‘The use of knowledge in our sex (beside amusement of solitude) is to moderate the passions and learn to be contented with a small expense, which are the certain effects of a studious life and, it may be preferable even to that fame which men have engrossed to themselves and will not suffer us to share.’ – Lady Montagu to her daughter, 1753
I’ve been writing a lot this week about the history of country house studies, and one thing that really stands out to me is now inevitably gendered it all is. Whether academics are writing about architects, households, style or substance, it’s inevitably coloured by the expectation that the subjects of their attentions are all men. And, mostly, this seems to be true. Men have often been the prime movers and shakers behind the country house because they were usually in control of the legal, social, and economic systems from which the upper classes who owned these houses gained their power. Even when someone of another gender is discussed they’re usually framed by conventionally masculine traits and occupations. Take Bess of Hardwick, one of the most famous country house women; she’s defined as a shrewd business owner and builder, obtaining the fame and name recognition usually ascribed to men because she fulfilled the role expected of them. There’s nothing necessarily wrong in this (she was pretty awesome), and it’s hard to deny the influence those gendered as male have had on the houses I research. However, these aren’t the only stories to be told, and today I want to tell you another.