Chapter 3 'Bess’s use of language'

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    This chapter contextualises the language use of Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, commonly known as Bess of Hardwick (c.1527-1608), in relation to her education and literacy. The written prose contained within Bess of Hardwick’s holograph letters is a particularly interesting subject for scholars interested in the language use of women in England between 1500 and 1750. Most of the early modern English women’s letters that survive to the present day were written by women born into the nobility, such as Elizabeth I (1553 – 1603), and Mildred Cecil (1526 – 1589). It is likely that these high status women would have received the kind of humanist educations normally reserved for their male counterparts. However, Bess, born around 1527 into the Hardwicks, a moderately prosperous lower gentry family from Derbyshire, would probably have received the more practical kind of education given to women born into the English gentry during the sixteenth century. This would have focused on letter writing, account keeping and needlework. Therefore, Bess’s education, and her consequent language use, is likely to be more representative of the daily language use of Elizabethan women from the gentry, mercantile and aristocratic social groups than the language use of noblewomen such as Elizabeth I. With specific reference to of a range of linguistic features coming into English during the Early Modern period, such as the replacement of third person singular verb ending -eth with -es, the first part of the essay will outline how Bess is participating in these changes in order to gauge the extent to which she was an innovative language user. The essay refers to the historical sociolinguistic work of Nevalainen and Raumolin-Brunberg (2016), and ties in with the wider themes of gender and region discussed in the edited collection Bess of Hardwick: New Perspectives, of which it is a part.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationBess of Hardwick: New Perspectives
    EditorsLisa Hopkins
    Place of PublicationManchester
    PublisherManchester University Press
    Number of pages224
    ISBN (Print)978-1526101297
    Publication statusPublished - 9 Jan 2019


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