Category Archives: Women

Monarchy Tower Of London Women

I am by your council from you commanded to go to the Tower

Elizabeth I Coronation Portrait. 
Copy c.1600-1610 by an unknown painter of a lost original of 1559. 
Currently on display in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

To celebrate International Women’s Day, the desperate letter written by Elizabeth in one of her darkest hours to her sister, Queen Mary, in response to the order that Elizabeth be committed to the Tower of London. As everyone knows, the twenty-one-year-old Elizabeth survived the Tower, and subsequently went on to rule England for forty-five years.

March I6, I554

If any ever did try this old saying, ‘that a king’s word was more than another man’s oath,’ I most humbly beseech your Majesty to verify it to me, and to remember your last promise and my last demand, that I be not not condemned without answer and due proof, which it seems that I now am; for without cause proved, I am by your council from you commanded to go to the Tower, a place more wanted for a false traitor than a true subject, which though I know I desire it not, yet in the face of all this realm it appears proved. I pray to God I may die the shamefullest death that any ever died, if I may mean any such thing; and to this present hour I protest before God (Who shall judge my truth, whatsoever malice shall devise), that I never practised, counselled, nor consented to anything that might be prejudicial to your person anyway, or dangerous to the state by any means. And therefore I humbly beseech your Majesty to let me answer afore yourself, and not suffer me to trust to your Councillors, yea, and that afore I go to the Tower, if it be possible; if not, before I be further condemned. Howbeit, I trust assuredly your Highness will give me leave to do it afore I go, that thus shamefully I may not be cried out on, as I now shall be; yea, and that without cause. Let conscience move your Highness to pardon this my boldness, which innocency procures me to do, together with hope of your natural kindness, which I trust will not see me cast away without desert, which what it is I would desire no more of God but that you truly knew, but which thing I think and believe you shall never by report know, unless by yourself you hear. I have heard of many in my time cast away for want of coming to the presence of their Prince; and in late days I heard my Lord of Somerset say that if his brother had been suffered to speak with him he had never suffered; but persuasions were made to him so great that he was brought in belief that he could not live safely if the Admiral lived, and that made him give consent to his death. Though these persons are not to be compared to your Majesty, yet I pray to God the like evil persuasions persuade not one sister against the other, and all for that they have heard false report, and the truth not known. Therefore, once again, kneeling with humbleness of heart, because I am not suffered to bow the knees of my body, I humbly crave to speak with your Highness, which I would not be so bold as to desire if I knew not myself most clear, as I know myself most true. And as for the traitor Wyatt, he might peradventure write me a letter, but on my faith I never received any from him. And as for the copy of the letter sent to the French King, I pray God confound me eternally if ever I sent him word, message, token, or letter, by any means, and to this truth I will stand in till my death.Your Highness’s most faithful subject, that hath been from the beginning, and will be to my end,


I humbly crave but only one word of answer from yourself.

 The original letter (held in PRO State Papers Domestic Mary I ii/4/2, fol. 3)

Further reading: Elizabeth I: Collected Works, eds. Leah Marcus, Janel Mueller, Mary Beth Rose (University of Chicago Press, 2002)
© 2009-2013 All Rights Reserved
Household Medicine Women

To perfume gloves excellently

Following my series of posts on Gervase Markham’s The English Housewife, today’s fragments are some snippets of advice for the housewife on perfuming gloves, making cider, and creating a medicinal salve from a lump of butter.

When our English Housewife is exact in the rules before rehearsed [that is, cooking and home medicine], shee shall then sort her mind to the understanding of other House-wifely secrets, right comfortable and meet for her use.

First I would have her furnish herself of verie good Stills, for the distillation of all kindes of Waters, which Stills would either be of Tinne or sweet Earth, and in them shee shall distill all sorts of waters meete for the health of her Household, as Sage water which is good for Rhumes and Collickes, Radish water which is good for the stone, Angelica water good for infection, Vine water for itchings, Rose water and Eye-bright water for dimme sights, Treacle water for mouth cankers, Allum [mineral salt] water for old Ulcers, and a world of others, any of which will last a full yeare at the least.

Then shee shall know that the best waters for the smoothing of the skinne and keeping the face delicate and amiable are those which are distilled from Beane flowers, Strawberries, Vine leaves, Goats milke, from the whites of Egges, from the Flowers of Lillies, any of which will last a yeare or better.

To make an excellent sweet water for perfume you shall take Basill, Mint, Marjorum, Sage, Balme, Lavender and Rosemary, of each one handfull of Cloves, Cinamon and Nutmegges,  then three or four Pome-citrons [a citrus fruit resembling a large lemon] cut into slices. Infuse all these into Damaske-rose water the space of three daies, and then distill it with a gentle fire of Charcoale, then when you have put it into a very cleann glasse, take Musk, Civet and Ambergreece [OED: A wax like substance found floating in tropical seas] and put into a rag of fine Lawne, and then hang it within the water. This being either burnt upon a hot pan, or else boiled in perfuming pannes with Cloves, Bay-leaves, and Lemmon pills, will make the most delicate perfume that may be without any offence, and will last the longest of all other sweet perfumes.

