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Strange tales of York women

Posted on 20 April 2004

Public lectures at the University of York

Sex scandals, she-devils, asylums and Rowntree Factory workers are some of the topics explored in this term's series of Open Course lectures at the University, which focuses on women in York from the Middle Ages to the present day.

A tug of love over an underage heiress is the story behind a church court case of 1366 highlighted by Dr Jeremy Goldberg in the first lecture of the series on Tuesday 20 April. Heiress Alice de Rouclif was just 11 years old when her mother married her off to one John Marrays. She went to live at the home of her bridegroom's married sister near Malton, and the marriage was consummated. Soon afterwards, on the order of her uncle Brian de Rouclif, Alice was abducted by a gang of armed men and taken into custody. Alice's mother intervened, and in an attempt to take control of her marriage and her property, Brian claimed that Alice was underage and therefore unlawfully married.

"Our knowledge of women's lives then is so much coloured by the experience of queens and great ladies that we can all too easily lose sight of the less privileged and hence less well documented," said Dr Goldberg.

Other topics explored include the role and status of 18th-century female Merchant Taylors; a fascinating look at the public perception of female criminals during the 19th century; case studies of female residents in York Retreat Asylum from 1870 to 1900 and some reflections by women workers at the Rowntree Factory in the 20th century.

Uniquely, this series consists of a combination of lectures and workshops, all open to the public. The workshops are intended to complement the lectures and will provide more interactive and smaller group engagement with the topics discussed.

This year's Patrides Lecture will take place in May, and this year is given by Dr Nicolas Barker, the keeper of rare books at the British Library. Dr Barker will be looking at the contents of John Milton's library.

All lectures and workshops are free and open to the public.

Notes to editors:

  • All lectures will take place at 8pm in room P/L001, Physics; All workshops will take place at 8pm in room P/L005, Physics:
    • Tuesday 20 April
      Lecture: Whispers on the Clifton road: some women's voices from the Later Middle Ages
      Dr Jeremy Goldberg, Centre for Medieval Studies
    • Tuesday 27 April
      Workshop: One up, one down? Women's housing in later Medieval York
      Dr Sarah Rees Jones, Centre for Medieval Studies
    • Tuesday 4 May
      Lecture: Exemplary wives and godly matrons: the contribution of women to the life of the Minster between the Reformation and the Civil War
      Professor Claire Cross, Department of History
    • Tuesday 11 May
      Workshop: Sex and scandal: courtship and child bed disputes in 16th-century York
      Melissa Hollander, Department of History
    • Tuesday 18 May
      Lecture: Female attention to civic duties: women and philanthropy in Georgian York
      Dr Helen Plant, Leeds Metropolitan University
    • Tuesday 25 May
      Lecture: Women and work in 18th-century York: female Merchant Taylors
      Dr Simon Smith, Department of History
    • Tuesday 1 June
      Lecture: Between the she-devils and saints: images of female criminality in 19th-century York
      Dr Sue Grace, University of York
    • Tuesday 8 June
      Workshop: "Nothing but a lot of lunatics among whom it is a shame to keep her": femininity and the York Retreat Asylum 1870-1900
      Louise Wannell, Department of History
    • Tuesday 15 June
      Lecture: The parlour and the suburb: women, everyday life and modernity
      Dr Judy Giles, York St John
    • Tuesday 22 June
      Workshop: "On the whole, if I had to work, Rowntree's was the place for me": women's experiences of working at the Rowntree Factory, York, 1936-1989
      Emma Robertson, University of Loughborough
  • Patrides Lecture
    Thursday 13 May
    Milton's Library
    Dr Nicolas Barker, Keeper of Rare Books, British Library
    5.15pm, room V/045, Vanbrugh College
  • A series of talks as part of Railfest 2004: celebrating Rail's bicentenary
    Institute of Railway Studies and Transport History: a joint initiative of the University of York and the National Railway Museum
    Saturday 29 May to Sunday 6 June
    National Railway Museum
    For further details please go to
    Free tickets are available from the NRM City entrance on the day of the talk

Contact details

David Garner
Senior Press Officer

Tel: +44 (0)1904 322153