To What Extent Is It Possible To Discredit The 'black Legend Of Childhood' (Keith Wrightson) In 16th And 17th Century England?

2384 words - 10 pages

‘Once upon a time’, many years ago in 16th century England, an IT was born. Wrenched from a mother’s womb IT was imprisoned in tightly wrapped sheets; head fixed, legs stretched out, arms by its sides; so that IT could not move. IT was sent to a wet nurse by the parents; not for the welfare of IT but for their own selfish reasons. If IT died there would be no emotion or mourning. If IT lived, which was considered very unlikely, IT would be neglected, beaten, and only considered valuable when IT was economically productive and could be sent out to work. IT would not live ‘happily ever after’. Such is the ‘black legend of childhood’ .There are no birth or death certificates for IT; no biographies or diaries. IT is merely a figment of this writer’s imagination; IT’s life is fictional and based upon theories of childhood put forward by historians such as Ariѐs, De Mause and Stone . Ariѐs claims that, before medieval times, the idea of a state of childhood was non-existent. He concluded that as children were depicted no differently from adults in the art of the time that they were treated the same as adults. Since the publication of Centuries of Childhood (1962), there has been much historiographical debate with historians’ interpretations falling into two categories; those advocating change believing that the treatment of children improved with the progression of time, and, those advocating continuity, believing that parents have always loved and cared for their children. De Mause writes: ‘The history of childhood is a nightmare from which we have only recently begun to awaken.’ He asserts that:The further back in history one goes, the lower the level of childcare, and the more likely children are to be killed, abandoned, beaten, terrorised, and sexually abused.Like Stone he argues that towards the end of the seventeenth century there was a growing awareness amongst parents that children were not miniature adults but, that until then, children were unloved and uncared for. Conversely Pollock and Cunningham deny there was any change in the way parents treated or reared their children; that children had always been loved and cared for. Pollock’s re-examination of Stone’s evidence highlights the plurality of interpretation that can arise from historical sources. In order to determine to what extent the ‘black legend of childhood’ can be discredited it is necessary to examine the limited primary sources and explore the differing interpretations of some of the key elements of childrearing practices in sixteenth and seventeenth century England.Education in the early modern period was limited, especially among the poor. There is little written evidence available of how parents reared their children or of their emotional attachment to them. Stone and Pollock both use diaries to support their opposing theories but it should be noted that many of these refer to French,...

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