Last year, Middling Culture embarked on an ambitious project to digitally recreate an upper-middling status room from the 1620s. The space selected for this reconstruction is a (now) empty room in a house extension from the early 1600s. The property, originally part of an urban house on the High Street in Reigate, Surrey, was dismantled and re-erected at the Weald and Downland Living Museum, but the interior is not accessible to visitors. It is a space with a lot of history but a shadow of its former self with no means of direct engagement. We’ve been working closely with different organisations, collections and individuals to help bring the room to life; to imagine how it was experienced by different people from the time.
The process of digital reconstruction is fascinating but not straightforward. As a team, we’ve learnt a lot about how digital technology can be used as a tool of engagement and learning in Arts and Humanities research projects. But the process of digital reconstruction has also allowed us to think more carefully and critically about the homes and lives of the urban middling sort. As a result, virtual reconstruction offers an alternative way of approaching the project’s original research questions while also providing a means of sharing our findings.
So, how do you begin to reconstruct a room from the 1620s? We’ve condensed our approach so far into 8 (not so easy) steps:
Where it all started.
Middling Culture is a research project focusing on the cultural and literate lives of the urban middling sort in early modern England and our findings over the course of the project underpin the production of our virtual room. Of course, we also conducted specific investigations into the space we wanted to recreate. We researched the type of room (a parlour), its position (first floor), the location of the house (Reigate in Surrey), its building history as well as evidence about the people who owned and rented it. We looked at archaeological reports relating to the site and studied any surviving decorative and architectural elements remaining in the room (and the rest of the property) today. Once we had established who lived there in the 1620s we built on our previous and ongoing research into domestic material cultureto make decisions about what sort of objects would have filled the space and how they facilitated the domestic, occupational, literate and creative lives of its residents. For this, we employed the project’s vast database of surviving probate inventories.
Do not underestimate the value of a database, or the people who can help you navigate them.
Databases are fundamental tools often developed by major projects studying early modern probate documents (wills and inventories). We had a large database to work with, filled with information from our different case study areas (Chester, Stratford-upon-Avon, Bristol to name a few). With the help of our database expert, Dr Mark Merry, we were able to run queries (complex searches) to establish the most statistically likely furniture and furnishings for our room. The database let us model representative groups of objects that were found in historical parlours, generating models which were sensitive to place, period and social status. We could address questions about the quantity of objects, clusters of object types commonly found together, the visual and material detail of objects with lots of qualitative description (e.g. colours, materials and wear), arrangement of objects within the room and so on, which would not have been possible without the querying tools available with the database. Our reconstruction might be creative and interpretive, but it is rooted in extensive documentary evidence.
3.Filling the room
Find surviving examples of the objects you want to fill your room – this isn’t always easy if your occupiers were of middling status.
Once we had an initial list of contents gleaned from probate evidence, we set about finding extant examples of furniture and furnishings of the correct date and social status. Some of the items chosen to fill our room are objects or documents that we have studied at other stages in the project. These are our ‘hero’ objects: items we want to highlight because they are central in articulating particular elements of ‘middling culture’. These hero objects will feature in another of our digital outputs – our online exhibition (more details to follow soon). Sourcing a fuller range of objects to fill the rest of the space was not an easy task. Most domestic items from the early 1600s are elite in status. Of the ‘middling’ items that do survive, many have been altered or restored over the centuries and it can be challenging to trace the origins and location of production for each item. Many of the furnishings and fittings were carefully sourced from a variety of museum collections. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust hold a substantial collection of domestic furniture from the 1500s and 1600s, and a large proportion of the objects recreated for our room are based on items from this collection. The National Trust, Folger Shakespeare Library, Portable Antiquities Scheme and Museum of London collections also care for a significant amount of ‘everyday’ household items and documents matching the information found in probate inventories. After many searches, mood boards and various versions of object lists, we found an extant example of each item we wanted to appear in our parlour room.
Think about how your virtual objects might fit in your virtual space.
The room itself set certain restrictions on its contents, and this offers important evidence for the surprising ‘fullness’ of some early modern rooms. The dimensions and layout of the space determined our object positioning as only one of the four walls provided a suitable position for the bed, the others being occupied by windows, a fireplace and a staircase. We were then able to plan our other objects around this key item, informed by the qualitative evidence from the probate materials about which objects were kept with or next to one another. Urban parlours in the 1620s were multifunctional spaces and this had to be reflected in the layout of the room. We wanted to recreate the feel of the room as if you were stood in or navigating the space, so we followed the exact dimensions of the room as well as the correct measurements of each extant object positioned within. This meant a lot of reshuffling and moving of items, while also thinking about the flow and function of the space. Using floorplanning software, we went through various layouts. This really helped us to think about how the room was actually used, as well as how people entering the room might have interacted with the space – what they might have seen and in what order.
5. Creative commissioning
To create an immersive experience, work with creative people.
We commissioned four brilliant creative writers to help us bring the room and its residents to life. We gave them information about four people associated with the town and property in the 1620s, worked up into fictionalised characters, along with short ‘catalogue’ style descriptions of each of our ‘hero’ objects, taken from our digital exhibition. Each took on one of the four characters and wrote insightful and emotive narratives evoking their characters interactions with our hero objects. These narratives were then performed by four talented actors and their voices will feature in the room as it is encountered by users. Some of the writers and actors commissioned for this creative aspect of the reconstruction were not familiar with the specific time period of the project, so their imaginings of the different interactions, responses and experiences people may have had with the room and its contents has been one of the most insightful aspects of this work. We can’t wait to share this creative and emotive element to our reconstruction.
6.The design brief
Essential when commissioning artists and designers.
Creating a design brief meant putting all our research, selections and examples in one place, but it also helped us to refocus the purpose and aims of the project. Our brief for the digital heritage artist, Grant Cox, who has modelled the room included background to the project, an overview of its purpose and audiences, and other logistical pieces of information. The floorplan, object selections and extant examples accompanied the brief with numerous visual aids and website links. A brief is an essential starting point for any artistic commission: it is a useful reference point and ensures that the research remains central to the more creative elements of reconstruction.
Be available for discussion and meetings.
Emails, meetings and regular communications are perhaps the most important elements of any digital reconstruction project. We’ve been lucky enough to work with a digital heritage artist from ArtasMedia who is passionate about recreating objects, sites and scenes from the past. From a single stitch on a tapestry cushion to the light cast on a wooden armchair, we have spent hours discussing minute details of shape, surface texture, colour, quality and condition. This has been an exciting part of project and through these discussions we have seen the room take shape. Dedicating time to regularly meet those involved in creating the room not only aids decision-making but allows you to be a part of the technical and creative process of digitally co-producing the space.
8. Handing over the reins
Making space for others to bring their skills and knowledge to the project makes for a more creative, inclusive and enlightening experience.
We set out to virtually create an immersive, emotive experience of middling domestic life in the 1620s. This, however, required expertise beyond our remit. The project’s research, goals and objectives may have been the starting point, but we had to hand over a significant amount of responsibility and trust to those with the creative and digital skills to bring the room to (virtual) life. We’ve worked with creative writers, actors, digital artists and storytellers whose skill is to reproduce the past in creative ways. The process of reconstruction is incredibly collaborative, and this is one of the greatest rewards and benefits of such a project.
We hope we’ve shed a little light on our approach and experience so far. Virtual reconstruction projects take time, research and resource and, in truth, there are no easy steps or shortcuts. Nonetheless, the process itself produces valuable insights and significant outcomes for any historical research project. We’re currently working with a digital storyteller to explore how people will encounter and interact with the virtual space and its contents. For this, we are going back to our aims and objectives, but also thinking about the nature of our audiences and how their engagement can help us understand our historical evidence in new ways. We want the room to be educational, emotional and immersive, but we also want it to be entertaining and challenging. For example, how does it feel not to be able to interact with certain objects and what does this say about the different gender, age, education and life experience of different members of the middling? What if some of the objects evoke sadness and loss, while others bring back memories of thwarted love? Experiencing the reconstructed room might not always be comfortable, but it offers the opportunity to engage with the complexity of past lives and culture in ways that the typical historic house interior rarely manages.
We’ll be offering more thoughts and findings in the coming months as we reach the final stages of our reconstruction. We’re truly excited to share the finished product and learn from how its virtual visitors use it.
As we have been discussing on this blog–with much more content to come (including a virtual tour)–the project has been busy creating an immersive virtual experience: a detailed digital recreation of an interactive parlour room from Elizabethan and Jacobean England, brought to life with voices and memories that you can navigate yourself. This week, we’re piloting this innovative resource.
We invite you to join our pilot event from 11am to 1pm on 8th September at National Gallery X, London:
Are you a researcher or heritage professional in early modern studies? If so, come and experience what it’s like to go back in time (virtually) to your research period. We need your help to know how we can make the most of this resource going forward: What would you want to know when stood in a room your subjects wrote in, socialised in, or slept in? How might you use a virtual room and what questions does it make you ask. Spaces are tight, so please book now to road test this 1620s parlour…
Quite a few years ago now, at the start of a book on Domestic Life and Domestic Tragedy in Early Modern England, I tried to imagine what it was like to be present in an early modern room, situating oneself in space through the sights and sounds coming from the rest of the house. It was an exercise in a kind of creative writing, piecing together the evidence of court depositions – what people said they heard and saw. This is how part of it went:
Imagine, for a moment, what it might be like to be sitting in the hall of an early modern house. Say it is timber-framed, three storeys high, the upper floors jettied out over the street in front. What are you sitting on? Is it an old ‘turned’ chair with arms and a back ‘by the fyer sid’, or one of several stools around the table, or a bench along the wall? Are you sitting on the hard oak or, if you reach down to touch the seat, do you feel a cushion? Perhaps it is one ‘of crymson velvett, and ymbrodered with borders of greane sylke round about, saving it lackethe a lytle at one ende’. Can you be so precise because you know it very well indeed, both by sight and touch?
What is this room like? How large is it? Perhaps it has a long refectory table with stools around it. There is a court cupboard ‘under the wyndowe’, ‘an olde carpett and a lynnen cuberd cloth upon yt’, ‘a bason, ii flower potte, a cupp of tynn and ii stone pottes’ on top, and there are ‘paynted clothes over the benche’. How many doors are visible? There may well be a little buttery ‘opening to the hall’, the small cupboard off this room in which the brass and pewter is stored. There might be a ‘little place betwene the hall and the shop’ with a ‘little cupbord’ in it, one of those curious spaces which spring up in timber-framed houses when new sections are built on. There might be an entry behind the room, opening on to the back side of the house where the kitchen is. Towards the back of the house the room is darker, and here perhaps is the door to the parlour. It is open and you can see the ‘fether bedd wythe stedle standinge in the parlor furnysshed as a bedd ought to be’, with its curtains and its tester and valance, with its bolsters and sheets and blankets and coverlets, all ‘appropriate’ to the status of this house in a way which you can judge intuitively. Then, fading from your vision in the hall, the ‘dark room behind the parlour’ which has no windows. At the other end of the hall is the window on to the street, and this casts light on the colours of the painted cloths, on the ‘olde rownde lokinge glase’, and on the ‘payre of greate andyrons’ in the chimney.
How aware are you of the rest of the house as you sit in the hall? Can you smell cooking from the back side? Can you smell onions and garlic, either in the room with you or upstairs in the chambers; perhaps the four ‘bacon hogges that are hanging in the roof’? Is it autumn? Can you smell apples in the loft above, or the oily scent of wool? Can you smell the raw materials and the processes of production going on in the shop; can you hear shears, or hammers? These routine noises must fade away in your consciousness to almost nothing, to a reassuring background which means ‘household’ to you.
