Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Rebecca M. Quoss-Moore: "Domestic Security"

Rebecca M. Quoss-Moore

Domestic Economy and Domestic Security:
The English Housewife and her Nation


As the changing economy of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries led to increased social and physical mobility, the housewife, as a central figure of English domesticity, became an increasingly important figure in Renaissance England. “Her” domestic centrality was made possible by the anxieties and complications accessed through increased travel, mobility, and change. At the same time, these complications led English men and women to create ever stricter definitions to control the role and depiction of the English housewife, in whose image the entire country now had a vested interest. As the English translation of Juan Luis Vives’s Instruction of a Christian Woman, Gervase Markham’s The English Housewife, and Elizabeth Jocelin’s posthumous The Mother’s Legacie to her Unborne Childe reflect, English society invested enormous amounts of energy in attempting to create a stable, safe identity for itself by crafting a stable, safe identity for the housewife. This figure necessarily influenced the way that Englishwomen and men thought and wrote about a definition of the foreign and a particular, domestic, English national identity.


1> As the changing economy of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries led to increased social and physical mobility, and vice versa, the ideals of English national identity were increasingly shaped in response to the perceived threats or difference of the foreign. England itself became increasingly conceptualized as a domestic space; the English housewife became a symbol for discussions of the problems and virtues of England historically, politically, and socially. This focus on the idealization of the housewife had uses ranging from the domestication of history to expressions of a need for class control and hierarchy. What all such narratives reflect, though, regardless of intent, is a newly centralized facet of the English national identity, a new definition created in response to the increase of travel and the changes involved therein. As such, it was perhaps natural that the housewife, as a central figure of English domesticity, became an increasingly important figure in Renaissance England; “her” domestic centrality was made possible by the anxieties and complications accessed through increased travel, mobility, and change. At the same time, these complications led English men and women to create ever stricter definitions to control the role and depiction of the English housewife, in whose image the entire country now had a vested interest. This figure, also, then influenced the way that Englishwomen and men thought and wrote about their own culture and history. By juxtaposing the values created through these sorts of domestic exercises, the English people could articulate a definition of the foreign and claim a particular, domestic, English national identity.

2> The formation of this English national identity is here examined through the relationships between three different sorts of texts about housewives: Juan Luis Vives’s Instruction of a Christian Woman as translated by Richard Hyrde, Gervase Markham’s The English Housewife, and Elizabeth Jocelin’s posthumous The Mother’s Legacie to her Unborne Childe. Vives’s text, of course, does not deal specifically with the idea of the English housewife, but both the original Latin text of the 1520s and the English translation in 1585 mark relatively early examples of the emerging interest in literature explicitly about women’s roles. In the 1585 translation, Hyrde preserves Vives’s prefatory dedication to then-queen Katherine, heading the preface only to identify the author and the dedicatee. No additional English preface is created, and Hyrde’s title page is similarly restrained; there is relatively little to resituate the text as explicitly English, but the project of translation itself, particularly after the Reformation represents complicated intersections of reclamation of certain identities, as will be examined, here. If Vives’s text can only be considered in terms of English identity specifically insofar as its patronage and translation make it “English,” Gervase Markham’s The English Housewife is more clearly and consciously a product of nationalism. “English” is, indeed, the largest word on the title page, emphasizing the particular nationality considered within the pages of Markham’s text. Further, the title page promises that this text is “[a] worke very profitable and necessarie, gathered for the generall good of this kingdome” (Markham 1). From the earliest introduction to the text, Markham privileges the instruction of the English housewife as integral to the good of the kingdom at large. Though less explicitly invested in national identity, Elizabeth Jocelin’s text reveals an interest in a different sort of instruction, one which may be targeted, like Vives’s treatise and Markham’s huswifery book, at education, but which also ensures a place for the housewife herself in history as author rather than subject.  Thus, the three texts together trace an evolution of discussions of the housewife, as her role in, and contributions to, society become ever more centralized and acknowledged.

