Early Modern Women: an Interdisciplinary Journal Volume I, (2006)
The rules surrounding the nature and transmission of women’s property in early modern England were remarkably unclear, and mothers were often able, as a consequence, to pass along their wealth with real care, deliberation, and invisibility. Of course, we need to take tremendous pains to define this wealth—be it in terms of personal possessions, familial property including land and jewels, or goods and favors shared by the living. Such a calculus of gifts and debts and resources also reveals something about the economics of gender; that is, the ways that women’s (or men’s) status and influence might be measured in terms of things that are owned, produced, consumed, left to or shared with others. But my primary concern here is more basic.
By studying the circulation of women’s wealth, I want to recover what it meant to mother in early modern England, because—aside from the often considerable physical demands mothering placed upon many women’s energies—mothering also had a significant economic component that women of all classes somehow recognized and aimed to supply, in the form of linens and cloth, jewels and religious objects, medicines, prayers, and advice.