Corporeal Style: Representing the Gentry Household

  • Kellie Robertson
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


In 1450, a landowning neighbor of John Paston was fined the substantial amount of one noble for beating his servant and drawing blood. The fine was dismissed on appeal after the neighbor presented an apparently irrefutable analogy: he asked “if a man myth not betyn hes owyn wyfe.”1 This anecdote witnesses the functional equivalency between wives and servants in the late medieval period as well as the effective exclusion of both from the dominant legal discourse, a discourse that envisioned them as “things” to be disposed of by their masters rather than juridical subjects in their own right. An unqualified notion of objectification, however, does not adequately account for the gentry wife’s active role as keeper and caretaker of her husband’s household. Despite the fact that the fifteenth-century legal system recognized few differences between a servant and a wife, the Paston letters themselves witness the ways in which gentry women viewed their own work managing households qua work, work clearly differentiated from that of servants.


Household Labor Household Good Corporate Body Early Modern Period Business Affair 
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© Kellie Robertson 2006

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