Not "Like a Woman Very Submissively”: The Roles and Influence of English Catholic Women, c. 1580–1620

Sunday, January 10, 2010: 9:10 AM
Edward B (Hyatt)
Susan M. Cogan , University of Colorado at Boulder
In 1607, Thomas Terringham stole a horse from the estate of his neighbor and uncle, Thomas Throckmorton. Mary Throckmorton, the unmarried daughter of Thomas, was overseeing her father’s estate in his absence and on her father’s behalf engaged in a dispute with the Terringhams in an attempt to reclaim the stolen property. In letters to her father about the dispute, Mary revealed how deftly she played dual roles: publicly, and to her male relations, a submissive woman, and privately, within her own household, a forceful and authoritative estate manager. 
Part of my current project looks at how Catholic recusant women in England (c. 1580-1620) worked within the confines of early modern gender expectations while they endeavored to protect husbands, friends, and fortune. Catholic women of upper and middling status groups aggressively petitioned government officials (often on behalf of men), appeared before the Privy Council to plead a husband's or other male relation's case, and acted as deputy estate managers with more authority than we have previously recognized. I think of this as a form of entrepreneurship, broadly conceived, particularly when these women engaged in business transactions seemingly as almost equal partners to the male head of household.

As interesting as these activities and roles are in their own right, they are part of a larger and more complex set of objectives: the accumulation of various types of non-economic capital. Catholic recusant women worked within the confines of early modern gender expectations while they accumulated and maintained their own reservoirs of social, political, and cultural capital that they as individuals and the family as a group could use in their construction and maintenance of patronage relationships. The patronage relationships that Catholics cultivated helped them to mitigate harsh anti-recusancy statutes, protect family members and friends, and safeguard family property.