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Professor Jane Whittle

BA (Manchester) DPhil (Oxon)

Professor of Economic and Social History


01392 723292

I am an expert in the economic and social history of late medieval and early modern England (c.1300-1750) with particular interests in gender, work, economic development, household economies, property rights, consumption, and material culture. My research is unusual in (1) covering a long time period and (2) combining detailed research using manuscript documents with an interest in interdisciplinary social-science theory. As a result it makes intensive use of a wide range of manuscript documents analyzed quantitatively and qualitatively and integrates and addresses interdisciplinary debates on issues such as the gendering of work and women’s role in the economy, economic development, and the meaning of consumption, drawing on the wider literature within the social sciences. Although my archival research is based on England, it is placed in the comparative context of Western Europe, and informed by comparisons with other societies and economies world-wide.

I currently hold a European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant for a project on 'Forms of Labour: Gender, Freedom and Experience of Work in the Preindustrial Economy' which runs from 2019-2024: and a Leverhulme Trust funded project 'The Material Culture of Wills: England 1540-1790' which runs from 2023-2027.

Research interests

Funded research projects:

2023-7: 'The material culture of wills: England 1540-1790' Leverhulme Trust

2019-24: 'Forms of Labour: Gender, Freedom and Work in the Preindustrial Economy' ERC Advanced Grant

2015-18: 'Women's work in rural England 1500-1700: a new methodological approach' Leverhulme Trust

2012: 'The food economy of lords and tenants in 14th century England' Economic History Society

2008-9: 'Consumption and gender in the early seventeenth-century household' AHRC

2003-7: 'The housewife in early modern rural England' ESRC

2001-4: 'The history of pre-industrial rural households and the development of capitalism' ESRC

1996-8: 'Household economies in southern England 1600-1750' (Co-I, with Professor Mark Overton) Leverhulme Trust


My work falls under four broad headings:


Work, and particularly women’s work and servants

My ERC Advanced Grant on 'Forms of Labour: Gender, Freedom and Work in the Preindustrial Economy' aims to reconsider the narratives of how work has developed over time in the light of new evidence about the work of women and of young people (especially as servants). It has three strands: (1) Rethinking the nature of women's work - especially the concepts used to understand work and gender -  using new evidence drawn from the early modern period; (2) The experience of work in early modern England - building on my earlier Leverhulme Trust project, and collecting new evidence from northern England and east-central England - using methods that mimic modern time-use studies; (3) Work and freedom - focusing particularly on labour laws, servants, and pauper apprentices. See project website: The project team includes Dr Mark Hailwood (co-investigator); Dr Taylor Aucoin (research fellow); Dr Hannah Robb (research fellow); Dr James Fisher (research fellow); Dr Grace Owen (research fellow), Dr Li Jiang (research fellow), and Vivienne Bates (administrator).

My Leverhulme Trust project on ‘Women’s work in rural England 1500-1700: a new methodological approach’, ran from March 2015 - November 2018. Please see the project website at https/ The project team included Dr Mark Hailwood (research fellow 2015-17), Dr Charmian Mansell (research fellow Jan-Sep 2018) and Imogene Dudley (PhD student). Together we investigated women's work activities using incidental evidence from church court depositions, quarter sessions examinations and coroners' rolls from Hampshire, Wiltshire, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall, and analysing women's paid work via household accounts. 

  • Jane Whittle and Thijs Lambrecht eds., Labour Laws in Preindustrial Europe: The Coercion and Regulation of Wage Labour, c.1350-1850, Boydell Press, 2023 (available open access).
  • Jane Whittle, 'Attitudes to wage labour in English legislation, 1349-1601' in Whittle and Lambrecht eds., Labour Laws in Preindustrial Europe, Boydell (2023), pp. 33-54.
  • Jane Whittle and Hilde Sandvik, 'Agriculture' in Catriona Macleod, Alexandra Shepard & Maria Agren eds., The Whole Economy: Work and Gender in Early Modern Europe, CUP (2023), pp. 84-114.
  • Jane Whittle, ‘Home and work’ in Amanda Flather ed., A Cultural History of the Home: The Renaissance 1450-1650, Bloomsbury (2021) pp.103-126.
  • Jane Whittle and Mark Hailwood, 'The gender division of labour in early modern England' Economic History Review, 73:1 (2020) pp.3-32.
  • Jane Whittle, 'A critique of approaches to "domestic work": women, work and the preindustrial economy', Past and Present 243 (May 2019) pp.35-70.
  • Jane Whittle ed. Servants in Rural Europe c.1400-c.1900, Boydell Press 2017.