How aware are you of the presence of the rest of the household? The walls are thin and there are holes, cracks, spaces in them, some there by design and others the result of wear. They complicate the division between the hall and the rooms around it. As you listen, you hear ‘one coufe [cough] in the howse’. Do you recognise the cough? If it is a stranger, you begin to listen much more carefully, to concentrate and make out sounds above your head. If there are ‘no persones in the … hall hearing’ but you ‘alone’, the disparity between the exchanges upstairs and your seclusion downstairs will make the hall seem larger and stiller. Those you hear ‘in a chamber over the hall’ are choosing their words very carefully. They are discussing issues which connect the house to the body and the soul as they ‘speake and move’ the testator ‘to be good unto his wif’…
Whether you go upstairs, or outside, and how you go, will depend upon who you are. How have you been imagining yourself?
I enjoyed writing it, based on tiny snippets from the documents that I analysed quantitatively in other places in the book, and found it a useful way into an argument about the relationship between theory, practice and theatrical representation. It was an interesting intellectual exercise, to reconstruct the records of perception and use them to explore not only the sensory qualities of lived experience, but also the social norms they revealed.
That was a long time ago, and it’s interesting to see that I was quite comfortable with experience being purely textual in form – no images, no physical objects in sight! But both scholarly practice and digital capability have moved on since then. So this blog is a first announcement that our virtual early modern room is coming!
A virtual room was always going to be a part of the impact work for this project, thanks largely to having the fabulous Graeme Earl on the team – more from him in a future blog. We wanted to present our findings in innovative ways, to engage people with those questions of how those in the middle of society, neither very rich nor in poverty, made material and cultural use of their space. We built on the Ways of Seeing network on which the team had also worked together, in which we explored questions of perception in relation to new technology and heritage outcomes.
The other thing that’s happened is that, as a project, we haven’t been able to get into the archives as often or for as long as we’d intended in this phase of the work. And that’s changed the way we’ve developed our digital resources. Rather than seeing them as the vehicle via which we disseminated findings after the end of the project, we’ve started to work with them more creatively as research tools. That has meant thinking with and through them about the big questions the project explores – for instance about the experience and place of reading and writing for the middling sort – and using them to problematise our evidence, rather than to present a seamless and straightforward narrative. We’ve also thought about them together, as a group – how this room relates to Middling Culture’s Status Calculator, for instance.
As a result, the project’s digital outputs have become considerably more significant. We are working with our project partners – the “real-world” room (pictured above) on which our virtual room is based is at the Weald and Downland Museum – and items from various collections such as The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, The Portable Antiquities Scheme, The National Trust and a number of local authority archives. We’ve also been working with creative writers, actors, digital artists and database developers, all of whom you will hear more from in this series of blogs leading up to the launch of the room.
It has been a strikingly different experience, for me at least, in the course of which I’ve had to think in new ways about how we work with evidence, probability, typicality and patterns of cultural behaviour. More on all of that too, but for now here is a short list of the issues we wanted to explore through spending time in the room:
Reading and writing in a specific location
The different ways in which reading and writing were used
Howa person’s identity is built up over time
How cultural experience is formed and remembered
Finally, I’d like to come back at the end and think through just how different this way of presenting evidence is to the example with which I started. Our next challenge will be to come back to the linear narrative form and see how we can explore what we’ve learned in that way – in other words we have to write the findings up! I’d like to think more about the relationship between writing and experience, and how we bring material environments into written forms. The practices – both early modern and modern – that have cohered around the room offer different models for us to consider, and I hope to reflect more on them once we’ve spent a little longer inside….
Dr Louise Hampson from the University of York traces the fascinating, not-to-mention agile, lives of glaziers and glassmakers in early modern Northern England.
In 1503, Robert Preston, master glazier of York, a prosperous and contented man who headed a significant workshop, died. In his will, he left generous charitable bequests, gave his tools and stock of glass to his partner Thomas Ynglyshe, and bequeathed ‘suitable’ books from his library to his apprentice.1His biggest legacy was, however, the glass he had painted and installed across the north of England in churches, abbeys, and cathedrals. They had been his workshop’s absolute bread and butter and York was a regional hub for this specialist craft. Window glass itself was not made in England at this date, it was imported from various places on the Continent, but it was here that it was painted, grozed (cut to shape), and leaded up into enormous windows of breath-taking beauty by workshops like Preston’s. In this period the biggest clients for most glass workshops like Preston’s were the thousands of churches, cathedrals and religious houses which had been such a feature of every city, town and village for over five hundred years.2
Fast forward one hundred years to 1603 and the landscape, literal and metaphorical, looked very different. The religious houses had gone, stripped of their lead, windows, and timber. The number of parish churches had been drastically reduced (in York’s case by a third) as income from the laity for prayers, masses and the accoutrements of pre-Reformation worship had stopped, and religious imagery had become a minefield of what was acceptable.3 Although windows had not been a particular target for Reformers (that would come later in the Civil War), the appetite for new figurative religious imagery in church windows had largely dried up and church patronage now took other forms.
For Robert Thompson, master glazier and glass painter, the head of a glass workshop in York, survival depended on finding new clients, creating new designs and opening up new markets. Fortunately for him, the appetite for conspicuous display had not gone away, but simply shifted in emphasis from the public realm to the private and from the religious to the secular. Where once the wealthy would have paid for windows of saints and angels in churches with donor figures and imprecations to pray for the soul of the donor, they now paid for richly detailed coats of arms demonstrating their social credentials and generosity to the upkeep of the church fabric.4 They also took a fancy to having elaborate painted glass in their houses as windows became bigger. For those newly ennobled or enriched by the dissolution of the monasteries, coats of arms played a key role in establishing or acquiring social status and what better way to show the world your ‘aristocratic’ lineage than in shining glass?5
For those lower down the social scale, the ‘middling sort’, the fashion for glazed windows (as opposed to shutters or windows covered with linen or filled in with pieces of flattened horn) began to be an achievable ambition and one which marked out your social status. Glass was still expensive but becoming cheaper as production shifted to home turf and the thicker edge and ‘crown’ (or bullseye) pieces became available, which allowed humbler domestic windows to be constructed from many small pieces leaded into a square or diamond net. The glaziers who would previously have been occupied glazing churches now moved to glazing houses for merchants, craftsmen and the rising professional classes.
At the same time as the world of the master glazier had been turned upside down, the Crown had been taking steps to break the Continental monopoly on window glass manufacture and establish glass furnaces on English soil. In 1567, Elizabeth I had brought two Continental glassmakers (Jean Carré of Antwerp and Giacomo Verzelini of Venice) to London to teach the English how to make the fine-quality glass necessary for window glazing.6The industry took off, initially predominantly in the south of England, with furnaces fired by wood. However, there is early evidence of furnaces being set up in the north with the burial of the ‘uxor Amabie Glassman’ being recorded in Lastingham parish register on 2nd March 1593 and evidence for furnaces being discovered in excavations in Rosedale and Hutton-le-Hole.7
The granting of patents, to allow taxation of the glass furnaces, was a privilege distributed to favoured courtiers: Sir Edward Zouche vied for this ‘business’ with Sir Robert Mansell and this led to the glassmakers of London being charged different rates whilst still facing the challenge of imports which were becoming cheaper in order to compete! However, by 1615, concerns were growing about the depletion of woodlands (and the potential loss of timber for the navy) which led to the ‘Proclamation touching glass’ of 1615 which prohibited the use of wood in furnaces and required the use of coal instead.8 This favoured the furnaces of the Midlands and the north where coal was easily available and encouraged the establishment of furnaces on estates such as Wentworth Woodhouse in south Yorkshire. Mansell petitioned the Earl of Stratford, Thomas Wentworth, to allow a furnace for window glass to be built on his estate because coal was so accessible, and the proximity of nearby rivers allowed easy transport of the finished product.9
Sir Robert Mansell bought out Zouche’s patent rights in 1615 giving him a complete monopoly on glass production, but it appears that the glassmen were an agile bunch who could set up and dismantle furnaces in remote places, like Rosedale, allowing them to evade the taxation system and increase their profits. The whole patent taxation system became so unwieldy and created such a disadvantage for native producers that it was abandoned in 1642.10 Small, family-run furnaces then sprang up around the south Yorkshire coal field which persisted into the nineteenth century: the Bolsterstone glasshouse ran a furnace near Sheffield producing both vessel and window glass (including coloured glasses) from the mid-seventeenth century until the mid-nineteenth century when glass manufacture became industrialised and the new ‘float’ process replaced traditional methods.11
So, what did all this mean for those of the middling sort? The Thompson family were both members of this social stratum and those who serviced its needs and desires. The Thompsons were master glaziers and glass-painters who had been at the forefront of their craft from 1568-1620 and who rode the wave of change as the appetite for new religious imagery gave way to other work and new designs. The first of the family were recorded as glaziers in 1492, but the complex structure of the craft meant the Thompson sons also trained in other workshops (like the Petty’s) to learn specialist and new skills.12 The eldest Robert Thompson had trained in the workshop of the Petty family who had produced the last of the great glass for York Minster before the Reformation, making the coats of the arms for the windows of the great lantern tower in the late fifteenth century.13 The master glazier John Petty had, uniquely, been memorialised in the glass of the south front, above the civic entrance to the Minster after his death in 1510 possibly because he was mayor of York as well as a master craftsman. This record of the depiction of a master craftsmen in stained glass (now sadly lost) is exceptionally rare and a measure of the status enjoyed by the Pettys in York.14
The Petty family were succeeded as master glaziers to the Minster by another Robert Thompson who had trained in the Petty workshop. His workshop had specific skills in ‘stayning’ or painting, a skill which continued to be in high demand. This was a skill his workshop passed on to one Marmaduke Crosby who took over as master glazier at the Minster in 1620.15 He had been an apprentice in the Thompson workshop and used his skills to design and make glass armorials for the York mansion of Sir Thomas Ingram, a self-made man who had risen to prominence on the back of the misfortune of others – he bought his country house, Temple Newsam near Leeds, from the bankrupt and disgraced Earl of Lennox for £12,000.16 Crosby made glass for his York house, Ingram’s Mansion, which was built on the north side of the Minster and installed armorials in the nave aisle which faced his house.17
With the onset of the Civil War, one might have expected the joyless and miserly Parliamentarian Ingram to dispense with Crosby’s services, not least as the Crosby family may well have been Catholics, but on the contrary, he transferred their contract to work on transforming Temple Newsam into a statement of his status and to design and install elaborate armorials to demonstrate his landed gentry credentials.18 Crosby had trained in a workshop which had been devoted to religious imagery whose skills were honed for the prestigious ecclesiastical clients which had been the backbone of the craft, but times had changed and the Crosbys nimbly switched their focus, adapted and remarketed their skills to appeal to a new and emerging domestic market, a market which continued to grow throughout the rest of the seventeenth century.
Supported by the growth of local furnaces producing window glass of fine quality – possibly even producing some glass themselves, although the evidence is ambiguous – the Crosbys were well-placed to capitalise on these new opportunities and to reinvent themselves as suppliers to the gentry and to the middling sort who wanted a little bit of what had previously been the preserve of the church and the aristocracy.19 Agile and quick to pick up on new trends as old markets disappeared and new ones emerged (or could be built), the glaziers and glassmen – and women – of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries didn’t merely survive, they thrived!
Dr Louise Hampson
University of York
1 Testamenta Eboracensis: A Selection of Wills from the Registry at York. Vol IV ed. James Raine, Surtees Society 53 (Durham , 1869), 216-217.
2 John Blair and Nigel Ramsay, English Mediaeval Industries: Craftsmen, Techniques, Products (London, Hambledon Press, 1991), 275.
11 Ian Bailiff, “Bolsterstone Glass House, Stocksbridge, Sheffield, South Yorkshire: Luminescence Dating Report” Research Dept Report Series No.98-2010 (London: English Heritage, 2010).
12John A. Knowles, “The Glass-Painters of York VIII: The Thompson family”, Notes and Queries S IX, no.12 (1921):163-165.
