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Bathsua Makin

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An Essay to Revive the Antient Education of Gentlewomen

Bathsua Makin

Bathsua Reginald Makin (c. 1600 – c. 1675) was a proto-feminist, middle-class Englishwoman who contributed to the emerging criticism of woman's position in the domestic and public spheres in 17th-century England. Herself a highly educated woman, Makin was referred to as "England's most learned lady", skilled in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, German, Spanish, French and Italian. Makin argued primarily for the equal right of women and girls to obtain an education in an environment or culture that viewed woman as the weaker vessel, subordinated to man and uneducable. She is most famously known for her polemical treatise entitled An Essay To Revive the Ancient Education of Gentlewomen, in Religion, Manners, Arts & Tongues, with an Answer to the Objections against this Way of Education (1673).


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Makin's identity as the daughter of Henry Reginald has been confirmed by recent scholarship. Up until the 1980s, mistakes and oversights identified Makin wrongly as a sister of John and Thomas Pell. The evidence from the writings of Sir Simonds D'Ewes, a pupil of Reginald (Reynolds), was also lost to sight.

Makin's connection with John Pell, known as a mathematician, is documented in correspondence between the two. The John Pell manuscripts in the British Library reveal letters from Bathsua signed "your loving sister,” along with letters written by John Pell in which he refers to Bathsua as "sister". The identification of Bathsua as sister to Pell was in fact an anachronistic reading; Bathsua was Pell's sister-in-law, Pell having married Ithamaria Reginald, Bathsua's sister, in 1632. This realisation led to the tracing of a book of poetry attributed to Bathsua Makin. Musa Virginea, published in 1616, bears a title page which, in its translation, states: “The Virgin Muse {in} Greek-Latin-French, by Bathsua R{eginald}, (daughter of Henry Reginald, school master and language lover, near London), published in her sixteenth year of age.” This piece of writing is important in distinguishing Bathsua’s parentage and the year she was born. While Makin’s book of poetry names Henry Reginald as her father, scholars have difficulty in pinpointing exactly who he was, since there were several men by the name of Henry Reginald, or variants of Reginald, living around London in the early 17th century. He was a schoolmaster, though, as Bathsua points out on the title page of Musa Virginea, and probably taught at a school outside of London. Bathsua's training in classical and Modern Languages is then easily attributable to her father, the learned man and "language lover".

While she was highly educated, Bathsua was of the middle-class and was plagued by financial difficulties throughout her life. The name Bathsua derives from Batshua (an alternative name of Bathsheba appearing in 1 Chronicles 3:5), and, as James L. Helm points out, the name Batshua means "daughter of abundance", yet "abundance" was not Makin's experience. Makin married Richard Makin in the parish of St Andrew Undershaft on 6 March 1621. It is likely that Bathsua and Richard Makin lived in Westminster, as there is a record of several children christened in parishes there. Frances Teague points out that "documents that Bathsua Makin's biographers have overlooked suggest that Richard Makin was a minor court servant in the 1620s or 1630s who lost his place, while Bathsua Makin entered court service around 1640". Evidence of Richard Makin's petition to court in 1640, and his failure to resume a place in the court of Charles I implies that the Makins probably endured financial hardship, which may have led to Bathsua's seeking employment.

There is little definitive information pointing to how Makin assumed her position at court as the tutor to the daughter of King Charles I, Princess Elizabeth. Frances Teague's research on Bathsua reveals that Bathsua was in correspondence with Anna Maria van Schurman, the Dutch scholar, and in a letter from van Schurman dated 1640 there is a reference to Bathsua as teacher to "the royal girl Elizabeth" (1986). Bathsua's position as tutor to Princess Elizabeth was underway then in 1640 and continued until at least 1644, possibly as late as 1650; Makin therefore entered into Parliamentary custody with Elizabeth in 1642, continuing to tutor the princess in mathematics, reading, writing and languages. Princess Elizabeth died in 1650, and it is evident that financial difficulties ensued for Bathsua, as she issued a petition for the payment of her service to the court that was dismissed in 1655. Her husband Richard Makin died in 1659, and probably by this time, or soon thereafter, Bathsua had obtained employment in the household of Lucy Hastings, Dowager Countess of Huntingdon. Makin alludes in her pamphlet, An Essay to Revive the Antient Education of Gentlewomen (1673), to having taught the Countess in languages, Arts and Divinity, and, as Teague points out, letters found in the Huntington Library dated 1664 and 1668 reveal Makin's close connection to the Hastings family.

