The Zealous Mother: Dorothy Leigh and the Godly Family

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In 1616 two important books of family advice hit the shelves of early modern booksellers. The first was a republication of James I’s Basilicon Doron, originally published in England in 1603 and immediately, as Jenny Wormald puts it, a “best-seller” (51). This earlier edition was published at James’s accession to the English throne, and was geared toward introducing the Scottish King to his English subjects; such was its popularity that it ran to as many as 16,000 copies that year alone (Wormald 51). It was republished in 1616 both in the ornate edition of James’s Workes put together by James Montagu, and in a popularized version titled The Fathers Blessing, a spin-off edition that expanded on key points from James’s text to create a book of general paternal counsel. The second 1616 book of family advice that concerns us was Dorothy Leigh’s The Mothers Blessing.1 Leigh’s book is a 270-page prose work of maternal advice, broken into forty-five chapters. Like the father in James’s Basilicon Doron, Leigh’s maternal narrator advises her sons on religious practices, marriage, and household economy. The Mothers Blessing was so popular that it went through at least nineteen editions before 1640, an extraordinary publication history that marks Leigh’s book as an important work for seventeenth-century literature and culture.2 Yet, whereas Basilicon Doron has become part of the literary historical canon, receiving attention from historians of political discourse and literary critics alike, The Mothers Blessing has been largely ignored or treated as domestic—a woman’s foray into the limited field of conduct literature.3

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationEarly Modern Cultural Studies 1500-1700
Number of pages30
StatePublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameEarly Modern Cultural Studies 1500-1700
ISSN (Print)2634-5897
ISSN (Electronic)2634-5900


  • Conduct Literature
  • Family Advice
  • Holy Ghost
  • Patriarchal Power
  • Woman Writer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • General Arts and Humanities
  • Linguistics and Language


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