17th century, Manuscript / Archival Research

Anne Clifford’s Private Purse from Brougham Castle’s Household Expenses, 1675


Being a history research graduate has a lot of perks – we get to discuss subjects that some might think of as frivolous, we get to pursue our academic interests in an environment where you are supported rather than laughed at (“you’re doing a thesis on corsets, how will that help you get a job?” I had someone ask me once), and well, there are those student discounts.

However, if I had to say what I thought the biggest perk of being a historian was, it’s the documents and the artefacts that we get to view, read and handle. Documents that very few others could ever dream of getting their hands on. It is a little known fact that the University of Sydney has quite an extensive collection of manuscripts and printed works from the medieval and early modern periods in our Rare Books Library. We have the oldest surviving printed European Torah in our collection, we have medieval music books and we also have one of the largest collections of early modern books on demonology, witchcraft and Grimoires.

In this collection we also, randomly, have a household accounts book that dates to the year 1675 and I had the pleasure of studying it in a coursework subject as part of my honours year. This however is no ordinary accounts book. It was an accounts book that belonged to a very well well known English Countess of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras, Lady Anne Clifford, Countess of Dorset, Pembroke and Montgomery.

Anne CLifford Signature

If you are interested in late Elizabethan and seventeenth century English history, and in particular women’s history during this period, you may have heard of Anne before, in fact, she has been written about many times. This is mainly due to the fact that many of the diaries and letters she wrote during her life have survived, allowing us to take a glimpse into the sometimes very private life of an English noblewoman during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in England.

This accounts book is also significant as it provides a glimpse into the running of a seventeenth century English estate. It covers the span one year, gives details for household expenses, wages paid and Anne’s private purse.

Lady Anne Clifford

Anne Clifford was born at Skipton Castle in Yorkshire on 30th January, 1590. She was the only surviving child of George Clifford, 3rd Early of Cumberland and Lady Margaret Russell who was the daughter of Francis Russell, 2nd Earl of Bedford. As a child she was tutored by the poet Samuel Daniel and she was a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I. When she was 15 her father died and left all their estates to his brother, Francis Clifford, 4th Earl of Cumberland. From that moment on and for most of her life she was involved in a struggle to regain her family’s properties which she deemed to be her rightful inheritance. It wasn’t until her Francis Clifford only son Henry died without an heir in 1643 that she managed to secure the estate. By that time she was 53 and had been married twice. First to Richard Sackville, 3rd Earl of Dorset in 1609, two whom she had five children (all three of her sons died). After her first husband’s death in 1624 she later went on to marry Philip Herbert, Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery in 1630.

Via English Heritage

Brougham Castle in located in near the city of Penrith in Cumbria. It was founded in the 13th century by the Norman Robert de Vieuxpont on the site of a Roman fort and at this time it entertained Edward I(Longshanks). Brougham castle’s usefulness diminished after medieval times and by the time it came into the hands of Anne Clifford’s father, George, it was in quite a state of disrepair.

After his death in 1605, and all his estates had been willed to his brother Francis, Anne’s mother Margaret managed to hold onto Brougham castle and started repair work to it. Therefore, Anne spent most of her childhood here. However in 1617 the King granted that Francis was the rightful owner. During the time that it was in Francis’ hands, it entertained James I at an estimated cost of £1,200. It also entertained Charles I in 1629.

The castle again fell into a state of neglect until Anne Clifford finally inherited her estates, however she did not live in it for another six years as the English Civil War was raging and the castle was garrisoned by Cavalier forces. By 1650, after the Civil war had ended, Anne began repairs on the castle. Repairs were mostly complete by 1653, but continued for several years afterwards, the work costing an estimated £40,000.   During her time in the castle in which she made it her country retreat, Lady Anne not only restored much of the castle’s structure, but also the way of life associated with living in a castle, something which is evident from this accounts book which details wages paid, etc.

After her death the castle passed to the Earls of Thanet, when it again fell into a state of disrepair. In 1691 Brougham was partially demolished and finally in 1714, any materials that could be used at the castle were sold off.

A triptych portrait of the Clifford family. Lady Anne is depicted on the left panel, aged 15, and on the right, aged 56 includes her brothers, Francis and Sir Robert. As well as her father George Clifford and mother Margaret Russell; Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal, Cumbria, UK


The Manuscript

The manuscript is plainly bound in vellum. There once was a ribbon attached to tie the covers together and there also used to be red gilding on the pages of the book but this has deteriorated.

For its age the book is surprisingly in good condition even though the bind has deteriorated in some places, and some of the pages are falling out . In the past someone in their wisdom had the idea of sticking newspaper between some of pages. As a result this became stuck to the original manuscript in places.

Damage to Spine

There are two main sets of handwriting in the manuscript. Anne’s in the margins is in scrawly italic script, which looks quite out of place compared to the stylised late seventeenth handwriting of the other person who’s handwriting I could identify: Edward Hazell, Anne’s Steward.

Sir Edward Hasell, born 27/11/1642 in Hildersham, Cambridgeshire. Upon the death of his parents, Edward went to live with his uncle Bishop Rainbow in Cumbria. He was appointed steward (chief secretary) of Lady Anne Clifford in 1668, a position which he maintained until her death in 1676. Upon her death, he was left a large bequest, and using this be purchased Dalemain House in Cumberlandshire in 1680. From there on be became M.P. for the county, and high Sheriff in 1682. He was knighted by William III in 1682 and is listed as helping Wiliam III with his war against France. He died 12/9/1717.

