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The Weaker Vessel (Medieval Women Boxset)

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  939 ratings  ·  56 reviews
Drawing from a wondrously deep well of diaries, letters, and papers from 17th-century England, the gifted historian Antonia Fraser gives the image of the "softer sex" a drubbing, plunging readers into the lives of "heiresses and dairy maids, holy women and prostitutes, criminals and educators, widows and witches, midwives and mothers, heroines, courtesans, prophetesses, bu ...more
Paperback, 544 pages
Published September 12th 1985 by Vintage (first published 1984)
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This is the book that made me fall in love with Antonia Fraser's writing. She's an amazing historian. This book is filled with fascinating stories, tidbits and facts about women's lives in the 17th century. I still use this book as a reference, and when I do, I usually find myself reading the book all over again. I highly recommend this to anybody who is interested in women’s history.

One thing that Fraser does and does very well, is that she brings together a great deal of researched material,
Kat Dellinger
May 31, 2014 Kat Dellinger rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History Lovers, English History, English Civil War Era lovers
I love Antonia Fraser and her writing on History. She is a great, thorough Historian and her books always cover a myriad of details that I love to read about.
This book in particular covers the time period between the death of Elizabeth I and the start of the reign of Queen Anne.
It discusses in detail (which can be a bit slow going at times and I imagine will take some a while to read all the way through as it can be somewhat dense in places) about the lives of women of that 100 year period, ho
Tada! After a foolishly long time and a couple of breaks I have finished this book. It didn't take me forever to read because it was boring (it was pretty interesting), it was just a little like wading through treacle though.

It was an interesting period, covering before, during and after Cromwell's Civil War and how these events affected women and their lives and roles. It covered religions and professions and how much freedom (or not) it gave to women as well as the double standards that men ju
I was at first a little leary about reading this book. "Women" books I always approach with caution as I have been burned by to many "men-are-the-great-oppressors-of-women-and-the-cause-of-all-their-problems" books.

This book was not like that. It was, in my opinion, very equal and for once factual without an agenda. It showed fathers, brothers and husbands who supported and loved the women in their lives and those that did not. It showed how some religions were both a stepping stone (Catholicis
Carol Storm
An absolute must for any author of historical romance -- the best research guide ever written about women in the 17th/18th centuries!
One of my all time favorite books. Weaker vessel my _____!
Apr 14, 2011 Lady rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: yes
Recommended to Lady by: my neighbour
Antonia is a wonderful writer...I enjoy all her books.I especially enjoyed this opened my eyes to how very strong we women really have been through out history and still are today! It was so interesting to go down in history to read about these amazing ladies and there struggles...thank you for adding all the photos as you always do Antonia.
[for 'The Weaker Vessel, part 2'] Such a great (further) exploration of women's lives in the 16th century which includes a novel argument against war - midwives protesting that it ruins their business :)
The Bible dubs women as "the weaker vessel," in comparison to men, implying that, compared to men, women are physically and spiritually less robust. Antonia Fraser begs to differ. To lend proof to her objection, she examines life in 17th century England during the Civil War, a period in which women had no shortage of dangerous ways to die to choose from--constant childbirth, the ravages of illness, war and political strife, domestic abuse, and even popular opinion, to name a few.

Fraser fills the
I remember in an interview with Fraser - I think - she said that this was the book of which she was most proud, and I see why: it's a massive undertaking, even if the limitations of history help circumscribe the project, it is still massive. Basically, it's a survey of women in England in the 17th century (my favorite century? maaaybe), organized into chapters dedicated to the roles they played - naturally, some women pop up in multiple chapters - and conveyed through mini-biographies.

If you're
May 27, 2008 Jane rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history buffs
Wow...definitely not a "quick" read! This is a non-fiction book that I suspect is used in Women's History classes. Very interesting book that covers the lives of women in the 17th century about subjects ranging from education to childbirth to women in business, etc. Sure makes me glad I was born in today's world. The author derives her information from diaries, manuscripts, etc from the era. She includes photographs of portraits which helps bring the reader to a more personal place with these in ...more
This book is an anecdotal history of women between 1600 and 1700. Daughters were married off despite and often in the teeth of their own inclinations. Orphaned heiresses were cash cows enriching both their in-laws and their guardians as all the marriage business (and it was a business) was settled. The research and analysis of same was phenomenal. Despite all of this the book is an easy read. Each chapter is divided into categories. I would recommend this book to any history buff and also as a m ...more
Faser is as wonderful as usual, I just couldn't dig up the enthusiasm for this examination of women & their role in 17th century England. Obviously it sounded like a good idea, or I wouldn't have chosen the book, but it was extremely minute in its examinations and divided into numerous parts and the author & I began to part company in our mutual joy over her findings about a third of the way in. I forced my way to three-quarters of the way and then gave up, something I seldom do. I suspe ...more
Amadee Tous
Antonia Fraser is simply an exceptional historian. Her books are so thoroughly researched and she doesn't skimp here either. She delves into the lives of the women of England in the 17th century, their marriages, divorces, childbirth, maternal and infant mortality, their role in society, court life, marriage prospects. From the simple servant farmhands to the infamous royal courtesans, she brings them to life.
Really girls, in comparison to their lives, we have it good!

