Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Domestic Violence in Early Modern England

While preparing for a presentation on Domestic Violence for my Renaissance Literature class, I found some really interesting information that I thought I should share. When I first began to look for sources I was having a really hard time because the term 'domestic violence' didn't even exist in Early Modern England. Instead, women who rebelled within the home were called home rebels, house traitors, or shrews. I found it extremely interesting that these women were thought to be the problem within the household, while the abuse they endured at the hands of their husbands was justified as a way to maintain order. I found some really great sources though and this helped tremendously. Susan Dwyer Amussen and Frances E. Dolan have produced a couple of texts that discuss this matter thoroughly and even provide examples of the many acts of domestic violence and domestic murder that occurred during the period. I also found some really interesting texts on Early English Books Online. This is a top notch site that allows you to view texts that would otherwise be off limits because they were printed so long ago. I found a couple of texts from the period, which expressed differing opinions about the treatment of women by their husbands. Richard Steele was a minister who compiled an entire handbook for husbands entitled The Husbandman's Calling and it doesn't even discuss the treatment of the wife. It does however, mention the treatment of cattle, the land, children, and servants. I also found a book by William Heale entitled An Apologie for Women which was printed in 1609 and which argues that it is not lawful for a husband to beat his wife. The differing opinions within these texts demonstrates how the issue was being addressed by the church and community, rather than by the law. While all of this information is quite interesting I certainly do not want to bore my Professor who has already heard an entire presentation on my findings. However, I really wanted to post this for those who might be interested in obtaining more information on this topic. I also found a couple of other books that proved to be interesting. One was written by Elizabeth Foyster and entitled Marital Violence: An English History, 1660-1857, and the other was written by Sara M. Butler and entitled The Language of Abuse: Marital Violence in Later Medieval England. Both of these books were also very helpful and interesting.

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