The Politics of Women’s Friendship in Early Modern England

  • Laura Gowing


Friendship, it has become clear, was one of the pivotal points of communication, power, and intimacy in early modern society. Alan Bray’s examination of the emotional and physical dynamics of male friendship showed how, in the great houses of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England, intimate body practices were located outside the marital relationship. Habits of touching, eating, and sleeping were shared between men, in public and in private; shared kisses, meals, and beds were imbued with all the power that gifts traditionally held in this society. For the intimate male friends of the early seventeenth century, the body was a gift like others, a means of binding by favour and obligation. By the late seventeenth century, Bray argues, the uncomfortable threat of sodomitic readings of friendship made men withdraw from the physical intimacies of friendship, and put it on a more formal footing.1 As the household became the nuclear family, the gift of the body became one suitable only for exchange between a man and a woman.


Seventeenth Century Female Friendship Male Friendship Intimate Friend Physical Intimacy 
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© Laura Gowing 2005

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  • Laura Gowing

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