This paper is based on an ongoing PhD project which examines several thousands of petitions submitted by both plebian and elite mothers to the crown and courts in England between 1660 and 1720. These petitions reveal the every-day and in extremis situations that mothers of the early modern period faced. Using several case studies from mothers facing a range of issues, this paper presents a new theory through which to understand mothers in the early modern period. It argues that mothers cannot be studied in a vacuum or through the lens of one relationship in their life, such as mother-infant, mother-father, or mother-authority figure. Instead, a complex web of relationships both supported and judged her, and the mother was at the centre of a series of concentric rings of support, influence and control. This paper therefore argues that studying motherhood using this new source helps uncover the social and cultural experiences and expectations of mothers shared by women of all socio-economic backgrounds.
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