Advice Books

Gervase Markham, from The English Hus-wife, Containing the Inward and Outward Virtues Which Ought to Be in a Complete Woman

[Click on image to enlarge] Gervase Markham's book, The English Hus-Wife (1615) addresses women of the middle and lower classes, who are expected to take an active part in cookery, the growing of herbs, and the preparation of medicines for their families. These expectations contrast with those set forth in the selection by Brathwaite, which is clearly addressed to women of the higher classes and some fortune. Even aristocratic women, however, saw it as part of their duty and practice of charity to be knowledgeable about medicines and to supply remedies for their households and tenants, when needed.

[Click on image to enlarge] The images here, from Wenceslaus Hollar's Ornatus Muliebris (1640), display in dress the class differences in women's roles and duties. On the right, the aristocratic lady, richly garbed, with jewelry, elaborately coifed hair, lace, fan, and richly embroidered gown will be held up to the virtues and moral expectations set forth by Brathwaite. But the countrywoman on the left, with her clogs, simple skirts, blowsy hair, and the carrots visible in her basket, will certainly have to practice as well all the housewifely skills urged by Markham.


To begin then with one of the most principal virtues which doth belong to our English housewife: you shall understand that since the preservation and care of the family, touching their health and soundness of body, consisteth most in >> note 1 her diligence, it is meet >> note 2 that she have a physical kind of knowledge, how to administer many wholesome receipts >> note 3 or medicines for the good of their healths, as well as to prevent the first occasion of sickness as to take away the effects and evil of the same when it hath made a seizure on the body. Indeed, we must confess that the depth and secrets of this most excellent art of physic is far beyond the capacity of the most skillful women, as lodging only in the breast of the learned professors. Yet that our housewife may from them receive some ordinary rules and medicines which may avail for the benefit of her family is (in our common experience) no derogation at all to that worthy science. Neither do I intend here to lead her mind with all the symptoms, accidents, and effects which go before or after every sickness, as though I would have her to assume the name of a practitioner, but only relate unto her some approved medicines and old doctrines which have been gathered together and delivered by common experience for the curing of those ordinary sicknesses which daily perturb the health of men and women.

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To speak then of the outward and active knowledges which belong to our English housewife: I hold the first and most principal to be a perfect skill and knowledge in cookery, together with all the secrets belonging to the same, because it is a duty really belonging to the woman. And she that is utterly ignorant therein may not by the laws of strict justice challenge the freedom of marriage, >> note 4 because indeed she can perform but half her vow, for she may love and obey, but she cannot serve and keep him with that true duty which is ever expected.

To proceed then to this knowledge of cookery: you shall understand that the first step thereunto is to have knowledge of all sorts of herbs belonging to the kitchen, whether they be for the pot, for salads, for sauces, for serving, or for any other seasoning or adorning, which skill of knowledge of the herbs, she must get by her own labor and experience, and not by my relation, which would be much too tedious. And for the use of them she shall see it in the composition of dishes and meats hereafter following. She shall also know the time of the year, month and moon, in which all herbs are to be sown, and when they are in their best flourishing, that gathering all herbs in their height of goodness, she may have the prime use of the same.

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