The changing status and identity of English bishops' wives c.1549-1625

Rachel Basch

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

203 Downloads (Pure)


This thesis will provide the first full length study of English bishops’ wives between 1549 and 1625. Clerical marriage was one of the most controversial issues of the English Reformation, and created a new social group who had to be accorded a position within the strict hierarchy of Tudor society. Initially clerical wives faced marginalisation and hostility from their communities, and were negatively affected by the fluctuating legal status of clerical marriage between 1549 and 1559. However, during the stability of Elizabeth’s reign clerical marriage was able to establish itself and became a secure feature of the emerging Church of England.
Whilst the legal history of clerical marriage is well known, the women at this centre of this radical social and theological change have rarely been considered. Married to the leaders of the English Church, bishops’ wives were the most visible and scrutinised of all clerical wives. They lived at the heart of the established Church whilst their husband’s high office also drew them into elite secular society. However, to date they have not been subject to any detailed study, with the result that we know very little about a significant group of women who emerged in early modern England.
Combining a chronological and thematic approach this thesis will firstly demonstrate how bishops’ wives were affected by and contributed to the early reform movement, before considering them as members of the office holding class. Drawing together a wide range of sources for the first time this thesis will seek to recover the lived experience of bishops’ wives to show who they were, where they came from, what their role was and how it changed and developed between 1549 and 1625; ultimately shedding light on an important group of women who emerged from the Reformation to take on a new role in society.

Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Whitelock, Anna, Supervisor
Award date1 Apr 2017
Publication statusUnpublished - 2017

Cite this