Women of the Nottinghamshire elite, c. 1720-1820
This thesis explores the lives of women in a small group of families in the Nottinghamshire elite between 1720 and 1820. A close reading of family papers, gives access to the minutiae of female life and it is from these small details that the attitudes, activities and responsibilities of elite women are constructed. Drawing on the distinct historiographies of women and gender, and of the elite, the evidence produced by this sharply-focused approach is used to explore women's formal and informal roles, and the specific ways in which they were fulfilled, in the domestic, social, economic and political life of the elite. Consideration is first given to attitudes towards girls within the family and to how childhood experience contributed to the construction of elite womanhood. An assessment of the level of convergence between family and individual interests in the matter of marital choices is followed by an exploration of the weight of domestic responsibility experienced by women within the family, as wives, mothers and housekeepers. Attention turns to assessing the extent of female engagement with political, economic and social life, in the pursuit of personal and family interests. The narratives of women and their families illuminate how the female elite balanced the particular mix of subordination and privilege conferred upon them by gender and status. The range of activities in which they engaged and the multifaceted nature of that engagement demonstrate that throughout the eighteenth century women at all levels of the Nottinghamshire elite worked to support the ethos of elite pre-eminence in many small but cumulatively significant ways.