Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Mary Ailes, Douglas Biggs
Book Binding;Early Modern England;Embroidery;Needlework;Textile history;Women's history
Protestant devotional books with highly decorative embroidered bindings flourished in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century like no other time in history. Indeed, the number of these objects extant in collections today attest to their importance. Although decorative embroidered book bindings on Protestant devotional works would seem to be a contradiction, it was a natural confluence of religious, economic, and societal factors that enabled women to assert both a private and a public identity. Because the explosion of printers in Europe brought Bibles and other books to a much wider audience at a time when women’s education and literacy were impacted by Protestant theologians advocating for direct engagement with scripture, it created a space for women to make a statement of creativity and assert status while being religious, modest, and feminine in a private sphere using decorative needlework. Treatises from this time emphasize the importance of daily prayer and reading the scripture, even for women. The few extant diaries and letters that women wrote testify to the importance of their relationship to both religious worship and needlework. But the most compelling testament to the importance and overlap of these activities are the extant embroidered book bindings themselves. Material objects are oftentimes the only evidence of the lives of marginalized people; they can supplement scant documentary evidence to illuminate unexamined historical narratives. The needlework on the embroidered devotional books provides a unique insight into English women’s public and private daily lives.
Gordon Baty, Christy Elaine, "“Rare and Curious Covers”: Embroidered Book Bindings in Early Modern England" (2023). History Theses, Dissertations, and Student Creative Activity. 29.