Labor et Diligentia

Philips Galle after Marten van Cleve I, The Human Labours, 1574, Engraving, 205 x 243 mm, London, British Museum

Lady Arundel’s privileged position as nobility, in contrast to her position as a woman with limited freedom of action, makes it difficult to classify her practice between the humanistic tradition of natural philosophy and an early modern notion of science. In the 16th century the term science was used to describe an occupation with nature for a specific, application-oriented goal. Deborah Harkness has explained this important distinction between science and natural philosophy in detail (The Jewel House 2007).

The Countess’ first and foremost area of interest, the sphere of kitchen physick, was determined by practical considerations, as well as shaped by current theoretical discourses of a humanistic elite. This elite began to discover empirical methods of trial and error for themselves. The prevalence and importance of home remedies or kitchen physick was addressed by Wendy Wall (Recipes for Thought: Knowledge and Taste in the Early Modern English Kitchen 2015). The responsibility of noble women for the physical well-being of their household in many cases included medical care and thus required extensive knowledge in numerous areas. A theoretical framework and an interest in new knowledge were of great advantage (Alison Sim, The Tudor Housewife 1996 ).

Margaret Pelling has reviewed the medical practice of women of all classes in early modern England (Medical Conflicts in Early Modern London: Patronage, Physicians, and Irregular Practitioners 2003). Lady Arundel’s interest in medicine and botany, in biology and iatrochemistry connected her with the social group of virtuous women determined less by rank and wealth and more by their tasks. Their ideals were labor and diligentia, labour and diligence.

The Countess’ various practical skills were vital for her reputation as a good and virtuous wife. Her preoccupation with the effects of nature and the human body made her part of the network of members of the so-called Arundel Circle who are interested in natural philosophy. Steven Shapin is one of the forerunners in the study of experiments and natural philosophy as an occupation of the male nobility (A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England 1994) and has analyzed the Arundel Circle as the origin of the Royal Society. In addition to Harvey, the Arundel Circle also included the philologist and art theorist Franciscus Junius the Elder (1591–1677), the archaeologist John Selden (1584–1654), the mathematician William Oughtred (1574–1660), Henry Peacham and Anthony van Dyck.

Like Walter Raleigh and William Harvey and arguably  much more than her husband, Lady Arundel was personally involved in the virtuous endeavor of the exploration of nature. As a noblewoman she would have benefitted from the new interests of male nobles ennobling traditional housewife practices.

Cite this blog post
Jennifer Rabe (2021, April 23). Labor et Diligentia. Lady Arundel 1654–2054. Retrieved June 22, 2024, from

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