7 - Gender, Family and the Social Order, 1560–1725  pp. 196-217


By S.D. Amussen

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Yea, God hath so disposed every one's severall place, as there is not anyone, but in some respect is under another.

William Gouge's stress on the ubiquity of hierarchy in early modern England would rarely have been challenged by his contemporaries. Gouge assumed that the family was a mirror of society. The parallel between order inside and outside the family was obvious to writers in late Elizabethan and early Stuart England; Matthew Griffith began his Form for Families by arguing that ‘there be two things which a Christian should especially desire, and endeavour to approve himself; namely, both a good servant to God, and a good Subject to the King; and my scope in this Manual, is to teach both’. Griffith and Gouge assumed, as did all political and social theorists before Locke (as well as many after), an analogy between the structure of authority in the family and the state.

The familial analogy, while commonplace, is problematic. It means that the distinction between ‘family’ and ‘society’ was absent from early modern thought. Most historians have accepted the twentieth-century view of the family as a private institution separate from public life and public order. The campaign against scolds and dominating women discussed by Professor Underdown shows that this is not so. The family defined the ideals of the gender system, as relations between husband and wife provided a model for all relations between women and men.