Virginia Woolf (25 January 1882 – 28 March 1941), in her essay “Shakespeare’s Sister,” gives a brief but significant picture of the position of women in society in 15th to 17th century England. The image is based on the History of England by the famous historian Professor G. M. Trevelyan.
More Notes: Shakespeare’s Sister
Amazed that no woman had written a single word of the rich Elizabethan literature, the author consulted the History of England to find out what information there was about women in England at that time. She read in that history that “wife-beating” was a recognized human right practiced without shame by people of high and low classes. The position of marriageable daughters was similar. “The girl who refused to marry the gentleman of her parents’ choice was locked up, beaten, and thrown away.”
Marriage was not a matter of personal affection, but of family greed, especially among the upper classes. Betrothal often took place while one or both parties were in the cradle, and marriage often took place when they were scarcely out of the nurses’ charge. After marriage, the husband was master and lord approved by law and custom. Such was the condition of women in England from the 15th to the 17th century.