13 Knowles, “The Glass-Painters of York VII: The Petty family”, Notes and Queries S IX, no.12 (1921): 21-22.
14 David O’Connor, “John Petty, Glazier and Mayor of York: an early sixteenth-century memorial window formerly in the south transept of York Minster”, in Glas. Malerei. Forschung: Internationale Studien Zu Ehren Von Rüdiger Becksmann ed. Ivo Rauch and Daniel Hess (Germany: Deutsche Verlag für Kunstwissenschaft, 2004), 254.
19Entries in the York Minster Fabric Rolls of the 1630s for purchases of turves for the glazier’s ‘furnace’ may refer to glass manufacture, but equally may be for the firing of painted glass and staining.
We are grateful to Michael Lewis, Head of Portable Antiquities & Treasure at the British Museum, for this guest post.
The ‘Middling Culture’ project seeks to understand the cultural lives of the middling sort (1560-1660), but what might survive of their ‘material culture’, specifically in the small finds record? Known by archaeologists as ‘portable antiquities’, many of these items are found by members of the public, most by metal-detectorists, and recorded (generally on a voluntary basis) with the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS).
To date, the PAS has recorded over 43,874 items dating to 1560-1660 or thereabouts: many finds can only be dated to a century or more, so 1500-1600, 1550-1700 etc. The vast majority are coins (31,354), jettons (4,427) and tokens (1,174) and other sorts of numismatica which (arguably) must have crossed the palms of many in society, though invariably the rich are more likely to use the highest denominations. Putting the coins to one side, we are left with almost 6,000 items of ‘other stuff’ dating to 1560-1660, including bells (41), cloth seals (231), thimbles (16), toys (108), vessel fragments (96) etc, reflecting the diversity of items used in the Elizabethan and Stuart periods until the Restoration (1660). Identifying the ‘middling sort’ amongst this relative wealth of material culture is fraught with challenges, including presumptions about what they might have owned, especially in terms of object use and their material composition. However, it might be reasonable for us to examine objects that represent the ‘disposable wealth’ of the country’s inhabitants – items that are perfunctory or decorative, maybe even ephemeral!
With this in mind, one ‘object category’ that might be deemed useful to consider are ‘dress accessories’, of which dress hooks have already been considered in another Middling Culture blog, and I will reflect upon them again here. Although dress accessories – such as buckles, buttons, dress hooks and finger-rings etc – are clearly functional, sometimes (often in some cases) they can be made of more costly materials or highly embellished to a level beyond what is truly necessary. Obviously, the use of precious metals and a higher level of craftsmanship or work time, including the addition of applied or complex decoration, can add to production costs. As such (in very general terms) they must have been owned by people who had more wealth than most, but not necessarily as much as the highest echelons.
Almost all the Elizabethan and early Stuart finger-rings recorded with the PAS are precious metal, most being gold. Relatively common are so-called ‘posy rings’. These include an example from Brookland, Kent (KENT-2CA863), which is formed of nine domed roundels framed with corded wire. Inside the hoop the romantic inscription, in italic letters, reads ‘love is the bonde of peace’. Another gold ringer-ring from Kent, this time from Wootton (KENT-6EAD48) and without an inscription, has its bezel in the form of a six-petalled flower, with its central cell and each petal filled with red stones – perhaps garnet, or more likely sapphire. This has been likened to rings in the Cheapside Hoard. Such well-made, though not necessarily top-end, items must have been made for those below the aristocracy, probably in the merchant classes, but perhaps also including those in the middling ranks.
Conversely, all the buckles of this date recorded by the PAS are made of base-metals, with the vast majority being copper-alloy. By the start of the 15th century belts and girdles become larger, leading to the popularity of double-looped buckle frames – though they appear in London and elsewhere from about 1350. An early 17th century buckle frame from the Thames foreshore, found near the Tower of London (LON-4C1830), stands out because it has the bright shine of the original metal. This ‘found as lost’ look contrasts with items discovered on arable farmland, more typical of those recorded with the PAS, that usually have a green or brown patina. Perhaps indicative of items owned by the middling sort is a double-loop rectangular buckle frame found at Theale, Berkshire (SUR-2E3924). Whilst it is possible that these decorative items could have been owned by folk with more wealth than most, it is hard to be sure as casting allows for stylised pieces to be made with relative ease.
Amongst dress fasteners on the PAS database is an interesting silver example in the shape of a fleur-de-lis. It was found in Risby, Suffolk (SF-A9E705), and dates to the 17th century. Although it is a stand-out piece amongst its companions on the PAS database, it is of relatively simple construction and (perhaps) therefore not out of reach of the middling sort. It is worth considering this one alongside a type bearing the arms of the Commonwealth, and (as such) can be tightly dated: see for instance an example from Staple Fitzpaine, Somerset (SOM-7174B4). These are all made of copper-alloy and thus more affordable (one assumes) to a wider populous, reflected by the fact they are fairly common finds. People must have owned these to make a political statement of affinity to the Parliamentarian cause, and it is of note they are seemingly more common in the south-west.
Dress hooks might be considered in a similar vein to these other dress fasteners and fittings, especially as they are made of both silver (some also being gilded) and base-metals. The upper end of the market might be represented by a silver-gilt example, though incomplete, which was found at Great Witcombe, Gloucestershire (GLO-D42D08). It has a trefoil plate that supports three hemispherical domes, each decorated with applied filigree and granulated ornament. Of similar form, but made of lead, is one from Barton Bendish, Norfolk (NMS-A47F71). This clearly replicates the precious metal examples, but in lesser materials and would have been easier to make, surely appealing to those with less dispensable income. Most common are base-metal dress hooks, again probably inspired by their more impressive cousins. Somewhat typical of these, in very general terms, is a piece from Shalfleet, Isle of Wight (IOW-AF7846). This has a lozenge plate with a quatrefoil at its centre. In this case, as is fairly common, the hook is broken.
Previously I argued that copper-alloy dress hooks were owned by those in the middle of society, but metallic composition is not a neat guide to the status of the owner. As can be seen from the other dress accessories discussed above, it is possible that a wider range of society might have invested their wealth in certain portable objects. In this sense finger-rings are not typical, since (as we know from how they are used to this very day) precious metal items are more ordinarily owned by a wider range of modern society than certain other items of jewellery, such as bracelets, earrings and necklaces, for example. Therefore, it is quite likely that some of those at the upper end of middling society in 1560-1660 could have owned precious metal dress accessories also, perhaps allowing is to dwell on the challenges of identifying the middling sort through their material culture.
We are delighted to host this guest post from Nina Kümin, a PhD candidate in music performance and baroque improvisation at the University of York.
The pleasure of your company is requested for a seventeenth-century jam session!
One of the main forms of music making for English middling society in the seventeenth century was consort music. Small groups of families, friends or neighbours would gather to play music together in several parts. While at the beginning of the seventeenth century, viols were the most popular instrument for this, as the century progressed the violin also grew in popularity. Of this music making, one of the most elusive traditions was that of playing “divisions”. This was the practice of adding florid ornamentation to printed music and improvising variations (making them up on the spot) taking inspiration from a popular printed theme. At the middle of the century, Playford, a publisher based in London and member of the Stationers’ Company, turned to printing collections of such example “divisions” on famous tunes which is testament to the tradition’s existence and growing popularity. His attempt to materialise an essentially immaterial art represents an increased demand from the growing amateur market; the divisions he provides are teaching materials, once accustomed to the art and with some general technical ability, Playford encourages the players to improvise their own. Through improvisation, the players moved from recreating works to being the creators, in control of the emotional development of the piece, the technical difficulty and the length. These published divisions, therefore, acted as an intermediary, temporary material form. Thanks to Playford’s publications, including Christopher Simpson’s The Division Viol of 1659 and Playford’s own The Division Violin of 1685, and through practice-led research, we can begin to reconstruct what it might have sounded and felt like to play or hear improvised divisions in the early to mid-seventeenth century, making the journey from immaterial sound and oral tradition through Playford’s material representations to the immaterial nature of improvisation again.
Each theme in Playford’s division manuals is set to a bassline which repeats all the way through called a “ground bass”. Let’s take “Faronell’s Divisions on a Ground” from Playford’s Division Violin as an example:
To the improvising musician, the bassline reveals which chords occur at which time. This ultimately reduces the number of possible notes an improviser can choose from as each chord change must be accompanied by a consonant (right sounding) note at first. The task of the improviser is then to find an interesting way to get between each of these important consonant notes. The theory of consonance and dissonance was widely discussed in composition treatises at the time (English examples include Morely 1597; Mace 1676 and Matteis 1682) and is evident in many compositions over ground basses such as passacaglias as well as all of the examples in the Division Viol, Division Violin and Division Flute (a later collection by John Walsh from 1706). For this particular set of divisions, the harmony is as follows: Dm, A, Dm, C, F, C, Dm, A, Dm, A, Dm, C, F, C, Dm A, D. To the improviser, this means that you can chose one of the follow notes to start each chord:
Dm: D, F, A
A: A, C#, E
C: C, E, G
F: F, A, C
These, however, can be anywhere on the instrument and thus there are many possibilities even if there are only three named notes available for each chord. The materiality of the instrument, therefore, comes into play here too. As the violin, for instance, has four strings, only a maximum of four notes can ever be played together at any one time. In addition, the player has to be able to technically execute their ideas. It is therefore not realistic to pick notes which are at the extremes of the violin to jump between repeatedly; music tends to move by step or in smaller jumps. This reflects the vocal tradition in which singers also find large leaps difficult. Other considerations include the timbre (sound qualities) achievable. The lack of a shoulder and chin rest on the baroque violin also makes shifting, which facilitates the comfortable execution of large leaps, difficult. For each instrument, different strings will have different timbres due to the make of the violin and the material and winding of the strings but also the player’s technique and experience, not to mention the acoustic. This all also applies to viol playing and all of these factors might have a bearing on which of the options the improviser chooses.
Finding interesting ways to get between these notes has its roots in ornamentation. This was common practice in all music of this time. This meant that musicians would not just play what was written on the material page but add their own little flourishes and touches between printed notes. These could include trills, scales, arpeggios, repeated notes, turns, chords, vibrato and mordents, just to name a few. For example, here is the theme from the same set of Playford variations played without any ornamentation and then with:
The results are really quite different. This illustrates the frustration of music publishers and composers in notating their works as all printed notation only materialises a small amount of the sounds heard (Kuijken, 2013). Interestingly, contemporary writers sought to rectify this by providing lengthy treatises on composition and performance which attempted to explain these practices (some English samples include Morely, 1597; Simpson, 1659; The Burwell Lute Tutor,1660; Mace, 1676 and Matteis, 1682). The musician, therefore, has an interesting relationship with the material form of the music in that this does not represent an absolute but rather a set of guidelines or suggestions; the musician was free to follow the score or deviate from it as they saw fit. Of course, this opportunity still exists today but current common musical practice does not allow any creative licence in the form of added notes unlike the conventions of the Baroque. By reading these treatises and experimenting on period instruments, performers can attempt to ornament in a stylistic manner.
Adding to these structural harmony notes and ornamentation, each variation in the division publications is in a different character. These have their roots in the “affects” (emotions) and dances. Certain keys and intervals were viewed as evoking certain affects. While the key for divisions is already established through the ground bass, players can experiment with different intervals to create different emotional effects. In addition, English music took inspiration from the French tradition of Baroque dance using their forms and rhythmic characteristics. This use is evident in notated compositions but also in the dance melodies in Playford’s The Dancing Master (1651). For instance, this set of Playford variations is actually based on a sarabande; the opening theme contains the characteristic crotchet + dotted crotchet + quaver rhythm and is in triple time. It can actually be danced to as I demonstrate here…
Middling musicians would also have been familiar with the different dance styles and characteristics not just from playing music based on dances but also through learning to dance themselves. The rhythms and playing styles associated with each dance style aid the dancer by stimulating lift, poise, energy or impetus, all of which these musicians would have been accustomed to and internalised through the physicality of dancing. Many of Playford’s variations use these to add variety and interest as the harmony remains the same throughout. It is therefore highly likely that improvised divisions would also have included dance inspired variations. There were opportunities to escape the repeating harmony in other musical forms such as the fantasia but a characteristic of the division practice was this repeating “ground bass” so variety and interest came from creating these different characters.
