Mitchell Carroll.

Woman: in all ages and in all countries online

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contentment among the people. The laws for the encour-
agement of trade and the sumptuary legislation for the
regulation of wages and prices were economic measures
which may not stand the test of examination according to
modern ideas, but which nevertheless tended, on the
whole, to benefit those in whose behalf they were made.
Industry was the spirit of the times, and idleness was the
most abhorrent of vices. Men, women, and children,
alike, were to be trained in some craft or other, to prevent
their becoming public charges. The children of parents
who could afford the fees which were exacted for appren-
ticeship were set to learn trades, and the rest were bound
out to agriculture; and if the parents failed to see to


it that their children were started out in a career of labor,
the mayors or magistrates had authority to apprentice
such children, so that when they grew up they might not
be driven to dishonest courses by want or incapacity.

Throughout the sixteenth century, all classes of society
appear to have had a reasonable degree of prosperity, ac-
cording to their several needs and stations. The country
gentlemen lived upon their landed estates, surrounded by
those evidences of solid comfort which give attractiveness
to such life. The income of the squire was sufficient to
afford a moderate abundance for himself and his family,
and between him and the commons there was not a wide
difference in this respect. Among all classes of the people
there was a spirit of liberality, open and free; the practi-
cality of the age was not inaccordant with generous hospi-
tality. To every man who asked it, there were free fare
and free lodging, and he might be sure of a bountiful board
of wholesome food. Bread, beef, and beer for dinner, and
a mat of rushes in an unoccupied corner of the hall, with a
billet of wood for a headrest, did not constitute luxurious
enterti-.inment, but were regarded as elements of real com-
fort. Nor was the generous hospitality proffered to stran-
gers often abused; the statutes of the times kept suspicious
characters under such close notice, and were so repressive
of predatory and vicious instincts, that there was littlfr
occasion for alarm such as is felt by the modern housewife
in country districts along much-travelled roads. The hour
of rising, both summer and winter, was four o'clock;
breakfast was served at five, after which the laborers
went to their work and the gentlemen to their business.
Life lacked much of modern refinement, although it made
up for this lack in wholesomeness and heartiness. The
large number of beggars in the reign of Henry VIII. was
due in part to the suppression of the monasteries and the


drying up of those springs of charity, and the open-handed
hospitality which had encouraged begging while relieving
distress. Upon the assumption that there was no excuse
for an able-bodied vagrant, the penalties imposed upon
"sturdy beggars" were severe. Such, in brief, was the
state of English society at the beginning of the modern era.

The influence of the Church was on the wane before the
"^upture with the papacy was brought about by Henry VIII.,
and the laity were beginning to assume the positions, lib-
erties, and privileges which had appertained to the clergy
as the one scholarly and dominant class of the kingdom.
Under the new conditions of liberty in which we find
woman, there was no room for the continuance of even
the forms of chivalry. Idealized woman no longer existed;
she had become practical. Having sought a position of
public activity, she had been recognized as possessing the
private rights of an individual of the same nature and of
similar status as man. It was no longer needful to go to
the convent to find the religious or intellectual types of
womankind, for religion, benevolence, and literature were
no longer identified only with the cloister. However dis-
astrous was the suppression of the monasteries to the little
bands of women who wore the habit of the religieuse,
women in general did not feel the upheaval nearly so
much as they did the other social changes, which were
not so radical, but were very much more influential in
their relation to the destiny of the sex as a whole.

