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Parent-Child Relationship in Early Modern England Report (Assessment)


The nature of the relationship between parents and children in Early Modern England is a fascinating topic that has preoccupied family historians for some time. The comparison with the treatment of servants is especially interesting because scholars have noted several similarities between these two approaches. The society was focused on the promotion of ethical values, and developmental needs of children were not acknowledged. Currently, there is no consensus on this subject matter, and it has led to numerous disagreements. However, it is possible to argue that children were treated better because they did not have to deal with so many limitations and were safer. This subject matter is relatively unexplored, but it is possible to review literature focused on relationships in Early Modern England to identify patterns or similarities.

Literature Review

A book by Dod and Cleaver (1621) needs to be highlighted because it provides particular guidelines for both parent-servant and parent-child relations. Many families at that time viewed it as a respectable source and followed many of its instructions. Both parents and servants had a set of duties and responsibilities that they should respect. Many families have overlooked these rules, and it could lead to complications.

First of all, parents are enjoyed to ensure that servants are provided with work, so they do not waste their time on activities that are not productive. The role of welcoming also should not be overlooked, and enormous attention is devoted to the establishment of a supportive environment. Apprentices should be instructed about the occupation and trades of the family because such information is vital. Moreover, some forms of coercion were acceptable. It is paramount to note that such measures were seen as reasonable because many believed that servants should be treated similarly to children. It was the responsibility of parents to ensure that apprentices are provided with all the necessary food and drink.

Their services should be appreciated because unfair treatment may affect their level of performance. Servants were expected to obey in all kinds of situations and perform tasks with a positive attitude. The fact that servants were not likely to perform actions that were against the law needs to be mentioned (Dod & Cleaver, 1621). The problem is that they could be afraid to disobey and worried about the consequences of such actions. Moreover, the influence that parents had was significant, and it would not be an easy task for the government to monitor and review all the cases of unfair treatment.

Parents have been quite cruel toward their children in Early Modern England. The problem is that many people at that time believed that something evil is present in their children. Also, many thought that their behavior can be offensive, and it needs to be corrected to ensure that complications do not occur in the future (Dod & Cleaver, 1621). Parents have frequently beaten their children because they viewed it as an appropriate measure.

The issue is that they did not understand that the behavior demonstrated by their child was a part of growing up, and such practices could lead to psychological trauma. Disobedience was viewed as especially problematic, and many scholars suggested that a use of force is appropriate in such situations. Respect was of utmost importance at that time, and rebellious nature of young people was not accepted. The influence of religion at that time was tremendous, and it affected childrearing practices (French, 2015).

Moreover, it has led to issues in relationships because children were expected to view their parents as masters. Husbands used violence to gain authority, and young people could also see the same treatment of their mothers (Wilson, 2016).

The most significant issue that was present at that time is that children had to deal with numerous diseases and parents had to accept the fact that their daughter or son may die. Moreover, their reaction to such situations was not emotional because they had to reserve themselves to avoid psychological harm. However, some scientists have doubted this perspective, and it is entirely possible that the situation was different from one family to another. For instance, an article by Newton (2014) is focused on some of the misconceptions that are common. The author suggests that parents loved their children and devoted enormous attention to the preparation of medicines.

The amounts of funds that were spent on treatment are also significant, and this indicates that their relationships were much more complicated than believed by many. The author provides numerous pieces of evidence to support this opinion, and the author states that emotional devotion was enormous (Newton, 2014). The way children had to dress is also interesting. Their attire frequently resembled miniature versions of adult clothing.

However, it is possible to argue with the perspective that they were viewed as smaller adults because many scholars at that time recognized that physiological differences are significant, and the way they should be treated is also slightly different. The fact that there was not as much focus on entertainment is also worth noting and indicates that many parents expected too much from their children. They were primarily educated about such topics as ethics (Bucholz & Key, 2013).

