Originally published in 1979. This highly detailed study of illicit sex amongst the peasantry of Somerset between 1601 and 1660 recreates the atmosphere of the period and questions a number of previously accepted hypotheses. Based on the depositions presented to the county and regional courts during this period, it sheds as much light on prevailing village attitudes as it does on the specific discussion matter. Outlining the precarious existence of the peasant and the supervision of sexual morality, the book looks at pre-marital sex, pregnancy, prostitution, masturbation, contraception, rape, homosexuality and incest, along with the prevailing punishments of the time.
This extensively researched work combines both demographic and literary-based analyses, with analytical and anecdotal approaches to the subject. It presents a rich source of social history, examining and questioning the role of Christian morality as an important factor in influencing the sexual habits of the peasant.
Table of Contents
Preface 1. Somerset and the Peasant World 2. Illicit Sex - Its Nature, Discovery and Extent 3. The Consenting Spinster 4. Pregnancy for the Single Woman 5. Attitudes to Adultery 6. Widows, Prostitutes and the ‘Unruly Woman’ 7. A Miscellany of Sexual Practice 8. The Consequences of Illicit Sex 9. Bastardy - Maintenance of the Child and Punishment Orders 10. Bastardy - The Social Pattern. Conclusion. Notes and Sources. Appendix I: Glossary - West Country Legal and Seventeenth Century Usage. Appendix II: Maps of Somerset