Continuity and Memory: Domestic Space, Gesture and Affection at the Sixteenth-Century Deathbed

Richardson, Catherine (2017) Continuity and Memory: Domestic Space, Gesture and Affection at the Sixteenth-Century Deathbed. In: Buxton, Antony and Hulin, Linda and Anderson, Jane, eds. InHabit: People, Places and Possessions. Peter Lang, Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, p. 219. ISBN 978-1-78707-232-9. (doi:10.3726/b11432) (The full text of this publication is not currently available from this repository. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided)

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http://dx.doi.org/10.3726/b11432

Abstract

This essay focuses on men and women’s last moments of domestic life – on contemporary discussion of the final rituals and processes they went through before they left the household for the last time at their deaths. It analyses cases brought before the church courts in the latter half of the sixteenth century to question the validity of last wills and testaments. These moments are crucially concerned with continuity – with the passing of ownership over spaces and objects from one generation to the next. The legal concerns around the making of a will relate to the testator’s sanity and freedom from undue influence, and the document’s status as the final expression of the dead person’s wishes. As areas of contention, these aspects of the deathbed scene were probed by the courts, and deponents were required to concentrate on detailed descriptions of them. The majority of depositions, therefore, relate events in the room in which the death took place, and record in great detail the speech, movement and gestures through which the dying person expressed themselves to those present. Rather than being dry assertions of soundness of mind, then, the depositions give detailed and vivid descriptions of events that are situated with meticulous firmness within the spaces and routines of the early modern house. They bring information about the extent to which the testator was still fulfilling their domestic roles to bear in order to answer these questions indirectly, but they also provide evidence of the relationships between those involved in the testator’s death in social, emotional and physical terms – a unique and invaluable record of non-elite responses to the domestic environment for this period. The overall aim of the essay is to explore the way stories told about a death depend upon the physical context of the house to generate their meaning. In this way it gets to the heart of the binaries of ease and unease, and security and anxiety, by exploring the level of comfort which the house provides, and the extent to which men and women at points of extremity are perceived by those who come to witness their wills and to tend to them in their sickness to inhabit their domestic spaces in regular or irregular ways.

Item Type: Book section
DOI/Identification number: 10.3726/b11432
Uncontrolled keywords: Wills; testamentary court cases; deathbed.
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
Divisions: Faculties > Humanities > School of English
Depositing User: Catherine Richardson
Date Deposited: 30 May 2017 10:37 UTC
Last Modified: 29 May 2019 19:06 UTC
Resource URI: https://kar.kent.ac.uk/id/eprint/61885 (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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