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In 1694, an Act of Parliament was passed in an attempt to relieve the City of London of its substantial debts, amounting to nearly £750,000. The Act for the Relief of the Orphans and Other Creditors of the City of London established the Orphan’s Fund, a publicly traded fund that was used to pay off the City’s creditors. While the Orphan Fund would go on to have a long life and was used to finance a number of public works, its origins in the administrative life of the Court of Orphans has often been overlooked. The Court was responsible for looking after the orphans of City freeman after their father’s had died, and many of their inheritances were kept in the City’s chamber whilst they were underage. As a result of this, many orphans lost their inheritances during the City’s financial troubles, dragging those who used the Court of Orphans into the crisis, with a solution only reached with the passing of the Orphan Act.

This paper focuses on the critical years of the City’s financial troubles between 1682, when the City defaulted on its debts and 1694, when the Orphan Act was passed, and looks at the women of the Court of Orphans and the role they played in this crisis. By using both manuscript and printed petitions, along with broadsheets and pamphlets, this paper investigates the ways that women were vocal in their attempts to gain compensation for their investments. By comparing material intended for both public and private circulation, it also draws out the similar and different ways that women framed themselves to different audiences. Printed material produced by the City itself is also used to demonstrate not just how women framed themselves, but also how women were framed by others in the wider narrative of the City’s financial failure.

This paper ultimately aims to answer the question what role did the women of the Court of Orphans play in the City of London’s financial crisis between 1682 and 1694?


Jess is a third-year PhD student at the University of York under the supervision of Dr Natasha Glaisyer. Her thesis entitled The Role of Women in London’s Court of Orphans, 1660-1720 focuses on the women who engaged with the Court of Orphans in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries and examines the number of financial, legal and social roles they had in the Court’s proceedings. She completed both her BA and MA at the University of York and is the co-chair of the university’s early modern postgraduate forum, the Cabinet of Curiosities. She is also a graduate student ambassador and trustee for the Economic History Society. 

All welcome- this seminar is free to attend but booking in advance is required.