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All Posts, P&S History

Women’s History Month – Amy McElroy

Women during the Tudor era were a force to be reckoned with. We are all familiar with the well-known names such as Margaret Beaufort, Elizabeth of York, and the Tudor queens, but what about other women?

Although the Tudor era was a largely patriarchal society, women were essential to all aspects of life. Growing up, some were sent out to work at a very early age whilst others remained at home supporting their family. There was a variety of work available to women, domestic service being extremely common amongst all classes. Of course, the type of work would be dependent on the household but if they were lucky enough to secure a position in a wealthy household they may receive bed, board and a number of benefits including clothing and a dowry.

Females were expected to marry unless they were intending on entering a religious vocation. Brides were expected to bring a dowry to their marriage. A dowry was essentially a portion of property, usually money or properties for the upper classes, whilst the lower classes would bring all manner of things from livestock to a small amount of money. For some, provision of a dowry was difficult but this also gave the lady more freedom in choosing her husband. For the upper classes, marriage opened up the possibility of securing alliances, wealth, and power and was therefore much more controlled by a woman’s family and negotiations often began very early.

The age of consent for marriage was 12 years old for girls during the Tudor era and 14 for boys but the average age of marriage was early 20’s for women of the aristocracy and mid 20’s for the lower classes. The upper classes of society used marriage to secure benefits and advancements for their family, seeking to marry their daughters into families realise those benefits. The lower classes had more freedom, having little to no dowry meant women could work, save their wages and seek their own spouse, before setting up their household.

Following marriage, for most, their property became that of their husband. There were exceptions to this; heiresses seeking to protect their inheritance and widows who remarried had much more control over their assets upon marriage. A woman became a ‘femme covert’ upon marriage. This literally meant under the protection of her spouse. Whilst a spouse did offer protection, marriage also meant a loss of certain freedoms. A married woman could not own a business or leave a will without the consent of her husband. Again, there were exceptions which were managed through the marriage contract.

Once married, motherhood was the next aim for most women. Most would wish for a male heir to pass on the family name, assets, and any titles through the custom of primogeniture. Like all aspects of life, motherhood differed between the classes. It was custom for royalty and the aristocracy to use wet nurses as it was believed breast feeding affected fertility and their role was to return to the marital bed as soon as possible. The theory that upper class women did not care for their children as they did not feed them and sent them away is simply untrue. Women simply followed customs and their children were sent to households in the country with more beneficial air and surroundings, and as they grew up to households that could provide opportunities and alliances, they would not have by remaining at home.

Regardless of class, as wives, Tudor women were pivotal in the management of their household. Whilst specific tasks would vary according to wealth, they were essentially responsible for managing servants, accounts, ensuring the household was fed and clothed. The wealthy could employ servants to manage tasks such as purchasing produce, collecting rents, cooking, cleaning, and any other role required but they would remain responsible for liaising with them all and managing their wages. For the lower classes, they may need to do much of the work themselves, managing their funds and time accordingly.

Managing a household could become more challenging if a woman became a widow losing the main income of the household. For others, it opened up a variety of freedoms. Widowed women could choose their own spouse if they remarried, they could own a business, write a will, and could also inherit her husband’s trade (dependent on his own will). For some, widowhood provided a comfortable life, allowing a woman to choose to remain single for the remainder of her life and giving her the ability to bequeath her property as she wished. The wills of Tudor women provide fascinating insight into how they provided for their female relatives and friends. Clothing was a very popular gift in wills, along with items of furniture, plate, and material. Women had to consider the custom of primogeniture when writing a will, but it is interesting to read about the items they held dear and wished to gift to others, perhaps in seeking to ensure other women were provided for.

In my latest book, Women’s Lives in the Tudor Era I have attempted to cover the typical milestones in a woman’s life, and how these milestones differed according to class and wealth. Researching and writing Women’s Lives in the Tudor Era was a fascinating journey that I hope sheds light on the strength and importance of women during the Tudor era.


About the Author

Amy was born in Liverpool and lived there until she moved to the Midlands for university where she studied Criminal Justice followed by Post-Grad Law.

Amy is currently a civil servant, working full-time alongside her writing. She also has a blog where she reviews historical fiction and non-fiction. When not researching, writing or reading you can usually find Amy binge watching Lord of the Rings, Vikings or the Last Kingdom, yet again. Amy is currently in the early stages of writing her fourth book, Desiderius Erasmus, and has another in the pipeline.

Amy doesn’t have any pets at the moment but is currently making plans to steal her brothers dog Cooper. She enjoys seeing her family back in Liverpool and visiting her dad in Spain, especially in the summer.

You can find out more about Amy:




Order Women’s Lives in the Tudor Era here.