Although manners were very free, and nowhere more
so than among persons of the higher orders of society,
such coarseness is not the true criterion by which to gauge
the women of the day. Even if they did not hesitate to
use profanity, were adepts at coquetry of an undisguised
type, and were guilty of conduct which merited more than
^he term " indiscreet," it must be borne in mind that they


were creatures of their times. While English society was
noted for its rudeness and coarseness, it was saved from
much of the effeminacy which poisoned the life of its
neighbors on the continent. The sixteenth century took
a more generous, complimentary, and true view of woman-
kind. In the Middle Ages, she suffered from the exagger-
ated praise of the knight and the troubadour on the one
hand, and on the other from the contempt and contumely
of the ecclesiastic. From this equivocal position of being
at the same time an angel and a devil she was rescued by
the sanity and sincerity of the sixteenth century, and was
placed in her true position as a woman, possessed of es-
sentially the same characteristics as men, worthy of like
honor, and making appeal for no special consideration ex-
cepting that which her sex evoked instinctively from men.
The modern idea had begun to prevail, and woman was no
longer either worshipped or shunned, but was welcomed
as a sharer of the common burdens and joys of life. To
continental observers it was marvellous that the English
woman should have the large amount of liberty that she
enjoyed; and Europeans not understanding the English
point of view were apt to construe such liberty as bold-
ness. Thus, one writer from abroad is found comment-
ing upon the sixteenth-century English woman as follows:
" The women have much more liberty than perhaps in any
other place; they also know well how to make use of it; for
they go dressed out in exceedingly fine clothes, and give
all their attention to their ruffs and stuffs to such a degree
indeed that, as I am informed, many a one does not hesi-
tate to wear velvet in the streets, which is common with
them, whilst at home perhaps they have not a piece of
dry bread."

Elizabeth Lamond's Discourse of the Commonweal recites
that there was more employment for the men and women


of the towns and cities when the wants of people were
more modest. The population of London, despite the at-
tempts made by Queen Elizabeth to prevent the influx of
foreigners and persons from the rural districts, increased
rapidly during her reign. On coming into the city, the
rustics soon wasted their small savings in the rioting and
revels which characterized the rough life of the metropolis.
Drinking, gambling, and all forms of license enticed the
husband from his home and destroyed the domestic felicity
which had been the characteristic of country living.
Country and town life were still widely separated by bad
roads and poor means of conveyance. The Vk'ives even of
the gentry knew, as a rule, nothing of city life, excepting
from the accounts which their husbands might bring back
to them from occasional jaunts to the metropolis; to all
such accounts they listened with wide-eyed wonder.

The amusements of the women of the better sort, who
did not find their entertainment in the vices of the times,
took chiefly the form of spectacles, to which they readily
flocked. It mattered little whether it was a mask, a mjr-
acle play, a church procession or a royal progress, a cock
fight or a bear baiting. The brutality of their sports no
more affected their feelings than do the revolting circum-
stances of a bull fight shock the sensibilities of the women
of Spain's cultured circles. When any morning they might
see the heads of some unfortunates stuck on pikes and
gracing with their gruesome presence the city gate, it is
not surprising that the people were not repelled by brutal
exhibitions of a lesser sort. Nor did the forms of pun-
ishment in use for malefactors of one kind or anothei
tend to soften the feelings of the women of the time. Il
was no unusual thing for a woman convicted of being a
common scold to be seen going about the streets with her
face behind an iron muzzle clamped over her mouth, a


subject for the jeers and ribald mirth of coarse-minded
women no better than herself. Such characters were also
taken to the ducking stool and thoroughly doused in the
water. The punishment of thieves by branding and by
mutilation, and the punishment meted out to women whose
characters, even in that gross age, affronted public morals,
were of a public nature and matters of daily observation.
Nor was any woman quite sure that the gibbet, from
which she could at almost any time see the swaying form
of some unfortunate, might not next serve for the execu-
tion of her own husband; for the number of capital offences
was large, and the inquiries of justice by no means lenient
on the side of the accused.

