Harlots, Housewives and Heroines: A 17th Century History for Girls is a three part series about women in Restoration England, presented by Lucy Worsley. The three episodes each focus on a sort of woman – the harlots, housewives and heroines of the title; although the last of these categories is a bit forced. Worley’s thesis was that the second half of the 17th Century was actually a rather good time to be a woman (relatively speaking). The Civil War was in part responsible for this due to the high levels of mortality – the highest rate in English history before the First World War – and it was interesting watching this around the same time as Britain’s Great War (post) because some of the ideas about how mortality leads to social change were the same. This being a Worsley series there was a certain amount of dressing up through all three episodes – ostensibly to show us the different sorts of clothes worn by different sorts of women but in reality I think it’s because she finds it fun! This isn’t criticism, I’d be inclined to do the same if I had the opportunity 🙂
The first episode (the harlots) was actually about upper class women, who were labelled this way to reflect the notorious licentiousness of Charles II’s court. He had many mistresses and these women wielded great power. The second episode looked at what it was like to be a more ordinary woman in Restoration England – a housewife. Worsley also talked about how the shortage of men due to the wars meant that this era was when the concept of the spinster and the old maid arose and were labelled. The final episode took some of the notable women of the age as its jumping off point (Nell Gwyn, Margaret Cavendish, Aphra Benn etc) but really it was about the women who didn’t fit into the other two categories – what was it like to be a young woman in service in London, for instance. And also a discussion of the new career of actress as women were for the first time allowed on stage.
An interesting series, worth watching.
Other TV watched this week:
Episode 3 of Treasures Decoded – Channel 4 series looking at puzzles and potential solutions around some well known archaeological sites or artifacts.
Episode 4 of Wild China – series about Chinese wildlife & people.
Episode 1 of Bright Lights, Brilliant Minds: A Tale of Three Cities – 3 part series looking at three key cities each in a different key year in the 20th Century.
Episode 1 of Lost Kingdoms of Central America – Jago Cooper talks about four different ancient civilisations in Central America.