3> Further, these three texts mark an increasing individualization of the housewife, from Vives’s Christian woman, who could be maid, wife, or widow of any European nation, to Markham’s more specific English housewife, to Jocelin’s own personal voice. By very virtue of the publication of her text, though, Jocelin becomes simultaneously an individual in history and a representative of a larger group. As Vives speaks to women, Jocelin is cast as speaking for women, though the Approbation both justifies the publication of the text by implying that she is exceptional and, in preserving her voice, makes her exceptional. Nonetheless, the very fact that her advice is considered sound and worthy of national consideration reflects the increasing investment of English identity in the nation’s housewives. This investment was partly influenced by the gender politics of Elizabethan England; as Louis Adrian Montrose’s seminal essay outlines, the inviolable body of the queen was inextricably bound to the inviolable space of England (“Subject” 315), and Elizabeth used her gender to build upon the established political imagery of body and country. On the one hand, Elizabeth’s use of gender shores personal political power; as Montrose outlines in that essay, “Elizabeth perpetuates her maidenhood in a cult of virginity; transfers her wifely duties from the household to the state; and invests her maternity in her political rather than in her natural body” (Montrose “Subject” 310). However, the terms which Elizabeth used were both determined by and available to the subjects she governed, and “her subjects might rework those terms to serve their turns.” (Montrose “Subject” 310). Thus, the terms which Elizabeth uses to secure her space can also become a way of securing English housewives within their domestic spaces; as Jocelin’s use indicates, though, those terms may also be a way to codify identity and to preserve one’s voice.

4> Markham’s text, an example of both impositions and preservations, is distinctive partly as an example of the particularly English genre of the cookbook.  By Markam’s 1615 publication, the genre was well-established; Wendy Wall traces some of the history of the cookbook as a distinct genre, noting that “[h]ousewifery, first published as a subset of knowledge in sixteenth-century husbandry books, broke off as a separate discourse in the 1570s when English cookbooks appeared in bookstalls” (333). This genre, she notes, was distinct from its European counterpart in terms of the intended audience; cookbooks, elsewhere, were designed for professional men–chefs. Cookbooks, in England, were designed instead for domestic women–huswifes. Not least significant for the discussion here is the planned journey of the book. The cookbook elsewhere was a product of men for men, which moved from the workplace of the printers’ shop to the workplace of the kitchen. The cookbook in England was instead a product for an audience of consumer-producers, a product brought into the home to govern production in the home. The cookbook was then a kind of foreign invader of the domestic space at the same time that it shored up ideas about that space. Wall addresses the product of this generic difference when she argues that “[a]s the earliest published domestic advice manuals and cookbooks in England shaped conceptions of domesticity, they made readers self-conscious about the meaning of daily life” (333). 

5> There were, of course, other invaders of the home making the English particularly self-conscious of domestic meaning and its making in the 16th century. Though the argument of this essay focuses particularly on the economic formation of nationalism in response to the foreign, the political and religious shifts of the time were equally important contributors. When Kim F. Hall, for example, argues that “[t]he cookbook played a relatively unheralded role in the formation of European nationalism,” her argument is not only economic, but also political and even specifically geographic (170). Hall herself outlines the intersection thus:

“in making ‘preserves and conserves,’ seventeenth-century women participated in a growing movement from a Mediterranean to an Atlantic economy, and made the English home an important part of [...] the modern world system. While it may look odd to read both nationalism and a developing world system in the same cultural enterprise, in this case it seems precisely the tension between a changing world economy and attempts to define the boundaries of individual national identities that produces such ambivalent (and often contradictory) notions of the foreign and the domestic in English texts.” (Hall 169)

6> The identity of the English household was formed by the English housewife at its center, and this household formed in new patterns, with new importance, as the major concerns of the country itself shifted, in some ways, from domestic concerns to international–or as international concerns began to necessarily impact the domestic. As England became an increasingly colonial player in terms of trade, politics, and territory, her people also become more invested in identifying what set them apart. Nationalism simultaneously became and resulted from the drive to define Englishness, both in opposition to, and as something that could be taken, “abroad.” Hall notes, to this point, that “the shaping of the English woman’s role in the household was necessary, not only for maintaining domestic order, but for the absorption of the foreign necessitated by colonialism” (170). England and her housewives defined each other in acts of mutual and self-protection.