Combining research into the intermediary material printed examples by Playford along with the advice in other treatises and the study of notated compositions in Playford’s The Dancing Master and those by his contemporaries, a set of guidelines can be produced for the modern performer seeking to improvise their own stylistic divisions:
Begin each chord change with a consonant note, then find interesting ways to get between these structural notes
Keep in mind the technical possibilities and characteristics of your instrument and performance space
Create variety and interest through adding/ considering:
Intervals to create different affects
Dance rhythms and characters
Through practicing and experimenting in this manner, it is possible to improvise some stylistic variations. Therefore, I would now like to invite you to a virtual seventeenth-century jam session by encouraging you to pick and mix from the following variations, choosing however many you like and in whatever order you like, each video plays one example improvised variation. By playing them after each other you can build your own set of improvised divisions and therefore experience the improviser’s task of making decisions between key structural points. In this way, you can orchestrate your own structure and each time will give you a different result. This in some way mimics the excitement and variety of improvisation; they would never have played the same variation twice and were in control of the development and length of the piece. These variations were taken from a longer recording of my continuous improvised divisions over the ground bass of this same Playford piece. If you would like to hear them in their original order, this is also provided below.
Playford’s attempt to materialise the immaterial tradition of improvised divisions through his published examples, whether for viol or violin, not only recognised the existence of this tradition but allowed for a greater engagement with this by amateurs, a large number of which were middling recreational musicians, transforming their domestic cultural engagements. Musical improvisation is also deeply rooted in the material, however, as the performer’s relationship with their instrument determines a large proportion of the compositional decisions as well as the limitations of the technicalities of the instrument. The variety, creativity and individuality performed by these middling musicians would have been exciting to experience but Playford’s materialisations allow modern performers to also experiment with this practice.
British bureaucracy is under constant scrutiny, from the public, the press, and even the government itself. Yet administrative paperwork and systems of protocol have a long history that underpins the growth of the modern capitalist economy and the communities who sustained it. The individuals who drove the bureaucratic revolution in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which witnessed the significant growth of English towns, were not monarchs or famous statesmen but literate middling men who possessed the necessary skills and networks to facilitate it.
Of particular importance were civic clerks. These individuals were responsible for writing out and filing legal documents and recording the minutes of civic assemblies. Whilst the professional role of town clerk is well recorded and the individuals traceable, the lives of under-clerks are often obscure. Although their work is preserved in myriad town documents, there is often little trace of the man behind the hand. Chester’s Hugh Dod was one such clerk for whom information can be found, and as such provides an interesting case study of the life of a professional scribe and lower civic official.
Dod is traceable through a series of petitions he entered throughout his lifetime to the civic authority of Chester in pursuit of a position in one of the city’s legal courts. As the Power of Petitioning Project has shown, although early modern petitions could take a variety of forms, in essence they were handwritten documents from an individual or group to a particular authority, requesting that a specific action be granted or carried out. In short, they were a means for inferiors to appeal to superiors, seeking a positive change to their present circumstances. Petitions were usually written up by a scrivener or scribe, so as a clerk Dod would have been familiar with the form and structure of a petition. Additionally, as he worked in civic government himself, he would also have known how to get a petition heard at the assembly. Only two of Dod’s original petitions survive but accounts of the others are found in the city’s assembly books, which record the minutes of meetings of the civic officials of Chester.
The surviving petitions are written out formally and addressed to the mayor, recorder, justices of the peace, aldermen, sheriffs, sheriff peers, and common council of Chester. The language used by Dod is deferential, ‘earnestlie desiringe’ preferment and the ‘favourable consente and allowances’ of the assembly. To further his case for preferment, he emphasizes certain ‘losses’ he has sustained in ‘labouringe meanes’ to obtain letters from his friends and patrons who wrote in support of his petition, demonstrating an impressive network of influential associates. However, networks and technical skill do not guarantee that a petition will be successful. Despite being literate, skilled, and well connected, Dod’s life was characterized by precarity. His position as a clerk clearly did not afford him the lifestyle he sought and as a result he was constantly petitioning for higher, and more permanent, employment.
Dod first appears in the civic records in 1592, when his petition to be an attorney in the courts of Portmote and Pentice in Chester was considered by the assembly and deferred. The petition was either not considered again or rejected, as Dod put in another petition in 1594 to be an attorney in the same courts, which was also rejected. Dod then waited 12 years before entering another petition in 1606, in which he is described as a scrivener and petitioned the city to be made an attorney in the court of records. The petition reveals that Dod had previously served as an under-clerk in the Pentice, which was the town hall and court room in Chester for the local courts, and was looking to sidestep into another career, one in which he had no formal training. Instead, he claimed to have been ‘broughte upp under mr Knight late Clarke of the Pentice’ and ‘experimented in the premisses’. Dod had served under William Knight, who was Clerk of the Pentice from 1569 to 1600, for 17 years presumably at the end of Knight’s life, which would date his service to 1583-1600. Dod appears not to have had any prior legal training or education at a university of Inn of Court; he probably had a grammar school education. However, his training or experience as a scrivener meant that he would have been familiar with a range of legal documents. Nonetheless this informal legal apprenticeship did not satisfy the assembly and Dod’s petition was denied.
Five years later Dod petitioned the city once again. The petition from 1611 survives in the Chester archives. In it Dod claims that he had ‘the experience of a Scrivernor within the said Citie’ for the past 18 years and had throughout this period been ‘wanting sufficient preferment whereby to mentaine him selfe and his femely’. According to a manuscript written by Dod himself, clerks in Chester received a set fee of 8 pence per page for drawing up and entering of every sheet containing 14 lines in the court of Pentice and Portmote where Dod worked as an under-clerk. Professional scribes like Dod regularly earnt money outside of the courts writing up documents for private individuals, who lacked either the literacy or skill to draw up documents themselves. Indeed, Dod appears as a notary on various wills, indentures, and assignments in Chester in the period 1600-1640. However, Dod clearly believed that his earnings were not enough and requested a greater and more steady wage as an attorney in the common law courts of Chester.
For his 1611 petition, Dod did not just rely on his own protestations of experience but provided letters of recommendation from Sir Rogert Aston, Sir John Salusbury, and Thomas Ireland, who all presented their ‘harty commendacions’ to the mayor on behalf of Dod. All three men were well connected lawyers and courtiers. Aston was a courtier and Master of the Great Wardrobe to King James I, Salusbury was Esquire of the Body (a personal attendant) to Elizabeth I and a lawyer, and Thomas Ireland was a lawyer who later became the vice chamberlain of the Exchequer court of Chester. The exact relationship Dod had with these three individuals is difficult to ascertain. The letters from Salusbury and Ireland are quite standard letters of recommendation and include no specific information about Dod himself. The letter by Aston, however, further recounted Dod’s qualifications stating that he had been clerk under Knight and had ‘dwelled in the saide Citty’ ever since, suggesting that Dod did not hail from Chester originally. Dod had, Aston claimed, behaved himself ‘verie honestly’ in his role as a scrivener and ‘in respecte of his saide longe tyme of service’ was able ‘to discharge the duty of an attorney at the Comon Lawe’. Aston therefore desired the city to place him as such ‘the better to maineteyne himself when hee shall growe into further yeares’. Despite the letters Dod’s petition was again thought ‘not fit to be graunted’ and ‘utterly denied unto him.’
The votes of the assembly have been jotted down by another hand at the side of his petition on the same page and show that only 1 person voted in favour of the petition against 35 rejections. The decision by the assembly appears to have rested solely on Dod’s education. However, as Christopher Brooks has shown, to be an attorney did not require formal legal training at the Inns of Court but was more commonly learnt through apprenticeship. Either the assembly’s rejection of Dod was due to the fact he had not served his ‘apprenticeship’ under an attorney, or their decision rested on a personal issue not recorded in the assembly book.
A man of habit, Hugh Dod waited another five years before petitioning the city again in 1616. This time Dod played his trump card. He produced a letter from King James himself recommending his ‘welbeloved Subject Hughe Dod’ to an office in the courts of Chester due to the ‘acceptable service’ Dod had carried out ‘in writeinge of sundrie Instructions for the Ayde due for our deereste daughter the Lady Elizabeth’. In a further letter to the mayor Dod stated that his letter from the king proved that he ‘deserveth to be admitted’ to a position in the courts or, if he ‘happen to survive’ the incumbent William Hockenhull, to have the office of Serjeant in reversion. Despite Dod having friends in high places, his petition was once again refused, and he remained in his position as an under-clerk in the Pentice.
Dod’s situation may have improved slightly in 1627 when the current Clerk of the Pentice, Robert Brerewood, was suspended from office for negligence. It was thereby ordered, on 20 February 1627, that mayor Nicholas Ince ‘put in some fitting clerke or clerkes to execute the said place and office’ whilst Brerewood was suspended and to ‘take into his Custodye the Bookes and records of the said Office and of the Severall courts within the said Citty’. The name of the chosen individual is not recorded in the assembly book, but a manuscript written by Hugh Dod reveals that it was he who was appointed. In an account of the freemen admitted in Chester in the year 1626/7 Dod recorded that he ‘was admitted by the said Nicholas Ince in the tyme of his maioralty to write in the office of Pentice during the sequestracion thereof’. Despite his lack of formal training and prior rejections of legal office, the city was clearly happy to let Dod take on this significant role, albeit not as a permanent appointment. Clerks of the Pentice were not required to have formal legal training, although the two of the previous incumbents, Robert Whitby and Robert Brerewood, were both Inns of Court men, and the post had been filled previously by William Knight, Dod’s own patron, and Thomas Whitby who had both served apprenticeships. Therefore, Dod’s experience and training meant he had the experience needed to take up the role of temporary Clerk of the Pentice but did not possess the skills necessary for a more permanent office as an attorney.
After 11 months of sequestration a new Clerk of the Pentice, Richard Littler, was appointed and Dod was once again seeking employment. He petitioned the city one final time in 1631, requesting that in light of his service to the city, which included him writing up an official list of legal fees for the city, he deserved to be admitted to a legal office. Dod was never granted an office as an attorney and next appears in the civic records in 1636 when he petitions for an almsroom – charitable accommodation for the poor – in Chester, which had recently become available and was being allocated via ‘lott or ballettinge’. Ironically, this was Dod’s only successful petition. Dod retained the room until his death in 1639.
Dod’s petitions offer an insight into the life and career of an early modern civic clerk, a position that required literacy and a specific skill set that could be acquired through a form of apprenticeship. However, similar to being self-employed or working freelance today, Dod’s work as a clerk and professional scribe also required a certain amount of self-promotion and trading on his reputation to attract business. As such, his earnings were not set or secure and he clearly did not earn enough to support himself or his family. His skills were constantly deemed ‘not fit’ by the civic council to sidestep into the career of an attorney despite his experience and letters of recommendation. This suggests that whilst education, literacy, and patronage were important for social mobility, the exact set of skills acquired and how they had been obtained also mattered. As a result, Dod’s life was characterized by petitioning and precarity, and his social mobility and career progression were hampered by his lack of specialised education.
