Leigh, Dorothy

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Dorothy Leigh was an early seventeenth-century writer who published one, very popular book: The Mother’s Blessing (1616). A bestseller that went through 23 editions by 1674, with another four editions in the early eighteenth century, it was perhaps “the most reprinted woman’s text of the seventeenth century” (Brown, Women’s Writing in Stuart England: The Mothers’ Legacies of Dorothy Leigh, Elizabeth Joscelin, and Elizabeth Richardson. Sutton Publishing, Thrupp/Stroud, 1999, vi). At the forefront of a new expansion in the tradition of mother’s advice books and maternal legacies, The Mother’s Blessing presents itself as a mother’s dying words to her three sons, thus fusing the limited maternal authority accorded women in the early modern household with the liminal authority of the deathbed utterance. Like other godly conduct books of the period, the book’s content is partly pedagogical and prescriptive: comprising a textual toolbox for readers’ self-fashioning, it offers extensive counsel on family organization and routine, socioeconomic transactions, and, in particular, religious practice and belief. As it does so, however, Leigh intervenes in some of the most sensitive religio-political issues of her day, such as the legitimacy of Sunday sports, congregants’ rights to “gad” to preachers outside their parishes, and whether prayer should have set forms. She also addresses a readership that quickly expands from her three sons to include men and women, masters and servants, preachers and congregants, a princess and perhaps even (covertly) a king. This breadth of address may partially account for the book’s steady popularity, but by broaching matters of political import and hailing an extended print public, Leigh also transforms the trope of maternity into a figure of moderate religio-political dissent from the Church of England. The Mother’s Blessing therefore offers an important example of female-authored popular piety, while also promoting an expansive Anglo-Calvinist community of pious activism and publication centered on the zealous lay mother rather than the church minister or monarch.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Palgrave Encyclopedia of Early Modern Women's Writing
EditorsPatricia Pender, Rosalind Smith
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
ISBN (Electronic)9783030015374
ISBN (Print)9783030015374
StatePublished - Sep 17 2020


  • Conduct literature
  • Anglo-Calvinist community
  • Intertextuality
  • Literacy
  • Dissenting politics
  • Maternity
  • Godly household
  • Mother’s legacy


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