Advice Books

John Dod and Robert Cleaver, from A Godly Form of Household Government: for the Ordering of Private Families, According to the Direction of God's Word

Advice books were very popular in the seventeenth century, as they are today, and they addressed many of the same topics as contemporary self-help books: how to have a good and happy marriage, how the household should be managed, the duties of the husband and especially the wife, and how to bring children up properly. Most advice books were written by men, often by clerics, and they served to reinforce social and political norms and expectations. A Godly Form of Household Government (1598), the often-republished manual by the Puritan ministers John Dod and Robert Cleaver, emphasizes the patriarchal nature of the family, the wife's necessary subjection, and the clear parallel between the order of the family and the order of the state.


A household is as it were a little commonwealth, by the good government whereof, God's glory may be advanced; the commonwealth, which standeth of several families, benefited; and all that live in that family may receive much comfort and commodity.

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The husband his duty is, first, to love his wife as his own flesh. Then to govern her in all duties that properly concern the state of marriage, in knowledge, in wisdom, judgment, and justice. Thirdly, to dwell with her. Fourthly, to use her in all due benevolence, honestly, soberly, and chastely.

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The wife, her duty is, in all reverence and humility, to submit and subject herself to her husband in all such duties as properly belong to marriage. Secondly, therein to be an help unto him, according to God's ordinance. Thirdly, to obey his commandments in all things which he may command by the authority of an husband. Fourthly and lastly, to give him mutual benevolence.

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The husband ought not to be satisfied that he hath robbed his wife of her virginity, but in that he hath possession and use of her will, for it sufficeth not that they be married, but that they be well married, and live Christianly together, and very well contented. And therefore the husband that is not beloved of his wife, holdeth his goods in danger, his house in suspicion, his credit in balance, and also sometime his life in peril, because it is easy to believe that she desireth not long life unto her husband, with whom she passeth a time so tedious and irksome. * * * If she be not subject to her husband, to let him rule all household, especially outward affairs; if she will make her head against him, and seek to have her own way, there will be doing and undoing. Things will go backward, the house will come to ruin, for God will not bless where his ordinance is not obeyed. This is allowable, that she may in modest sort show her mind, and a wise husband will not disdain to hear her advice, and follow it also, if it be good. But when her way is not liked of, though it be the best way, she may not thereupon set all at six and seven, with "what should I labor and travail: I see my husband taketh such ways, that he will bring all to nothing." This were nothing else, but when she seeth the house falling, to help to pull it down faster.

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He is reckoned worthy to rule a commonwealth that with such wisdom, discretion, and judgment doth rule and govern his own house, and that he may easily conserve and keep his citizens in peace and concord, that hath so well established the same in his own house and family. And on the other side, none will think or believe that he is able to be a ruler, or to keep peace and quietness in the town or city, who cannot live peaceably in his own house, where he is not only a ruler, but a King, and Lord of all.

The duty of the husband is to get goods; and of the wife, to gather them together and save them. The duty of the husband is to travel abroad to seek living; and the wife's duty is to keep the house. The duty of the husband is to get money and provision; and of the wife's, not vainly to spend it. The duty of the husband is to deal with many men; and of the wife's to talk with few. The duty of the husband is to be intermeddling; and of the wife, to be solitary and withdrawn. The duty of the man is to be skillful in talk; and of the wife, to boast of silence. The duty of the husband is to be a giver, and of the wife, to be a saver. The duty of the man is to apparel himself as he may; and of the woman, as it becometh her. The duty of the husband is to be lord of all; and of the wife, to give account of all. The duty of the husband is to dispatch all things without door; >> note 1 and of the wife, to oversee and give order for all things within the house. Now where the husband and wife performeth these duties in their house, we may call it a college of quietness. The house wherein these are neglected, we may term it a hell.

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