Documents among the Hastings papers reveals Makin was employed in the Hastings household until 1662. After this she probably continued teaching, setting up her own school soon thereafter, a school at Tottenham High Cross, just outside London, which she advertised in the postscript of An Essay, published in 1673. As Frances Teague points out, "it is not known whether the school was a success, how long Makin taught there, or even when Makin died". Evidently, though, she was still alive in 1675, as a letter dated 1675 from Makin to a noted London physician, Baldwin Hamey, is preserved at the Royal College of Physicians.

While struggling financially throughout her lifetime, Bathsua nonetheless was acquainted with well-known scholars and court members. It is not known whether Bathsua was in direct personal contact with Anna Maria van Schurman, yet the evidence of correspondence between the two and the mention of Bathsua in van Schurman's other correspondences alludes to the fact that the two scholars, both Royalists, respected each other and were on fairly intimate terms. In fact, Bathsua mentions van Schurman in her catalogue of learned women in An Essay. Bathsua was probably inspired by van Schurman's The Learned Maid; or, Whether a Maid may be a Scholar (translated in 1659), using van Schurman's treatise on women and girls' right to education as a model for her pro-educational tract, An Essay. Bathsua was also influenced by the work of John Amos Comenius, a prominent 17th-century scholar and educator, whom she would have been exposed to, either directly or indirectly, through her brother-in-law John Pell. Pell and his friends Samuel Hartlib and John Dury were "England's leading Comenians, believing that implementing Comenian ideas would strengthen education and the common good". While there was little call for abolishing fixed gender and class hierarchies within the Comenian model, in An Essay, according to Patricia L. Hamilton, "Makin champions pedagogical methods developed by Moravian educator John Amos Comenius and recommends that women be educated according to a broad curriculum—a mixture of classical and modern languages, history, mathematics and science, and issues related to domestic economy".

Cultural context

Makin, writing within the confines of 17th-century English culture, was subject to the patriarchal structures governing her society. Family, education and religion were all male dominated institutions. 17th-century women were increasingly relegated to the home, to the domestic or private sphere and even in the home women, as mothers, wives, or daughters, were governed by men. While within upper-class and aristocratic families there had been an increase in female education and women's autonomy during the late Tudor period due to the leadership of Elizabeth I, into the 17th-century Stuart period, with the reign of James I, a return to a more paternalistic hierarchical social model took hold and there was a decline in the encouraging of female erudition (Gim 1999:186).

Nonetheless, as Hilda L. Smith points out, various cultural changes going on in the 17th century did create a milieu in which cultural norms could be challenged. Breakthroughs in rationalism and scientific thought along with demographic and economic issues "provided a climate of change and a significant common experience for those critical of women's lives during the late seventeenth century" (Smith 1982:xi). There was a growing sense of instability in the 17th century related to religious strife, civil wars, growing diversification among classes and the undercutting of socially established cultural hierarchies. Protestantism called for the individual reading and interpretation of the bible, which not only led to the need for increased literacy among all women and men but also allowed previously held customs to be challenged.

While women writers began to take advantage of the changing attitudes in the 17th century, their writing is all the more valuable due to the risk of scorn they faced in attempting to participate in the public sphere. Frances Teague points out that "A seventeenth-century man might write because he sought a public identity; seventeenth-century women who wrote were scorned because such a public identity was deemed inappropriate for them" (1993:9–10). Teague goes on to stress that Makin wrote because of her financial difficulties; however, while she is advertising a school in which she will earn a living teaching, Makin's An Essay, peppered with emotional appeals, vituperative attacks on the custom of "breeding women low,” along with a logical, effective and systematic undercutting of the arguments against women's learning, reveals her purpose for writing went beyond simple economic advancement. From female writers such as Christine de Pizan in the 14th century to Mary Wollstonecraft at the end of the 18th century to Virginia Woolf in the 20th century, "women's didactic and defensive writings reveal a submerged tradition of female intellectual resistance to oppressive and repressive cultural givens" (Myers 1985:176-77). Bathsua Makin's An Essay adds to the rich body of pro-female writing, a “genre” that was well underway in the 17th century.


