Seventeenth century northern noble widows : a comparative study
This thesis is presented in part fulfilment of the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Huddersfield. This thesis aims to explore the lives of seventeenth century noble widows in the north of England. The issues investigated include the demographics of widowhood, economics of widowhood, charitable activities, noble widows and the law, social networks surrounding widows and widows' political interests. Each of these subjects forms a chapter, where widows' contribution to each sphere through the seventeenth century is explored and assessed. The work also covers wider issues which affected women prior to and during marriage as they were also relevant to widowhood. Therefore it has been necessary to widen the scope of research from analyzing women's lives after the deaths of their husbands. Similarly, the geographical scope of the research, whilst basically entrenched in the north of England, extends in response to the variety of widows' experiences. The research has required examination of primary source material generated by widows such as letters, diaries, estate records and account books from institutions such as the British Library and private libraries such as that at Chatsworth. The second aim of this thesis is to examine more recent attitudes towards seventeenth century noble widows, encompassing the writings of nineteenth century historians and contemporary authors. The subject of this study is an under researched area and the thesis highlights the importance of the only part of a noblewoman's life that was lived as an independent individual. By scrutinising the secondary source material, challenging and criticizing general arguments proposed by other writers, debate upon the subject should be increased and new ideas expressed. Despite the social, legal, economic and political changes which took place throughout the seventeenth century, noble widows remained influential figures within the contexts of family, household and society as they exploited legal loopholes or accepted conventions in order to further their individual aims. This study advances the understanding of women's history by focussing on a neglected aspect of the subject, provides a new viewpoint for regional history and stimulates ideas for further academic debate.