An article by Rivlin focuses on some of the aspects of service at that time, and the author raises several intriguing points. The ways in which servants of different races were treated is also worth noting. People of color were treated much worse than others, and it is evident that the level of racism was significant at that time. It is suggested that and they even were listed in wills. It could be viewed as a particular form of slavery but many people at that time did not accept this definition (Rivlin, 2015). Moreover, Habib (2008) examined historical records and found evidence of sexual abuse of girl servants. On the other hand, Ingram (2001) reviewed available documents and states that incest cases involving children were extremely rare.

Primary Source Analysis

A book by Dod and Cleaver (1621) was chosen as a primary source. The piece has been republished many times and spread at rapid rates. John Dod was a widely known clergyman that was born in Cheshire, England. He was white, and his beliefs were quite unusual because he preferred Puritanism. His co-author had a position of the minister in Oxfordshire. Their opinions were quite controversial because they frequently defended such practices as infant-baptism and others.

The text is aimed primarily at wealthy families, and the authors wanted it to be utilized as a particular manual. The informational content is truly fascinating because it is one of the examples of the way religion has affected the literature at that time. Its value is both symbolic and aesthetic, but its purpose was to promote values suggested by the church. It is prescriptive because the authors state how families should act in particular situations. The analysis of the text helps to identify the ideologies of the people, and the fact that the writers were devoted to religion also needs to be mentioned because it has affected the style of writing and the structure of sentences.

The source is focused on the behavior of the elite. Their beliefs are not explained directly, but it is evident that they were quite religious and were worried about the opinions of the public. This source helps to get a better understanding of the expectations families had for their servants and primary reasoning behind such approaches. Moreover, it was possible to identify that religious beliefs had an enormous influence and affected all the relationships.

It is possible to state that the popularity of this book also played a crucial role, and it is one of the reasons such traditions started to spread all over the country. It is clear that the authors utilized their authority to promote practices that they viewed as appropriate. The text was quite useful because it could be cited to servants, and it has helped to protect families from particular harm and crimes (Dod & Cleaver, 1621).

The fear of God was used as a primary aspect to reinforce ethical norms. However, the issue with the source is that it is only a list of recommendations, and the authors do not describe events that happened at that time, and it is possible that it does not reflect experiences that children and servants had to go through. Therefore, it would be reasonable to review another book on the topic that would provide information supported by pieces of evidence.

Another primary source that needs to be highlighted was written by Flather (2007). She is white, and the information regarding her stance on religion is not publically available. She is a lecturer at the University of Essex and currently focuses on the exploration of issues related to gender in Early Modern England. The work is aimed at students and scholars, and the amount of sources that were consulted and utilized is truly astounding.

The author uses relatively simple words and sentence structures to make the piece more accessible to the general public. The source is focused on such topics as differences between the statuses of genders, but the information regarding the treatment of children and servants is also sufficient. Its value is rather commercial, but pieces of data can be regarded useful for the research. The source is descriptive because the author describes the situation and that time, and supports her position with reliable sources. Actions of both ordinary people and elite are explained in this case, but the author devotes enormous attention to personal space which is not relevant to the research question.

The central argument is that families expected ideal behavior from the children most of the time because it was promoted by many advice books. The treatment of servants was also quite similar because they also had to deal with numerous limitations. However, it is evident that that the status of children was much higher. They were not as vulnerable and valued by parents much more because they were provided with education and necessary resources for personal development. Moreover, the way they were treated also changed with age, and it is not reasonable to state that such treatment of children was used most of the time because the evidence is not sufficient.

Also, another point that supports this stance is that contracts were frequently breached, and servants were not sure about their safety because they could get evicted at any time. The beliefs of these people were intriguing, and should be noted. For instance, it is stated that servants and masters viewed each other as enemies in some situations, and it could affect their relationships (Flather, 2007). The source helps to enhance the knowledge regarding the treatment of young individuals based on factual data. However, the information provided lacks depth because the book also discusses other topics.