To perfume gloves excellently, take the oyle of sweet Almonds, oyle of Nutmegges, oile of Benjamin [a sweet tree gum] each a dramme, of Ambergreece one grain, fat Musket (Musk) two graines. Mixe them all together and grinde them upon a Painters stone, and then anoint the gloves therewith. Yet before you anoint them let them be dampishly moistened with Damaske Rose water.

To make very good washing balls take Storaxe [fragrant gum resin] of both kindes, Benjamin [a tree resin], Calamus Aromaticus [fragrant reed?], Labdanum [another gum resin used in perfuming] of each a like, and braise them to powder with Cloves and Arras (?)  Them beate them all with a sufficient quantitie of Sope till it bee stiffe, then with your hand you shall worke it like paste and make round balls thereof.

If during the month of May before you salt your butter you save a lumpe thereof, and put it into a vessell, and so set it into the sunne the space of that moneth, you shall finde it exceeding soveraigne and medicinable for wounds, strains, aches, and such grievances.

Perry is made of Peares only, and your Cider of Apples, and for the manner of making thereof it is done after one fashion, that is to say after your Peares or Apples are well picked from stalkes, rottennesse and all manner of other filth, you shall put them in the presse mill which is made with a mill-stone running around in a circle, under which you shall crush your Peares or Apples, and then straining them through a bagge of haire cloth into close vessels.  You shall save that which is within the haire cloth bagge, and putting it into severall vessells, put a pretty quantitie of water thereunto, and after it hath stood a day or two, and hath been well stirred, press it all again.

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Household Women

She shall have knowledge of all sorts of hearbes

‘I hope my mate will ease my state’

These fragments come from The English Housewife, written by Gervase Markham, and first published in 1615.  Markham’s book, which contained advice on everything from perfuming gloves to curing the plague, became an instant best-seller and served as a domestic bible for middle class women everywhere. What follows are his general remarks on what constitutes an ideal housewife, illustrating the extent to which the role of wives and women in the 17th century was tightly bound up in notions of the home.

She ought, above all things, to be of an upright and sincere religion, and in the same both zealous and constant; giving, by her example, and incitement and spurre, unto all her family to pursue the same steppes, and to utter forth by the instruction of her life these vertuous fruits of good living.  Let our English Housewife learn from the worthy Preacher and her Husband those good examples which she shall with all carefull diligence see exercised among her servants.  It is meete that our Housewife be a woman of great modesty and temperance as well inwardly as outwardly; inwardly as in her behaviour and carriage towards her Husband, wherein she shall shunne all violence of rage, passion and humour, coveting less to direct than to be directed, appearing ever unto him pleasant, amiable and delightfull, and though occasion, mishaps, or the misgovernment of his will may induce her to contrarie thoughts, yet vertuously to suppresse them, and with a milde sufferance rather to call him home from his error, than with the strength of anger to abate the least sparke of his evil, calling into her minde that evil and uncomely language is deformed though uttered even to servants, but most monstrous and ugly when it appears before the presence of a Husband.

Outwardly as in her apparrell and dyet, both which she shall proportion according to the competency of her husband’s estate and calling, making her circle rather straight than large, for it is a rule if we extend to the uttermost we take awaie increase, if we go a hayre breadth any part, wee builde stronge forts against the adversities of fortune.  Let the Housewifes garments bee comely, cleanly and strong, made as well to preserve the health as adorn the person, altogether without toyish garnishes, or the glosse of light colours, and as farre from the vanity of new and fantastic fashions, as neere to the comely imitations of modest Matrons.  Let her dyet be wholesome and cleanly, prepared at due hours and cookt with care and diligence, let it be rather to satisfie nature than our affections, and apter to kill hunger than revive new appetites. Let it proceede more from her owne yarde than the furniture of the markets.

 One of the most principal vertues which doth belong to our English Housewife is the preservation and care of the familie touching their health and soundnesse of bodie.  It is meete that shee have a physicall kinde of knowledge how to administer many wholesome receipts or medicines for the good of their healths, as well to prevent the first occasion of sicknesse, as to take away the effects and evil of the same when it hath made seazure on the body.

I hold the first and most principall knowledge of our Housewife to be in Cookery, together with all the secrets belonging to the same; because it is a duty really belonging to the woman, and shee that is utterly ignorant therein may not by the lawes of strickt justice challenge the freedome of marriage, because indeed she may love and obey, but she cannot serve and keepe him in that true dutie which is ever expected.  She shall have knowledge of all sorts of hearbes belonging to the Kitchin, whether they bee for the pot, for sallets, for sauces, for servings, or for any other seasoning or adorning, which skill of knowledge of the hearbes she must get by her owne labour and experience. She shall also know the time of the yeare, month and moone in which all hearbes are to be sowne, and when they are in the best flourishing, that gathering all hearbes in their height of goodnesse, she may have the prime use of the same.