While Makin's An Essay To Revive the Antient Education of Gentlewomen was not published until 1673, her Musea Virginea, published in 1616, is now viewed as an important piece of writing because it reveals previously unknown biographical data while also implying she was a scholar and therefore important to the history of female writing. Musea Virginea, a book of verse written in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Spanish, German, French and Italian, was dedicated to James I. "But can she spin" was King James' response to Makin and her demonstration of learning, revealing the negativity surrounding female erudition. Published at the age of sixteen and skilled or knowledgeable in up to seven different ancient and modern languages, Makin warranted the title of "learned lady,” a rare quality for a middle-class 17th-century woman.

While Makin's publications are few, two poems written to the Hastings are preserved in the Hastings Collection at the Henry E. Huntington Library. On 24 June 1649, Makin wrote a Latin elegy addressed to Lucy Hastings, the Dowager Countess of Huntingdon on the occasion of the death of Henry, Lord Hastings. Makin also wrote an elegy in honour of Lady Elizabeth (Hastings) Langham, who died in 1664. The poem is entitled "Upon the Much Lamented Death of the Right Honorable, the Lady Elizabeth Langham." In addition, the collected works of Anna Maria van Schurman (Leyden, 1648) include an exchange of letters in Hebrew between van Schurman and Makin.

An Essay To Revive the Antient Education of Gentlewomen, Makin's most important piece of writing, was published in 1673, and is in the vein of other 17th-century tracts on education. The motivation behind Makin's didactic and polemical essay lies in the fact that Makin argues for "learning as an aid to the moral life, to women's usefulness and moral agency" (Myers 1985:177). An Essay is grounded in religious thought, for Makin points out that an education lends to the polishing of one's soul so "that you may glorify God." (Makin 1673). Such an education would, according to Makin, cultivate a woman's soul so that women may be better able "to know God, Jesus Christ, themselves, and the things of nature, arts and tongues" (Makin 1673). Makin takes the stance that education will not only benefit the soul of woman, leading her to greater communion with God, but female learning will benefit the nation. She states that "Were women thus educated now, I am confident that advantage would be very great: the women would have honor and pleasure, their relations profit, and the whole nation advantage” (Makin 1673).

An Essay begins with a series of letters in which Makin establishes her audience with her original appeal to “all Ingenious and Virtuous Ladies, more especially to her Highness the Lady Mary, eldest Daughter to his Royal Highness the Duke of York" (Makin 1673). In the introductory epistle, Makin admits that to challenge customs, to imply that women are reasonable creatures who will benefit from learning, is a bold attempt and she expects to meet opposition while at the same time claiming that the patronage of the Royal Highness will be a form of protection. Here, in Makin's exordium, through the use of kairos, she appeals to her audience's interest and sympathy. While her audience is both male and female, her emotional appeal, the pathos of her treatise, is directed at women, for she writes: “I expect to meet with many scoffs and taunts from inconsiderate and illiterate men, that prize their own lusts and pleasure more than your profit and content” (Makin 1673). She goes on to state: “I shall be the less concerned at these, so long as I am in your favor; and this discourse may be a weapon in your hands to defend yourselves, whilst you endeavor to polish your souls, that you may glorify God" (Makin 1673). She further emphasises "ladies" as her target audience: “I hope I shall not need to beg the patience of ladies to peruse this pamphlet: I have bespoken and do expect your patronage, because it is your cause I plead against an ill custom, prejudicial to you, which men will not willingly suffer to be broken” (Makin 1673).

Makin’s introductory address to her audience is followed by two letters in which she takes on a male persona. While her first male persona is pro-learning, the following letter's masculine voice sets up Makin's argument as he, an objector to women's learning, claims that "Women do not much desire Knowledge; they are of low parts, soft fickle natures . . . [and] they will abuse their Education" (Makin 1673). Such objections to female erudition are taken up and refuted throughout the essay. Makin's strongest argument comes in the following long section of the essay in which she catalogues mythological, legendary, biblical, historical and contemporary women, women who were writers, artists, moral heroines and mothers (Myers 1985:181). In her listing of female worthies Makin establishes her credibility, her ethos, her right and ability to promote education for women, but more importantly, she, in turning to external proofs, reveals how "Women were formerly Educated in the knowledge of Arts and Tongues, and by their Education, many did rise to a great height in Learning" (Makin 1673). Makin goes on to claim that, "Were Women thus Educated now I am confident the advantage would be very great" (Makin 1673).

