City of Westminster under Eliza­beth I (1558­–1603): rela­tions between direct and indirect definitions of privacy

The case focuses on the period 1558 to 1603, and the team investigates notions privacy in royal, religious, commercial, and daily life in the realm of Elizabeth I. The team consists of architectural historians, legal historians, church historians and historians of political thought.

Westminster in the age of Elizabeth I was simultaneously home to the court and a city where people lived and worked. The period in question was one of societal change, where new institutions emerged, where the royal power had grown to encompass more and more aspects. And, furthermore, it was a period when some people were becoming increasingly wealthy, opening up for new consumer habits and a reinvention of the urban fabric.

Sources and Material

  • One focus is on how the state and the church organize help for the poor. Taking care of the poor was a new responsibility that the reformed church set out to organize in different forms. The parishes of St Martin in the Fields and the wealthier St Margaret set out to assist but also, to an extent, control the lives of the unfortunate.

  • Surveillance was to become one of the more famous aspects of the Elizabethan court. Where previous monarchs invariably had spies, there are few who made such an elaborate show of being able to hear and see whatever was going on as Queen Elizabeth. This aspect of Elizabethan Westminster is approached through The Statutes of the Realm and Session Rolls.

  • Among the sources investigated are wills by a wide variety of people in Westminster. The wills can be studied in order to build an image of daily life, of how people lived, and related to one another. In terms of privacy, the will is a window into the private lives of individuals long passed away.

  • Another approach is the re-reading of utopian treatises with a perspective of privacy. Such treatises were highly in vogue in the early modern era, including in Westminster. One of the more famous ones is Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis, an incomplete depiction of an enlightened society on a distant island, published posthumously in 1627.

Activities in relation to the case

  • Learning together seminar on Westminster wills by Anni Haahr Henriksen (15 Aug 2018) ‘The poor of St Margaret’, formulas and specificities
  • Anni Haahr Henriksen: ‘A Taxonomy of Silence’, Phenomenology of Listening Seminar, 17.08.2018

  • Anni Haahr Henriksen: ‘To my Mynde: Exploring the Idea of the Mind as a Private Inward Space and Public Threat in Elizabethan Westminster’, Fac. PhD-Day, 06.06.2018

  • Anni Haahr Henriksen: ‘A Man's Look is the Gate to His Mind - The Spectacle of Disclosing Private Sin in Acts 2,2 and 3,2 of Shakespeare's Hamlet’, The Bergen-Volda Shakespeare Network conference, Università Ca’ Foscari Venezia, 16.11.2018

  • Workshop Private Reading in Early Modern Devotion, 11-12.10 2018, incl. a presentation by Micheline White (Carleton University, CA): ‘The Material Traces of Queen Katherine Parr’s Devotional Reading’

  • Lecture by Lena Cowen Orlin (Georgetown University, Washington DC): ‘Shakespeare’s private life’, 28.09.2018

  • Seminar with Lena Cowen Orlin (Georgetown University, Washington DC): ‘Privacy in Early Modern England: sources and approaches’, 27.09.2018

Planned activities

  • Field study and archival research in Westminster

  • Workshops and seminars with invited scholars

  • Communal source reading 

From left to right: Caseteam Leader Fredrik Torisson, Pernille Ulla Knudsen, Caseteam Leader Rikke Lyngsø Christensen, Anni Haahr Henriksen, Mette Birkedal Bruun