The gentlewoman's remembrance

Patriarchy, piety, and singlehood in early Stuart England

By Isaac Stephens

The gentlewoman's remembrance

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-7849-9143-2
  • Pages: 288
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £85.00
  • Published Date: July 2016
  • BIC Category: History, History & Archaeology, General & world history, Early Modern History, c 1500 onwards to present day, 17th century, c 1600 to c 1699, HISTORY / Europe / Great Britain, HISTORY / Modern / 17th Century, Humanities / British & Irish history, Humanities / Early modern history: c 1450/1500 to c 1700
  • Series: Politics, Culture and Society in Early Modern Britain


A microhistory of a never-married English gentlewoman named Elizabeth Isham, this book centres on an extremely rare piece of women's writing - a recently discovered 60,000-word spiritual autobiography held in Princeton's manuscript collections that she penned around 1639. The autobiography is unmatched in providing an inside view of her family relations, her religious beliefs, her reading habits and, most sensationally, the reasons why she chose never to marry despite desires to the contrary held by her male kin, particularly Sir John Isham, her father. Based on the autobiography, combined with extensive research of the Isham family papers now housed at the county record office in Northampton, this book restores our historical memory of Elizabeth and her female relations, expanding our understanding and knowledge about patriarchy, piety and singlehood in early modern England.


'This is chiefly a searching analysis of a single text, the long-forgotten spiritual autobiography of the Northamptonshire spinster Elizabeth Isham (1609-54), and the window it opens on to 17th-century familial and gender relations and the religious spectrum of the period. Almost erased from memory by the male members of her family and by later male custodians of the family archive, for whom singlehood was at best an embarrassment, Isham's diary proves an immensely rewarding quarry for Stephens to mine. Its author, a 'Puritan Nun' and 'Prayer Book Puritan', compels historians to refine many accepted generalisations about women's history and religious history and recognise that 'exceptions' were often the 'norm'.'
R. C. Richardson, emeritus professor of history, University of Winchester, Times Higher Education - What are you reading? 16 November 2017


Introduction: Finding and remembering Elizabeth Isham
1. 'My Booke of Rememberance': the spiritual autobiography of Elizabeth Isham
2. 'As a Branch with a Roote': The Ishams of Lamport and their world
3. 'The Sweet Private Life': Singlehood in the patriarch's household
4. 'My Owne Books': Elizabeth Isham's reading
5. 'To Piety More Prone': Elizabeth Isham's religion
Conclusion: A memory restored


Isaac Stephens is Assistant Professor of History at Saginaw Valley State University

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