Female Experience in Early Modern England

Symposium 6-7 Nov 2020
Friday 6th - Saturday 7th November
The University of Auckland

With generous support from the Alice Griffin Fund


Anonymous, Sight (from The Five Senses), 1630-40, ©Trustees of the British Museum 

This two-day symposium is sponsored by the Alice Griffin Fund and organised by the School of Humanities at the University of Auckland.

The last fifty years have seen an expanding interest in women’s history in the early modern period, from the everyday lives of ordinary and élite women to their artistic production and involvement, undermining Virginia Woolf’s assertion that Shakespeare’s sister ‘died young – alas, she never wrote a word’. In 2020, this symposium asks, where has this interest in female experience brought us and what are the areas that remain vibrant or underexplored? What does the work of emerging scholars have to contribute to the discussion of female experience in early modern England?

We have chosen England as a topic of discussion because of its centrality in previous discussions of early modern female experience. The symposium aims to foster new discussions on a topic that is no longer ‘new’ but still in need of continuing study. It incorporates interdisciplinary perspectives, acknowledging the multi-faceted ways in which female experience was lived and imagined.

We have been delighted with the number and quality of submissions we have received, from both established academics and postgraduate students, adding to the dazzling scope of our final programme. Some papers have sought to address questions of artistic or literary authorship. Others focus on dress, on reproductive experience, and female agency. The programme also includes a play reading and a beauty workshop, bringing the lived experience of the early modern woman to life.

The two days comprise seven sessions of fifteen-minute papers, with time for questions and some respondents. We would like to acknowledge the fine submissions we received that we could not accommodate.

We welcome those joining us in person, and particularly those watching and listening from far away. Registrations for online and in person attendance have now closed. If you have already registered for online attendance, you will have now received the Zoom links. in your email.


See                          for more details.






Sarah Ross, Victoria University of Wellington

'Woe is She: “Female Complaint” and Women’s Songbooks in Early Modern England'

The highly fashionable poetic genre of “female complaint” in early modern England has been considered almost entirely in terms of Ovidian traditions, and mostly in terms of male ventriloquy. Lynn Enterline and others have emphasised the female character effect generated through humanist practices of imitation, schoolboys voicing woeful women such as Hecuba and Niobe in a transferral of identity across gender binaries. But how did girls and women learn to write and perform the voices of female complaint? How did their exclusion from the humanist schoolroom calibrate their exposure to the rhetorical conventions of Renaissance humanism?

This paper explores the contexts of early modern women’s complaint, and focuses on one extraordinary archive of complaint texts owned and performed by girls and women: manuscript songbooks. The songbooks of Elizabeth Davenant and Anne Twice in England, and Lady Margaret Wemyss in Scotland, among others, contain a range of complaint lyrics to which their owners literally gave voice, as part of their musical education. This paper examines these volumes as evidence of girls’ and women’s engagement in vernacular complaint traditions, and considers the vocality of early modern women’s complaint as practiced and performed in song.


Sarah C. E. Ross is Associate Professor of English at Te Herenga Waka, Victoria University of Wellington. She is the author of Women, Poetry, and Politics in Seventeenth-Century Britain (2015), and the co-editor of Editing Early Modern Women (2016, with Paul Salzman), Women Poets of the English Civil War (2017, with Elizabeth Scott-Baumann), and Early Modern Women’s Complaint: Gender, Form, and Politics (2020, with Rosalind Smith). She is currently completing a project on early modern women’s complaint, funded by the Royal Society of New Zealand Te Apārangi Marsden Fund, and co-editing the Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Women’s Writing in English, 1540-1700.

Click the icon to download a full programme with speakers, abstracts and meal breaks.



Papers and workshops will take place in Room 310 in Building 260, University of Auckland City Campus. 


See                        for Zoom attendance.