7> The use of the feminine pronoun for the state, above, is intentional and intentionally reflects a significant proportion of the discourse of the day. Speaking about the later period of the Civil War, Christopher Orchard outlines the common use of the figure of the female body as the disordered body politic, by both the opposing factions, as “a subtle consensual agreement that inscribed the female body as a passive subject that followed prescriptive gender codes of behavior” (Orchard 10). The agreement is significant as a reflection that “the ideological bifurcation that had divided citizens along religious, political, and class lines did not preclude both Royalist and Parliamentarian writers from employing the same analogy, that of the female body, to describe political crisis.” (Orchard 10) I would extend the argument backwards to acknowledge that this image is available to the Englishmen of the Civil War because it has already been established in the preceding decades as the dominant figure of English national identity. In the face of imminent civil war, the well-ordered housewife instead becomes an unordered hussy as the civil order breaks down, emphasizing the connection between the English domestic order and the English people’s self-definition.

8> The preeminence of the housewife and her domain–as well as her later, implicit culpability in the civil disorder of the mid-century–resulted from her place at the center of the home and the home’s place at the center of the state. Wall summarizes that “[a]s the ‘first society” and ‘seminary,’ the early modern family bore the tremendous burden of inculcating citizenship in a patriarchal and hierarchical world by structuring the proper dependencies that founded church, state, and body politic.” (331). Colonialism and protocapitalism then go hand in hand in defining many of the major changes to these structures of the state and her people; Wall observes the impact of these changes in the figure of the housewife as represented in huswifery guides, as well, noting that as they “[r]espond [...] to widespread economic changes ushered in by the emergence of protocapitalism, these guides interpret housewifery in different ways: its destructive potential is circumscribed as a game, its economic value becomes the sign of national character” (335). The “proto” element of this particular capitalism is also essential to the huswife’s place, because the economic nature of the period meant that “[t]he household was, after all, the primary unit of production as well as consumption in the period” (Wall 333). The household produced goods and citizens; it was also the site of use of the colonial products that were made possible by the export of citizens and of “Englishness.”

9> Part of the relationship between England and her housewives was the domestication of the space within which they both existed, particularly as idealized by the English themselves. This space was contained, defined, and protected. Mary Thomas Crane points out that the term “huswife” is used mostly by male writers (212).  She associates use of the term with “anxiety, first over working-class women’s wage-earning potential within the home (with fears of a concomitant sexual independence) and, later, anxiety over upper-class women’s increasing idleness (with fears of concomitant sexual freedom) as they were confined to a domestic sphere where servants did most of the work” (Crane 212). The anxiety of sexual freedom as connected to proscribed social roles mirrors the elision of “huswife” and “hussy;” the terms used to describe women are unstable because the roles ascribed to them are too bound to the anxieties that destabilize those roles, leading to “attempt[s] to separate huswives from hussies by confining women within the space of the home” (Crane 216).  In Markham’s text, especially, there is a decided emphasis on the physical limitations of the space controlled by the housewife. Whereas “the perfect husbandman[‘s] [...] office and employments are ever for the most part abroad, or removed from the house [...] our English housewife [...] hath her most general employments within the house” (Markham 5). Vives similarly limits the movements of women, though he clarifies that “I say not this becau[se] I would have women continually sh[ut] up and kept in, but because I wold ha[ve] them go seldome abroad, and be little [a]mong men” (280). The limitations placed on the movements of women are not about movement itself but instead about the risk of contamination for the domestic space.  Movement “abroad,” for both Vives and Markham, implies a scope which necessitates encounters with the foreign and the unfamiliar. The space of the domestic, in contrast, does not necessarily have to be completely isolated, but ought to be restricted to interactions with familiar–that is, the housewife ought to operate within a particular, demarcated sphere of influence.

10> However, the relationship between the housewife and her space was much more complex than one of simple confinement; woman and space, like woman and nation, defined one another. When Markham later discusses the making of malt, he clarifies that “[t]his office or place belongeth particularly to the housewife [...] it is properly the work and care of the woman, for it is a house work, and done altogether within doors, where generally lieth her charge” (180). Even as the domestic space limits the housewife, it is also through that space that the housewife exerts control; this space is her responsibility and within her power. Within the household, the housewife is assigned a space and influence that are definably hers. In this particular instance, that control may seem to extend over only a relatively minor element of English life. In fact, though, these minor features added up to include almost the sum of English domestic product; malt, bread, herbs, physics, and cloth are all among the several products which Markham expects the English housewife either to produce or to have produced with assistance from other women within her local markets. Lena Cowen Orlin’s list of likely reasons for men’s much more rapid rate of remarriage in the period reflects the emphasis on women’s productivity in the period; she links men’s quick remarriages to “how dependent they were upon their partners for running their households, rearing children, supervising servants, and contributing to family incomes” (Orlin 164) In a very real sense, the economy of England depended on the domestic spaces of housewives.

