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"Such Daughters and Such a Mother": The Countess of Derby and her Three Daughters, 1560-1647


This dissertation focuses on the lives of Alice Spencer Stanley Egerton, the dowager countess of Derby (1559-1637), and her three daughters: Anne Stanley Brydges Touchet, Lady Chandos and then dowager countess of Castlehaven (1581-1647), Frances Stanley Egerton, countess of Bridgewater (1583-1636), and Elizabeth Stanley Hastings, countess of Huntingdon (1587-1634). This work contributes to the fields of early modern English history, gender history, women's history, and family history. My primary sources include, correspondence, household accounts, legal records, contracts, leases, literary dedications, masques, literature, personal prayer books, tombs, almshouses, household inventories, wills, personal papers, and cheap print. The remarkable quantity and quality of sources by and about the Stanley women make it possible to re-examine their various life experiences by melding empirical research and gender theory.

In 1631, the countess of Castlehaven accused her husband and one of her servants of raping her. Scholars of early modern English history and literature are quite familiar with this trial. This dissertation examines the relationship between the countess of Castlehaven and her mother and sisters to better understand this infamous trial in light of their familial experiences. The chapters are organized thematically rather than chronologically, in order to flesh out the major themes in the lives of the Stanley women. These themes include discussions of how they used marriage to build kinship networks, the various ways they maintained these networks, their religious lives, the literary and political patronage, their family culture of commissioning masques, their numerous legal battles, and their individual deaths and legacies. All of these larger issues are examined against their trials with the Castlehaven scandal to understand how the Stanley women experienced and influenced this critical moment in their lives. In the end, this dissertation presents a rich micro-history and a collective biography of the Stanley women. It argues that scholars must remain open to the complex and fluid identities of early modern women in order to understand fully the complicated nuances of early modern relationships. The Stanley women serve as ideal case studies and the Castlehaven affair is an interesting backdrop for this endeavor.

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