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Title: Willing women : wills as constructs of female self-identity in the seventeenth-century South-West (1625-1660)
Author: Ainsworth, S-J.
Awarding Body: University of Exeter
Current Institution: University of Exeter
Date of Award: 2019
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This study investigates the wills of women from the south-west of England, written between 1625 and 1660. On consideration of 600 examples, the idea that women did not write wills because they did not have property is challenged, building on the work conducted by Susan James in her monograph Women's Voices in Tudor wills, 1485-1603: Authority, Influence and Material Culture. However, this study departs from the treatment of legal documents merely as historical sources and instead re-casts wills as instances of women's writing and autobiography. Whilst the increased focus on women's writing has meant a rethinking of what constitutes the 'canon' and has led to a consideration of texts such as diaries and letters as forms of women's literary production, the notion of 'women's writing' has not previously been extended to wills. Here, it is argued that the acts of instituting a will and providing its content render women 'intentional' authors and therefore situate wills as literary artefacts. They are read in relation to other texts and material objects, including the representation of the act of will-writing in drama, funeral sermons, monuments, accounts of women's deaths and mothers' legacy texts. In exercising authorial intent over their wills, women used the document as an instrument of autobiography, in which they not only reflected but also actively fashioned the self which they recorded. The property descriptions, the relationships which were recorded between testatrix and beneficiary, and the control ventured and presumed by the composer of the will in the distribution of their worldly goods demonstrate the active engagement of these women with the way they would be presented and preserved after their death. The desire to be remembered and memorialised through the bequests made is discussed, and it is argued that women manipulated timescales as a vehicle for repeated or continued opportunities to be remembered. Whilst, for most of the women studied, the will is the only existing document they wrote, the dissertation concludes with a case study of Lucy Reynell of Newton Abbot, Devon, which provides evidence to demonstrate in detail how the will could cooperate, in conjunction with other texts and artefacts, in a concerted campaign of self-fashioning and memorialising for posterity.
Supervisor: Mukherjee, A. ; Henderson, F. ; Harris, J. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Wills ; Women ; Self-fashioning ; South west of England ; heterochrony ; literary antefacts