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Tim Thornton and Katharine Carlton

This chapter assesses the situation of the wives and husbands of those involved in illicit relationships. Contemporary culture identified the cuckold as a figure of public ridicule; he was judged by an act in which he did not participate, and the legitimacy and inheritance of his children might be brought into question. For elite wives, philandering husbands brought into question their roles as authority figures. If the husband’s affair was with another member of the nobility or gentry, it might very directly undercut the wife’s position in courtly and regional society, as on the occasion that George Clifford, earl of Cumberland’s mistress acted as hostess to King James in 1603 when Clifford’s wife Margaret was herself present. The chapter considers the gendered concepts implicit within contemporary attitudes towards ‘the wronged spouse’, the cuckold derided by wider society and viewed as unable to exert control over his wife; or the ‘virtuous’, pious, long-suffering wife developed particularly in the works of Samuel Daniel. It sets this alongside the evidence for the accommodation of their situations by many, seen e.g. in the role of noble and gentry wives in property transactions and testamentary dispositions which involved bastard children and even mistresses.

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Jonathan Moss

This book draws on original research into women’s workplace protest to deliver a new account of working-class women’s political identity and participation in post-war England. In doing so, the book contributes a fresh understanding of the relationship between feminism, workplace activism and trade unionism during the years 1968–85. The study covers a period that has been identified with the ‘zenith’ of trade union militancy. The women’s liberation movement (WLM) also emerged in this period, which produced a shift in public debates about gender roles and relations in the home and the workplace. Industrial disputes involving working-class women have been commonly understood as evidence of women’s growing participation in the labour movement, and as evidence of the influence of second-wave feminism on working-class women’s political consciousness. However, the voices and experiences of female workers who engaged in workplace protest remain largely unexplored. The book addresses this space through detailed analysis of four industrial disputes that were instigated by working-class women. It shows that labour force participation was often experienced or viewed as a claim to political citizenship in late modern England. A combination of oral history and written sources is used to illuminate how everyday experiences of gender and class antagonism shaped working-class women’s political identity and participation.

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Jonathan Moss

The longest equal pay strike in British labour history took place at the Trico-Folberth windscreen wiper factory in Brentford, west London, during the summer of 1976. This chapter will be the first detailed consideration of this strike from a historical perspective. Having discussed the Equal Pay Act’s failure to achieve a meaningful reduction in the differential between male and female wages in Chapter 1, and considered the key role the Ford sewing machinists played in the origins of equal pay legislation in Chapter 2, this case study examines how the Equal Pay Act was interpreted and challenged by female workers once it was implemented in 1975. The chapter considers the Trico women’s experiences of work and trade unionism. It considers the women’s subjective motivations for going on strike, and examines the extent to which they associated the dispute with a shift in their expectations of paid work, and their political identity.

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Jonathan Moss

Chapter 4 focuses on the 1972 occupation of Sexton’s shoe factory organised by female workers fighting to save their jobs in Fakenham, Norfolk. The occupation lasted eighteen weeks before the women involved established their own co-operative that traded with varied levels of success until it entered receivership in 1977. This chapter revisits Fakenham Enterprises from the perspective of women who were involved at the time. The Fakenham occupation moves the book onto a different track away from the equal pay debates considered in the previous two chapters, towards working-class women’s fight against factory closures and unemployment. This case study is particularly distinguished by its local context (rural Norfolk) and illustrates how women were taking similar action to one another across England, in a range of industries and both urban and rural locations.

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Tim Thornton and Katharine Carlton

The historiography might suggest that female servants were the typical mistresses of the elite. Such relationships are explored in this section, but it is also evident that many of the mistresses of the elite were either non-elite women who had come into contact with their eventual lovers through other routes than service, or themselves came from the elite. These might be the daughters and wives of gentry families, and not always from families of lower status (although this was a notable pattern among the mistresses of the peerage); an important group was drawn from the illegitimate offspring of the elite themselves, suggesting in some cases a parallel kinship and relationship structure. While some of these mistresses were undoubtedly badly treated (and may be little more than shadowy victims in our records), many were able to access considerable material wealth and influence through their relationships. The chapter will explore how this was accumulated, the forms that it took, and the power that these mistresses were able to wield. Further, the implications of these relationships for interactions between individuals and families in county, regional and national society and politics will be considered: sometimes disruptive, sometimes forging new connections and alliances.

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Tim Thornton and Katharine Carlton

The introduction reviews the historiography of the topic, considering the ways in which historians have touched on the illegitimate relationships and offspring of the elite in a variety of contexts, and considers the significance of its re-examination in the light of these debates. They include questions of demography and economic change, efforts to regulate behaviour in what is known as the ‘reformation of manners’, state-building, religious change, sexuality and gender, the history of the family, and the nature of noble and gentry society.

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Jonathan Moss

The Introduction discusses the study of women’s workplace protest for earlier periods. It outlines the book’s conceptual framework and indicates the book’s position relative to existing literature on women and work, women and the labour movement and second-wave feminism. It also provides a brief discussion of the broader historical context in which these disputes took place. Finally, it discusses the sources and methods used in the book and explains why each case study was chosen, who was interviewed and why.

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Tim Thornton and Katharine Carlton

Even if for the gentry and nobility the double-standard was less restrictive of male conduct than, for example, Capp has argued, there is no question that contemporary expectations constrained the behaviour of females among the elite more severely than men. Still, this chapter explores the evidence for the extent and implications of illegitimate relationships conducted by elite females, and shows that they were far from uncommon and did not in every case lead to the most severe sanctions. It considers how the participants in such illegitimate relationships were described, and the gendered concepts implicit within those descriptions. As with that relating to the male gentry, the evidence here suggests that gentlewomen tended to become involved with men who, while some may have been servants, were themselves of relatively high status. Some of the more prominent women in this situation are considered, such as Elizabeth Parr, marchioness of Northampton, or Lady Florence Clifford, husband of Henry, 10th Lord Clifford, as are lesser known gentlewomen. The chapter considers how attitudes to these relationships, whether condemnatory, regulatory or less critical, changed over time.

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The gentleman’s mistress

Illegitimate relationships and children, 1450–1640

Tim Thornton and Katharine Carlton

This is an exploration of the extent and implications of the pre- and extra-marital relationships of the gentry and nobility in the period 1450–1640 in the north of England. It challenges assumptions about the extent to which such activity declined in the period in question, and hence about the impact of Protestantism and other changes to the culture of the elite. The book is a major contribution to the literature on marriage and sexual relationships, on family and kinship and their impacts on wider social networks, and on gender.

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Jonathan Moss

The conclusion summarises the book’s main findings, arguing that labour force participation was often experienced or viewed as claim to political citizenship in late modern England. Women’s workplace protest was not simply a direct response to women’s heightened presence in trade unions and second-wave feminism. The women involved in these disputes were more likely to understand their experiences of workplace activism as an expression of the economic, social and subjective value of their work and an assertion of their personal autonomy. They possessed specific skills and ability, which were closely tied to their sense of self. Revisiting women’s workplace protest from a historical perspective enables one to see how these women were both indirectly influenced by and contributed towards the development of British feminism. Women’s attempts to redefine how their work was valued and to speak with their own voice within the labour movement challenged gender norms and can be described as feminist. However, it is crucial to recognise that the majority of women interviewed did not view themselves or their behaviour as either feminist or political, and stressed their ‘ordinariness’ or individuality instead. The conclusion explains this tension and suggests the women believed they were practising ethics rather than politics.