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Name: Diane Strange

PhD: History

Thesis Title: "The contempt and reproach of our nation": widows, minors and the Court of Wards, 1618-1624.


Thesis Description:

The impact of wardship on families in early modern England was profound. It was considered by many to be a feudal relic, a revenue-generating tool of prerogative kingship and a national disgrace, yet it survived until 1646, complicating the lives of widows and minors at all levels of society. The aim of my research, which will be primarily archives based, is to analyse the effects of wardship on minors and widows during the mastership of Lionel Cranfield, Earl of Middlesex.  My project will investigate how women rose to the challenge of widowhood and how they tried to protect their children’s interests, while investigating their petitioning strategies and the language they used to persuade the court to act in their favour. In addition, my research will show that far from being an elite court, as is sometimes assumed, the court of wards was used by men and women from all levels of society, who interacted with it both as litigants and as deponents for others' legal cases.

My key research questions include:

  • What were the socio-economic effects of wardship on minors?
  • How did widows approach the challenges of wardship?
  • What language did women use when petitioning the court of wards?
  • How were estates managed by committees and how did this affect wards?
  • What provision was made by the crown for the welfare of minors in its care?
  • How was the unpopularity of the court affected by emergent ideologies and prerogative rule?
  • How did wardship affect the lower orders?


Supervisors and Institution(s): 

Professor Andrew Hopper, University of Leicester

Dr David Appleby, University of Nottingham

Professor Richard Cust, University of Birmingham


Publications (please include full details with page nos. or web links):

  • 'From private sin to public shame: Sir John Digby and the use of Star Chamber in Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire, 1610', Midland History (Vol. 44, No. 19), pp. 39–55. Winner of the Midland History Essay Prize 2018.

Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:

Year: 2015

  • 7th November 2015: "Wicked women and wolf-hooks: Digby v. Brounker and the case of the disputed bond", at the Midland History 2015 Postgraduate Conference, University of Birmingham.

Year: 2016

  • 17th May 2016: 'The wrong, disadvantage, and disservice you did': honour, myth-making, and the end of the Spanish match, 1623–1624' at the University of Leicester 2016 Postgraduate Conference.

Year: 2019

  • November/December 2019: Design and delivery of a three-hour taught session entitled 'Waging law in early modern England', presented to students on the MA in English Local History at the University of Leicester. The session comprised 1.5 hours' teaching on the impact of law and the central law courts on all levels of society in early modern England while inviting the students to consider how legal records can be used to augment local historians' research. This was followed by a further 1.5 hours of palaeography instruction, guiding the students through their oral transcription of a range of original documents. The documents were chosen to reflect the material covered in the first half of the session, thereby enhancing students' knowledge of the subjects covered and further inviting them to think about the impact of the central law courts on the localities.


Year: 2019

  • The National Civil War Centre (NCWC), Newark Museum, Newark, Nottinghamshire. During this three-month placement I designed, co-wrote and created a brochure for the NCWC's new exhibition, The World Turned Upside Down, an ESRC-funded collaborative project between the University of Leicester and the NCWC, which launched on 4 September 2019. Following the launch I worked on a visitor evaluation project, which involved designing anonymised questionnaires for visitors to the museum (adults and school pupils), and liaising with the public to request completion of the survey and discussions about their reactions to the exhibition. The idea behind the evaluations was that NCWC would build on the work done during the placement to enhance their customer relationship management strategies going forward. To assist with this, we generated a report on completion of the project, setting out our findings and recommendations for the future.  

Other Research Interests:

  • Court of Wards petitions and petitioning strategies in early modern England, with emphasis on the language of petitioning
  • The court of Star Chamber under James I and Charles I
  • The imact of wardship among the lower orders of society 
  • Wardship in the localities – the operation and work of feodaries and escheators in the English shires
  • The social constructs of early modern law – ordinary voices though elite litigation 
  • Anglo-Spanish diplomacy in the reign of James I, 1603–1625
  • The political career of John Digby, first Earl of Bristol (1580–1653) 
  • Digby's litigation in Star Chamber and Chancery from 1610 to 1640
  • Male and female honour concepts and self-fashioning in early modern England
  • Women, wives, widows – being female in early modern England
  • The experience of childhood in early modern England

  • The English Civil Wars



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