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Rumour and reputation in the early modern English family

Capern, Amanda L.


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Dr Amanda Capern
Senior Lecturer in Early Modern Women's History


Claire Walker

Heather Kerr


This article explores the role of rumour, or the hearsay and gossip that circulated in a community, in eroding or maintaining reputations within and across families; it considers the nature of gossip, including the way it carried gender connotations, and the social dynamics involved in the passage of rumour from local community to the central law courts. Early modern people regularly entered into bitter disputes over wills, money and inheritance, title to land, boundaries, animal thefts, and a myriad of other small annoyances of daily life. Rumour operated in the space between the social interaction of neighbourly exchange and the litigiousness which formulated and attempted to mediate - and mitigate - local gossip. The courts were expected to be peacekeepers, restoring social order by arriving at judgements about legal rights and fairness. Deciding whether or not they deserve their contemporary reputation as peacemakers in rumour-ridden local communities is important. Did the courts really succeed as peacekeepers? Indeed, did the strategies of dispute resolution employed by the courts respond to collective cultural norms and local perceptions of equity and fairness in Chancery cases? These are some of the questions this article seeks to answer.


Capern, A. L. (2015). Rumour and reputation in the early modern English family. In C. Walker, & H. Kerr (Eds.), 'Fama' and her sisters: Gossip and rumour in Early Modern Europe (85-113). Brepols.

Online Publication Date Oct 19, 2016
Publication Date 2015-01
Deposit Date Jun 2, 2017
Publicly Available Date Jun 2, 2017
Journal Fama and her sisters
Publisher Brepols
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Pages 85-113
Book Title 'Fama' and her sisters: Gossip and rumour in Early Modern Europe
ISBN 9782503541846; 9782503557816
Keywords Rumour; Social dynamics; Early modern people
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