This week I’ve been working on a conference paper that I’ll be presenting at the end of the month, trawling through rafts of inquisitions post mortem and trial cases, looking for information about women’s interactions and women’s networking.
It’s going well, maybe even better than I’d expected, because I was reminded of a local colloquium paper I’d given in 2010 on the question of reputation in criminal trials and among the poor and dependent. That had seemed a bit of a dead-end at the time, interesting but there wasn’t quite enough information in and of itself to warrant an article. However, reputation combined with women’s networking starts to ring all sorts of bells. Women were often being called upon to attest for another’s character. Women accused at the Old Bailey needed someone to attest to their honesty and their virtue. When we’re dealing with unmarried women, it was even more critical for women to enjoy the support and testimony of other women.
And, yes, I know that reputation was important for men but not in the same way – their character as upright, honest men didn’t delve into the complexities of sexual reputation. A woman testifying to a man’s reputation seems unremarkable. I’m still waiting to find a case where a man attests to a woman’s reputation excepting in the case of an elderly widow.
This (re)discovery of this preliminary research and how it relates to my current work has cheered me up. I’ve been following my own advice to write early, write often but it’s even better when what I’ve written before adds to my current project.