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In August 1694 Christain Penny, a widow ‘late of London’ who lived in the Old Exchange, was arraigned and tried at the Old Bailey for clipping coins along with her lodger, William Ayliffe. Christain was acquitted since ‘nothing was found in her chamber’ and because, although she let two rooms to Ayliffe, ‘what he did there, she knew not’. Christain was aided in her defence by a group of unnamed neighbours, who ‘justified her reputation’ by stating that she had three children and that she ‘workt hard for her living by fetching drink from the brewhouse’.2 Based on the brief report of her trial, Christain Penny was a hardworking mother, employee and landlady, as well as a resident of good standing in her neighbourhood community, and her unexceptional life flickers into view solely because of the misbehaviour of her lodger. Over the past 30 years the scholarship on women in early modern England has grown substantially, but far more attention has been paid to scolds and witches than to honest women such as Christain Penny.3 Like the people of early modern England, historians of women have been ‘eagle-eyed in espying their faults, but dark sighted owles, in perceiving their virtues’.4
KeywordsSexual Behaviour Seventeenth Century Social Rank Female Behaviour Occupational Identity
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