The destruction of the monasteries brought about, in a
large measure, the dissolution of the educational system
of the realm. The sons of the poor husbandman, who
had been taught at the convent schools, and then passed
on through the universities, and thence had gradually
worked their way into the professions of religion or the
law, had the door of opportunity to a higher station
closed to them. The deprivation was more severe in the
case of girls, although it did not signify so much for them
in relation to their future — unless, indeed, it did so by de-
barring from the profession of religion some who might
have entered it. The clergy tried to meet the educational
demands which were so suddenly thrown upon them, but
it was impossible for them to afford educational facilities
for the youth of either sex at schools without endowment
or adequate support. Elizabeth, with the wide view and
the sagacity which she showed with regard to all aspects
of her kingdom, evinced her recognition of the importance
of education by establishing one hundred free grammar
schools, whose number rapidly increased during her reign.
In the course of time, these schools fell under the control


of the middle class and afforded education for their sons
and daughters. But in England there were certainly very
few, if any, women of the middle class who entered largely
into the benefits of the new learning which came in with
the Renaissance. The study of Latin and Greek and the
discussion of philosophy and science were confined to the
women of the leisure classes. The English universities in
the sixteenth century were closed to women; but such
lack was made up by private tutors, women of rank and
position thus having the benefit of the brightest minds of
the age.

The great awakening of intellectual life in England, in
common with the continental countries, showed itself
in activity in all departments of thought: poetry flourished,
theology caught the infection of the new spirit of liberty,
and the classics were studied with avidity as the springs
of the world's literature and learning. The invention of
the printing press let loose the floods of knowledge, and
the women of the higher classes were caught in the flow
of books and pamphlets, and their intellects were quick-
ened and their characters formed by these new sources of
inspiration and wisdom. Woman was no longer designated
as the daughter of the Church, which was formerly the
highest encomium that the condescension of the Church
could afford her. She now stood on her own independence
of character, possessed of an intellect and accorded the
freedom of its use.

The example of the Virgin Queen was held up to the
youth of England for their imitation. Elizabeth's educa-
tion had been most zealously cared for. To her remark-
able aptitude for learning she added a studious disposition.
At an early age she was an accomplished linguist; the
sciences were familiar to her, she "understood the prin-
ciples of geography, architecture, the mathematics, and


astronomy." Her studies, save one, however, she re-
garded rather in the light of pastime; to the exception —
history — she "devoted three hours a day, and read works
in all languages that afforded information on the subject."
Thus was her mind stored with the philosophy of history;
men and events in their ever changing relations were an
open book to her. Hence, when the responsibilities of
sovereignty devolved upon her she was resourceful and
prompt. Whether dealing with her ambitious subjects, or
receiving the wily ambassador of a foreign power, her
poise could not be disturbed.

With the example and influence of the Tudor princesses
i^efore them, the women least needed the exhortation to
intellectual attainments. It was said by a foreign scholar
who visited England in the middle of the sixteenth century
that "the rich cause their sons and daughters to learn
Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, for, since this storm of heresy
has invaded the land, they hold it useful to read the Scrip-
tures in the original tongue." With all the profession of
knowledge which was assumed by the people of this age,
there went a great deal of pedantry. It became very tire-
some to listen to the conversations of select bodies of
the devotees of the new wisdom, who had touched but the
skirts of the garments of the Muses. The great number of
literary coxcombs and dilettanti who were scribbling Latin
verse and propounding philosophical theses, or pronoun-
cing upon new theological views, serves to impress one
with the superficiality of the learning of the day, so far as
is concerned the great body of its professed disciples,
while in contrast to these we are led to respect more pro-
foundly the genuine attainments of the brilliant group of
men and women who made the reign of Elizabeth illustri-
ous for its varied and almost matchless learning. In spite
of all the pretence to learning on the part of the great


mass of women who had neither the taste nor the capacity
to drink deep at the Pyrenean spring, it must be said that
in no other period of English history has there been shown
such marl<ed and general eagerness for knowledge as in
the sixteenth century, nor has any other period exhibited
such a galaxy of great women. The wide diffusion of a
love of literature is in striking contrast to the literary
dearth of the preceding centuries.

It was not, however, a period of brilliant authorship
among women. The new learning had first to be imbibed
and become a part of the national thought before it could
express itself in literary products. Translations of the
classics and the works of the Church Fathers, with liter-
ary correspondence and discussions in choice Latin prose,
as well as the composition of distiches in the same tongue,
with occasional instances of adventure into Greek and
Hebrew composition, summed up the literary labors of the
women of the times. As such matters possess little in-
terest to posterity, not many of these literary essays and
letters have been preserved; but such as have come down
to us mirror the intellect of the women of the age so cred-
itably as to invite comparison with the results of modern
education for the sex.