CALS: ZML/6/59, Letter of Thomas Ireland and John Salisbury
CALS: ZML/6/108, Letter from the King, 1616
CALS: ZML/6/112, Letter from Hugh Dod to Mayor Thomas Thropp, 1616
CALS: ZA/F/11/43, Petition of Hugh Dod, 1620
J. H. E. Bennett, The Rolls of the Freemen of the City of Chester, Part 1, 1392-1700, The Record Society for the Publication of Original Documents Relating to Lancashire and Cheshire Vol. 51 (1906)
Christopher Brooks, ‘Professions, Ideology and the Middling Sort in the Late Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries’, in Jonathan Barry and Christopher Brooks (eds) The Middling Sort of People: Culture, Society and Politics in England, 1550-1800 (Basingstoke, 1994)
Famarez Dabhoiwala, ‘Writing Petitions in Early Modern England’, in Michael J. Braddick and Joanna Innes (eds), Suffering and Happiness in England 1550-1850: Narratives and Representations: A collection to honour Paul Slack (2017)
Robert Tittler, Architecture and Power: The Town Hall and the English Urban Community c.1500-1640 (Oxford, 1991)
Keith Wrightson, Ralph Tailor’s Summer: A Scrivener, his City and the Plague (New Haven, 2011)
We are thrilled to host a blog written by members of the TIDE project. TIDE investigates “how mobility in the great age of travel and discovery shaped English perceptions of human identity based on cultural identification and difference.” The following profiles, written by Lauren Working, Emily Stevenson, and Tom Roberts, use our Status Calculator to think through immigrant experience and merchant travel in the period, reflecting on our categories and considering how middling identity fits with nationhood, travel, and social mobility.
How will the Social Status Calculator place a noblewoman who renounced her wealth, took a vow of poverty and perfection, moved to a new country, and pitted herself against Protestant authority in London? Meet Luisa de Carvajal, a Spanish woman who arrived in London in the aftermath of the Gunpowder Plot, intent on bringing the English back into the fold of the Roman Catholic Church.
What is your gender?
Do you have a title?
Carvajal was born into a noble family, but she was orphaned at the age of six. She took a vow of poverty before she moved to London, and never married.
Do you have a coat of arms?
Can you write?
I write regularly, though not just for professional/trade purposes.
Carvajal left a spiritual autobiography, mystic poetry, and dozens of letters to prominent English and Spanish Catholics. Her opinions on London and the royal family were particularly scathing. ‘In my opinion’, she wrote to her friend Inés de la Asunción in 1607, ‘only to please God can one tolerate living here’. She called James I’s daughter, Elizabeth, an ‘ignorant slip of a girl’ and ‘the boy prince’ Charles as ‘a nasty little so-and-so in matters of religion’.
What property do you own?
I rent property and do not own any.
This is a bit misleading since Carvajal grew up in an aristocratic home. She inherited wealth and engaged in a sustained legal battle against her brother for her inheritance in the 1590s. When she won, however, she donated the money to the Society of Jesus. In London, she wrote with pride about living in poverty in a house in Spitalfields, where she and her ‘warrior maidens’ made ends meet by making gold embroidery thread, typically used in Spain for religious vestments. She also created relics made from the bodies of executed priests, preserving their bodies in her household in East London and sending them to various patrons and clients in gold and silver boxes.
What is the main thing you do to earn a living?
James I himself referred to Carvajal as a ‘foreigner’ and a ‘spinster’, but I am going to go with, I work in a profession, such as a lawyer/academic/clergyman/writer/clerk. Carvajal had a profound sense of religious vocation, which she devoted her life to while choosing not to become a nun.
What positions of office or authority have you held?
I hold a position in a stranger church and/or hold an influential place among immigrant craftspeople.
Technically, Carvajal didn’t hold office. But she firmly believed her misión de Inglaterra was conferred onto her by God, connecting her evangelism to missions happening in other parts of the world. As a result, she possessed a keen sense of divinely-appointed authority. ‘In the session of the Council of State’, Carvajal wrote to the Duke of Lerma, the Archbishop of Canterbury George Abbot had brought forth the accusation that ‘I have brought many Protestants to my religion by means of persuasion’.
How much are you worth?
I’m going to tick the lowest amount, under £20, though this is reflects Carvajal’s wealth in London, rather than her upbringing in Pamplona, Valladolid, and Madrid.
What is your living situation most comparable to?
I have some furnishings including a table, some stools, and some earthen pots; I have tools for my trade; I have just enough to get by some months and plenty in other months; if I get ill then I will need to depend on charity. All of my furniture is old and inherited and I cannot afford to buy any new pieces.
When Carvajal was arrested in 1608, she used her shabby clothes as evidence of her commitment to the cause, recording that during the interrogation ‘my sleeve, on which all the light was falling, had a mended spot or two showing, and on my head was a ragged black taffeta’.
Credit in the community
I struggle to get by through my work and am dependent on charity.
Carvajal’s charity came from high places, and she was well-connected, having access to the households of Catholic ambassadors in London. She also provided some relief to imprisoned Catholics before their execution, offering to pray with them and bringing them pear tarts.
What kind of people are in your close social circle?
The lord/lady of the manor; a lawyer, town or court clerk, an author, a clergyman; other tradesmen or shopkeepers in my locale or their wives; other servants who work in the houses on my street; financially secure wives and widows.
Carvajal interacted with a range of men, women, and children from different social statuses. She learned English with the help of two ‘ladies form the land’ and offered spiritual guidance to prominent English Catholics. Once comfortable with the language, she publicly preached in the streets of London. She visited priests in prison, ambassadors, and complained about the ‘false bishop’ Abbot and other Jacobean councillors who sought to restrict her efforts to convert. She also corresponded with high-ranking courtiers in Spain, including Philip III’s favourite, the Duke of Lerma.
The calculator has placed Carvajal as ‘professional middling’, ‘defined by your high level of literacy’. This seems accurate in terms of the kinds of connections and spaces that Carvajal moved through: a kind of ‘golden mean’ between her aristocratic upbringing and her fervent rejection of wealth and comfort in the second half of her life. It places due emphasis, too, on her strong sense of vocation through her spiritual work, including her language-learning skills. But this useful exercise also raises attention to what thrums beneath social categorization, from the influence of personal choice (in this case, downward mobility) to the way migrant women sought to find a place in drastically different environments from those they called home.
Anne J. Cruz, The Life and Writings of Luisa de Carvajal y Mendoza (Toronto: Center for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2014)
The Letters of Luisa de Carvajal y Mendoza, Volume I, ed. Glyn Redworth (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2012)
Glyn Redworth, The She-Apostle: The Extraordinary Life and Death of Luisa de Carvajal (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008)
This Tight Embrace: Luisa de Carvajal y Mendoza (1566 – 1614), ed. Elizabeth Rhodes (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 2000)
The Turkey Merchant’s Daughter
By Emily Stevenson
Joan Staper was born on 24 November 1570 at 6:30 pm to Richard and Dionis Staper. Her father, one of the most important English merchants in the sixteenth century, was deeply invested — financially and personally — in the Anglo-Levant trade, which brought vast quantities of luxury goods into England. Her mother was a member of another mercantile family, the Hewitts, and Joan would make a similar mercantile marriage to Nicholas Lete, another merchant involved in the Levant trade.
In many respects, Joan’s life was entirely typical of her social circle, atypical only in that an unusual number of details — such as the exact time of her birth — have been preserved. These details are recorded thanks to her many visits to Simon Forman and Richard Napier between 1597 and 1622. Joan’s visits addressed a wide range of questions including: whether she was pregnant, whether her husband’s ship was likely to return soon, whether her daughter could be convinced to marry her mother’s choice of spouse, and which member of her household had stolen her wedding ring. These records give us access to a level of quotidian detail which makes it possible to place Joan on the calculator.
Do you have a coat of arms/Where did you get this coat of arms?
Yes, I was awarded it in my lifetime
Both her husband and father had coats of arms: Lete’s were awarded in 1616 and Staper’s appear on his monument in St Helen’s Bishopsgate, apparently awarded during his lifetime.
Can you write?
I can write, but little writing in my hand survives
Joan was able to write, evidenced by a note in the Casebooks that ‘Mres Leate sent […] a letter in the behalf of her daughter [J]ane who hath for this twelfemonthe bene troubled w[ith] a swelling’. There is, however, no other known evidence of Joan’s ability to write, nor extant examples of her writing.
What property do you own/What is the main thing you do to earn a living/What positions of office or authority have you held?
I own and/or lease the building/rooms I live in/I live by the finances of my husband (but that doesn’t mean I don’t do any work!)/I have never held office
Joan lived by the finances of first her father, then her husband in property that the men owned and, typically for a woman, never held local office.
How much are you worth?
The exact details of Joan’s finances are difficult to ascertain, since she does not seem to have left a will. From her husband’s will (written after her death, since Joan is not mentioned), they appear to have been wealthy without living extravagantly. He left 1000 marks in 1631 to each of their three daughters: this comes to around £666 each (according to the National Archives Currency Convertor), which places the family well over the £500+ limit.
What is your living situation most comparable to?
I have a very large home […]
The absence of Joan’s will makes this question difficult to answer, and her husband’s will divides the estate equally between his sons without any specific mention of items. One exception is the portrait of Nicholas ‘in oyle colour’ given by their sons after his death to the Ironmongers’ company, ‘to remain in the Hall as a remembrance of their dear deceased father’. The artist is not named in the records, suggesting that they were a local rather than immigrant artist. There are similar glancing references to luxury goods in the Casebooks: Joan gave Napier ‘succet & a night cap of silke’ brought back by her husband’s ships in return for his services. There is no indication, however, of the family acting as literary patrons, while Nicholas’ failure to apportion expensive items such as furniture or fabrics amongst his children suggests that this was not where the Lete family invested their wealth. The second category — ‘I have a very large home […]’ — thus seems the most fitting.
Credit in the Community: which statement is comparable to your situation?
I have a fair amount of spare money to spend at my leisure
Joan’s level of financial credit is unclear: something between ‘a fair amount of spare money’ and the ability to ‘spend at will’. The constant anxiety regarding ships expressed in the Forman and Napier casebooks suggests that it would be more accurate to err towards the former, as a considerable amount of capital was tied up in ships and ventures.
What kind of people are in your close social circle?
Prominent tradesmen and their wives [OR] Financially secure wives and widows [OR] Wealthy merchants or their wives
Joan’s social circle definitely included the wives of prominent tradesmen, wealthy merchants and financially secure wives and widows — many of them related to her.
The social status calculator, using these answers, places Joan in the ‘Upper Middling’ category. This tracks with her family’s level of wealth and their social status, and also usefully recognises that though merchants held considerable influence, it was not necessarily through inheritance such as a title or land. Joan’s marriage to Nicholas Lete is one example of a common way in which wealthy mercantile families attempted to circumvent this issue: her sisters made similar marriages, all serving to embed the Staper family deeper into the web of London’s mercantile family networks and ensuring the continuation of their influence after the death of their patriarch.
Using the calculator for Joan also highlights some of the difficulties of tracking the social mobility of mercantile women in the period. Though the most personal facts — when was she born, whether she could write, what she worried about — are available to us thanks to the records of her conversations with Napier, questions of finance and property are more difficult to answer because Joan was financially dependent on male figures all her life and did not leave a will. Her level of personal choice in these matters is impossible to know, since it was not recorded, and there lies a tension in trying to fit facts to answers when Joan’s presence is only inferred. Social mobility was vital to Joan’s social role — and for other merchant women as well — and this fluidity also means that her social status at the end of her life may have been different to its beginning, making the calculator result primarily significant for her later years. It remains a useful exercise, however, with the ‘Upper Middling’ category recognising the importance of gaining and maintaining social status for such merchants, as well as the potentially meteoric changes in fortune resulting from participation in England’s growing trade networks.
How will the Social Status Calculator place a London-born son of Italians and self-described ‘Englishman in Italiane’? Meet John Florio, the linguist, translator, and celebrated translator of Montaigne whose career as England’s champion for Italian cultural consumption brought him from the cramped lodgings of a French silkweaver to the Privy Chamber.
