Church History

Research Article

Subordinating Women: Thomas Bentley's Use of Biblical Women in ‘The Monument of Matrones’ (1582)

Colin Atkinsona1 and Jo B. Atkinsona1

a1 associate professor of English in the University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada. an independent scholar.

In Chaste, Silent and Obedient, Suzanne Hull lists 163 English books written for women (by both sexes) published between 1475 and 1640. Of the eighteen books she classifies as devotional, the second (chronologically) is Thomas Bentley's The Monument of Matrones (1582), an immense book—over 1500 quarto pages—containing prayers and meditations for a variety of occasions, extracts from the Bible, and brief lives of biblical and other model women. Hull has aptly commented that, “In fact, The Monument of Matrones comes close to being an entire female library between two covers.” The iconography of various illustrated pages and some prayers have been analyzed, and some writings by women such as Queen Margaret of Navarre, Queen Katherine Parr, and Lady Jane Dudley, have been anthologized, but the book has not been studied as a whole. Bentley, in his introduction, “To the Christian Reader,” describes the book as a collection of “diuers verie godlie, learned and diuine treatises, of meditationes and praier, made by sundrie right famous Queenes, noble Ladies, vertuous Virgins, and godlie Gentlewomen of al ages” (Bl) which had gone out of print. But is it simply an anthology of standard devotional material? Because it was directed to women, is it an affirmation of egalitarian impulses in Reformation English religious thought? Or does it prescribe the limited range of virtues acceptable to an increasingly patriarchal authority in late sixteenth-century society? It goes without saying that a book as rich and complex as the Monument will contain different, even conflicting, points of view, as the following, necessarily brief, summary will suggest.