Lady Jane Grey may be cited as one of the women of
the day who became notable for learning and scholarship.
Of her. Fox writes: " If her fortune had been as good as
her bringing up, joined with fineness of wit, undoubtedly
she might have seemed comparable not only to the house
of the Vespasians, Sempronians, and the mother of the
Gracchi, yea, to any other women besides that deserve
of high praise for their singular learning, but also to the
University men, who have taken many degrees of the
Schools." The facility of this noble lady in Greek com-
position was strongly commended by Roger Ascham.


Her remarkable knowledge of the cognate tongues of the
East and of modern languages made her almost deserving
of the encomium which was passed upon Anna Maria van
Schurman, a Dutch contemporary, of whom it was said:
"If all the languages of the earth should cease to exist,
she herself would give them birth anew." The conver-
sance of the literary ladies of the sixteenth century with
the languages of the East, as well as with philosophy and
theology, and the really marvellous attainments of some
of them in these subjects, indicate a sound education, even
though an unserviceable one.

Erasmus warmly commended the Princess Mary for her
proficiency in Latin, and in later years she translated
Erasmus's Paraphrase of the Gospel of Saint John. Udall,
Master of Eton, who wrote the preface to this work, com-
plimented her for her "over-painful study and labour of
writing," by which she had "cast her weak body in a
grievous and long sickness." The literary attainments
and linguistic versatility of Elizabeth herself, which made
her a criterion for her times, are well enough known to
need no especial notice here. She had the benefit of
instruction from Roger Ascham, with whom she read the
classics, and from Grindal, under whom she studied theol-
ogy, which was a favorite subject with her. In Italian,
Castiglione was her master, and Lady Champernon was
her first tutor in modern languages. She became familiar
with the works of the Greek and Latin authors by hearing
them read to her by Sir Henry Savil and Sir John Fortes-
cue. In this way she became intimately acquainted with
Plato, Aristotle, and Xenophon, and herself translated one
of the dialogues of the latter, besides rendering two ora-
tions of Isocrates from Greek into Latin.

Among other studious and accomplished women of the
times. Sir Thomas More's daughters held a high place.


All of them were clever and applied themselves to ab-
struse subjects; but Margaret, wife of William Roper, the
daughter who clung passionately to her father's neck when
he was being led off to execution, was the most brilliant of
this family of accomplished women. Sir Anthony Coke,
whose scholarship gave him the position of preceptor to
Edward VI., had the gratification of seeing his daughters
attract the attention of the most celebrated men of the
nation. One of them married Lord Burleigh, the treasurer
of the realm; another wedded Sir Nicholas Bacon, lord
keeper of the Great Seal, becoming in time the mother of
the famous Francis Bacon, the celebrated philosopher;
and as her second husband, the third had Lord Russell.

Nothing delighted the brilliant women of the Elizabethan
era so much as to have themselves surrounded by great
writers, statesmen, and other celebrities. Stately mag-
nificence was maintained at many of the great houses,
and the presence of noted artists and celebrated authors
gave to such homes an intellectual atmosphere. One of
the centres of intellectual thought and literary life of her
time was the home of Mary Sidney, after she had become
the wife of Henry, Earl of Pembroke, and mistress of his
establishment at Wilton. Around her hospitable board
gathered poets, statesmen, and artists, drawn there not by
the rank of the hostess or to satisfy her pride by their
presence and fame, but because her cultivated intellect
made her a fit companion for the greatest intellectual per-
sonages of the day. To have had the honor of entertaining,
as guests, Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, besides the lesser
poets of the time, and to have been recognized by such lit-
erati as worthy of their serious consideration because of her
undoubted gifts, not only reflected high compliment upon
the lady, but lasting credit upon her sex, and was one
of the many significant things of the Elizabethan era which


indicated how wide open stood the door of intellectual prog-
ress and equality of opportunity for the women of modern
times. Spenser celebrated the Countess of Pembroke as:

"The gentlest shepherdess that liv'd that day,
And most resembling in shape and spirit
Her brother dear."