What is your gender?
Do you have a title like Sir, Duke, Duchess, Princess, etc.?
Do you have a coat of arms?
A marigold with the sun in chief.
Can you write?
I write regularly, though not just for professional/trade purposes
Writing was of course central to John’s career and reputation, but it was not a primary source of income in a commercial sense. His early printed Italian dual language manuals were as much (unsuccessful) attempts to secure patronage as they were functional language learning materials for an expanding middling sort with Italianate tastes. Whilst some works of translation carried out in the 1580s can be said to have been commercially driven, and his employment as reader in Italian and private secretary to Queen Anne would have involved writing and translating correspondence, John’s more distinguished and celebrated works of translation and lexicography were not financially viable in the commercial world of print, and instead required the support of wealthy and often aristocratic patrons.
What property do you own?
I own and/or lease several buildings in the community I live in
I rent property and do not own any
The dramatic change in John’s fortunes throughout his life make this question difficult to answer. What we know of John’s property comes from his will in 1626, seven years after the death of his patron Queen Anne and the loss of his position at court, when he lived in a leased property in Fulham valued at around £6 per annum. However, it seems likely that he would have owned other properties during his more prosperous years that were then sold when the family fell on hard times.
What is the main thing you do to earn a living?
I work in a profession, such as a lawyer/academic/clergyman/writer/clerk/doctor
We can say with confidence that John worked in a profession, albeit a poorly defined one with no concrete training programme. Whilst in Oxford in the early 1580s, he worked as a tutor in Italian to interested students, although without an official university position. Returning to London in 1583, he taught Italian to the daughter of the French Ambassador, Michel de Castelnau, and translated several news items dispatched from Rome whilst possibly in the employ of Sir Francis Walsingham. As he became connected to those prominent Inns of Court men and intellectuals in the circle of Sir Philip Sidney, John caught the attention of the Earl of Southampton and the Countess of Bedford, who he tutored from the early 1590s. This financed both his first Italian/English dual language manual in 1578, and his celebrated translation of Montaigne’s Essays in 1603. Both this work and his reputation as England’s leading expert in all things Italian brough him into the orbit of Queen Anne, and the following year he was appointed her private secretary and Groom of Privy Chamber. This position came with a yearly pension, which had risen to £100 by the Queen’s death in 1619.
What positions of office or authority have you held?
I work for the government of the country (I advise the Queen, I am the chancellor or I am in charge of a royal department)
Groom of the Privy Chamber, Reader in Italian, and Private Secretary to Queen of Anne.
How much are you worth?
I don’t know
This really depends on what point in John’s life we are focusing on. Although we have some sense of his worth between 1604 and 1619, he had little financial security either side of this period. Arriving in London a migrant with no family or friends in the city, the 1570s and early 1580s were marred by poverty and unsuccessful attempts to secure patronage. As he became well acquainted with the intellectual circles around Oxford, the Inns of Court, and the French Embassy, he found relatively steady employment as a language tutor and translator. How much this paid is unclear, although he relied heavily on the generosity of Nicholas Saunders, a gentleman from Surrey, for several years before eventually coming to the attention of Southampton and Bedford. Patronage was of course an unreliable income, and even the stability he attained under Queen Anne would not last. Following the Queen’s death in 1619, the pension of £100 per annum that she had reportedly promised John was denied by the Lord Treasurer. Over the next few years, his fortunes steadily worsened until his death from plague in 1626.
Few material possessions are listed in John’s will – he bequeaths his daughter, Aurelia, her deceased mother’s wedding ring, which was regrettably the only thing of any value he had to give by ‘reason of my poverty’. This was not strictly true. He had collected some ‘Three hundred and Fortie’ Italian, French, and Spanish language books by his death, which he bequeathed William, Earl of Pembroke, to place in his library at Wilton or Baynards Castle as a ‘token of my service and affection’. He also left Pembroke a curious jewel described as a ‘Corinne stone’, gifted to his late benefactor the Queen by Ferdinando de’ Medici, Duke of Tuscany. He also kept several other items items gifted him by his former employer, including a ‘Faire blacke velvet deske, embroidered with seede pearles, and with a silver and guilt inkehorne and dust box therin’, which he left to his son-in-law, James Mollins; and two ‘oule greene velvett deske with a silver inke and dust box in each of them’, which he gifted to his ‘much esteemed, dearely beloved, & truly honest good Friends’ Theophilius Field, Bishop of Landaffe, and Dr Richard Cluet, vicar of Fulham.
There was clearly some financial dispute between John and Aurelia. She claimed he owed them ‘threescore pound’, although John claimed that ‘my conscience telleth mee, & soe knoweth her conscience, it is by Thirty Foure pound or therabouts’, plus a separate loan from James of £10 for which two gold rings encased with thirteen diamonds (another gift from the Queen) was given up as collateral. John proposed that they accept the rings, which ‘I might many tymes have had forty pounds readie money’, several other items, and the lease of his house in Shoe Lane as payment.
What is your living situation comparable to?
I’m young; live in accommodation owned by my employer, college or inn; I am starting to build up things pertinent to my trade; I’m always learning.
I have lots of tools/items in order to work my living; a stock of materials to use in my trade; some joined furniture including one or two special pieces with carving; perhaps a servant and an apprentice
Again, the answer depends entirely on the period. If he was the ‘Jhon Flehan’ residing with the French silkweaver Michael Barnyard in the parish of St James Garlick Hythe in November 1571, he would have lived in overcrowded conditions with many other strangers from the continent when he first arrived back in England. He appears to have secured the resources and connections to print his first dual language manual, Florio his first fruites, in 1578, although he failed to spark the interest of the dedicatee, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and a few years later he’s found residing in presumably meagre quarters in Oxford as a language tutor. From 1583, he resided in the house of the French Ambassador on the Strand. We can assume that his living situation changed after he came to the attention of the Southampton and the Countess of Bedford, and his £100 per annum salary under Queen Anne to the Queen would have given him the means to live an exceptionally comfortable lifestyle. Whether he purchased a property is unknown, and dependent on whether he was considered ‘native-English’ in the eyes of the law. He claimed English identity, but it’s likely that both his parents were first generation migrants, in which case John was, in the best-case scenario (legally speaking), a denizen. This meant that he had certain limited rights, including the right to lease property, sell merchandise, and inherit/bequeath property. Owning land or properties freehold, however, was restricted to the natural-born English.
In any case, he resided at a leased property in Fulham with his second wife Rose and servant Arthur until his death, surrounded by the tools of his trade: hundreds of books and three separate writing desks.
Credit in the Community: which statement is comparable to your situation?
I have some spare money, have the ability to borrow on credit, and can spend and take risks
I don’t know/none of these
Clearly a man in the employ of the Queen had some standing amongst creditors, although John would often allude to anti-stranger hostility from the English throughout his work. He was also known to butt heads with others at court, and feared that some of these adversaries would discourage the Earl of Pembroke from supporting Rose after his death, pleading in his will that the Lord Chamberlain ‘not suffer her to be wrongfully molested by any enemi of myne’.For whatever reason, Pembroke’s support was not forthcoming, and other, later friendships and associations proved equally fickle. His ‘true honest good Friends’, Field and Cluet, refused his request to act as executors of his estate, and the responsibility reverted back to Rose. It is worth noting, however, that despite his professed poverty, he had no creditors worth naming in his will apart from his daughter and son-in-law.
What kind of people are in your close social circle? (check all that apply)
The lord/lady of the manor
A lawyer, town or court clerk, an author, an academic, a physician, a clergyman or their wives
Students at universities or the inns of court
Other tradesmen or shopkeepers in my locale or their wives
Wealthy merchants or their wives
Florio interacted with a range of men and women from different social statuses. He was, of course, employed by the Queen and acquainted with senior statesmen; he was patronised by well-respected families in the shires, and aided proto colonialist through works of translation. He caroused with Inns of Court men, a close friend of the Welsh preacher Matthew Gwinne and the poet, Samuel Daniels, marrying his sister in 1580. Ben Jonson gifted a copy of his 1605 play, Volpone, in which hereferred to Florio and ‘his Loving Friend … the ayde of his Muses’. He maintained correspondences with renegade recusants, like Theodore Diodati, exchanged ideas with heretical ex-Dominicans, like the cosmologist Giordano Bruno, and was acquainted with London’s community of wealthy Italian merchants and financiers.
The calculator has placed Florio as ‘professional middling’. He possessed a ‘high level of literacy’, was exceptionally mobile, and relied on his ‘social networks with the landed gentry, urban gentry, and middling officeholders’. It was a difficult task as John’s fortunes changed greatly over the course of his life, and he did not, as did many his contemporaries, set up shop in London teaching Italian to aspiring courtiers, and English to resident Italian merchants, but navigated his way through the English social hierarchy by forging a place for himself at a prominent intersection – the interest in and admiration for Italian culture. Strikingly, it suggests that if property ownership factors into our assessments of social status, we inevitably exclude a substantial number of first- and second-generation migrants who were exceedingly wealthy and well connected, but unable to own property freehold. For Florio in particular, who capitalised on his Italian heritage to assert his authority as London’s preeminent advocate for Italian language and culture, difference meant both his exclusion from traditional social and economic systems and his inclusion in a vast intellectual network that resulted in a singularly impressive career.
‘Will of John Florio of Fulham’, 1 June 1626, TNA, PROB 11/149/289
Florio, John, Florio his firste fruites which yeelde familiar speech, merie prouerbes, wittie sentences, and golden sayings (London, 1578; STC (2nd ed.) / 4699)
Florio, John, Florios second frutes to be gathered of twelue trees, of diuers but delightsome tastes to the tongues of Italians and Englishmen (London, 1591; STC (2nd ed.) / 11097)
Florio, John, Queen Anna’s nevv vvorld of words, or dictionarie of the Italian and English tongues, collected, and newly much augmented by Iohn Florio, reader of the Italian vnto the Soueraigne Maiestie of Anna, crowned Queene of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, &c. (London, 1611; STC (2nd ed.) / 11099).
Pfister, Manfred, ‘Inglese Italianato – Italianato Anglizzato: John Florio’, in Renaissance Go-Betweens: Cultural Exchange in Early Modern Europe, ed. by Andreas Höfele and Werner von Koppenfels (Germany: Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co, 2005)
Wyatt, Michael, The Italian Encounter with Tudor England: The Cultural Politics of Translation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).
Jane was baptised in 1587, the daughter of John Brerewood, a glover of Chester who also served as a sheriff of the city. She was the granddaughter of Robert Brerewood, an illiterate yet highly successful glover who elevated the family’s status through success in trade and local politics, becoming an alderman and three times mayor of Chester (1583-4, 1587-8, 1600-1). The Brerewoods were therefore a family on the rise. In 1607 Jane married the Chester brewer John Ratcliffe, a match that was advantageous to Jane and the Brerewood family as John Ratcliffe was a successful tradesman, as well as being an alderman, sheriff, twice mayor (1611-12, 1628-9), and elected as an MP (1620, 1628). John, along with other members of Jane’s family, was a puritan and Jane underwent her own ‘conversion’ after losing their first child. Like Lettice Green (Hannah’s blog) and middling women more generally, Jane’s status was shaped by and reflected that of her husband and male relatives, affording her a strong position in local society. 
However, alongside the notability of her family, Jane received recognition in her own right in the form of a printed funeral sermon written about her by the Chester preacher John Ley in 1640. Ley’s text has previously been examined by Peter Lake through the lens of the puritan tradition of ‘godly lives’, who argues that it demonstrates the ways in which women could use the puritan tradition for emancipatory purposes, to forge their own identities. Whilst examining certain aspects of Jane’s ‘internal life’, Lake’s focus was on Jane’s application of puritan principles to her daily life. In contrast, I want to take a more secular reading of Ley’s text and show how the text can be used to uncover more about the everyday life of a middling woman in seventeenth century Chester. Whilst not her own account and, as argued by Lake, intended as puritan propaganda, Ley’s sermon also reveals a good deal about Jane’s social and cultural world.
