenniel (1820–1914) – Punch, 26 December 1891, p307, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46951693

Uncovering Women’s Involvement in the Historical Record: A Few Notes on the Country House

One of the significant challenges in researching women’s history is the difficulty in discovering their agency within the sources. When researching the origin and curation of the exciting collections in British country houses, women’s choices tended to be obscured behind the names of their husbands in shopkeepers’ accounts and manufacturers’ ledgers. This demonstrates the necessity of reading between the lines to distinguish who chose objects to come into the country house and who purchased them.

Nostell Priory, a neoclassical country house under the care of the National Trust near Wakefield, is a prime example of the value to be gained from piecing together fragments of information in order to discover what mark the ladies of the house left behind in the objects on display. The woman in question here is Sabine d’Hervart, the Swiss wife of the 5th Baronet of Nostell, Sir Rowland Winn. They fell in love when Rowland visited Sabine’s hometown of Vevey during his Grand Tour and married in 1761. Upon Rowland’s inheritance of Nostell in 1765, they set to work transforming the house, including the array of objects inside.

Rowland spent vast amounts of time at their London house in St James’ Square and constantly wrote to Sabine, meticulously detailing everything he had been doing. A letter from Rowland to Sabine dated 22nd February 1773 refers to ‘My friend Adam’ – the neoclassical architect Robert Adam – working on Nostell Priory[1]. In another letter dated 24th May 1783 he says to Sabine that he could do with another piece of Chippendale furniture for his things.[2] These small details show that she was her husband’s confidante and that her advice was welcomed by him. Nostell Priory has one of the largest collections of Chippendale furniture within the National Trust and a copy of the 1754 Chippendale catalogue entitled the Gentleman & Cabinet Maker’s Director can be seen by visitors today on a shelf in the study, a room in which Chippendale furniture sits. This suggests Sabine would have had the same access to this information as Rowland, and that she assisted him within their spousal partnership: she, like him, was a decision maker about Nostell.

nostell-rowland-and-sabine-portraitImage: Sir Rowland and Lady Winn in the Library at Nostell Priory (1767-1769) (author’s image)

This is supported in a visual source on display at Nostell in the same room as the Chippendale catalogue. Hugh Douglas Hamilton’s portrait Sir Rowland and Lady Winn in the Library at Nostell Priory (1767-1769), though probably commissioned by Rowland, serves as an indication of the impression that the couple jointly hoped to cultivate with their different activities and is, as portraits of the period go, strikingly gender inclusive in that it presents the couple as equals in their cultural and patronal endeavours. It creates an enduring presence in the space they wanted to be remembered for creating, with the books, furniture and building plans indicative of their joint legacy to Nostell.

It was not as unusual as some historians suggest for women to be intimately involved in the cultivation of the country house. The examples from Nostell Priory laid out here show how this can be discovered and demonstrate how looking beyond the immediately obvious sources like account books can reveal a whole new story about the fine objects in the British country house.

Elizabeth J Rogers, PhD Candidate, University of Hull


[1] WYAS, WYW1352/1/1/6/3, Letter from Sir Rowland to Sabine Winn, 22nd February 1773, 2. Trans.: “Mon amie Adam”.

[2] WYAS, WYW1352/1/1/6/3, Letter from Sir Rowland to Sabine Winn, 24th May 1773, 3. Trans.: “au ainsy ma chere je pouvait faire un par Chippendale d’apres la modelle les Eppingles et les gartiers parfumer ne resout pas ou oublier je les apporteroit avec moy”.