The core issue of the research is that it is nearly impossible to get an understanding of the experience of these children because it is not well-documented. Overall, it is possible to state that both of these sources were quite useful and helped to answer the research question because the information presented is quite comprehensive and reliable. Both of them have particular strengths and weaknesses that should be taken into account. Nevertheless, these books were crucial and helped to expand the knowledge on this subject matter.


In conclusion, it is evident that some similarities between the ways in which parents treated servants and children are present, and the review of the literature supports my initial thesis statement. The biggest problem is that some individuals did not care about health and well-being of young people. It is possible to state that children were treated better than servants based on the analysis of primary and additional sources.

They were not subjected to sexual abuse because incest was despised. However, apprentices were not as protected, and some pieces of evidence suggest that such incidents happened. The attitude of parents towards their children has improved once they have grown-up in most cases, and they were not as harsh as before. The status of children was much higher, and many resources were used to support their education. It can be seen that the focus on discipline and ethics was enormous at that time, and expectations were set incredibly high in some cases. Verbal agreements were frequently disregarded, and servants could not feel safe in such environment.

Flather (2007) suggests that servants had several privileges. For instance, they had much more freedom in some cases and could leave the house without permission while being aware of possible consequences of such actions. However, her analysis is aligned with the thesis statement, and she argues that the problem is that the field of childhood education was understudied at that time, and it has led to the creation of approaches that were questionable (Flather, 2007).

The topic is expanded by Berry and Foyster (2007), and they believe that the issue is also complicated by differences in social status. Children were treated with hostility in poverty-stricken families because they had to deal with limited resources and parents were too worried about survival (Berry & Foyster, 2007). Moreover, the ethnicity of both servants and masters also played a vital role. For instance, racism was acceptable in some cultures, and it had led to unfair treatment of people of color (Rivlin, 2014). Overall, it is not surprising that children were treated better because of such factors as maternal instinct and others.

People tried to suppress their feelings towards an offspring because of particular ethical norms, but it was not an easy task to remain indifferent. A particular limitation is present because the amount of available statistical data regarding this subject matter is not sufficient to make precise claims. Also, it may be beneficial to study consequences of the differences in treatment and reasoning behind such approaches because this is an area that is relatively unexplored, and there is a need for further research.


Berry, H., & Foyster, E. (2007). The family in Early Modern England. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Bucholz, R., & Key, N. (2013). Early Modern England 1485-1714: A narrative history (2nd ed.). New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

Dod, J., & Cleaver, R. (1621). A godly forme of household government for the ordering of private families, according to the direction of God’s word. London, UK: Thomas Man.

Flather, A. (2007). Gender and space in Early Modern England. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell & Brewer.

French, A. (2015). Children of Wrath: Possession, prophecy and the young in Early Modern England. Farnham, UK: Ashgate Publishing.

Habib, I. H. (2008). Black lives in the English archives, 1500-1677: Imprints of the invisible. Farnham, UK: Ashgate Publishing.

Ingram, M. (2001). Child sexual abuse in Early Modern England. In M. J. Braddick & J. Walter (Eds.), Negotiating power in early modern society: Order, hierarchy and subordination in Britain and Ireland (pp. 63-84). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Newton, H. (2014). The sick child in Early Modern England, 1580–1720. Endeavour, 38(2), 122-129.

Rivlin, E. (2014). Service and servants in Early Modern English culture to 1660. Journal of Early Modern Studies, 1(4), 17-41.

Wilson, A. (2016). Ritual and conflict: The social relations of childbirth in Early Modern England. New York, NY: Routledge.

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1. IvyPanda. "Parent-Child Relationship in Early Modern England." September 6, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/parent-child-relationship-in-early-modern-england/.


IvyPanda. "Parent-Child Relationship in Early Modern England." September 6, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/parent-child-relationship-in-early-modern-england/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "Parent-Child Relationship in Early Modern England." September 6, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/parent-child-relationship-in-early-modern-england/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Parent-Child Relationship in Early Modern England'. 6 September.

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