Unlike her grandfather Jane was fully literate, able to both read and write. Ley attributes Jane’s learning, and her ‘sharp and vigorous wit’, to her literate father and to her ‘learned Uncle of Gresham College’, Edward Brerewood, who attended Oxford and later became a professor of astrology. Literacy and education were therefore prominent aspects of this families rise to prominence in Chester and beyond. While Jane did not have the grammar school education of her uncle or her brother, who was also grammar school and university educated, she must have benefitted second hand from their books and possibly from home schooling. Whilst it has been argued that provincial women were less likely to be literate than their London counterparts and that literacy was minimal in women below the gentry, Jane Ratcliffe is an example of one middling provincial woman that was fully literate. Jane’s literacy is, however, only known to us through the secondary testimonial of Ley, which demonstrates the difficulties of determining whether Jane was typical or not of her gender and status as so few personal sources survive for middling women.
For Jane, reading appears to have been a popular pastime in her daily life. Ley describes her as ‘reading good bookes’, especially the Bible, to the extent that she ‘was addicted with an incredible desire and delight’. In addition to this, Ley makes frequent reference to her ‘letters’, writing for her ‘own private use’, and her ‘private papers’, although he does admit that he had ‘trouble’ reading them as Jane’s handwriting was ‘not easily legible’. The slightly illegible hand of Jane could reflect the disparities in female literacy and training, suggesting unfamiliarity with writing or lack of sustained education. Alternatively, it could be the result of illness. Ley recalls that Jane had suffered a ‘long and sore’ illness in previous years, which had caused her jaw to fall so that ‘she could not bring it up toward the upper part of her mouth’ and generally made her ‘weake’. Despite this Jane seems to have been a frequent writer. Her writings, as described by Ley, formed a spiritual diary or commonplace book of about ‘forty leaves in octavo’, which comprised of ‘enterchange of writing and blanks wherein she ment to make additions’. Jane would ‘first setteth downe the Articles of her Faith … with pertinent proofes of scripture to every point’ before making ‘application’ of each point ‘to herselfe’. Jane’s writings are therefore reflexive of the broader trend in puritan self-writing, particularly feminine spiritual reflection. 
Alongside evidence of her literacy, Ley also provides us with information surrounding the materiality of Jane’s writing practices, in a reference to the ‘little desk’ where she kept her private papers. This implies that the desk belonged to Jane and was for her own private use. Margaret Ezell has shown that literate women of status often had ‘female domestic space’ reserved for literacy and Jane’s desk could represent a slightly lower status version of this, which was confined to one piece of furniture rather than the luxury of a bigger private space. Although Ley only recounts her spiritual writing, it is likely that Jane’s literacy had a wider practical function for the household, educating both her ‘children and servants’, and her husband’s Brewery business, which Jane assisted him with and eventually took over after his death in 1633.
Middling women were often involved in their husband’s business and it was not uncommon for women to take over management in their widowhood. Jane is described by Ley as having assisted her husband in her ‘conjugall estate’ and had, since being widowed, governed the same business with great providence, to the extent that ‘there was good hope if death had not pulled her downe too soone that she would have built it up to a further height.’ Jane’s business acumen is evident in her frugality, positive reputation within the community, and punctuality in meeting financial obligations – qualities that have been identified as central to ‘creditworthiness’ in early modern society.
Jane’s frugality is emphasised further in her ‘estrangement from sensuall delights’, including the desire not to remarry despite receiving suitable offers. Whilst Ley claims that her reluctance to remarry demonstrates her devotion to God, ‘loyalty and love to her mate’ and a desire for more time for religious devotion, it is likely that a more practical, economic reason was involved. Amy Erickson has shown that wealthy widows were less likely to remarry, as they were released from the strictures of coverture and had control over their own life and estate.  That Jane ordered her life differently once widowed is suggested by Ley’s description of her committing the ‘chiefe part of her estate into the hands of her servants’ in order to obtain more ‘leisure’ for herself. Those servants are most likely Charles Farrington and Thomas Chrishley, to whom Jane left bequests of £20 a piece in her will and who she hoped would ‘continue their service to my sonne Samuell in the Brewhouse or use their best endeavours to furnish him with meete servants’. Jane clearly wanted to manage the brewery and could do so efficiently, only handing over the business to her son at her death, and her detailed will further demonstrates her command over her estate.
In the five years between John’s death and her own, then, Jane was a business owner and employer in her own right and had significant status in the city. Her status was reflected in her daily business practices as well as in her outward appearance, which Ley also gives us some insight into. When discussing Jane’s modesty and humility, Ley recounted an incident he witnessed in the Ratcliffe house in which John Ratcliffe bought a new dress for his wife. According to Ley, the dress left Jane conflicted between her pious modesty and wish to obey her husband, as it was costly and made ‘her more fine than she desired to be’. In the end Jane chose to obey her husband and wear the dress, which Ley commended her for. Lake has emphasised the contrasting aims of this passage, which on the one hand serves as an example of the ‘obligation to obey’ a husband that was ‘propagated by puritan writers’, but on the other was framed to ‘illustrate [Jane’s] freedom from the usual feminine vice of vanity’ and show that her worth rested on ‘criteria other than those of mere feminine grace, outward appearance and comeliness.’ Lake also pointed out that this conflict took place in front of an ‘audience’, with Ley as the spectator who ‘served both to frame and strengthen’ her response to her husband.
However, there is another aspect to this discussion that Lake does not discuss, which can tell us more about dress, status, and social life in early-seventeenth-century Chester. Ley goes on to state that as well as submitting to her husband’s will, ‘the habit was no better than others of her ranke did weare’ or even those who ‘were inferiours unto her’. Indeed, even when Jane was widowed and ‘loosed from the law of her husband’ she did not wear ‘meaner raiment’, as the dress she had was ‘suitable to the place shee held in the City’ and she feared it being ‘imputed either to singularitie or nigardice, to have come too much below the condition wherein she was placed’. That Jane saw her appearance and dress as significant, and that her belongings were of some value, is suggested in her will, in which she specifically bequeaths jewellery and clothing to her two daughters. She bequeaths her ‘chaine of gould and one ring with a little stone in it’ to her daughter Jane, and her ‘two best suites of wearing apparrell with six suites of my best lynen wearing apparrell’ to her younger daughter Mary. Therefore, it was not just her obedience to her husband, her desire to be pious, or even to reflect her social status as a wife that made Jane dress in such a way. It was also her status as an independent woman and widow in Chester and how this was communicated outwardly that was important.
Ley also gives us some insight into Jane’s social life and cultural pursuits in Chester. As a young woman, before her ‘conversion’, Ley describes Jane as enjoying ‘dauncing, stage plaies, and other Publique vanities’ that he associated with youth culture (‘according to the fashion of young folkes’). He also states that such entertainments used to be ‘well thought of’ and ‘acted in the Church’, demonstrating the changing role of the Protestant church in Chester’s social calendar. Although Jane no longer took part in these cultural pursuits, she did have an active social life in Chester that consisted primarily of a circle of ‘female friends’. Later in the text, Ley relates reasons why Jane welcomed death that were supposedly written by her, one being that she did ‘daily suffer the losse of my friends who were the companions of my life, and meanes of much contentment unto mee’. Female friendship and sociability therefore appear to have been central to Jane’s daily life and of great importance to her.
As well as sociability with female friends, Ley was a regular visitor at the Ratcliffe’s house. He described his ‘often recourse’ there and remarked that he was ‘daily entertained for my diet when I was in towne’. Jane also made a visit to London ‘every other yeare’ as ‘performance of her promise made to her daughter’ upon her marriage to a London citizen. This reveals the close nature of familial relations and how kin maintained contact over long distances, as well as suggesting a tradition of visiting other cities for leisure and sociability. It was during one of these visits that Jane Ratcliffe passed away in 1638, hence why her will was proved in London and not in Chester. While Jane survived the earlier illness that affected the movement of her face, she was later struck by a sickness causing ‘certaine fits or traunces’ that ‘left her at last unable to speake or move’.
In the final sections of Ley’s text, he highlights the link between Jane Ratcliffe and her home city of Chester. Middling families like the Brerewoods and Ratcliffes were heavily involved in their civic environment as owners of property, members of their respective trade guilds, and officeholders in local government. However, the civic identity and prominence of these families is more often focused on their male members. Ley’s account is interesting for the emphasis he places on Jane as a ‘citizen’ in her own right, who was not only a comfort and friend to private individuals but in ‘every way so good, so assiduous and important a petitioner for both the publique welfare of the Church and state’. Through her charity she had ‘beene a good Benefactresse’ and possessed ‘a good Name and reputation in the world’, to the extent that Ley believed the city should be honoured that she was ‘borne’ and ‘brought up in it’ and remained ‘a Citizen of it well towards 50 yeares together’. Therefore, alongside her religious zeal, Ley paints Jane as an ideal citizen of a city commonwealth who upheld the moral, social, and economic values of early modern Chester.
Although not in her own words and written by Ley with an agenda to edify her fellow citizens, the sermon does provide us with a good account of Jane Ratcliffe’s life. Without it, Jane’s life, in contrast to that of her male family members, would be largely untraceable and confined solely to her role as wife and mother. Whilst this blog has only been concerned with Jane Ratcliffe, her life could reflect or resonate with the lives of many other middling women of this period.
By Mabel Winter
 For more on the Brerewood family see: D. M. Woodward, ‘The Chester Leather Industry, 1558-1625’, Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire 119 (1967), pp. 65-111.
 John Ley, A Pattern of Piety. Or the Religious life and death of that Grave and gracious Matron, Mrs Jane Ratcliffe Widow and Citizen of Chester (London, 1640).
 Peter Lake, ‘Feminine Piety and Personal Potency: The ‘Emancipation of Mrs Jane Ratcliffe’, The Seventeenth Century 2 (1987), pp. 143-165.
 David Cressy, Literacy and the Social order: Reading and Writing in Tudor and Stuart England (Cambridge, 1980), particularly chapters 6 and 7; Eleanor Hubbard argues for greater literacy than Cressy, but still claims less in the provinces than her London sample: ‘Reading, Writing, and Initialing: Female Literacy in Early Modern London’, The Journal of British Studies 54 (2015), pp. 553-577.
 Andrew Cambers, ‘Reading, the Godly, and Self-Writing in England, circa 1580–1720’, Journal of British Studies 46 (2007), pp. 796-825; Michael P. Winship, Hot Protestants: A History of Puritanism in England and America (Yale, 2018).
 Margaret Ezell, ‘Women and Writing’ in Anita Pacheco (ed.) A Companion to Early Modern Women’s Writing (2002), pp. 79-80.
 Craig Muldrew, The Economy of Obligation: The Culture of Credit and Social Relations in Early Modern England (Basingstoke, 1998), especially pp. 123-128.
 Amy Louise Erickson, Women and Property in Early Modern England (London, 1993), p. 196.
We are thrilled to host this guest post from Dr Paula Simpson, who works at the Wren Library, Trinity College,Cambridge, and who is currently writing a book on Tithe Disputes in Early Modern England: Everyday Popular Protest in the Diocese of Canterbury (Boydell and Brewer).
Scribes – often of professional middling status – held a crucial social role in sixteenth-century England. But the writing undertaken by these scribes did not always occur at a desk in the office or home. I’m interested in the movement of pen, ink and paper between agricultural fields and urban courtrooms and in the records stored in parish chests and household ‘archives’. This post explores the scribal activity involved in recording tithe payment in early modern Kent. Tithes were a form of tax paid to members of the clergy or to lay tithe owners on agricultural produce or personal income. Although strictly speaking the amount due was one tenth, the reality was much more complex. Tithing practices tell us about the interplay between written and oral testimony, formal and informal record keeping and the activities of the middling sort in local communities.