9am: Welcome and Keynote

Welcome: Malcolm Campbell, Head of the School of Humanities

Chair: Professor Tom Bishop, English and Drama, University of Auckland

Respondent: Professor Dympna Callaghan, English and William Safire Professor of Modern Letters, Syracuse University


Sarah Ross, ‘Woe is She: “Female Complaint” and Women’s Songbooks in Early Modern England'


10:45am: Fertility and the Female Pro-Creative Experience

Chair: Associate Professor Erin Griffey, University of Auckland

Respondent: Professor Mary Fissell, History of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University


Tracy Adams, ‘Anne Boleyn: Anxiety and the Royal Heir’

Susannah Whaley, ‘Queens at the Spa: Catherine of Braganza and Mary of Modena at Bath and Tunbridge Wells’

Karen Hearn, ‘‘‘Big-bellied women”: Portraying Pregnancy in Sixteenth- and Early Seventeenth-Century England’


Paige Donaghy, ‘“My Mother Told Me It Was an Abortion”: Tracing Women’s Experiences and Perceptions of Pregnancy Loss in Early Modern England’


1:15pm: Women, Law and Diplomacy

Chair: Professor Jonathan Scott, History, University of Auckland

Jessica Ayres, ‘Women’s Petitions to London’s Court of Orphans, 1660-1740’

Mathilde Alazraki, ‘The Queen and the Sultana: An Example of Early Modern Female Diplomacy Between England and the Ottoman Empire’

Erin Newman, ‘Wretched Whores or Virtuous Victims: The Role of Women in Bastardy Crimes During the Civil War and Interregnum’

Zoe Jackson, ‘Female Testimony, Economic Responsibility, and Political Memory in East Anglia, 1660–1685’


3pm: Bad Women

Chair: Professor Kim Phillips, History, University of Auckland


Mirabelle Field, ‘“The Curse of Our Nation”: England Divided in the Image of Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine and Duchess of Cleveland’


Emma Sadera, ‘More savage than a she-wolf’: Writing Bad Motherhood in the Street Literature of Early Modern England’

Emma Whipday, ‘“I rest your pore troublesome sister”: Sibling Bonds, Familial Roles, and Female Authorship in Early Modern England’


Beatrice Righetti, ‘Feigning the perfect wife: economic practices and power relationships in seventeenth-century England’


Debra Parish, ‘Anna Trapnel: Prophetess or Witch? The female prophetic experience in England 1640-1660’


5pm: Female Bodies and Emotions


Chair: Professor Tracy Adams, European Languages and Literature, University of Auckland


Bill Angus, ‘Female Madness in Early Modern Drama: Passive, Generative, Transformative’

Megan Shaw, ‘“Either really or in show”: Performance in the Mourning Portraits of Katherine Villiers, Duchess of Buckingham’

Daniel Beaumont, ‘Melancholy and Despair among Early Modern English Women: A Case study of Hannah Allen’s Satan’s Methods and Malice Baffled (1683)’

Lindsey Cox, ‘Middling Sort Women and Portrait Miniatures in England c.1530-1650’




8:30am: The Dressed Body

Chair: Dr Jemma Field, Associate Director of Research, Yale Center for British Art

Jane Malcolm-Davies and Ninya Mikhaila, ‘Homespun Not Homemade: The Myth of the Self-Sufficiency in Early Modern Households 1485 To 1603’

Sarah Bendall, ‘Overcoming the Limitations of ‘Traditional’ Sources: Accessing Female Experience through Experimental History’

Ariane Fennetaux, ‘Pockets, materiality and privacy in early modern England’

Mirren Brockies, ‘Under and Over the Skin: Health Values and Dressing the Neck in Early Modern England’


10:30am: Authorship and the Female Writing Experience

Chair: Associate Professor Sarah Ross, English, Victoria University of Wellington

Paul Salzman, ‘Hidden in Plain Sight: Editing and (not) Canonising Early Modern Women’s Writing’

Edel Lamb, ‘Girlhood Experience in Early Modern England’

Valerie Schutte, ‘The Words of a Princess: Mary Tudor’s Pre-Accession Translations’

Alison Findlay, ‘Rewriting Female Experience through Performance: Lady Mary Wroth’s Love’s Victory’

Diana G. Barnes, ‘Traces of Early Modern Women’s Experience in Letters’


12pm: Introduction to Jane Lumley’s ca. 1553 translation of Euripides’ “Iphigenia in Aulis”


Deanne Williams


1:15pm: Reading of Jane Lumley’s ca. 1553 translation of Euripides’ “Iphigenia in Aulis”

Tom Bishop


2:45pm: Female Creative Experience

Chair: Professor Erin Carlston, English, University of Auckland   

Respondent: Dr Sophie Tomlinson, Senior Lecturer in English and Drama, University of Auckland


Lisa Walters, ‘Epicurean Atomism: The Female Experience of Science and Philosophy’

Kimberley Connor, ‘Margaret Baker: A Life in Recipes’

Christine Jacob, ‘Nature’s Cordials and Confectionary: Poetry for Health in Pulter and Cavendish’

Brooke Little, ‘Katherine Parre: Born to Sit on the Highest Seat of “Musical Majesty”’


4:30pm: Workshop: The Reality of her Endeavours: Experiencing Beautifying Recipes in Early Modern England


Erin Griffey

Victoria Munn

Please note this symposium is taking place in New Zealand Daylight Time (NZDT) +1300 UTC.