Makin, having established quite firmly through her catalogue of other learned ladies that educated women were not a new phenomenon nor a threat to society, goes on to relate a series of staged proofs and refutations. She takes on a syllogistic form, logically deconstructing over twelve different objections to women's learning. Within the logos of her argument, some of her chief refutations involve responses to the claims that women will abuse their educations and not obey their husbands. She responds that "tis not knowing too much but too little that causes the irregularity" (Makin 1673), i.e., "More education, not less, is the way to prevent pride,” (Hamilton 2001:150), and educated women will be better companions to their husbands and more efficient members of their families. She also logically counters the objection that women are of low parts, weak and soft and therefore uneducable. Makin's syllogistic response is that such "deficiencies" demand all the more for the education of women and women will, in their softness, be all the more easy to educate.

Importantly, what scholars have found conventional about Makin's argument is her hesitancy to demand equality for women, at times appearing to reinforce women's role as the "weaker vessel" whose place is in the home, where "God has made the man head,” and women the "helps" to their husbands (Makin 1673). Nonetheless, she was writing from within the patriarchal context of 17th-century England, and as J. L. Helm points out, "Makin carefully placed women within the bounds of her society's restrictions" (1993:48). As she states in the introductory epistle, she does not "plead for female preeminence, [for] to ask too much is the way to be denied all" (Makin 1673). Such a disclaimer lends persuasion to Makin's rhetorical treatise for she reveals her sensitivity to her audience, an audience in which "The Barbarous custom to breed women low is grown amongst us, and hath prevailed so far" (Makin 1673). Her claim to not ask too much serves as a "conciliatory strategy to diffuse opposition" (Hamilton 2001:149).

Other criticisms of Makin's An Essay point to her use of a masculine persona and her call for the education of "rich" women and girls. While her use of a masculine persona gives credence to masculine-centered ideologies and confirms that only men are capable of participating in the intellectual debate of the public sphere, taking on a male voice does give Makin more freedom. Also, as Mitzi Myers points out, "the male voice is always there in pro-women writing, whether formally personified or not" (1985:180). Universal educational models for all levels of society are not Makin's aim. Makin's pro-education treatise is directed towards women and girls of means. She alludes to the fact that the women and girls who should be educated are those "persons that God has blessed with the things of this world, that have competent natural parts" (Makin 1673). In other words, those that are rich and have spare time may make better use of their time "in gaining arts, and tongues" (Makin 1673), rather than "to trifle away so many precious minutes merely to polish their hands and feet, to curl their locks, to dress and trim their bodies" (Makin 1673).

Thus, Makin's argument for educating women reveals ambiguity as to whether women deserve a place in the public sphere, for her proposal of an educational model for women argues for women to be better wives, mothers or daughters, not to prepare women for the public sphere. Makin, though, in writing such a tract, deliberately participates in the public domain of 17th-century intellectual debate. Her postscript, advertising a school "where, by the blessing of God, gentlewomen may be instructed in the principles of religion; and in all manner of sober and virtuous education" (Makin 1673), reveals not only that she was still teaching at the age of seventy-three, but that she was dedicated to the betterment of woman's position in society.

Modern scholarship

Recently, scholarship dealing with 17th-century female writers has increased. Contemporary feminism's aim to recover the words and history of our feminist foremothers can be seen in numerous texts. Authors such as Moira Ferguson, Hilda L. Smith, Mary Mahl and Helene Koon, and Antonia Fraser have worked to link historical female writers, many of which are now viewed as proto-feminists, with contemporary issues of femininity. They all situate Makin within a rich body of historical women, although these texts provide biographical data on Makin that is now viewed as incorrect.

For up to date studies of Bathsua's life and work see Frances Teague and Jean R. Brink. Teague and Brink's research has provided important findings, clarifying Makin's true identity as a Reginald and also clarifying work that is attributed to Makin (it was previously held that Makin was responsible for The Malady . . . and Remedy of Vexations and Unjust Arrests and Actions (1646)).

Many scholars have provided excellent commentaries on Makin's An Essay. While some of the criticism on Makin considers her work too conventional to be wholly classified as feminist, Nancy Weitz (Miller), Mitzi Myers, James L. Helm, and Frances Teague provide analyses of Makin's rhetorical methods and point to the effectiveness of Makin's pro-education argument.

Several scholars work to tie Makin's work to other important writing of the period. Both Patricia Hamilton and James L. Helm see Makin's An Essay as directly influential and influenced by other educational reform tracts written by 17th-century men.


Bathsua Makin Wikipedia

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