In the sixteenth century, literate people regularly undertook a scribal role for their friends, neighbours and kin. One such person was the local clergyman. In Mersham, Kent in 1583 John Whytinge, vicar wrote out the will of his parishioner and kinsman Richard Batchelor. According to a deposition in a subsequent case in the ecclesiastical courts over this will, his ability to do so had been aided by his ‘having penne, ynke and paper about hym’ which ‘he doth usually carry with him at suche tymes.’
A witness in another case described a presentment (a formal statement for the court) which was written out in the house of Henry Snod of Sittingbourne, where the vicar ‘toke pen and ynke and wrote the words’. When he realised, however, that the accusation was levelled at his own curate he ‘put upp his paper into his bosome.’
We might suppose then that literate members of the community including the clerical profession had ready access to the materials needed to record the last wishes of parishioners as well as for writing other types of document. The wealthier may have owned equipment such as a desk box (a sloped writing desk) or a standish (a stand or case for pen and ink) and those with access to the market and the financial means had access to a variety of writing materials as well as a paper supply. Inkhorns and penners (pen cases) are especially interesting in this context as portable items carried slung from the girdle or perhaps around the neck. This equipment could be utilised for both planned record making as well as impromptu note taking.
I am particularly interested in the way in which Kentish tithe collectors (often clerics) may have recorded agreements, receipts and debts owed to them often in the course of their everyday interactions with parishioners. Unlike wills, as ephemera these notes or notebooks rarely survive but there are telling glimpses of their existence or use in the records of the ecclesiastical courts. The people who produced these records did not usually write to make a living but a certain level of skill and expertise was required to make meaningful records of transactions, whether they were formal accounts or hastily-written notes.
Tithe payment punctuated the agricultural year and sums were paid at particular times in the liturgical calendar. Often this was at Easter, linked to the receipt of communion. In urban parishes those who had paid tithe would be given a token which they would redeem in order to receive the sacraments and receipts would be recorded in ‘Easter Books’.But in other instances deponents also described payments made for acreage for feeding cattle with half paid at the feast of the Annunciation (25th March) and the other half at the feast of St Michael the Archangel (29th September).Payment of tithe in kind could be linked to the birth of animals: another witness named St Georgestide (around 23rd April) as the usual time for delivering tithe lambs or to the seasonal production of particular fruits. Most great tithes were collected at harvest time. The adherence to traditional Quarter Days reminds us that tithe could be an onerous financial burden in addition to other rents that were typically payable at these dates.
Six Preacher and Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, Henry Wayland kept a ‘booke of his accomptes or reckoninges.’As the pluralist and often absentee rector of the Kent benefices of Hastingleigh, Ivychurch and Lyminge, he clearly had considerable income to keep track of and which made him a frequent plaintiff in the ecclesiastical courts suing for tithe.
In a long-running dispute Mason versus Paramor (1574-5) which concerned tithing-out (setting aside the tithe owner’s share during harvesting) in the parish of Monkton, the number of sheaves bound together had been carefully overseen and noted down in a book by the plaintiff.Of course, tithe collectors were entirely within their rights to observe and keep such accounts, but we might imagine that on occasion the sight of such noting could have been provocative, especially perhaps to those labouring hard to bring in the harvest.
An ill-tempered encounter took place in the churchyard of Molash in the 1580s. There Ezechias Fogg, vicar of Chilham revealed to his curate Robert Coxon that he would not be renewing his cure at Michaelmas and, showing him a document, confirmed that the small tithes would instead be leased to Christopher Goteley who was also present. Fogg testified that at this point ‘the sayd Coxon offered to snatche the same out of this deponents [Fogg’s] hande and did rent parte of one of the counterpannes and the sayd Coxon did greatly abuse this deponent in speeches.’
These examples suggest that tithe owners used both formal and informal documentation to assert, monitor and defend their right to tithe. Tom Johnson has written about the proliferation of paper flying to and fro between the ecclesiastical courts and the parish in the late medieval period. The situation was no different in the sixteenth century. Apparitors (court officials who delivered summons to court) were often unpopular figures in local communities and the clergy and parish elite acted as intermediaries in this system of ecclesiastical bureaucracy through the system of presentment (though of course they were often the subject of presentments themselves) and by citing recalcitrant tithe payers to court. While it might be argued that these accounting procedures and citations to appear in court were indicative of power relations in a culture where the everyday maintenance of customary practice and tithe payment was still primarily oral, tithe payers were still able to turn these documents to their own symbolic advantage.
Thomas Gardener, curate of Seasalter, described the events of the afternoon of one Trinity Sunday when Mr Marshe, the vicar of Hernhill, had preached in the parish church of Seasalter and after the service came to the vicarage house ‘to drynck and to make mery’. After a while, parishioner John Turnor came to the vicarage gate and asked to speak with Mr Marshe who came ‘yncontynentlye’ out of the house to meet him. Turnor had come to pay Marshe for half a year’s agistment (the pasturing of livestock). It was reported that “… the saide Mr Marshe therupon takinge oute of his purse a pece of paper and after he had looked therupon a whyle then sayde that he did there fynde a mentyon of suche a dutye”. Turner offered to pay, but the vicar had no change and so Turner had to obtain some in order to make the exact payment to the tipsy cleric. He remained on horseback at the gate for the whole of the encounter. Far from being intimidated by the cleric’s record-keeping Turnor had engineered payment at a time when the tithe collector was arguably at a significant moral and physical disadvantage.
The use of these documents reveals much about dialogue between literate and oral culture in the maintenance of the tithe payment system. While literate culture may have been gaining ascendancy over oral by the 17th century, the Kentish evidence for tithe suggests that the 16th century was very much a transitional period. Take, for example, the case Chillenden versus Thompson in which events on Lady Day in the parish church of Goodnestone (Faversham) were described. William Chillenden had paid seven shillings for his small tithes for half a year. He asked for an acquittance (a written receipt), but the vicar refused instead asking those assembled in the church to bear witness to the payment.
The meaning of bearing witness is relation to tithe payment was very complex. Often payment involved deliberately-staged encounters which took place, often in churches, before specifically appointed witnesses as well as by others who observed events because they happened to be around. Production, consumption and tithe payment was closely observed by the parish community because everyone had a stake in the tithe payment system. Payment was a matter of community concern because of the defining role of custom and precedent.
In court (literate) people were as likely to cite visual and oral testimony as well as drawing on more formal record-keeping. Henry Butler, a previous town chamberlain of Sandwich, deposed in a case over the disputed site of a mill in 1555, that ‘he hath herd his father now deceased about xiiii yeres now past say and report that the wyndmyll before specified is in the parish of Saint Maryes of Sandwich and so the said wyndemyll is conteyned in the rentalles to be in the parishe of St Maryes’. This period is especially interesting then for the dialogue between the two modes. People may have been able to read even if they could not write. They recognised the value of written records by adding their marks to wills and to witness testimonies and in so doing added veracity to the contents.
While court cases often drew on institutional record-keeping such as urban and monastic archives in support of claims for tithe, there is also evidence that yeomen and small farmers and perhaps clergy were beginning to build small personal archives of their own. Scraps of paper, lists and receipts – some of which might be identified as ‘makeshift texts’ – may gradually have built up into small carefully-preserved personal archives probably kept in people’s homes.Whether scribbled notes or fair copies, these records would have been a resource to draw on in times of dispute.
In the case Harper versus Asherste (1573) the defendant, yeoman William Asherste referred to a book of ‘incomings and outgoings’ which had belonged to his grandfather, describing it as ‘verry credible old a book of antiquity’. Here he was bringing to bear all of the notions of veracity and credibility usually associated with the oral testimony and memories of older members of the community but this time to personal written records.
Alongside oral testimony local documentation, including that passed from one clergyman to another, was another resource of community memory. These documents assumed an important authority especially in times of crisis or court dispute. Increasingly such documentation was kept in locked parish chests and regulating access to this knowledge was central to social and economic relationships within the parish community.
It seems then that note-taking and personal archive-building activities were characteristic of the professional middle stratum of society. When created by tithe collectors they reveal the use of these documents as part of the everyday experience of negotiating and maintaining the tithe payment system. These documents were used alongside activities such as perambulation of the parish bounds and obtaining the oral testimonies of older members of the community as the custodians of the knowledge of past practice.
Tithe also reveals the complexity within the social strata identified as middling. It exposes ongoing tensions within this group. Often tithe disputes occurred between clergy and those who were office-holders, or who were from families long-established in the parish, or over religious tensions. Aspirant parishioners – sometimes those we might consider to be members of the same professional middling stratum as the clergy – often clashed with incumbents over tithe payment. Tithe offers then a unique perspective on what it meant to belong to the professional middle stratum.
Furthermore, wealth was not always a significant indicator of this middling status. Clearly some clerics enjoyed high incomes, social standing and were well-educated and lay tithe owners, especially those who benefitted from the dispersal of monastic lands, were usually aspirant and again relatively wealthy. Others, usually vicars or curates, were scraping by on a low income from a relatively poor benefice. Disputes over tithe – a time of rupture in local social and economic relationships – might be a meaningful way to tease out the complexities of those among the socio-cultural status of the middling and of those bound to engage with them.
For Kent, for example: Hallam, E. A.,‘Turning the hourglass: gender relations at the deathbed in early modern Canterbury’, Mortality, 1/1 (1996), pp. 61-81; Hallam, E. and Hockey, J., Death, Memory and Material Culture (Oxford, 2006), chapter 7; Richardson, C. (2017) ‘Continuity and Memory: Domestic Space, Gesture and Affection at the Sixteenth-Century Deathbed’ in Buxton, A., Hulin, L, and Anderson, J (eds), InHabit: People, Places and Possessions (Oxford, 2017).
 PRC 39/10, f.151v. See also another testamentary case PRC 39/10, f.166: ‘there being redy provided penne, ynke and paper’. Thank you to Catherine Richardson for these references.
 Bunker versus Newland (1556), PRC 39/3, ff. 23v-24.
 Hamling, T. and Richardson, C., A Day at Home in Early Modern England: Material Culture and Domestic Life, 1500-1700 (Yale: New Haven, 2017). A book of rates dated 1552 lists a wide range of commodities for writing, p.159.
 For example CKS PRC 39/8, f.21v; X.10.16, f.69v.
Wright, S. J. ‘A Guide to Easter Books and related parish listings’, Parts 1 and 2, Local Population Studies, 42 (1989), pp. 18-31 and 43 (1989), pp. 13-27. There are no known Easter Books extant for the diocese of Canterbury.
For example Merricke versus White (1586-89), CKS X.11.1, ff. 195v-196r. Also Lane versus Cheeseman (1598), CKS PRC 39/22 f. 58r.
 Ducklyng versus Symonds (1573), CKS PRC 39/6, f.229v.
 There are numerous examples of dispute over tithing out. See Simpson, P., ‘Custom and Conflict: Disputes over Tithe in the Diocese of Canterbury, 1501-1600’, Phd University of Kent (1997), pp. 99-116.
 Harper versus Asherste (1573): KCC DCb X.10.14 ff. 122v-4.
 Wood, A., The Memory of the People: Custom and Popular Senses of The Past In Early Modern England (Cambridge, 2013), especially pp. 256-271. See for example KCC DCb X.3.3 pt. 1 f. 95v which describes documents borrowed from the parish chest for personal perusal.
 See Simpson, P., ‘Custom and Conflict’, chapter 5.
 For example the encounter described above between Ezechias Fogg (graduate of Oxford, gentleman) and curate Robert Coxon. It is worth noting here that the small tithes were instead given to Christopher Goteley who was denounced by Coxon as a ‘papisticall fellowe’ and who had himself been the defendant in a tithe case brought by Fogg.