Category Archives: Women

Custom Etiquette Love Men Women

My inclinations lean not your way

Following my post on the ideal exchange for a courting couple, I’ve had quite a few requests for further pearls of wisdom from the same author. So here is more advice on 17th century etiquette. The first is an entertaining example of a letter from an unwanted suitor, and the proper form of reply for a lady of good character.  The second demonstrates how best to handle the sudden arrival of a gentleman during a gathering of respectable ladies.

Love protested, with its Repulse


It hath pleased Heaven you should have the sole command of my affections, with which I am joyfully content and stand disposed to obey you in every thing, when you shall be pleased to count me worthy of your service. Enjoying you I must account my self the happiest man in the world; but being deprived of you I shall not only live, but die miserably; either then reward him who adores you, or chastise him who idolizeth you. Yet must I confess all my good to proceed from you, and that all the evil I can endure must come from your disdain; however hoping that you will commiserate my languishing condition, I shall greedily subscribe my self,

Entirely Yours, &c.

The Answer


If it hath pleas’d Heaven you should love me, you cannot blame me though you suffer by it; should I except the tenders of affection from all such amorous pretenders, I might be married to a whole Troop, and make my self a legal Prostitute. My inclinations lean not your way; wherefore give me leave to tell you, that you would do better to bestow your affections on some Lady who hath more need of a Servant than I have. And if you think your affection ought not to go unrewarded, receive the perswasion which I give you, never to trouble me more, lest you run a worse hazzard by persevering in your intentions. Be advised by her who is

Your faithful Monitor and humble Servant, &c.


A Gentleman accidentally happening into a room where a Company of Ladies are well known to him.

Your pardon, Ladies; let not my coming interrupt your Discourse, but rather give me the freedom that I may participate in the satisfaction.

Our discourse is of no great concernment; we can take some other time to continue it, that we may now give way to yours, which we doubt not will prove every whit if not more agreeable.

My invention, Ladies, cannot want a subject for Discourse, where the company so overflows with wit and ingenuity; but my tongue will want expressions to answer your Critical expectations.

Sir, we acknowledge no such thing in our selves, and therefore let not that, we pray, be the subject of your eloquence lest we suspect you intend to laugh at us.

Ladies, you must suffer me, not withstanding all this, that though modesty interdicts you the acknowledging a truth, yet the respect I bear to Ladies, commands me not only to acknowledge it, but also to divulge and maintain it.

We confess, Sir, the frailty and weakness of our Sex requires some support; and for my own part I cannot look upon any person so worthy as your self to be our Champion.

What power I have to vindicate your person, is derivative from your virtues; and were I so feeble that the supporters of my body were no longer able to support that burthen; yet one propitious glance of any of your eyes would dart heat and vigor through my whole body, and so my feet would be enabled to run in your service.

Have a care, Sir, you do not strain your invention above the reach of an Hyperbole; but lower your fancy to the meanness of our capacity; if you cannot perform it at present we will give you time.

Ladies, I am fearful my company may be troublesome, or interrupt you from more agreeable conversation, wherefore your Servant, Ladies. [Exits, presumably].


© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved

Curiosities Death Women

No childe rightly shaped

These fragments from 1609 come from a disturbing account of the birth of a child in Kent.

It is not unknown to most part of the kingdome, that Sandwich is one of the principall townes in Kent, bordering upon the Sea, unto which towne now standeth a very olde house, being the dwelling place of one Goodwife Wattes, whose husband is a shepheard, a very honest poore old woman, well-beloved of the country, and of an honest conversation amongst her neighbours.

Upon the thirty of July last past, 1609, being Saturday, there came unto this old poore womans house, a certaine wandring young woman, great with child, handsome, and decently apparelled, and being not well able to travell further, by reason of her great belly, desired succour of this kind-hearted old woman Mother Watts.  Mother Watts not onely granted her houseroome and lodging for that night, but also sucker, helpe and furtherance at the painefull hour of her deliverie. This bigge belly wandring young woman, having thus by her humble intreaties obtained lodging, the very first night of her lying there, fell into a most strange labor, where her wombe was tormented with such greevous paine that it much affrighted the old woman Mother Watts, and she immediately called in her neighbours, being women all of a willing forwardness in such a business. But not any of them knew how to shift in such a dangerous case, wherefore amazedly they looked one of another, til such time as one goodwife Hatch, the younger, was sent for, being a Midwife of a milde nature, and of good experience, who at her comming thither, so cunningly shewed her skill, that with the helping hand of God, this distressed young woman was speedily delivered.