11> Further, in addition to the influence that might spread from the products of these physical spaces, the social space affected by the English housewife was quite wide. Just as many products took root in the home economies of English housewives, so, too, did English citizens. Though on the face of it, such a claim may seem so obvious as to be of little value, the increasing literature about the role of the English housewife reflects a clear concern with the influence the housewife exerted beyond her sphere. Surely her influence on her children was “natural” in contemporary thought, but that influence then meant that, insofar as she shaped its citizens, the housewife shaped England as a whole. Thus, the housewife became conceptualized not only as a symbol of national identity, but as a maker, an idea which could cause more anxiety in the deeply patriarchal English social structure; Crane describes the conflict as centered on “anxiety about the role of women [...] around the unstable boundaries between their potential as ‘producers’ [...] and a literally ‘conservative’ sense [...] of their role as caretakers and preservers [...]” (212). Markham’s work makes this especially clear, as each section of his text begins with a discussion of the wider implications and consequences of the housewife’s knowledge and practices.  The proper education of the English housewife is important, Markham claims, because “from the general example of her virtues, and the most approved skill of her knowledges, those of her family may both learn to serve God, and sustain man in that godly and profitable sort which is required of every true Christian” (5). Though Markham does not ever cast the role of the housewife as one of explicit instruction or education, her example and her creation of a sound domestic space are central to the proper formation of those in her charge.

12> Vives engages with this influence of the wife by first discussing her ability to shape the very specific space of her own household, a space where the propriety of her influence was accepted and, largely, uncontested. Discussing concord within the house, Vives tells the wife that “a great part of this matter resteth in thy hand [...] to have thy husband pleasaunt and loving to thee, and to lead thy life wealthfully: or else [...] to have him froward and crabbed, and to ordain for thy self grievous torment” (183). Though Vives largely casts the surest path to marital contentment as one of submission of the wife’s part, he nonetheless casts this as her choice – she can control the space within which she lives. This is more explicit in Vives’s promise that “if thou by vertuous living and buxumnes, gyve him cause to love thee, thou shalt be mystres in a merry house” (182). Just as Markham allows that which is in the house to be a part of the housewife’s “charge,” so Vives emphasizes the housewife’s leading role in the domestic space. If she correctly forms her household, she can naturally rule over that successful space as its appropriate mistress. Vives then begins to connect this household space more explicitly with the larger social order. For example, Vives’s list of rules from “Pithagoras’ discipline” ends that “sedition [should be put] out of the Citie, and discord out of the house” (231). The housewife’s successful performance of her domestic duty is a fulfillment of the natural order, and each level of that order relates to the next. As Valerie Traub, M. Lindsey Kaplan, and Dympna Callaghan point out, this is the natural result of the image of the ruler as parent, which meant “the parent was also given the rights and responsibilities of a ruler. In order for the subject to enact the monarch’s will, he or she required a measure of authority in his or her own right” (3). The natural result was that “the political status of the family, while reinforcing the subordination of the wife, nevertheless offers women a public role and a proximity to power” (Traub, Kaplan, and Callaghan 3). The housewife has power over her family as an image of the parent-ruler. As such, harmony does not just result from the elimination of discord and sedition, but depends on the elimination of discord at the domestic level which will naturally result in the elimination of sedition on the civic level.

13> This sentiment is echoed when Jocelin explains the effect she hopes to achieve through her text, though she claims to write to an audience of only one.

“Againe, I may perhaps be wondred at for writing in this kinde, considering there are so many excellent books, whose least note is worth all my meditations. I confesse it, and thus excuse my selfe. I write not to the world, but to mine own childe, who it may be, will more profit by a few weake instructions comming from a dead mother (who cannot every day praise or reprove it as it deserves) then by farre better from much more learned.” (Jocelin 10-11)

