The good old way revisited: the Ferrar family of Little Gidding c.1625-1637

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis



  • Download PDF

    Rights statement: This work is protected by Copyright. You may print or download ONE copy of this document for the purpose of your own non-commercial research or study. Any other use requires permission from the copyright owner. The Copyright Act requires you to attribute any copyright works you quote or paraphrase.

    1 MB, application/octet-stream


Research units


[Truncated abstract] The Ferrars are remembered as exemplars of Anglican piety. The London merchant family quit the city in 1625 and moved to the isolated manor of Little Gidding in Huntingdonshire. There they pursued a life of corporate devotion, supervised by the head of the household, Nicholas Ferrar, until he died in December 1637. To date, the life of the pious deacon Nicholas Ferrar has been the focus of histories of Little Gidding, which are conventionally hagiographical and give little consideration to the experiences of other members of the family, not least the many women in the household. Further, customary representations of the Ferrars have tended to remove them from their seventeenth-century context. Countering the biographical trend that has obscured many details of their communal life, this thesis provides a new, critical reading of the family's years at Little Gidding while Nicholas Ferrar was alive. It examines the Ferrars in terms of their own time, as far as possible using contemporary documents instead of later accounts and confessional mythology. It shows that, while certain aspects of life at Little Gidding were unusual, on the whole the family was less exceptional than traditional histories have implied; certainly the family was not so unified and unworldly as the idealised images have suggested. Moreover, the Ferrars were actively engaged in making those images, for immediate effect and for posterity. The Ferrars' identities, corporate and individual, and their largely textual practices of self-fashioning are central to the study. Other key concerns are the Ferrars' moral and religious ideals and practices, gender in the family, and intra-familial relationships. Evidence for the thesis is drawn from family documents dating from the early years of the seventeenth century to the time of Nicholas Ferrar's death. ... The Little Academy is considered first: in this unique dialogue circle, young women discussed morally edifying historical tales, offering them a textually-mediated experience of the world and working to reinforce conventional gender roles and religious values. The final three chapters pertain to the copious and little-studied family correspondence. A chapter that develops a theory of the functions of the family correspondence network is followed by one studying the affective relationships that the celibate sisters Mary and Anna Collet maintained through their letters with their unmarried uncle and spiritual mentor, Nicholas Ferrar. These chapters consider the identities as single people that all three developed through these relationships, within the maritally-focused framework of the Protestant family. The last chapter also concerns the lives of the unmarried, examining the relationships of single male adults and their roles in the family, focusing on the friendship of Nicholas Ferrar and his cousin Arthur Woodnoth. The thesis closes by reflecting on the fact that returning the Ferrars to their seventeenth-century context reveals their multi-faceted nature, comprising ideals and identities sometimes incongruous with one another, and certainly unaccounted for in the traditional narratives. It thus demonstrates the importance of the overall project of reconceiving the Ferrars? history, which forms an original contribution to the study of the social, cultural and religious history of early seventeenth-century England.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
StateUnpublished - 2007

View connections

ID: 3234542