But her wombe yeelded forth into the world a kind of creature, but no childe rightly shaped, for it was most strange & dreadful to behold, and drove the Midwife goodwife Hatch and the rest of the company into a great fright, even readie to sinke downe dead to the ground with feare.  For it had no head, nor any signe or proportion thereof, there onely appeared as it were two faces, the one visibly to be seene, directly placed in the breast, where it had a nose, and a mouth, and two holes for two eyes, but no eyes, all which seemed ugly, and most horrible to be seene, and much offencive to humane nature to be looked upon. The other face was not perfectly to be seene, but retained a proportion of flesh in a great round lump, like unto a face quite disfigured, and this was all of that which could be discerned.  The face, mouth, eyes, nose, and breast, being thus framed together like a deformed peece of flesh seemed as it were a chaos of confusion, a mixture of things without any discription, from the breast downeward to the bowels it was smooth and straight, all the other parts of the body retained a most strange deformitie, for the armes grew out at the toppe of the shoulders, having neither joynt nor elbow, but round and fleshy, at the end of which armes grew two hands, with fifteene fingers, the one hand had eight, the other seaven, of a contrarie shape, not like to the naturall fingers of new borne children: also it had foureteene toes, of each foote seaven, beeing as it were like geese or ducks feete.

They were all strucken almost sencelesse: the Roome also where this childe lay, smelled so earthly (for it was dead borne) that not any of them all could hardly endure the scent thereof.  Among other remembrances, this is to be observed for a thing of strangenesse, that the woman her selfe confessed, that this monster, a little time before her delivery, moved in her belly not like unto other naturall children, but as shee had beene possessed with an evill spirit, which put her to extreame torments.  Not many hours passed, before the reports of this strange birth was bruited abroade, and the eares of the inhabitants thereabout dwelling, so filled with the newes thereof, that they came in multitudes to behold it, in such aboundance that it was wonderfull.

But now againe to our purpose. On Sunday beeing the last of July, this new delivered woman, in reason seeming to bee weake and sicklie, lying in her bed, desired the olde woman, her hostess Mother Wattes, to goe into the towne, & to buy such necessaries as was needefull for a weake woman in child-bed to have, giving her money for the same purpose, the which mother Watts most willingly did. But before Mother Watts could returne from Sandwich, which was in lesse time then two houres, she had got up out of her bed, put on all her cloathes, and was gone from the house, leaving behinde her eight shillings, lying uppon the Table, the child being dead, layde by it, with an intent that the money should pay for the burial of the same.  All which mother Watts her returne, beeing found in this order, seemed to bee an accident most strange, whereupon she immediately called in her neighbors, where with a generall consent, they certified the same unto the Magistrates, who upon good consideration together, with the advice of a reverend and learned Minister, of Saint Clements church in Sandwitch, one M. Simons, who verie charitably gave it buryall, & withall, giving many godly admonitions to the people, concerning this most strange birth.

© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved

Cosmetics London Women

The Picture of a Painted Woman

These snippets come from an early 17th century text on the ungodly dangers of face-painting. I stumbled on the pamphlet by accident, and initially hesitated over sharing it on Fragments, since the text is somewhat intractable in nature. However the author reveals some interesting details about the perception of women who decorated their faces with cosmetics; and in addition, provides us with a glimpse into the world of the puritanical preacher.  This textual portrait of a woman given over to the pleasures of beauty products and wigs not only conflates unnatural beauty with ungodliness, it also draws some fascinating parallels between the city of London and notions of depraved debauchery. The image above comes from the title page, and bears an uncanny resemblance to Elizabeth I.

She is a creature, that had need to be twice defined;  for she is not that she seemes. And though shee bee the creature of God, as she is a woman, yet is she her owne creatrisse, as a picture. She loves a true looking-glasse, but to commend age, wants and wrinkles, because otherwise she cannot see to lay her falshood right. Her body is of Gods making: and yet it is a question; for many parts thereof she made her selfe. View her well, and you’ll say her beautie’s such, as if she had bought it with her pennie. She’s ever amending yet is she for all that no good penitent. For she loves not weeping. Teares and mourning would marre her making: and she spends more time in powdring, pranking and painting, then in praying. She’s in her oyntments a great deale. Her religion is not to live well, but die well. Her pietie is not to pray well, but to paint well. She loves confections better a great deale, than confessions, and delights in facing and feasting more than fasting.

Religion is not in so great request with her, as riches: nor wealth so much as worship. She never chides so heartilie, as when her box is to seeke, her powder’s spilt, or her clothes ill set on. A good Bed-friend shee’s commonly, delighting in sheetes more than in shooes, making long nights, and short daies. All her infections are but to gaine affections; for she had rather die, than live & not please. Her lips she laies with so fresh a red, as if she sang John come kisse me now. Yet it’s not out of love, excepting self-love, that she so seekes to please, but for love, nor from honesty, but for honor: tis not piety, but praise that spurres her. She studies to please others, but because she would not be displeas’d her self.  And so she may fulfil her own fancy, she cares not who else she doth befoole. A name she preferres to nature, and makes more account of fame, then faith.

