Thesis (Ph.D)

Images and perceptions of wives and daughters of the Victorian clergy


This research is about Victorian women, who were either the daughters or wives of clergymen of the Church of England, placing them in the social and religious context of their time. In a group biography of three women it looks at the companionate marriage of Henrietta and Samuel Barnett, in a partnership of shared projects, reform and delivery of the social gospel. Catherine Marsh was the daughter of an evangelical clergyman. Her role as 'daughter at home' never changed though she developed a ministry of preaching, writing and philanthropy that took her influence far beyond her father's parishes. As a clergy daughter, Catharine Tait would have been happy so to remain had she not married Broad Churchman Archibald Tait who rose from schoolmaster to Dean to Bishop to Primate of All England. The account of their life together tells of the challenges of these roles, of personal ambition and of great personal tragedy. In the ordination service, a priest of the Church of England promises to 'so frame and fashion his own self, and that of his family' that they become 'wholesome examples and patterns to the flock of Christ'. In a wider context, this study looks at the lives of other clergy wives and daughters and the opportunities and constraints of the exemplary lifestyle. It explore the diversity of clergy lifestyles, the problems of poverty, loss of faith, marital incompatibility and the, often unreasonable, expectations imposed by society, their husbands and even the women themselves. Through a study of advice literature, as well as contemporary fiction, it looks at the stereotypes thus constructed, the potency of image and inaccuracy of perceptions with which these women had to live. In the long timespan of Victoria's reign the women in this thesis mirror change in the church and in society. Change made the priest relinquish many of his patriarchal roles and embrace a more sacerdotal form of ministry, while at the same time creating more and more opportunities for wives and daughters to take on new tasks. Change discredited the myth of the rural idyll and dislodged the certainties of a country parish while opening up new fields of mission in the industrial cities. Change saw the Anglican church relinquish its hold on a diminishing worshipping community while maintaining all the expectations and demands on clergy and their families. Change brought to light immense inequalities and injustices in women's lives and ultimately the reforms necessary to redress these while imposing the encircling restrictions of the separate (private) sphere. The thesis concludes that despite this attempt to 'net by invisible rules' the women of the Victorian middle class, and more particularly the women of the rectory and vicarage, these women were empowered by their exemplary position and that this empowerment enabled them to playa fuller role in supporting their husbands and fathers in what was in effect a shared ministry.

Attached files


Burrows, Georgina M.

Oxford Brookes departments

Department of History, Philosophy and Religion
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences


Year: 2002

© Burrows, Georgina M.
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