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Female Alliances

Female Alliances: Gender, Identity, and Friendship in Early Modern Britain

Amanda E. Herbert
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Female Alliances
    Book Description:

    In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, cultural, economic, and political changes, as well as increased geographic mobility, placed strains upon British society. But by cultivating friendships and alliances, women worked to socially cohere Britain and its colonies. In the first book-length historical study of female friendship and alliance for the early modern period, Amanda Herbert draws on a series of interlocking microhistorical studies to demonstrate the vitality and importance of bonds formed between British women in the long eighteenth century. She shows that while these alliances were central to women's lives, they were also instrumental in building the British Atlantic world.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-19925-3
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    Writing to her son’s tutor in the 1670s, Mary Evelyn summarized the duties that were expected of elite women. These included “the care of children’s education, observing a husband’s commands, assisting the sick, relieving the poor, andbeing serviceable to our friends.”¹ Historians have long recognized the importance of early modern women’s responsibilities to their husbands, to their children, and to society’s sick and poor through philanthropy. Yet they have seriously neglected Evelyn’s fifth topic, the construction and maintenance of early modern women’s social networks, and have largely ignored early modern women’s relationships with other women. In this period, many...

  5. 1. “Small Expressions of My Passionate Love and Friendship to Thee”: The Idioms and Languages of Female Alliances
    (pp. 21-51)

    Between 1685 and 1691 Anne Dormer composed a series of ardent letters to her most beloved confidant. Addressing the recipient of her letters as “My Deare Soul,” Dormer confessed, “I love you dearer then my owne life.” She reassured her companion of her constancy, stating that she did “not pass any houre without thinking of yow” and expressed her joy in the relationship, exclaiming, “Ah my deare heart . . . you make me infinitely happy.” Commenting explicitly on the messages conveyed in her fervid letters, Dormer then begged her correspondent to “kindly accept those small expressions of my passionate...

  6. 2. Noble Presents: Gender, Gift Exchange, and the Reappropriation of Luxury
    (pp. 52-77)

    In the account book she kept between 1687 and 1692 Margaret Seyliard recorded her most valuable possessions. Dividing these objects into two categories, “severall small things that were my Ladys before marriage,” and “things bought by my Lady since a Widdow,” Seyliard kept record of the objects that structured her life.¹ Portraits of her grandparents and parents, uncles, sisters, and brothers—some of which she proudly listed as having been painted by Godfrey Kneller, portraitist to Charles II—were followed by luxury items such as flaxen sheets, eighteen yards of “coors” (silk) cloth, an image of “The Virgin Mary in...

  7. 3. Cooperative Labor: Making Alliances through Women’s Recipes and Domestic Production
    (pp. 78-116)

    Multifarious alliances were formed between elite women and the lower-status servants, friends, and neighbors with whom they lived and worked. In the kitchens, bedchambers, and gardens of elite homes women from many different socioeconomic backgrounds interacted closely. They baked bread and churned butter; they milked cows and fed chickens; they scrubbed clothing and scoured pots and pans; they distilled medicines and brewed beer. And they undertook many of these tasks together. Study of both elite and lower-status women’s activities in elite homes opens a window onto how cooperation and collaboration in labor shaped women’s alliances.

    For several decades historians of...

  8. 4. Hot Spring Sociability: Women’s Alliances at British Spas
    (pp. 117-141)

    This chapter marks a turning point in my examination of women’s alliances in early modern Britain. Women constructed social ties in their homes, in reading, thinking, and writing about the meaning of friendships and alliances; in the exchange of handmade presents for their friends; and in the challenging domestic labor they performed alongside other women in the kitchens, bedchambers, and yards of elite houses. But women also created and maintained homosocial relationships across the urban spaces, national borders, and oceans that constituted Britain’s early empire. One of these urban spaces in the seventeenth century and the early eighteenth was the...

  9. 5. Yokemates: Female Quaker Companionship in the British Atlantic World
    (pp. 142-167)

    In the summer of 1729 a British American woman named Susanna Heath Morris (1682–1755) was shipwrecked off the coast of Holland while on a voyage from America to Europe. Morris was a Quaker minister from Pennsylvania who was traveling to preach about her faith.¹ But Morris had not made this perilous journey alone. She was traveling with a woman named Sarah Lay, whom she described as “my comfortable Companion.” Morris believed that she shared a special religious bond with Lay, one so intense that the emotions engendered in their relationship would sustain them both in frightening, life-threatening situations. As...

  10. 6. Reconciling Friendship and Dissent: Female Alliances in the Diaries of Sarah Savage
    (pp. 168-193)

    When Sarah Henry Savage contracted smallpox in March 1688, she felt isolated and alone. Newly married, Savage had been living on her husband’s farm in the north of Wales for less than a year when she came down with the debilitating disease. Savage was certainly grateful that the disease’s progress within her own body had been gentle; this outbreak of smallpox had caused several deaths in the neighborhood, and Savage believed that God had been gracious in sparing her life. But, confined to her bed and unable to work, Savage was miserable. Her sadness did not abate when she was...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 194-198)

    At the end of the seventeenth century Mary Parker composed a series of long and affectionate letters to her friend Sarah Jennings.¹ Written in France, Parker’s letters related the things she had seen and experienced on her journey and updated Jennings on her health, activities, and general well-being. Parker was traveling abroad, and she was homesick for the friends and family she had left behind in Britain. She felt she had been gone for a long time and noted wryly, “A month or 6 weeks absance in another contry would worck a greater change in the hart of the most...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 199-252)
  13. Index
    (pp. 253-256)