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,

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,_1879.jpg

Illustration of ‘The Awakening of Father Christmas’ By John Tenniel (1820–1914) – Punch, 26 December 1891, p307, Public Domain,

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”.

Getting Started

I always think that the beginning of a research project is a strange time, a bit like the first day of a new school year when you are faced with both the thrill of new exercise books full of crisp, white pages that demand your best handwriting as well as the fear of spoiling them with scribbled out mistakes. Planning a project or, in the case of the Gender Place and Memory Research Cluster, multiple projects is simultaneously exciting and frustrating as we grapple with the information we want to find, the questions that we want to answer, and how we might best use the available source material.

As in new exercise books, it is inevitable that mistakes will be made and plans crossed out, but these dead ends and frustrations are the parts of the planning process that push researchers into devising new methodologies, to using existing sources in different ways, and to thinking of creatively about how we might advance our knowledge. This is particularly pertinent to studies of women’s history, where information was frequently misreported or not gathered in the first place, and then has survived only sporadically. So here at the beginning of the first three years of the Gender Place and Memory research cluster academics and PhD research students alike are busy drawing up our research questions and thinking about how we can best tackle them.

One of the biggest strengths of the GPM research cluster is the network of research-active scholars of geography, literature and history based both at the University of Hull and other institutions, archives and museums, who communicate regularly to share the results of ongoing projects and ideas that have emerged from the reading of interdisciplinary journal articles and books. My instinct is to protect my research ideas like children, shielding them from scrutiny until they are properly worked up, tweaked and polished, but sharing ideas with supportive colleagues at the very earliest stages of planning means that flaws are caught early, and the opportunities to incorporate interdisciplinary ideas and perspectives are exploited from the beginning. I am excited to see what the next three years brings, and you can keep up to date with the different projects and activities that are taking place within the GPM research cluster through this blog page.

Dr Jennifer Aston, University of Hull

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 blog, and following our Twitter feed.