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Women's Epistolary Networks, 1600-1700: Ireland and Beyond

Stages of Womanhood

The letters reveal how as girls, as wives, as mothers and as widows these female correspondents perceived their lives and responded to events which were unfolding around them.   


A key part of the Boyle girl's elite training was the practice of letter writing. Learning to compose letters and to maintain a correspondence with others would become a routine activity for the girls as they took on the responsiblities associated with overseeing their own large households and managing, sometimes from afar, their family's local interests.   


Throughout their married lives the Boyle women used the connectivity of the letter to bridge the geographic divide, allowing them to maintain close ties with other family members while also affording them a way to demonstrate their continuing loyalty to the kinship group.  


The letters highlight how the women as mothers used their pens to ensure the well-being and safety of their children. Letter writing thus enabled the women to draw attention to their important contributions to the family's success and future viability.     


Several of the surviving letters show how the Boyle women used the period of their widowhood to create and shape their own individual legacies

ady Sara Moore's letter to her father, Richard Boyle, 1st earl of Cork
Lady Sara Moore's letter to her father, Richard Boyle, 1st earl of Cork, N.D. [October 1623]. © The Devonshire Collections, Chatsworth. Reproduced by permission of Chatsworth Settlement Trustees.