Divided loyalties: negotiating marital separation in the Cavendish-Talbot Family c.1575–90

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    Bringing together two areas of scholarship on family history—separation and blended families—this article adds a new perspective to our understanding of how kin networks in early modern England were maintained, and on the factors that influenced the ongoing processes of negotiating them. The extensive correspondence of Bess of Hardwick and her children and step-children enables an investigation into what happened when a couple at the centre of a blended family network separated. Despite their unique political circumstances, the Cavendish-Talbot family offer a useful case study to understand some of the factors shaping the lives of separated wives in early modern England. For elite families the success of the house and dynasty could be jeopardized by the breakdown of a marriage, and never more so than if the family was a blended one. While Bess’s relationships with and support for her children caused problems with her husband, their invaluable support indicates further strategies that were available to separated wives. Bess’s children advocated for her at court, supported her in legal suits and actively negotiated between their parents. The Cavendish-Talbot family relationships were complex and loyalties did not necessarily follow expected patterns. However, in their complexity, and through the large number of letters surviving between the family, they offer a unique opportunity to consider the role of family members for separated wives.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number87
    Number of pages19
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - 21 Oct 2022


    • family
    • marriage
    • parenting
    • gender
    • patriarchy
    • correspondence
    • networks

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