There are so few books out there on medieval/early modern women in Wales that I eagerly pick up everything I can find. I don't have the depth of speciThere are so few books out there on medieval/early modern women in Wales that I eagerly pick up everything I can find. I don't have the depth of specialised knowledge to actually properly critique many of the essays in this work. However, I did find them all enjoyable to read. My favourites include: 1. Towards a History of Women in Late Medieval Wales by Llinos Beverley Smith. 2. 'Strange kind of stealing': Abduction in Early Modern Wales by Garthine Walker 3. Spinsters Were Doing it for Themselves: Independence and the Single Woman in Early Eighteenth Century Rural Wales by Lesley Davison...more
Gertrude Savile (1697-1758) was the depressive sister of a Nottinghamshire baronet who never married and found her lack of status within her family aGertrude Savile (1697-1758) was the depressive sister of a Nottinghamshire baronet who never married and found her lack of status within her family a sore trial. Her father having died when she was three, she was left to the care of a brother eighteen years her senior. Gertrude herself was aware of how her gender affected her prospects, especially when compared to her brother: "'Tis far better to work honestly for my bread than thus to have each mouthful reproach me; than thus to be oblig'd to a Brother...He has a vast estate and I have nothing...His estate is his now, and I have no pretentions to any part of it".
Gertrude had no fixed allowance and when combined with her unmarried status this financial dependency highlighted her inferiority in the household. She needed to go to her brother "directly or thro' somebody elce for every gown, sute of ribbins, pair of gloves, every pin and needle". This led her to "be subject to affronts from his servants, to be treated like a hanger on upon the family".
She compared herself to her sister, the widowed Lady Cole, whose jointure enabled her to choose to live with their brother. However Lady Cole's financial freedom and widowed status gave her greater independence and a more respectable social position than her sister. As Gertrude herself wrote: "An old maid is the very butt for ridicule and insults. Miserable are women at the best, but without a protector She's a boat upon a very stormy sea without a pilot; a very Catt, who, if seen abroad is hunted and worried by all the curs in the town".
These entries come from 1721 and at the end of that year Gertrude's brother Sir George Savile did grant her a fixed allowance and a share of the London home. When the journal restarts in 1727 we find her living in London with her mother. However her familial troubles were not yet over. The introduction of her aunt, Mrs Newton, into the house created considerable tension (and hence much gossip), and the situation was resolved only by the removal of the aunt and Sir George's interference, particularly regarding the use of the family coach, which Gertrude seems to have become somewhat fixated upon as a symbol of her suffering.
From her diary entry of June 24th 1728 we read: "Aunt gone for ever sure from any house I have a right in...My Mother has made an Ungenerous return for my consenting to my Aunt's comeing into this house. I foresaw a good deal, but I coud not have beleiv'd half the neglect that began the night she came...My Sattisfaction or creditt of no consequence while Servants, Coach and herself [her mother] are at my Aunt's command and their whole business to attend to her pleasure. I consented to [her] comeing into a house I was equal Mistress in; to have the use of Servants I pay wage to, and this Sister, one whom I never had reason to love". Gertrude had a difficult relationship with her mother as well as her brother, and often felt neglected by her. This family battle also shows how she feared for what little status she had.
In 1730 however, Gertrude Savile experienced a change of fortune - literally - as she secured an inheritance from a cousin. Spending some time at a leased house in Farnsfield in Nottinghamshire, she later moved to Great Russell Street in London. She had finally achieved financial independence without marriage.
Gertrude Savile's diary survives in three parts. The earliest section dates from 1721-1722. Days are grouped together and provide reasonably full accounts.
The entries from the second set of surviving journals (1727-1731)are primarily concerned with her life in London - visits, needlework, plays, operas and servant troubles. She often comments on her state of mind on that particular day, which is often, unfortunately, "Very Miserable" or "Not happy". The activities of each year are summarised at its close. From 1730 onwards there is an increased use of short one-line entries.
The third set of surviving diaries (1737-1757) were written after she had inherited her cousin's legacy. It would have been interesting to see the changes and any opposition this legacy caused her, but unfortunately any diaries covering this period have vanished. Her mother and sister have also died in this missing period, and her brother's death in 1743 is treated very curtly. (They seem to have fallen out again, a circumstance probably linked to his separation from his wife). None of the friends that Gertrude mentions in the earlier sections of her diary reappear and it is hard to escape the conclusion that even with her dislike of receiving company, (evident in the earliest sections with her "palpitations" and "tremblings") she was sometimes lonely.
What she often chooses to write about instead is politics. Gertrude was fiercely patriotic, a devoted follower of both the reigning monarchs whose reigns she lived through while writing her diaries. (George I and George II). She is present at the coronation of the latter, but decides to leave a description of the event "to other historians". She was staunch in her support of the king during the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. There is not a hint of criticism for the king's son the Duke of Cumberland, nicknamed the Butcher after his harsh treatment of the Scottish rebels. Later she was reticent about the notorious quarrels between the king and his eldest son Frederick. This was an era of food riots, soldiers firing upon demonstrators and war and elements of it finds comment in these diaries.
The diaries also had a domestic side. Apart from mentions of firing her servants, Gertrude also seems to have been very fond of her brother's children, particualarly his son and heir George and youngest daughter Barbara.
Gertrude's last years were spent in increasing isolation as poor health took its toll. The last entry in these diaries comes some three months before her death. Her pen was put down midway through a paragraph giving information on the death of the Princess Caroline - and was never picked up again.
In Gertrude Savile's diaries we learn much about the often repetitous but conventional occupations of a lady of quality. Her servant troubles are particularly intriguing (and possibly due more to her difficult personality than she lets on). The change in style of the writing of the diaries, from the often bitter, suffering early entries to the increasingly politically focused entries of her later years are intriguing. Written almost as therapy for her unhappiness, many of the early entires were written in code, particularly the passages most pointedly relating to her situation, and also her infatuations with two men, Captain Stanhope and Lord William Manners. The editor makes an interesting suggestion that some of Gertrude's animosity towards her aunt may have had its origin in the earliest surviving entries, where Gertrude's aunt's haste to leave Bath where they were both staying forced her to leave Captain Stanhope, and whatever relationship they did have behind.
Gertrude Savile is not a brilliant writer. This is not a journal full of laughs, and her snobbery and piety may annoy some. It almost becomes tedious when her diary entries become one line of information. This is an edited volume though, and much of this has been removed by the editors. I personally found the first parts of the diary more interesting because they seem more personal, although she is often brief when you would like an expanded entry. However these diaries are written from a somewhat "hidden" viewpoint - an unmarried lady of the eighteenth century - and I found them a fascinating read.
(As an aside thanks to Nottinghamshire County Council for having this book so I could request it via Inter Library Loans. I cannot find a copy anywhere)....more
I loved this book. The author has chosen fifty aristocratic women who experienced the pains and joys of pregnancy and childbirth and using their surviI loved this book. The author has chosen fifty aristocratic women who experienced the pains and joys of pregnancy and childbirth and using their surviving letters and diaries, as well as those of their doctors, attempts to answer key questions about the process of childbirth throughout the period 1760-1860.
Topics she discusses include the cult of domesticity, the rise of marriage for romantic love and the increased professionalism of medical practitioners and their effects on the theory and practice of childbirth. Judith Lewis also describes what pregnancy, the birth itself and the aftercare was like at this time.
I have to say that I was not aware that husbands were often found at their wife's bedsides (although I guess it does make more sense when you think of the increasing number of male doctors specialising in this area). And I was surprised by how few of her examples died as a result of childbirth. She also views the increasing male involvement as birthing specialists in a more positive light than is often found in other works.