Dr Charmian Mansell, EHS Power Fellow

A new history of female service in early modern England, 1550-1650

Charmian’s research focuses on the experiences of women working in service in early modern England. Her PhD thesis examines female servants captured in the records of the church court depositions of the dioceses of Gloucester and Exeter, departing from the approaches of previous scholarship by considering service as a holistic experience.  Using a new methodological approach, it challenges orthodox conceptions and stereotypes of service in a number of ways.  It calls for a reinterpretation of the early modern community in which female servants were not marginalised outsiders whose residence was fleeting or transitory, but instead were integral to the functioning of community economies and social networks. 

As an extension of her PhD project, Charmian’s postdoctoral research presents a new history of female service, re-evaluating service through quantitative and qualitative analysis of contextual evidence from church court depositions.  Experiences of service are analysed from demographic, geographical, economic and social perspectives, in order to answer several broad research questions: who were servants? What did they do? How mobile were they and what types of spaces did they move between? How integrated were servants within communities and how did they exercise agency in these communities?  This research will be based at the IHR and the University of Exeter.