Part of the Genders and Sexualities in History book series (GSX)


This chapter examines how becoming and being mothers, in terms of offering emotional and material support to their offspring from pregnancy to adulthood, affected the reputations and shaped the behaviour of women in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century London. Many early modern women spent much of their adult lives bearing and raising children, and being a good mother enabled a woman to gain respect within and beyond her household, as well as giving her a sense of pride in her achievements. Motherhood was a constructed role that a woman carried out in the family, but which also connected her with friends and relatives outside the domestic environment.1 Each woman who gave birth ‘participated in a series of commonly shared experiences, performances and ceremonies’ each stage of which was ‘nuanced by social scripting and social construction’ as well as being ‘invested with emotional, cultural, and religious significance’.2 Becoming and being a mother was an individual and exclusively female biological experience, but also a role and a relationship that affected the development of both mother and child.3 Moreover, although not all women in early modern England gave birth to children, the duties of mothering and childcare were not confined to biological mothers, practices which have been underexplored in existing historiography.


Seventeenth Century Social Rank Biological Mother Poor Woman Expectant Mother 
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Copyright information

© Tim Reinke-Williams 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Social SciencesUniversity of NorthamptonUK

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