Other pieces of handwriting in the book are those of the servants and people employed at the castle. As they were paid and this was recorded, they were asked to provide their ‘mark’ as proof of payment. Some people’s marks consisted of their signature, for the others who could not write it is simply noted ” ___ ___’s mark’. Surprisingly most of the servants in the household could sign their name, indicating that they must have been literate to some degree.

Anne’s handwriting far left, Thomas Strickland’s neat stewards writing centre, the servants signatures under each section can be seen clearly

The book is split into two halves, each starting from the different covers. The first section, which I will not discuss in this post, contains the household expenditures of Brougham castle in the year 1675,  whilst the other contains Anne’s personal expenses.


The Private Purse of Lady Anne Clifford

By the time this private purse was written Lady Anne Clifford was well into her eighties. As a result, her personal expenditure on items like clothing or luxury goods is minimal. However, the contents of this section are still very useful in telling us how Anne spent her last year before she died. To get an idea of how much Anne was spending in the equivalent modern currency, I used to website Measuring Worth to find out. As there is no one way to exactly measure the worth of things in the past, as different people and contexts produced a variety of prices for similar items, the Measuring Worth website gives two main indications: RPI, or a Commodity which indicates the present worth of buying an item in terms of spending, and GDP, which calculates how affordable something was based on the average wage or average earnings at the time.

Many of the entries are about money given to people who had provided a service for the Countess. For example she paid the “chaplan for preaching a good sermon”, and gave payment to men who had fetched things for her. However, there are many personal entries that reveal more about the Countess’ personal life. For example, one of the most interesting entries in the section is one that states, “Paid George Goodgion for clipping off all the haires of my head in my chamber at this Brougham castle which I had not done since the 24th September last…” This entry is recorded on the 20th day of October, so not only can we gather how often the countess had a haircut, but who gave it to her and how much she paid him (6 shillings or £38.20 in today’s currency). On a different occasion she also paid George “ffour shillings” for bringing her “a pound of Virginia tobacco”. So we can also gather that she smoked and that this pound of tobacco cost around £25.50 in today’s currency.

For the historian of material culture the best thing about this private purse is that it allows us to see the value of things in the past. For example, two ” ffushion sheets” purchased from the tailor Emannell Jackson for the Countess’ bed cost 2 shillings / £12.70 today. Whilst two pairs of sleeves (I assume for a gown) cost the Countess 4 shillings and 6 pence / £28.60 today, and 14 yards of bone lace cost 5 shillings and 9 pence / £36.60 today.

In this section another large order is placed, this time for all the materials needed to make a complete gown. In this order was “8 yards and a half of cloth serge for a gorone for mee :1:11:2:… ” and “fustian, buckram, canvis gallooz, ferrit ribbon and other thing trimming of it 0:13:6:”. Not only do we have a complete list of everything that was used to make the gown, we also have separate prices for the fabric and the trims! All up these materials are listed as costing 2 pounds, 4 shillings, 8 pence / £284 today. The serge fabric (a lightweight twill fabric with a worsted warp and woollen weft) was £198 for 8 yards, so £24.75 per yard. [1]

Scarlet cloth ordered by Lady Clifford
Scarlet cloth ordered by Lady Clifford

In October 1675 the Countess paid “3 yards of scarlet cloath hee bought for mee at Kendall at 1:10:p yard: :4:10:0: and for the bayes that it came in :1:6: In all ffour Pounds Eleauen Shillings and Six pence”. In today’s currency this 3 yards of scarlet cloth would be the equivalent of £573 (if we use the RPI on Money Worth). I assume that in this entry the scarlet cloth is referring to the expensive woolen broadcloth fabric (usually coloured red with the expensive kermes dyes) that was common in the medieval and Tudor periods. [2]

It is only by looking at these sorts of figures that you can begin to understand why only the aristocratic classes could afford such exquisite clothing in the past, if three yards of this fabric cost £573 imagine how much a whole tailored dress was, especially since 8 yards of the plain serge fabric mentioned above cost the same as only one metre of this scarlet fabric.

Roughly speaking if a gown used 8 yards of fabric, just the fabric alone for one dress using this scarlet cloth would cost a whopping £1530 in today’s currency (8 x 1 pound:10 shillings per yard, with 20 shillings to a pound = £12 / 8 yards of fabric)!!! That’s over $3000 US/AU for one dress!

However it appears that this fabric wasn’t for personal use as in the margins we learn that the Countess did not intend to keep this cloth as she has remarked “payed for 3 yards of scarlet clothe to give away”. By the end of her life it appears that the countess must have been very charitable as many of the items listed were intended as gifts. One entry states that she “Payed the 13th day to George Goodgion for 30 bookes of devotion hee bought me at Penrith for severall sortes, and different rates which I intend to give away to my servants…” She also gave Robert Bartion (who she has referred to in the margins as ‘Doctor Barton’?) 5 shillings “to buy him a pair of gloves”. This is the equivalent to £31.80 today.

Anne Clifford died in Brougham castle in the same room as her father was born in, on the 22nd March 1676, at the age of 86 – only one year after this accounts book is dated. As a result this accounts book must be one of the last ones ever completed for Brougham castle when it was under Anne’s ownership. What I’ve talked about in this post is just skimming the surface of the amazing information that this manuscript contains, and provides a fascinating glimpse into the everyday life of not only a famous figure in English history, but into the everyday lives of those ordinary people who worked in her estates.



[1] Ninya Mikaila and Jane Malcolm-Davies, The Tudor tailor: Reconstructing 16th-century Dress (London: Batsford, 2006), p. 37.

[2] Mikaila and Malcolm-Davies, The Tudor tailor, p. 36..


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