Streets Full of Suitors

Jonah Miller

  • BuyCity Women: Money, Sex and the Social Order in Early Modern London by Eleanor Hubbard
    Oxford, 297 pp, £24.99, September, ISBN 978 0 19 872204 5
  • BuyWomen, Work and Sociability in Early Modern London by Tim Reinke-Williams
    Palgrave, 225 pp, £60.00, April, ISBN 978 1 137 37209 3

Is it not a prettie thing to carry Wife, Mayde, and Widdow in your pocket, when you may as it were conferre and heare them talke togither when you will? Nay more, drinke togither: yea, and that which is a further matter; utter their minds, chuse Husbands, and censure Complections; and all this in a quiet and friendly sort, betweene themselves and the pinte-pot.

Samuel Rowlands’s Tis Merrie When Gossips Meete (1602) tells the uneventful story of three women going to a pub: a wife, a maid and a widow. They drink, gossip (‘What is become of Jane?’ ‘Oh, she is gone to dwell by London-wall’) and reminisce (‘But, Lord, the prankes that we mad-wenches playde’), especially about drinking (‘No Musique in the evenings we did lacke,/Such dauncing, Coussen, you would hardly thinke it/Whole pottles of the daintiest burned Sacke,/T’would do a Wench good at the hart to drinke it’). They spend some time discussing who has the best lot: the maid has ‘sutors with gifts continuall’, the wife ‘Vertue in mine Apron-strings’, while the widow stays conspicuously quiet. As promised, they ‘censure Complections’ – ‘Ile never trust a red-hair’d man againe,’ one says – and debate wealth versus looks. The target audience is male, and Rowlands presents a fantasy of what women did when men weren’t around, but there are hints of lives and identities beyond marriage. The wife has to be persuaded by the widow to come to the alehouse rather than mind the shop, and at the end, when they leave in a huff, the widow declares: ‘We have some credit where we dwell’ and ‘We are London Gentle-women borne.’

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