14> Though Jocelin’s focus is only her own offspring, she nonetheless feels compelled to enter her voice into record in order to control her particular contribution to the social order. Further, Jocelin’s text here affirms the unique nature of the voice of the housewife; she asserts that, in the role of mother, the housewife’s words have a particular power to shape those within her household. In this shaping, then, the housewife necessarily contributes to the kingdom at large, shaping the space of England through the shape of her own domestic space. The role of the good housewife, Jocelin’s text implies, is amending the country’s ills from within the domestic space. This interest in the wider world is more explicitly echoed when Jocelin casts her concerns for her child in terms of the larger issues of England, as when she warns that “our Kingdome hath of late afforded more examples of those who have been slain by their friends in a drunken quarrell, than of those that have fallen by the enemies sword” (Jocelin 72). Through proper instruction of her own child, though, Jocelin hopes to contribute to the solution to this discord. The housewife, herself a domestic figure, becomes an agent in keeping England free of violence and vice within its borders, preserving the national domestic space through the proper ordering of her private domestic space.

15> The acknowledgement of these influences of the housewife was intimately bound up with anxieties about her role and about her security. Because the idea of the housewife belonged so completely to the domestic, anxieties about her role often took the form of discussions about travel and foreignness. Foreignness here needs special attention, as the word, when considered in juxtaposition with the ideal of the English housewife, could include not only ideas of foreign countries and practices, but also ideas of practices foreign to nature, or of social settings, such as the court or the city market, which were foreign to the specific domestic space envisioned by many Englishwomen and men as the proper provenance of this housewife. Even as rules governing movement were created and encoded through huswifery texts and conduct texts, the facts of the changing economy meant that women’s roles were shifting and involved both more travel and an increased level of consumerism. More, and more diverse, goods were being brought into the home–Hall’s sugar and Wall’s cookbooks are two immediate examples–and the English household was, thus, increasingly less self-sufficient, mirroring changes in the national economy. This then inspired fears about foreign influences, both as “unnatural” and as potentially damaging to the English economy and English national identity. While such anxiety partially limited the scope of the housewife, both Elizabeth’s use in her iconography and Jocelin’s use in her text indicate the ways that opposition and othering could be used to shore up ideas of particularly English feminine identities.

16> The anxiety about new products, new movements, and new economies was particularly connected to the English housewife because any concern with consumption and economy necessarily created concerns about the domestic space of England. Though Michelle M. Dowd focuses her discussion of these concerns on a consideration of the Dekker and Webster play Westward Ho!, she makes several important points about the connection between “consumer power and illicit sexuality” (230). As Dowd argues, “[t]he same economic changes that made London the ‘national lodestone’ also had a dramatic impact on urban housewives and their connections to the market” (225). Where these housewives might previously have largely taken their own domestically produced goods to market and collaborated with other housewives to produce or barter for other domestically produced goods, many products were now moved across counties or even countries, and, though Dowd focuses on urban housewives, these changes were occurring across the country. As Dowd points out, the shifting market then naturally led to a greater reliance on “goods produced outside the home” (225). This, then, necessitated a certain amount of movement on the part of the good English housewife, as well as an addition to her roles: part of the primary role of these housewives was now consuming, rather than producing. This consumption not only changed the established economy, then, but also changed the definitions and delineations of the housewife. Travel, particularly as it altered economy, threatened the domestic; even within the accepted spaces of England, the housewife’s travel threatened her family’s domestic space by necessitating an introduction of the foreign and the unfamiliar.

17> Vives warns his reader quite explicitly against the evils of consumerism at several places throughout his text, as when he admonishes that wives must “beware thou fall not into such a wicked minde, to will him for lucre of monye to occup anye unhonest craftes, or to do any unhappy deeds, that though mayest live more delicatelye, or more wealthy, or go more gayly and gorgiouslly arrayed, or dwell in more goodly housing” (211). Though here the specific warning is against allowing consumptive desires to lead to sinful acts, the very connection between the two implies a very particular view of consumerism. The desire for better goods is an evil which is “wicked” and unnatural, and thus leads to wicked and unnatural deeds. Further, these consumer desires are here essentially domestic. Though a desire for a “wealthier” lifestyle might imply class movement, the basic focus is on improvements to house or person – to those areas which lie with the wife’s sphere of influence. A desire to change the quality of these domestic goods implies a discontent which disorders the familiar domestic space. In contrast, a properly ordered domestic space is one where the wife is satisfied with her social space and so contents herself with those goods most precisely appropriate to her “place.”

