The Care for Children in Early Modern English Society Essay

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The Care for Children in Early Modern English Society

Early modern English child rearing practices like wet-nursing, swaddling, prescriptive literature and apparent lack of parental emotional attachment has caused much discussion, regarding the care of children. Philippe Aries and Lawrence Stone used these ideas, amongst others, to suggest that parents did not care for their children. Their ideas have been challenged by a number of historians who argue that, through research of first hand accounts in diaries and official records, it is clear that children were cared for and even though these practices appear to our modern society as uncaring and cruel they were, in fact, carried out with the best
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In the preface of James Janeway’s A Token for Children it states ‘are you willing to go to Hell to be the same condition as naughty children’[1] suggesting to the child that unless they behave as they are expected to they will certainly go and burn in Hell which would not give them a good death. According to today’s modern upbringing this type of literature may be viewed as abusive but in early modern England it could be claimed that it was a good example of how much children were cared for. It was of the highest importance to have a good death and to ensure that children were instructed in this (due to the high mortality rate) would be viewed as doing the right thing for your child.

Children themselves rarely left any records regarding their view of childhood, but we can look to the parents who kept diaries and wrote letters and journals. We are also able to look at other primary sources from this era: art, prescriptive literature and household handbooks to help us understand the attitude of the parents of this time. According to Sharpe (1993) ‘relationships within the early modern family were more loving, caring and ‘modern’ than a number of recent historians have claimed’[2]. He suggests that the historians have failed to take into account, when disputing that children in this period were not cared for, that family life was so much more

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