This is a fascinating history of the lives of 17th century women. More than anything, it made me glad to be alive now, when I'm able to hold property, make my own decisions (including whom to marry,)and go to university; not to mention avoid dying in childbirth or bearing 14 children (not uncommon at the time). I wouldn't say this book is light reading, but is very readable, since the author focuses on the stories of particular women, and very interesting they are, too.
Rena Sherwood
Don't let the title put you off. This is one of the best history books I've ever read (I know that sounds like damning with faint praise, but I have read a lot of history books.) Fraser sticks with one topic and just rolls with it. Yes, we know about how the royals and upper crust in Europe lived, but what about the average wench? The whores? The mothers? Here are women you can relate to in times that aren't too much like our own.
This is a concise breakdown of the lives of women in 17th century England. Fraser's style is scholarly and readable, and although she doesn't spend much time with the ordinary citizen, she gives a clear and surprising picture of what it was like to be a woman then.
Stevie Carroll
A good solid wedge of a book, even in paperback, but this still only skimmed the surface of a topic that needs a lot more investigation. Now I want to track down full biographies of a lot of the women covered briefly in here.
Helen Carolan
An o.k read. I'm a huge fan of Antonia Fraser and have enjoyed all her previous books. this was not her best. A bit confusing in places, found myself having to read some parts twice. O.k but not her best.
This book is an analysis of women's lives in the 17th century - their rights, the roles they played and the dangers they faced. Throughout, the lives of individual women are described to illustrate the ideas expressed and these are fascinating insights into life at that time. The author describes these women so vividly, and in general so sympathetically, that their stories are often quite inspiring.

This is a very informative book, but the structure of it (taking an aspect of 17th century life pe
Cynthia Garza
I read this in my late 20s. Floored me. Helped foster my extreme feminism for a number of years. I'm over it all now.
Kathy  Petersen
Having just read Women in the Middle Ages [q.v.:], I hope to double my knowledge - or find some contradictions. Whatever, Antonia Fraser always comes well recommended.

Fraser is writing about the 17th century, slightly past the usual definition of the Middle Ages. It's interesting to see the contrasts, in the female life, the historians' different perspectives, and the way they report their findings and conclusions.

Fraser is anecdotal throughout; the individuals' stories took me away from the br
I finally waded through all 600+ pages of this anecdotal history of England between the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and Queen Anne. Each chapter is devoted to a different aspect of life: mother, widow, actress, prostitute, and so on.
Are women the weaker vessel? Well the debate continues, but Antonia would say, and I agree, much is due to ones pedigree. And life situation, station, determination, and nation of origen.
Lord Beardsley
It is so nice to see a book that examines the lives of Women in the 17th century. So often, the lives of women in history are over-looked and so often not represented at all. It is a testament that Fraser not only did such intensive and comprehensive research, but also managed to make this highly readable and fascinating. Anyone interested in the British Civil War and/or Women's History should really give this a go.
Oct 10, 2014 Anna marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Im finding this quite dull (very surprisingly as I like Antonia Fraser's writing very much) so I'm going to shelve it for a while.
Stellar research on this book, well-written, informative, and with enough gossipy bits to keep the ball rolling. Certain families receive attention in every chapter, and especially certain women, so you don't feel as if you're just getting a skimming of knowledge, though I'm sure this is only a drop in the research bucket.
I feel a bit guilty about giving this one four stars as I didn't finish it (the material was a bit denser than I was ready to commit to). I agree with another reviewer when she said she just couldn't retain the enthusiasm to finish. However, I enjoyed what I read and will probably give it another go at some point.
Kathy Hale
A very interesting account of English women during the Restoration period of Cromwell, Charles I and II. Illuminating snippets about both noblewomen and common folk of the period. Got a bit dry afterwhile. Don't try to read this all at once - read something else in-between and come back to it.
A 600-page book about women in 17th century England doesn't sound all that interesting. Although it took me a long time to read, I enjoyed it. Partly for its educational value, but even more so because it was like a soap opera with intrigue, infidelity, whoring, and bravery. Fun times.
Julie H.
This book is a social history of women in 17th=century England. It incorporates documentary snippets from all sorts of sources and what I found most compelling was the broad (no pun intended) cross-section of women's lives documented and interpreted here.
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Antonia Fraser is the author of many widely acclaimed historical works, including the biographies Mary, Queen of Scots (a 40th anniversary edition was published in May 2009), Cromwell: Our Chief of Men, King Charles II and The Gunpowder Plot (CWA Non-Fiction Gold Dagger; St Louis Literary Award). She has written five highly praised books which focus on women in history, The Weaker Vessel: Women's ...more
More about Antonia Fraser...

Other Books in the Series

Medieval Women Boxset (6 books)
  • The Warrior Queens
  • Medieval Women: A Social History of Women in England 450-1500
  • Eleanor of Aquitaine: A Biography
  • Elizabeth I
  • Mary Queen of Scots
Marie Antoinette: The Journey Wives of Henry VIII Mary Queen of Scots Love and Louis XIV: The Women in the Life of the Sun King The Warrior Queens

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“It was a fact generally acknowledged by all but the most contumacious spirits at the beginning of the seventeenth century that woman was the weaker vessel; weaker than man, that is. ... That was the way God had arranged Creation, sanctified in the words of the Apostle. ... Under the common law of England at the accession of King James I, no female had any rights at all (if some were allowed by custom). As an unmarried woman her rights were swallowed up in her father's, and she was his to dispose of in marriage at will. Once she was married her property became absolutely that of her husband. What of those who did not marry? Common law met that problem blandly by not recognizing it. In the words of The Lawes Resolutions [the leading 17th century compendium on women's legal status]: 'All of them are understood either married or to be married.' In 1603 England, in short, still lived in a world governed by feudal law, where a wife passed from the guardianship of her father to her husband; her husband also stood in relation to her as a feudal lord.” 4 likes
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