Click the icon to download a full programme with speakers, abstracts and meal breaks.


John Riley, Portrait of Bridget Holmes, 1686, ©Royal Collection Trust


Susannah Whaley, postgraduate coordinator:

Associate Professor Erin Griffey:

Professor Tom Bishop:


Papers and workshops (both days): Building 260, Room 310, University of Auckland. The play reading on Saturday at 1:15pm will take place in the Drama Studio, Building 206, Room 325.

Online access: This symposium will be made available online. RSVP at the bottom of this form and links will be sent to you when they are available. 

Both online and in person attendance is free, but registration is essential.

The deadline for in-person and online registration is Monday 2nd November. Registrations have now closed.

Time Zones

Please note this symposium is taking place in New Zealand Daylight Time (NZST) +1300 UTC.

The start time on 6th November is 9am New Zealand Time (GMT +13; 5 November at 3pm in New York; 5 November at 12pm in Los Angeles; 5 November at 8pm in London; 5 November at 9pm in Paris).

The start time on 7th November is 8:30am New Zealand Time (GMT +13; 6 November at 2:30pm in New York; 6 November at 11:30am in Los Angeles; 6 November at 7:30pm in London; 6 November at 8:30pm in Paris).


Left: Anonymous, Gustus (from The Five Senses), 1630-40, ©Trustees of the British Museum 

Above: Anonymous, Oderatus (from The Five Senses), 1630-40, ©Trustees of the British Museum 

Background: Anonymous, Auditus (from The Five Senses), 1630-40, ©Trustees of the British Museum 

Right: Wenceslaus Hollar, The Winter habit / of ane English Gentlewoman, 1644, ©Trustees of the British Museum 

Online Access

This symposium, with talks presented both in person and live via Zoom, is free but registration is essential. Please register by midnight Monday 2nd November NZST by navigating to the RSVP tab at the bottom of this site. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email and we will be in touch with the zoom link a few days before the event. Registrations have now closed.


The talks will be recorded and will be edited and sent out to registered attendees via email.

The reading of Jane Lumley's translation of Euripides’ “Iphigenia in Aulis” on Saturday at 1:15pm will be streamed separately using a Youtube link. This is the link you can follow and streaming will be live: 

Lady Elizabeth Pope.jpg

Attributed to Robert Peake, Lady Elizabeth Pope, c. 1615, © Tate, Creative Commons




Paul van Somer, Elizabeth, Countess of Kellie, c. 1619,  Yale Centre for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

A place to find current/upcoming articles and books in this field. Suggestions for additions most welcome.

Burman, Barbara and Ariane Fennetaux. The Pocket: A Hidden History of Women’s Lives, 1660–1900. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2019. 

Canova-Green, Marie-Claude and Sara J. Wolfson, eds. The Wedding of Charles I and Henrietta Maria, 1625: Celebrations and Controversy. Turnhout: Brepols, 2020.


Field, Jemma. Anna of Denmark: The Material and Visual Culture of the Stuart Courts, 1589–1619. Manchester University Press, 2020.

Griffey, Erin, ed. Sartorial Politics in Early Modern Europe: Fashioning Women. Amsterdam University Press, 2019.

Hopkins, Lisa and Aidan Norrie, eds. Women on the Edge in Early Modern Europe. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2019. 

Pender, Patricia, ed. Gender, Authorship and Early Modern Women’s Collaboration. Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.

Starkey, Lindsay. Encountering Water in Early Modern Europe and Beyond: Redefining the Universe through Natural Philosophy, Religious Reformations, and Sea Voyaging. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2020.



Registrations for this event have now closed.

Symposium 6-7 Nov 2020
Friday 6th - Saturday 7th November
The University of Auckland


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