Women, ale and company in early modern London

Women, ale and company in early modern LondonWoman brewing ale

Tim Reinke-Williams

Journal of the Brewery History Society, No.135 (2010)


This article explores attitudes to female ale- and beer-drinkers and the nature of social interactions between women and men in public houses from the late sixteenth to the early eighteenth century. Beginning with an overview of the current historiography, the article provides an indication of the numbers of public houses in the capital, describes some of the means by which women funded their drinking, discusses early modern judgements of female drinkers in cheap print and legal records, and examines the often sexualised power dynamics between female and male drinkers, including discussion of the ambiguities surrounding such interactions. Although London contained a vast range of drinking establishments selling a wide range of forms of alcohol, the connotations of these locations and beverages varied considerably, so attention focuses on women drinking ale and beer in those venues where such drinks could be purchased.

Following the pioneering work of Peter Clark over a quarter of a century ago it is now widely accepted by social historians that although women were not excluded from early modern alehouses their visits were regulated by certain social conven- tions. Wives visited with husbands whilst travelling, girls accompanied young men they were courting if other couples were present, and women of all ages attended betrothals, christenings and churchings. Such behaviour was not usually detri- mental to women’s honour, but those who ventured into alehouses alone, or in all-female groups, risked being accused of drunkenness or whoredom, whilst wives going to retrieve their husbands risked facing abuse from proprietors, customers, or their husbands.

Click here to read this article from the Journal of the Brewery History Society

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