After her knowledge of preserving and feeding her family, our English Housewife must also learne how, out of her own endeavours, she ought to cloath them outwardly and inwardly; outwardly for defence from the colde and comelinesse to the person; and inwardly for cleanliness and neatness of the skinne, whereby it may be kept from the filth of sweat or vermine.

When our English Housewife knowes how to preserve health by wholesome physic, to nourish by good meate, and to cloth the body with warme garments, she must not then by anie means be ignorant in the provision of bread and drinke; she must know both the proportions and compositions of the same; and for as much as drinke is in everie house more generallie spent than bread, being indeede made the verie substance of all entertainment.

To conclude, our English Housewife must be of chaste thought, stout courage, patient, untired, watchfull, diligent, witty, pleasant, constant in friendship, full of good Neighbour-hood, wise in discourse but not frequent therein, sharpe and quicke of speech, but not bitter or talkative, secret in her affaires, comfortable in her counsailes, and generally skilfull in all the worthy knowledges which do belong to her vocation.

In subsequent posts I’ll be exploring Markham’s chapters on cooking, gardening, and preserving, and sharing some of his household tips and tricks.

© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved
Crime Execution Stage Women

A fine wit, a charming Tongue, and a humour brisk and gay


These snippets form an overview of the exploits of Mary Carleton (1634-73), one of the most fascinating women of the 17th century.  Fraudster, thief, and multiple bigamist, Mary’s life reads like a Hollywood film. Her quick wit and sheer audacity demonstrate that not all early modern women were models of convention and respectability.

Little is known of Mary’s early life.  As a young woman she married a shoemaker from Canterbury, and had two children who died.  Unhappy in her marriage, she charmed a ship’s mate into allowing her to join a voyage to Barbados, but at the last minute her plans were discovered by her husband and she was forced to abandon her travels.  Thwarted in her attempts to escape, Mary retaliated by simply marrying someone else, in fact a surgeon from Dover.  Indicted for bigamy, the case was dropped when Mary managed to convince the authorities she had at the time believed her first husband to be dead.

Following this brush with the law, Mary travelled to the continent, and quickly acquired a knowledge of several European languages. Establishing herself as Maria de Wolway, she returned to London with a flash new wardrobe and an array of fine jewels. She also carried several fake letters which attested to her ownership of rich estates and land.  Passing herself off as a wealthy eligible woman, she soon attracted the attention of several men, including an inn keeper called King.  He told his father-in-law, Carlton, of Mary’s wealth and it wasn’t long before Carleton’s son John, a lawyer’s clerk aged eighteen, had acquired some posh clothes of his own, and charmed Mary into marriage. However, once it became apparent that Mary wasn’t all she seemed, the Carletons had her dragged off to prison, where she became something of a celebrity.  She was even visited by Pepys on 29th May 1663.  Her subsequent trial was something of a farce.  The Carletons could only produce one witness, and Mary insisted on her noble status, claiming the Carletons had invented her vast wealth themselves.  She was acquitted on all charges, to the great delight of the general public.  A play about her, A Witty Combat, was soon in production, and she even appeared on stage, playing herself at the Duke’s Theatre in 1664.  Pepys records in his diary ‘saw The German Princess acted—by the woman herself … the whole play … is very simple, unless here and there a witty sprankle or two’ (15 April 1664; Pepys, Diary, 5.124).

For the next seven years Mary exploited her celebrity status and acquired a string of lovers, deceiving and defrauding them  all. In addition she created several new identities supported by more false papers. In 1670 she was caught stealing a silver tankard and sentenced to hanging, which was eventually commuted to transportation to Jamaica in 1671.  However she somehow managed to return to England, having adopted yet another identity, and she went on an audacious crime spree, committing a spectacular fraud, which gained her over £600 in cash and goods (roughly £50,000).  Mary was eventually apprehended for stealing a piece of plate, and when the turnkey from Newgate recognised her as The German Princess, she was once more incarcerated.

She appeared at her trial dressed in an Indian gown, a silk petticoat, and white shoes tied with green laces. Her hair had been crimped according to the latest style.  Having confessed her sins, Mary was hanged at Tyburn on 22nd January 1673.  Her story was told repeatedly in the years following her death, and she was the inspiration for more pamphlets than any other domestic criminal of the age. One author declared her to be ‘a Looking-glass, wherein we may see the Vices of this Age Epitomized’.

Her epitaph reads as follows:

Under this Cannopy of Stone,
Who lies? if you would have it known,
‘Tis German Princess, no worse Body,
Come now to her last Hole, at Noddy:
She was a Woman Great and High-born,
But late advanc’d higher at Tyborn:
Where by the Hangman, and the Carter,
She was Instaul’d Lady o’th Garter:
She came a Lass, as far as Bantam,
And now she sups with Margret Trantam.

Sources: Janet Todd – DNB; Memories of the life of famous Madam Charlton (1673)


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