18> Markham quite explicitly endorses this idea of domestic space suiting social place when he discusses the necessity of the housewife conforming to the estate of her husband.  Markham argues that “it is meet that our English housewife be a woman of great modesty and temperance as well inwardly as outwardly” (Markham 7). Modesty speaks to a lack of ambition, while temperance implies a balance of resources and expenditures, which Markham explicates when he explains that:

“her apparel and diet [...] she shall proportion according to the competency of her husband’s estate and calling, making her circle rather strait than large, for it is a rule if we extend to the uttermost we take away increase, if we go beyond we enter into consumption, but if we preserve any part, we build strong forts against the adversities of fortune, provided that such preservation be honest and conscionable; for as lavish prodigality is brutish, so miserable covetousness is hellish.” (Markham 7)

19> Building on Markham’s earlier claims about the space of the housewife, these prescriptions more clearly relate that space to a particular social sphere. These prescriptions are not limited to warning the wife simply against overeager consumerism; Markham also points to a need for a particular kind of consumption as appropriate to the housewife’s class and resources. She must not consume over eagerly or too widely, but neither should she limit herself in any way inappropriate to her station. The boundaries of her desires should be enlarged or shrunk exactly according to her social status. 

20> Markham continues his discussion of the appropriate consumption of the English housewife through his discussion of her apparel and diet in more specific terms, and these terms tend to be more specifically limiting than liberating. He claims that her diet should “be rather to satisfy nature than [...] revive new appetites” (Markham 8), focusing on the need for the housewife to act according to natural orders and desires. More precisely, he says that the diet of the house ought to “be esteemed rather for the familiar acquaintance she has with it, than for the strangeness and rarity it bringeth from other countries” (Markham 8).  Not only, then, should the diet of, and provided by, the English housewife accord to nature, it ought specifically to accord to English nature. In much the same way that Markham or Vives would limit the wife’s travel to those areas with which she is already familiar, so they would limit her experiences to the same, thus, again, preserve the domestic space from the contamination of the foreign. “Strangeness” is, in Markham’s text, suspect by nature, and so the housewife should most naturally avoid its influence.

21> One other distinct space of anxiety that stemmed from these fears of consumerism, consumption, and foreign influence was fashion, where concerns about both nature and nation guided much of the dialogue. Just as Markham would have the English housewife’s dress “as far from the vanity of new and fantastic fashions, as near to the comely imitations of modest matrons” (Markham 7-8), Jocelin warns her child and her reader about the foolishness of those who “deforme and transforme themselves by these new fangled fashions” (Jocelin 32). The emphasis on “new” here reflects the ways in which the threatening foreign might be cast as any sort of unfamiliar, whether because the object was not English, not natural, or not traditional. Jocelin, though, also links this idea of the “new” to the “unnatural,” saying that it is “a monstrous thing to see a man, whom God hath created of an excellent forme, each part answering the due proportion of another [...] by a fantasticall habit [...] make himselfe so ugly, that one cannot finde amongst all Gods creatures any thing like him” (Jocelin 31). This concern with attire reflects England’s aversion to foreign influence, which could creep in sinisterly through foreign fashions and product, but the concern with fashion was not just that it could corrupt a person’s English identity, but that it could also corrupt one’s natural and Christian identity.

22> Though these prescriptions regarding fashion, diet, and ordering of the house all reveal a very particular preoccupation with the established order, the English housewife was also subject to the more traditional paranoia of the Renaissance man. The most serious transgressions against nature are addressed when the concerns about consumerism give way to more explicit fears about sexual misbehavior. Unnatural consumer behavior may result from an exposure to the foreign and a break from natural Englishness, but sexual transgression necessitates a break into unnatural behavior which is more explicitly damaging to country and society. Vives, in particular, draws again and again on the idea of nature as a base for his arguments, and this language is strongest in his condemnation of adultery. Vives does not only condemn adultery in women, though the focus of his text necessitates a certain imbalance in his discussion of this “unnatural” practice. Though Vives counsels the good wife to remain calm in her remonstrations of husband made ill through relations with a concubine (Vives [226]), his discussion of the event still clearly casts concubines as foreign invaders bringing disease, through the husband, into the domestic space. However, in the instance of male adultery, the housewife had the power, through careful handling, to maintain the domestic order of things, by gently exhorting her husband to better action and then by submitting to his will.

