Hannah Woolley, The Gentlewoman’s Companion (1673)

Hannah Woolley’s hugely popular work has been featured on our blog before. The Gentlewoman’s Companion (1673) contained not the recipes for which Woolley was famous but directions on how to behave properly. Yet, there is a twist: Woolley herself denounced the work in a later publication; it appears to be an unauthorized edition with a complicated history and uncertain authorship. The frontispiece is not an image of Woolley and is itself the subject of speculation, as Heather Wolfe has explained in a fascinating blog post.

Adding to the interest of this book, the printer was Anne Maxwell, who had a long career independently of her husband (after his death), spanning from 1660 to 1684. The English Short Title Catalog credits her with having printed 98 works, including a number of works by the famous writer Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle. It is difficult to know to what extent Maxwell was responsible for or aware of the unauthorized printing; usually the publisher and bookseller Dorman Newman is named as the offending party. But Maxwell reprinted the work for another bookseller, Edward Thomas, after Woolley had complained in her 1674 Supplement to The Queen-like Closet that she had been “much abus’d / By a late printed Book, my Name there us’d: / I was far distant when they printed it, / Therefore that Book to own I think not fit.”

Regardless of the tricky status of the authorship of The Gentlewomans Companion, it seems unlikely that the two female owners who inscribed their name in this copy were aware of the controversy; the name Hannah Woolley had ensured the work’s success. This copy has signatures on the opening and closing pages of the book: Eliz[abeth] Bamford and Ann Starkey, who added the conventional phrase “Her Book.”

Source: copy at the Huntington Library, shelf mark W3276A. Photos by Martine van Elk.

Further Reading

Maureen Bell, “Women in the English Book Trade,” Leipziger Jahrbuch zur Buchgeschichte 6 (1996): 13-45.

Katherine Ellison, “Introduction to The Gentlewomans Companion.” Emory Women Writers Resource. Emory University, n.d.

Heather Wolfe, “About that frontispiece portrait of Hannah Woolley…The Collation: Research and Exploration at the Folger. September 5, 2018.


4 thoughts on “Hannah Woolley, The Gentlewoman’s Companion (1673)

  1. Pingback: Aphra Behn, The Counterfeit Bridegroom (1677) – Early Modern Female Book Ownership

  2. Pingback: Hannah Woolley’s The Queen-like Closet (1681) – Early Modern Female Book Ownership

  3. Maureen E Mulvihill

    Quick question, please, Martine, if I may: Who is being depicted in the book’s frontis? And who is the engraver? And is it signed & dated? Any info on that frontis.? Sorry to burden you. With best regards, many thanks for all the good info (I ment’d this book in the early 1980s, in my PhD diss., U of Wis.-Madison, 1982; 452 pp; 23 images), MEM ___


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