And though she do affect singularity, yet she loves plurality of faces. She is nothing like her self, save in this, that she is not like her self. She seldom goes without a paire of faces, and shes furnished with stuffe to make more if need be.  Her own sweet face is the booke she most lookes upon; this she reads over duly every morning, specially if she be to shew her self abroad that day: And as her eye or chambermaid teaches her, somtimes she blots out pale, & writes red. The face she makes i’th day, she usually marrs i’th’night, & so its to make anew the next day.  Her haire’s seldom her own. And as for her head, thats dressed, and hung about with toys & devises, like the signe of a tavern, to draw on such as see her.

Shes marriageable & if she survive her husband, his going is the coming of her teares, and the going of her teares is the comming of another husband. ‘Tis but in dock, out nettle. By that time her face is mended, her sorrows ended. There’s no physick she so loves, as face physick: and but assure her she’st ne’re need other, whiles she lives, and she’ll die for joy.

She takes a journey now and then to visit a friend, or sea cousin: but she never travels more merrily than when she’s going to London. London, London hath her heart. The Exchange is the Temple of her Idols.  In London she buys her head, her face, her fashion. O London, thou art her Paradise, her Heaven, her All in all!  If she be unmarried, she desires to be mistaken, that she may be taken. If married to an Old man, she is rather a Reede and a Racke unto him, then a Staffe and a Chaire, a trouble rather then a friend, a corrosive, not a comfort, a consumption, not a counsellour. The utmost reach of her Providence is but to be counted Lovely, and her greatest Envy is at a fairer face in her next neighbour; this, if any thing, makes her have sore eyes.

Her imagination is ever stirring, and keepes her mind in continuall motion, as fire doth the pot a playing, or as the weights doe the jacke in her kitchen. Her devises follow her fansie, as the motion of the Seaes doe the Moone. And nothing pleases her long, but that which pleases her fansies.  Once a yeere at least she would faine see London, tho when she comes there, she hath nothing to doe, but to learne a new fashion, and to buy her a perwigge, powder, ointments, a feather, or to see a play. One of her best vertues is, that she respects none that paint: and the reward of her painting, is to be respected of none that paint not.  To conclude, whosoever she be, shee’s but a Guilded Pill, composde of these two ingredients, defects of nature, and an artificiall seeming of supplie, tempered and made up by pride and vanitie, and may well be reckned among these creatures that God never made.

© 2009-2012 All Rights Reserved

Clothing Custom Household Women

Both a maker and a mender

These images come from a book of needlework patterns from the mid 17th century. In the introduction, the author waxes lyrical about the importance of the needle, and indeed it was an invaluable tool to the housewife. All women, including Elizabeth I herself, would have prided themselves on their needlework; not only because it was regarded as a sign of female piety, but because it enabled a skilled embroiderer to demonstrate her often considerable talents. The Countess of Bedford embroidered two ‘window turkey carpets’ [probably window seat cushions], and Bess of Hardwicke was famous for her large and sumptuous embroidered hangings. Needlemaking was a fast-growing industry in the 17th century, so much so that in 1656 a charter of incorporation of the trade was granted by Oliver Cromwell. The designs in this book would have had a wide range of applications, from lacy collars and fancy cushions, to luxurious embroidered detail on fine cloaks. The author here describes the importance of the needle:

The Needles sharpenesse, profit yeelds, and pleasure,
But sharpenesse of the tongue, bites out of measure.
A Needle (though it be but small and slender)
Yet is it both a maker and a mender;
A grave Reformer of old Rents decayde,
Stops holes and seames, and desperate cuts displayde.
And thus without the Needle we may see,
We should without our Bibbs and Biggings be;
No shirts or smockes, our nakednesse to hide,
No Garments gay, to make us magnifyde;
No Shadowes, Shapparoones, Caules, Bands, Ruffes, Cuffes,
No Kerchiefes, Quoyfes, Chin-clowtes, or marry-Muffes,
No Cros-cloathes, Aprons, Hand-kerchiefes, or Falls,
No Table-cloathes for Parlours or for Halls.
No Sheetes, no Towels, Napkins, Pillow-beares,
Nor any Garment man or woman weares.
Thus is a Needle prov’d an Instrument
Of profit, pleasure, and of ornament.


Below are two lovely examples of early modern embroidery from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s recent Embroidery Exhibition.

Source on women and embroidery – Liza Picard.  See Useful Reading for details.

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