To content and pay : women's economic roles in Edinburgh, Haddington and Linlithgow, 1560-1640
Spence, Cathryn Rebecca
Networks of debt and credit formed a cornerstone of the early modern economy. Nearly all members of society participated in these networks, including women. In northwestern Europe, the resulting debt litigation, and what this can tell us about women's economic roles within and outwith the home, has been well documented and discussed by a number of historians. Yet similar roles played by women in Scotland have received far less attention, particularly for much of the period between 1560 and 1700. This is despite extensive runs of sources with evidence relating to a greater variety of women than many comparable English sources. In these Scottish sources, the roles of not only widows are visible, but also the roles of female domestic servants and married women. The presence of married women in these debt cases, and evidence that they were actively transacting debts both with and largely independent of their husbands, is perhaps the most important aspect to highlight of the records consulted for this study, as in the majority of similar records for this period in northwestern Europe the presence of married women was hidden due their husbands bearing the legal responsibility for their actions. With this veil lifted in some of the Scottish sources, this study is able to engage with women of all marital statuses and so present as clear an image as possible of women's economic roles in the Scottish towns of Edinburgh, Haddington, and Linlithgow between 1560 and 1640. No studies of debt and credit have yet focussed on these three communities in the early modern period, despite the significant volume of extant records which exist for these communities and allow for the fullest examination of women's networks of debt and credit yet conducted in Scotland. This thesis will use evidence taken from debt cases, testaments, and a tax survey to first determine the reasons for which women contracted debts and then use these reasons to explore and assess the role of women in work. These roles include the import, export, and sale of ready-made merchandise, the production and sale of ale, beer, and lace, the rental of property, and the lending of money. It will also explore how female domestic servants emerged and functioned in debt and credit networks, particularly with regard to Edinburgh and its large population of female servants. Further, this thesis brings to light the various marital and social statuses of the women who performed these activities, and proves that whether married, widowed, or never-married, women were vibrant participants in the debt and credit networks that spanned social divides during this period.