[In our mini-series ‘A Page in the Life’, each post briefly introduces a new writer and a single page from their manuscript. In this post, Anne Murphy offers a loving letter from a seventeenth-century merchant’s wife, who Anne has discussed in more detail in a recent article and whose letters will be included in a forthcoming edition.]
I first encountered Samuel Jeake through his Astrological Diary, edited by Michael Hunter and Annabel Gregory. As the only ordinary investor in the financial revolution of the 1690s who had left a record of his actions, he formed an invaluable case study for my PhD.
Later, when I needed a sample module to talk about at job interviews, ‘The Jeakes’ seemed a perfect fit. A module exploring the seventeenth century through the eyes of an ordinary family looked great presented on one side of A4. When I got a job and actually had to start teaching the module I quickly realised I was going to need much more than was contained in the diary, so I turned to the family’s letters. There are hundreds of them preserved in the East Sussex Record Office and the Rye Museum Archive.
And the more I read, the more I realised the family, especially its female members, offered fascinating insights into early modern life. I encountered Frances Hartridge, Samuel’s mother, who resisted marriage and insisted on a contract before agreeing to a betrothal. Then came Barbara Hartshorne, his mother-in-law, who struggled to keep her teenaged son from the gallows, a task that left her ‘afflicted tormented without any relief’. And there was Samuel’s wife, Elizabeth Hartshorne, a thirteen-year-old bride, whose labour was essential to every aspect of the marital economy. For this post, I have chosen to focus on a page in Elizabeth Hartshorne’s life.
In the absence of her own writings and her virtual absence from the many pages of Samuel’s writings, Elizabeth’s life can only be reconstructed from the letters she left behind, both those she wrote and those she received. Much can be recovered from these letters. Like most early modern correspondence, they covered a wide variety of topics. Family matters sat easily alongside business and were generally intertwined with spiritual contemplation, an ever-present concern for the health of all correspondents and their connections, and the exchange of news, especially on religious or political matters. Yet, emotions have been somewhat harder to find. The Jeakes rarely wrote of love and never exchanged letters just for the sake of being in touch. Continue reading