Sex and gender roles in gentle and noble families, c.1575-1660, with a particular focus on marriage formation
The thesis examines thinking about, and experiences of, gender roles and family relationships for the gentry and nobility, particularly through the process of marriage formation. The study draws on a range of sources, including collections of family letters, personal memoirs and prescriptive literature. Some chapters pursue a case study approach to correspondence. Others consider the relationship between published advice and personal attitudes and experience. The study explores whether there were contradictions in thinking on family life, gender, love and marriage, as some historians have claimed, and seeks to disentangle the overlaps and inter-relationships between these broad themes. While family and gender roles were multi-layered and multi-faceted, thinking and practice were neither incoherent nor conflicting. Rather, they were highly complex and treated as such. How marriages were forged and male and female roles in this process and in marriage itself required the balancing of many factors. Prescription recognised this and practice reinforced the need for pragmatism. Moreover, advice was not monolithic, but nuanced according to its purpose and intended audience. Gender roles, family relationships and marriage were varied and manifold within both the realms of rhetoric and experience. There was a strong elision of gender roles, affording women significant scope for decision-making. Family relationships were fluid, underpinned by a heavy dependence on, respect for, and emotional investment in, the extended family. Marriage formation was informed by recognition of the importance of a moral, disciplined love for sustaining marriages and families. The thesis highlights the intricacies of relatively new (although increasingly wellresearched) areas of study for historians. It seeks to undermine a simplistic division between prescription and practice, and between advisers and the advised, and to raise the importance of considering men within the family and facets of female authority.