Household words: textualising social relations in the correspondence of Bess of Hardwick's servants, c. 1550-1590

Maxwell, Felicity Lyn (2014) Household words: textualising social relations in the correspondence of Bess of Hardwick's servants, c. 1550-1590. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis collects, transcribes, and, with reference to household documents and contemporary literature, annotates and interprets the surviving correspondence of a constellation of seven upper servants who at various points in the second half of the sixteenth century were stationed at or moved between several country houses and estates of which Bess of Hardwick was mistress. The thesis finds that the extant correspondence of Bess’s servants falls into two categories: (1) letters of management exchanged between Bess and five of her household and estate officers (Francis Whitfield, James Crompe, William Marchington, and Edward Foxe at Chatsworth House, Derbyshire and nearby estates in the 1550s-1560s, and Nicholas Kynnersley at Wingfield Manor, Derbyshire in the late 1580s) and (2) letters seeking practical and political patronage, written in the early 1580s by two of Bess’s gentle-born personal attendants, William Marmyon and Frances Battell, to contacts outside Bess’s itinerant (and at that time politically vulnerable) household.
Close literary, linguistic (historical pragmatic), and material readings reveal that all these letters adapt and surpass conventional expressions as they engage in practical problem-solving, complex interpersonal exchanges, and domestic politics. The thesis argues that the manuscript letters materialise dynamic verbal performances of their writers’ specific social roles and relationships — the mistress-servant relationship foremost among them. Each writer simultaneously registers and renegotiates his or her own experience of the mistress-servant relationship through the combination of diverse epistolary features, which include verbal etiquette and page layout, degrees of directness or circumlocution, complexity of syntax, tone, use of emotive language, discourses of pleasure and displeasure, personalised content (which ranges from in-jokes to empathy to distinctive pen flourishes), and explicit expressions of authority or loyalty, as well as job-specific terminology and subject matter. Frequency of correspondence, modes of delivery, and the afterlives of letters are shown to carry further social significance.
The correspondence of Bess of Hardwick’s servants acts as a touchstone for the complex role of letter-writing in the formation of social selves and the performance of domestic duties in sixteenth-century England. By accurately transcribing these letters, interpreting them using a unique combination of literary, linguistic, and visual analysis, and reconstructing from these letters and additional archival sources the careers of several servants of one mistress, this thesis opens up new material, perspectives, questions, and methods for early modern cultural studies.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Part of chapter 3 published: Felicity Maxwell, ‘Enacting Mistress and Steward Roles in a Letter of Household Management: Bess of Hardwick to Francis Whitfield, 14 November 1551’, Lives and Letters, 4.1 (2012), 75-92
Keywords: letters, servants, employer-servant relations, mistress, stewards, servingmen, gentlewomen, gentry, Bess of Hardwick, Cavendish family, George Talbot (sixth earl of Shrewsbury), Mary Queen of Scots, Chatsworth House, country house studies, domestic history, historical pragmatics, business correspondence, manuscript studies, didactic literature about servants, sixteenth century, Tudor England, Elizabethan England, early modern England
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
P Language and Literature > P Philology. Linguistics
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Language and Linguistics
College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Supervisor's Name: Wiggins, Dr. Alison and Maslen, Dr. Robert
Date of Award: 2014
Depositing User: Dr Felicity Maxwell
Unique ID: glathesis:2014-5257
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 16 Jun 2014 08:22
Last Modified: 19 Aug 2016 13:56
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