23> The consequences of female adultery imply that this act is more severely unnatural and so more essentially foreign to the proper housewife. Not incidentally, the sections where Vives discusses adultery by a wife are also where the strongest identification amongst housewife, household, and country occur. In discussing the unnatural behavior of the female adulterer, Vives asks, “What greater offence can they do: or what greater wickedness can they infect them selves withal, that destroy their countrey, and perish al lawes and justice, and murther their fathers and mothers, and finally defile and marre all thinges both spirituall and temporal?” (Vives 187). The destruction of the domestic space is quite explicitly the destruction of all larger social orders as well, spreading out of the family to encompass entire nations. In return, according to Vives’s depiction of the natural order, all of those social spheres will revenge themselves upon the wife who commits adultery. Closely mirroring his list of the offended orders, Vives describes that “thy countrey folkes, all rightes and lawes, thy countrey it selfe, thy parentes, all thy kinfolke, and thine husband him selfe shall condemne and punish thee” (187-188). While concord in the house is implicitly connected to the end of sedition in the city earlier in Vives’s text, here Vives clearly shows the deeply unnatural behavior of adultery as leading to ever greater and more unnatural disruptions–which then must turn on the adulterer to restore any semblance of balance. The destruction of the marital bond destroys the domestic space of the housewife. Thus, insofar as that domestic space creates all others, its destruction must lead to a reverberation through all social spheres touching the housewife’s own.

24> Vives, Markham, and Jocelin all assume the importance of keeping the housewife from transgressions and reflect the currents of thought that linked transgression to contamination from “foreign” influences. These concerns were important, though, specifically because of the ways that the ideal housewife ought to reflect English identity. Through her proper preservation and proper ordering of the domestic space, the housewife could become the perfect symbol of England. She was, as an ideal, paradoxically self-sufficient, self-contained, and also subjugated to her husband – a perfect locus of control, who was somehow conceived of as both totally self-controlled and totally controlled by someone else – specifically, by her husband. As Christopher D. Gabbard surmises, in England, “patriarchalism manifested itself both on the political and on the household levels. Depending on the signs and symbols of monarchy for legitimizing the male’s household rule, domestic patriarchalism became entrenched as England’s governing gender ideology” (88). However, an important element of this manifestation of patriarchalism in England was also the extent to which the monarchy depended on the “signs and symbols” of male household rule to legitimize the ruling ideology. While Elizabeth I’s rule complicated this structure to some extent, Montrose emphasizes the ways that the power of the royal cult rested on “virginal, erotic, and maternal aspects of the Elizabethan feminine [...] appropriate[d] from the domestic domain [...]” (Montrose “Shaping” 64). Further, more poetic, less practical texts than those discussed here, often dedicated to Elizabeth, came back time and again to the idea that “the woman who has the prerogative of a goddess, who is authorized to be out of place, can best justify her authority by putting other women in their places” (Montrose “Shaping 76”); through this logic, “[t]he royal exception could prove the patriarchal rule in society at large” (Montrose “Shaping” 80). Thus the power of one royal woman emphasized the importance of other women staying in their place; subordination of women becomes ever more central to social stability. Whenever England was represented as a domestic space, the housewife became an important anchor for that space, and so the stability of her role influenced, conceptually, the stability of the state.

25> Vives particularly tends to speak of the ideal housewife in terms related to the ideal state, a connection made more significant by the patronage of his text by Henry VIII. Speaking of the role of the wife, Vives writes that “[n]ature sheweth, that the males duety is to succour and defend, and the females to followe and to waite uppon the male, and to creepe under his ayde, and obey him, that shee may live the better” (Vives 204). The wife is, of course, the subject, who must let herself be governed by her husband’s reason; this is quite specifically the natural order of things. This is, then, related to the natural social order, when Vives directs the wife to “[l]et the aucthoritie and rule bee reserved unto thine husbande: and bee thou an example to all thine house, what soveraignety they owe unto him” (Vives 206-207).  Through the proper enactment of her role, the housewife reinforces patriarchalism – an exact counter to the sort of extensive damage which results in these texts from any disorder on the part of the housewife. Through her support of her husband, sovereignty is enforced in the domestic space; her influence then enforces sovereignty on each ascendant level of the social order.  

