- Women's Wealth and Women's Writing in Early Modern England: 'Little Legacies' and the Materials of Motherhood
This book is a study of 'the ways that women's writings in the early modern period concern their wealth', with wealth defined as women's kinship ties and influence, moveables and other property, and investments (p. 3). Elizabeth Mazzola is most interested in how women's writings and other material belongings and productions describe, foster and reproduce relationships between women in Early Modern England. So she explores, for example, the robes of state worn by Mary Tudor and her half-sister Elizabeth at their coronations, and the tapestries produced by Mary Stuart in conjunction with Bess of Hardwick, and sold off in 1610 by Arbella Stuart, as well as Elizabeth I's The Miroir or Glasse of the Synneful Soul, and Mary Stuart's casket sonnets.
Mazzola's focus on writing as one of several kinds of material legacies [End Page 231] of women in the period is a fertile one, and enables a series of chapters on selected artefacts of four women: Elizabeth I; Mary Stuart (Queen of Scots); Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury (Bess of Hardwick); and Arbella Stuart. These four kinswomen are well-chosen and intriguingly interrelated, all jostling around the English throne. Bess acted as keeper at Hardwick Hall to Mary Stuart and later to her grand-daughter (and Mary Stuart's niece) Arbella, each of her charges potential and potentially dangerous heiresses to Elizabeth. Mazzola demonstrates convincingly that the women's 'entanglements' (p. 7), as evinced in their material productions and legacies, are potent expressions of gendered subjectivity and familial and political cultures.
Chapter 1 is described as being on women's education, although its focus is on Elizabeth's translation of Marguerite de Navarre's Miroir, presented by the eleven-year-old princess to Katherine Parr. Chapter 2 explores the state robes worn by Mary Tudor and by her sister Elizabeth on their coronations, unpicking with care the signifiers of gender, family and state involved in the sartorial choices of a woman being crowned as monarch. Elizabeth's Catholic and Scottish cousin, Mary Stuart, is the focus of Chapter 4, which reads the Queen of Scots' embroidered tapestries alongside the so-called casket sonnets that were used to incriminate Mary in the murder of her second husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. Chapter 4 also examines the letters written by Arbella Stuart during her detention by Bess, while Chapter 5 focuses on Arbella's sale in 1610 of Mary Stuart's needlework panels, again teasing out the career of the redoubtable Bess herself.
Each chapter is like a detail picked out of the tapestry of the four women's interwoven lives. But as these details accumulate, Mazzola's insistence on reading the women as 'mothers' and their artefacts as 'mother's legacies', the approach signalled in her subtitle, sits uneasily over them. Elizabeth I and Arbella Stuart were never mothers, and maternity does not seem to be the strongest connection between these four subjects, even if maternity is read, via Wendy Wall, as a metaphorical 'language of legacy' (p. 43). It is also unlikely that these elite women were representative of 'what other early modern mothers and daughters were trying to achieve with each other' (p. 5), a claim which could only be established through exploration of women across a much wider range of classes and with very different material lives. Mazzola's subjects emerge as women of exceptional familial and dynastic standing, revealing far more about how 'aristocratic families were also constructs underwritten by the state' (p. 75), and about the status of women and their artefacts within [End Page 232] these aristocratic constructs, than they do about maternity or maternal legacies.
Mazzola uses Virginia Woolf's tenet that daughters think back through their mothers to define, not only their own critical practice, but the interrelationships between Early Modern women themselves...