Mistress of the Manor
The family bound Elizabethan society together. Marriage alliances were formed to provide continuity of family name and land-holding. As was customary in an Elizabethan household at all levels of society, the husband (or father or brother, in the absence of a husband) was the head of the family, home and business. Master Dauntesey of Agecroft not only governed his family and household, but governed “civil” crimes in the surrounding villages with the help of parish constables.
If it was the husband’s duty to protect the reputation of his family and show hospitality to guests and strangers, it was the wife’s duty to obey her husband and bear his children. This did not mean, however, that the mistress of the manor was treated as inferior - quite the contrary. Elizabethan husbands and wives strove for a loving union with each upholding the tasks of their position with confidence and trust in one another.
Mistress Dauntesey was responsible for the daily running of the household including overseeing servant chores, meals, child-rearing, and entertainment of guests. She orchestrated the tutoring of her children – whether by herself or other tutors – in academics, music, manners and comportment. She inspected her daughters’ needlework and embroidery and made sure they were prepared for marriage and the running of their own households.
The manor herb garden was tended by the mistress and several house servants, and it was an important source of useful plants for cooking and for medicines. Mistress Dauntesey was responsible for making medicines for her family, servants and local townspeople. Using a compendium of medicinal recipes such as John Gerard’s Herbal, Mistress Dauntesy distilled herbs and created decoctions of helpful remedies.
The Elizabethans continued the historic tradition of primogeniture, whereby the male head of the household would will the majority of his goods and property to his firstborn son, or, if he had none, to his closest male kin. It was not unheard of, however, for a woman to run a business in a town (for example an alehouse) if she were widowed or to be in business as a partner with her husband. A wife’s presence and help were imperative to the success of any husband.