Udall, the Master of Eton, speaks enthusiastically of the
great number of women in the noble ranks of society,
"not only given to the study of human sciences and
strange tongues, but also so thoroughly expert in the Holy
Scriptures that they were able to compare with the best
writers as well in enditeing and penning of Godly and
fruitful treatises to the instruction and edifying of realmes
in the knowledge of God, as also in translating good books
out of Latin or Greek into English for the use and com-
modity of such as are rude and ignorant of the said tongues.
It was now no news in England to see young damsels in
noble houses and in the courts of princes, instead of cards
and other instruments of idle trifling, to have continually
in their hands either Psalms, homilies, and other devout
meditations, or else Paul's Epistles, or some book of Holy
Scripture matters, and as familiarly both to read and
reason thereof in Greek, Latin, French, or Italian as in
English. It was now a common thing to see young virgins
so trained in the study of good letters that they willingly
set all other vain pastimes at nought for learning's sake.
It was now no news at all to see Queens and ladies of
most high estate and progeny, instead of courtly dalliance,
to embrace virtuous exercises of reading and writing, and
with most earnest study both early and late to apply
themselves to the acquiring of knowledge, as well in all
other liberal artes and disciplines, as also most especially
of God and His holy word."


The doubts as to the utility of higher education for
women in general which trouble some minds at the
present day were not altogether unknown in the age of
Elizabeth. Ecclesiastics especially, even the more liberal,
were most prone to entertain doubts as to the advisability
of permitting women to have a free range through the
avenues of knowledge. It is probable that the middle
classes, to whom the opportunities of education were not
so general, felt the value of schools too highly to speculate
upon the utility of that which was not readily within their
grasp. Richard Mulcaster, who was the master of a school
founded by the Merchant Taylors Company in the parish
of St. Lawrence, Pultney, says: " We see young maidens
be taught to read and write, and can do both with praise;
we have them sing and playe: and both passing well, we
know that they learne the best and finest of our learned
languages, to the admiration of all men. For the daiely
spoken tongues and of best reputation in our time who
so shall deny that they may not compare even with our
kinde even in the best degree . . . Nay, do we not see
in our country some of that sex so excellently well trained
and so rarely qualified either for the tongues themselves or
for the matter in the tongues: as they may be opposed by
way of comparison, if not preferred as beyond comparison,
even to the best Romaine or Greekish paragones, be they
never so much praised to the Germaine or French gentle-
wymen by late writers so well liked: to the Italian ladies
who dare write themselves and deserve fame for so
doing.? . . . I dare be bould, therefore, to admit young
maidens to learne, seeing my countrie gives me leave and
her costume standes for me. . . . Some Rimon will
say, what should wymend with learning? Such a churlish
carper will never picke out the best, but be alway ready
to blame the worst. If all men used all pointes of learning


well, we had some reason to alledge against wymend, but
seeing misuse is commonly both the kinds, why blame we
their infirmitie whence we free not ourselves." He then
contends that a young gentlewoman who can write well
and swiftly, sing clearly and sweetly, play well and finely,
and employ readily the learned languages with some
" logicall helpe to chop and some rhetoricke to brave," is
well furnished, and that such a one is not likely to bring
up her children a whit the worse, even if she becomes a
Loelia, a Hortensia, or a Cornelia. In discussing whether
or not girls should be taught by their own sex, he inclines
to the belief that this practice were advisable, but that
discreet men might teach girls to advantage. To use his
own words: "In teachers, their owne sex were fittest in
some respects, but ours frame them best, and, with good

Online LibraryMitchell CarrollWoman: in all ages and in all countries → online text (page 16 of 30)