Families in crisis
: parenting and the life cycle in English society c. 1450 - 1620

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This thesis offers a new perspective on the nature and experience of parent-child relationships c.1450-1620. Focusing on correspondence and family papers from selected aristocracy and gentry families, it argues that authority in parent-child relationships was renegotiated throughout the life cycle, particularly at points of tension or crisis such as marriage or death. These ‘crisis points’ are episodes which show us the negotiations that took place around domestic authority and give a personal insight into the emotional responses of parents and children and the nature of authority within early modern society. This thesis addresses a gap in knowledge about the changing reciprocal nature of this relationship over the life course. It understands ‘parent’ and ‘child’ as relational statuses experienced differently at different points throughout the life cycle. These new definitions argue that ‘parent’ and ‘child’ were not statuses that were limited to a single life stage but impacted on an individual throughout life. It reveals that individuals were motivated by societal expectation of family roles and also exhibited a range of emotional responses in reaction to perceived threats to the smooth running of family life according to the rules and structures of age, gender and status. The expectations associated with being a parent or a child continued to shape the actions and behaviour of individuals well into adulthood, as loyalty and obedience between parents and children was challenged and renegotiated. The thesis also considers how different roles within the family could overlap, leading to conflict as family members sought to manage their obligations and responsibilities as parents, children, siblings or step-relations. The personal source material is put into context with legal records and conduct literature considering the conflict between ideals of family life and its lived experience.
Date of Award2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Northumbria University
SupervisorNeil Murphy (Supervisor), Gaby Mahlberg (Supervisor) & Sasha Handley (Supervisor)

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