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Women of Fortune
Money, Marriage, and Murder in Early Modern England


  • Date Published: October 2018
  • availability: In stock
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781107034020

£ 26.99

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About the Authors
  • Women of Fortune tells the compelling story of mercantile wealth, arranged marriages, and merchant heiresses who asserted their rights despite loss, imprisonment, and murder. Following three generations of the Bennet and Morewood families, who made their fortune in Crown finance, the East Indies, the Americas, and moneylending, Linda Levy Peck explores the changing society, economy, and culture of early modern England. The heiresses - curious, intrepid, entrepreneurial, scholarly - married into the aristocracy, fought for their property, and wrote philosophy. One spent years on the Grand Tour. Her life in Europe, despite the outbreak of war, is vividly documented. Another's husband went to debtors' prison. She recovered the fortune and bought shares. Husbands, sons, and contemporaries challenged their independence legally, financially, even violently, but new forms of wealth, education, and the law enabled these heiresses to insist on their own agency, create their own identities, and provide examples for later generations.

    • Casts fresh light on the lives and agency of early modern heiresses beyond their usual roles as transmitters of property
    • Explains how major elements of the English economy worked in practice in the early modern period through the story of several families across three generations
    • Provides a vivid account of one woman's experience of the Grand Tour that encompassed travel, sightseeing, romance, and war
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'In this exhaustively researched and skillfully presented book, Linda Levy Peck recasts passive heiresses as active wives. Promoting their own ambitions and reshaping the families into which they married, these 'women of fortune' creatively re-energized elite cultures and pushed out the boundaries of female opportunity. Peck rightly and rigorously positions them at the very center of England's early modern social order.' Cynthia Herrup, J. R. Hubbard Professor of History Emerita, University of Southern California

    'Women of Fortune opens with the grim details of the murder of a noblewoman described by a peer as 'the most sordid person who ever lived …' and then explores a huge web of connection across a whole century and across city, county, and a continent, opening up the economic, social, and cultural dimensions of that web, seen mainly through the eyes of its wonderfully feisty female members. This book is as illuminating as it is evocative.' John Morrill, Professor Emeritus of British and Irish History, University of Cambridge

    'In this important book, Linda Levy Peck traces the fortunes of the descendants of two London apprentices who made good in early seventeenth-century London. The agency and enterprise of women are at the heart of her story, mostly merry widows making and spending money, travelling the continent, although in one unfortunate case, being murdered for their gold by the local butcher. Engaging detail and vivid personalities combine in a compelling account of fundamental transformation over a century and a half - of social mobility, new forms of wealth and credit, and improved opportunities for elite women.' Ann Hughes, Keele University

    'Peck charts the destinies of three generations of the Bennet and Morewood families. Sir Thomas Bennet the elder was the founder of the dynasty, earning a fortune in the cloth trade, enriching himself through Crown finance, and ending as Lord Mayor of London. Like Bennet, Gilbert Morewood was the scion of minor gentry who became a successful merchant and London oligarch. … One learns much about the rationale for arranged marriages, brokers and marriage portions … Peck is particularly effective in showing how female heiresses protected their inheritances, passed them onto their children, and crafted independent identities for themselves. The most compelling section deals with the grisly murder of Grace Bennet the elder, who was killed by a butcher in search of gold allegedly buried on her estate. Portraits of worthies and other reproductions of period art adorn the text.' D. R. Bisson, Choice

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    Product details

    • Date Published: October 2018
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781107034020
    • length: 350 pages
    • dimensions: 253 x 180 x 20 mm
    • weight: 0.91kg
    • contains: 16 b/w illus. 16 colour illus.
    • availability: In stock
  • Table of Contents

    List of figures
    List of abbreviations
    Family trees
    Part I. Money:
    1. 'The Great Man of Buckinghamshire' The Lord Mayor, the Benefactor, and the moneylender: the Bennets
    2. 'My personal estate which God of his infinite goodness hath lent me' the grocer's apprentice: the Morewoods
    Part II. Marriage:
    3. 'The £30,000 widow' and Kensington House: the Finches, the Cliftons, and the Conways
    4. 'I was never one of fortune's darlings' city and country: the Gresleys
    5. 'One of the greatest fortunes in England' money, marriage and mobility: the Bennet heiresses
    Part III. Murder:
    6. “The most sordid person that ever lived' the murder of Grace Bennet
    Part IV. Metropolis:
    7. 'The Countess of Salisbury who loved travelling' from Hatfield House to the Grand Tour: the Earl and Countess of Salisbury
    8. 'A seventh son and beau major shall gain my Lady Salisbury' courting the Countess: George Jocelyn
    9. 'Diverse great troubles and misfortunes' losing a fortune: John and Grace Bennet
    10. 'Fortune's darlings' single women in Hanoverian London: the Dowager Countess of Salisbury and Grace Bennet

  • Author

    Linda Levy Peck, George Washington University, Washington DC
    Linda Levy Peck is a prizewinning historian who has published extensively on politics, society, and culture in early modern England. She is the author of Northampton: Patronage and Policy at the Court of James I (1982), Patronage and Corruption in Early Modern England (1993), which won the John Ben Snow prize awarded by the North American Conference on British Studies, and Consuming Splendor: Society and Culture in Seventeenth-Century England (Cambridge, 2005), awarded Honorable Mention (2006) by the Sixteenth Century Conference. She also edited The Mental World of the Jacobean Court (1991). Now Professor of History Emerita at George Washington University, Washington DC, and Senior Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London, she has also served as president of the North American Conference on British Studies.

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