This book focuses, unusually for histories of individual families and households, on the dynamics of elite family life in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries within a midland, upper gentry family. To the fore are the roles of a formidable and long-lived elite matriarch, Hester (Sandys) Temple, and her fussy, pedantic and Polonius-like husband, Sir Thomas, 1st Baronet of Stowe. But this is perforce a multiple-plot drama, which looks back also to Sir Thomas's father and paternal grandfather and forwards to his son and heir, Sir Peter, 2nd baronet of Stowe. It draws upon an extensive and rich archive, which documents not only nuclear family relationships between spouses, between parents and male and female children, but also those relationships involving younger children, adult younger children living outside the home, sons-in-law and daughters-in-law, and siblings of the parents. It reminds us of something that is too easily forgotten – that families and households were about more than husbands and wives or even husbands and wives and children. For the Temples parenting was indeed for life but so also were other relationships. While on first examination the Temples might appear to be a dysfunctional family, on closer inspection one could well argue that this family was highly functional.
We see Hester as wife, mother, mother-in-law, grandmother, sister-in-law, sister and aunt. We also see her as housewife and manager, mistress of servants, disciplinarian, secretary-cum-accountant, farmer, negotiator, patron, creditor and debtor, even as litigator. Her performance in these varying roles is seen against the information available about her husband Sir Thomas's. Her husband's attitude to her realization of the role of wife, helpmeet and mother is not selfevident but is gauged on the basis of a great variety of sources – correspondence, legal cases, account books, lease books, memoranda, court papers and so forth.
This is not, however, just the study of one woman or even just one couple. It is a family history because only a micro-study of this large family can expose the various roles played within it. Here we shine the floodlights upon the very nature of ‘family’ and ‘kin’ to the Temples. The book builds upon but makes critical use of feminist and other scholarship in order to offer a scholarly and appropriately nuanced picture of this elite family.