The Cooke sisters

Education, piety and politics in early modern England

By Gemma Allen

The Cooke sisters


  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-0-7190-9977-9
  • Pages: 304
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £18.99
  • Published Date: January 2016
  • BIC Category: Early Modern History, History, United Kingdom, Great Britain, European history, HISTORY / Modern / 17th Century, HISTORY / Europe / Great Britain, Humanities / Early modern history: c 1450/1500 to c 1700, Humanities / British & Irish history
  • Series: Politics, Culture and Society in Early Modern Britain


Now available in paperback, this book is a study of five remarkable sixteenth-century women. Part of the select group of Tudor women allowed access to a formal education, the Cooke sisters were also well-connected through their marriages to influential Elizabethan politicians. Drawing particularly on the sisters' own writings, this book demonstrates that the sisters' education extended far beyond that normally allowed for sixteenth-century women, challenging the view that women in this period were excluded from using their formal education to practical effect. It reveals that the sisters' learning provided them with opportunities to communicate effectively their own priorities through their translations, verse and letters. By reconstructing the sisters' networks, it demonstrates how they worked alongside - and sometimes against - family members over matters of politics and religion, empowered by their exceptional education. Providing new perspectives on these key issues, it will be essential reading for early modern historians and literary scholars.


'Allen sets an ambitious program; fortunately, she moves through it with clarity, concision, and an unflagging commitment to evidential probity, as well as the careful contextualization of the materials she treats. She does so in part to correct what she compellingly claims are errors embedded in both older and relatively recent treatments not only of the Cooke sisters but of learned women more generally.'
Leah Knight, Brock University, Renaissance and Reformation, 41.3, Summer 2018

'A superb piece of scholarship examining the writings and influence of five well-connected 16th-century sisters.'
Sara Read, Times Higher Education, May 2014

'Though Allen admits it is impossible to completely reconstruct the sisters' libraries, she does a thoroughly impressive job attempting it. ... What is also impressive is her discussion of the extant marginalia in their books. Reconstructing the women's libraries, the books and manuscripts they read, and how they read them is absorbing ... One of the great strengths of Allen's work is her discussion of the Cooke sisters' involvement in political networks, which refutes the often-made argument that elite Elizabethan women were isolated from the world of diplomacy ... This is a very fine study that will be of great value to early modern English historians concerned with women's roles and education, as well as court politics.'
Carole Levin, American Historical Review, 119 (2014)

'a thought-provoking and intelligent book ... that deploys methodologies from feminist scholarship, book history, social and diplomatic history, and a burgeoning scholarship committed to the exploration of a range of discursive modes ... an impressive piece of scholarship',
Danielle Clarke, Renaissance Quarterly, 67 (2014)

' [Allen] appears to have tracked down every item of [the sister's] writings, epistolary or literary. The result is sudden illumination of a particular work or series of incidents ... within a pool of darkness ... Gemma Allen is to be congratulated on a book full of insight, remarkably thorough, and appropriately scholarly in its restraint and good sense.', C.S.L. Davies, English Historical Review, CXXX .542 (2015)


1. 'Nouzeled and trained in the studie of letters': reading and learning
2. 'Quod licuit feci': the power of the word
3. 'Haud inane est quod dico': female counsellors
4. 'Cecil's wife tells me': political networks
5. 'Building up of the bodie of the fellowship of Saincts': religious networks
6. 'Of more learning than is necessary for that sex': responses to learned women


Gemma Allen is Lecturer in Early Modern History at The Open University and a Retained Lecturer at Pembroke College, Oxford

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