When exploring the literature produced by Jane Whittle and Elizabeth Griffiths, one can sense the imagery that these two prominent historians in their field present about Seventeenth-Century life as an upper-class citizen. Following the activities of Lady Alice Le Strange, the two authors break down the household management that Le Strange exhibits into differing sub-sections. During this blog post, I will emulate this structure and give insight and analysis to the literature. Before we break down this text, one thing that is important to know is who exactly wrote this text, and what are their values hold approaching their research.
Griffiths admits on her page from the University of Exeter that the Le Strange family, especially Alice had been of interest to her since 1981 when she was researching projects for her Ph.D. With her research, Elizabeth acknowledges, not being complete yet, we as readers of her work can see the passion and dedication to the project that she has spent 38 years on. Therefore, one can assume that with such dedication to one specific area of study, Griffiths factually will be very accurate and knowledgeable about the source.
Professor Jane Whittle on the other hand, also teaching at the University of Exeter, specializes in economic development, work, and gender. This is definitely something to keep in mind whilst reading her contributions to this chapter as the economics of the household and the roles of each of its members are the central theme of this literature
Books and Accounts
Immediately when reading this section of the chapter, Whittle and Griffiths commend Alice’s ability to take accounts, even tipping her superiority of management over her husband, tokening her as systematic. This is something that many historians in the field wouldn’t hasten to agree to, with some historians such as Tim Lambert implying that such ‘Gentlewomen’ having multiple roles in comparison to the traditional view of a housewife, even running the household over a steward when the husband was away on business. Although Alice would take on many roles within the household, the main reason for her heavy involvement in estate management is suggested to be her interest in it. But during the chapter, our historians suggest that Alice’s service in the books didn’t necessarily mean she had the power within the estate, due to some women being forced into accountancy by their patriarchal husbands as the marriage was an essential mechanism for survival in this period. With the pair working together in harmony, this brings us onto our next sub-heading.
Although Alice’s books are a vital part of the Estate Management of Hunstanton manor, the roles of running the household and estate expand further than the books that she kept. Being a smaller estate than what would be typical of people of the Le Strange’s income. Alice and her husband Harmon were able to manage the entire estate without the cost of ‘high-income servants’ such as stewards. They also didn’t have many servants, making sure their live-in servants had multiple roles such as the coachman also brewing beer. Many servants found themselves as a close member of the family as they would tend to their family all hours of the waking day, Olivia Harris suggests in her literature that 27% of servants were ‘Collateral Kin’. Showing that although there were vast differences in their social status and class, servants were valuable to upper-class families and they held a lot of knowledge about each of the family members. Something that can prove this is by watching Downton Abbey, the relationship that this show indicates between the Master and Servant is one that can grow to be personal and intimate.
In this sub-section of the chapter, our authors focus on Alice’s marriage with Harmon and how they would seek literature to form a stable and ‘ideal’ marriage. John Dod and Robert Cleaver’s ‘A Godly forme of Household government’ is suggested to be found within their personal collection. The importance that strikes me with this book is that Dod and Cleaver’s material suggests distinct roles within the ‘Micro-government’ of the family. It also commanded the views of marriage for this period, implying that patriarchy was the ideal form of sustaining a healthy marriage. This is interesting to look at from a historians perspective as the whole chapter, Whittle and Griffiths commend Alice Le Strange on her integral role within the estate management, but with the mention of Dod and Cleaver, a learned historian would realize that although she undertook such important roles, the free will was not her own and it was not her decision to take control. Alice was granted these roles from Harmon, she didn’t adopt them. This is further proven by Whittle and Griffiths using the wording of ‘Delegation’ to imply the hierarchy within this household.
I want to finalize this blog post with a thought, with what we have explored within this chapter, how much control did Alice really have? Sure, she controlled many aspects of the estate, for example, keeping the books and accounts, therefore overseeing control of the finance of the estate. But was this not all her own merit? Due to the puritan devotion to patriarchal hierarchy, can we really say that Alice was in complete control? Whittle and Griffiths convey the message that Alice was happy with her many duties but continuously chose to use the words ‘earnt’ and ‘delegated’. So, is the life of Lady Alice Le Strange one of a pioneering woman taking control of the estate and having power, or was her power bestowed upon her by a ‘higher being’?
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