26> This stability also functions symbolically to reinforce the domestic space and the domestic economy of England. Markham provides the clearest and most explicit example of this in his discussion of the English housewife’s role in making malt. This practice is first linked to the space of the housewife, and so reinforces her domesticity, the definitions of her identity, and her authority within her assigned space. The making of malt, in Markham, is a locus for the intersection of both the housewife’s power and for control of her power. Moving from that relationship to space, then, the making of malt also becomes an action wherein the housewife proves her ability to order her household, provides for the growth of that household, and reaches beyond the household to order the world beyond. Markham dictates that

“It is most requisite and fit that our housewife be experienced and well practiced in the well making of malt, both for the necessary and continual use therof, as also for the general profit which accrueth and ariseth to the husband, housewife, and the whole family: for as from it is made the drink, by which the household is nourished and sustained, so to the fruitful husband [...] it is an excellent merchandise, and a commodity of so great trade, that not alone especial towns and counties are maintained thereby, but also the whole kingdom, and divers others of our neighboring nations.” (Markham 180)

27> The housewife must be expert and practiced in the areas pertaining to her domestic space. Through her expert management, she can guarantee the success and stability of her house. Not only, then, does her influence within her house determine the behavior of those within the household – children, husband, and servants – but her influence can also actually affect the economy of the country. Thus, in stabilizing her local or national economy, the housewife actively encourages the kind of self-sufficiency of which she is a symbol.

28> In addition to stabilizing the English social system, though, the housewife also reflected the ways that the English wanted to think about themselves and their national identity on a more individualized level. This involved not only ideals of self-sufficiency, but also much more exact qualities and virtues. Vives and Jocelin both reflect the Christian nature of the English national identity, but the complications of the situation between Vives’s original authorship and Hyrde’s translation, in addition to the rapidly shifting landscape of English Renaissance religious thoughts, mark the difficultly of generalizing across decades the various ways in which the English housewife might be expected to practice religion. Certainly, though, she was meant to align her beliefs with her husband’s and to serve as an example to those within her household. Markham helpfully summarizes that he wishes “English housewife [to] be a godly, constant, and religious woman, learning from the worthy preacher, and her husband, those good examples which she shall with all careful diligence see exercised amongst her servants” (7). Again, her subjection to her husband creates a stability within the house, the virtue of which is then transferred to those over whom she has control. Though Markham was writing well after the English Reformation, there would likely be some stability throughout the English Renaissance at least in the ideal that so long as the housewife aligned with whatever she was told by her preacher and her husband, she could effectively govern the beliefs of her household and ensure that her domestic space was correctly aligned with the larger social order. That the breakdown of stability and of religious coherence that characterized the civil war was so often characterized in terms of unruly women emphasizes the conceptual link between the housewife’s identity and the idea of English stability and order.

29> The elements of the English housewife’s identity involved a promise that the housewife could be and inspire more than even domestic stability or social hegemony. In protecting the housewife from foreign influences that might corrupt her nature or her Englishness, the domestic sphere could then serve as protective space for English national identity. Through conduct manuals, moral treatises, huswifery books, and countless other texts, authors sought to express the central nature of the domestic space and, at the same time, to control that space. Fears of foreign influence in both national character and national economy were then acted out in domestic terms, so that the English housewife was encouraged to be ever more self-sufficient and isolated, ever more dependent on her husband, and ever more influential in society, simultaneously. As Vives, Markham, and Jocelin’s texts reflect, English society invested enormous amounts of energy in attempting to create a stable, safe identity for itself by crafting a stable, safe identity for the housewife. So long as the housewife was “of chaste thought, stout courage, patient, untired, watchful, diligent, witty, pleasant, constant in friendship, full of good neighborhood, wise in discourse, but not frequent therein, sharp and quick of speech, but not bitter or talkative, secret in her affairs, comfortable in her counsels, and generally skilful in all the worthy knowledges which do belong to her vocation” (Markham 8), England itself could be assured of the preservation of its domestic security.



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Montrose, Louis Adrian. “‘Shaping Fantasies’: Figurations of Gender and Power in Elizabethan Culture.” Representations 2 (1983): 61-94.

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Rebecca M. Quoss-Moore received her PhD from the University of Arkansas in 2016. Her dissertation on subversive translation and transcription in the Henrician Court prioritized examination of women’s strategies in manuscript production. Her essay “Education and Agency in The Miseries of Mavillia” is forthcoming in Explorations in Renaissance Culture.


Studies in Renaissance / Early Modern Literature and Culture,
Volume Nine (2016): Texts & Contexts


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