  • Jane Whittle, 'The food economy of lords, tenants and workers in a medieval village: Hunstanton, Norfolk 1328-48' in Maryanne Kowaleski, John Langdon and Phillipp Schofield eds. Peasants and Lords in the English Economy: Festschrift for Bruce Campbell (Brepols, 2015) pp.27-57.

  • Jane Whittle, ‘Enterprising widows and active wives: women’s unpaid work in the household economy of early modern England’ The History of the Family 19:3 (2014) pp.283-300.

  • Jane Whittle, ‘Rural Economies’ in Judith M. Bennett and Ruth Mazo Karras eds. The Oxford Handbook of Women and Gender in Medieval Europe, Oxford University Press 2013, pp.311-26.

  • Jane Whittle, ‘Housewives and servants in rural England, 1440-1650: evidence of women’s work from probate documents’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th Series, Vol.15, (2005) pp.51-74.                                                                                                                                                                                    
  • Jane Whittle, ‘Servants in rural England c.1450-1650: hired work as a means of accumulating wealth and skills before marriage’ in M. Agren and A. Erickson eds. The Marital Economy in Scandinavia and Britain 1400-1900, Ashgate 2005, pp.89-107.
  • Jane Whittle, ‘Le travail des femmes dans les ménages ruraux anglais, 1450-1650: trois approches alternatives’, in N. Vivier ed, Ruralité Française et Britannique xiiie-xxe Siècles: Approches Comparées, Presses Universitaires de Rennes 2005, pp.77-87.

Consumption and the household economy

My new Leverhulme Trust project 'The Material Culture of Wills: England 1540-1790' returns to this theme: it aims to use digital methods to analyse 25,000 wills registered at the PCC to examine the types of goods people bequeathed. It forms the final part of a trilogy on household consumption in early modern England which began with a project analysing 8000 probate inventories in the late 1990s (leading to the book Production and Consumption in English Households 1600-1750 (Routledge, 2004) written jointly with Mark Overton, Darron Dean and Andrew Hann, and developed with my 2012 monograph based on the intensive study of household accounts written with Elizabeth Griffiths (from the ESRC funded project ‘The Housewife in Early Modern England’). I have particular interests in food, houses, and domesic material culture and teach a special subject module on ‘Consumer Revolution?: Food, Things and Fashion in England 1500-1800’, as well as contributing seminars on early modern food consumption to the interdisciplinary MA in Food Studies.

  • Jane Whittle, 'Gender and consumption in the household economy: 1500-1750' in Joachim Eibach and Margareth Lanzinger ed. The Domestic Sphere in Europe (16th to 19th Century), Routledge (2020), pp.199-217.
  • Jane Whittle, ‘The gentry as consumers in early seventeenth-century England’ in Jon Stobart and Andrew Hann eds., Consuming the Country House, Historic England 2016, pp.24-32.
  • Jane Whittle and Elizabeth Griffiths, Consumption and Gender in the Early Seventeenth Century Household, Oxford University Press, 2012, pp.xviii + 266.
  • Jane Whittle, ‘The house as a place of work in early modern rural England’ Home Cultures 8:2 (2011) pp.133-50.
  • Mark Overton, Jane Whittle, Darron Dean and Andrew Hann, Production and Consumption in English Households, 1600-1750, Routledge 2004, pp.xii + 251.

Rebellion and protest

I teach a module on ‘Popular Rebellion in England 1381-1549’ and have published various articles on 1381 and 1549:

  • Jane Whittle, ‘Lords and tenants in Kett’s Rebellion, 1549’, Past and Present  207 (2010) pp.3-52.
  • Jane Whittle, ‘Peasant politics and class consciousness: the Norfolk rebellions of 1381 and 1549 compared’ in C. Dyer, P. Coss and C. Wickham eds, Rodney Hilton’s Middle Ages: An Explorations of Historical Themes, Oxford University Press 2008, pp.233-47.
  • Jane Whittle and S.H. Rigby, ‘England: popular politics and social control’ in S.H. Rigby ed. A Companion to Britain in the Later Middle Ages, Blackwell 2003, pp.65-86.

Economic development and property rights in rural England

This was the main focus of my PhD and first book. I retain interests in this area and edited a volume revisiting R.H. Tawney’s classic The Agrarian Problem in Sixteenth Century England in 2013. 

  • Jane Whittle, 'Land and people' in Keith Wrightson ed., A Social History of England c.1500-c.1750, Cambridge University Press 2017, pp.152-73.
  • Jane Whittle ed., Landlords and Tenants in Britain 1440-1660: Tawney’s Agrarian Problem Revisited, The Boydell Press 2013, pp.xv + 240.
  • Jane Whittle, ‘Leasehold tenure in England c.1300-c.1600: its form and incidence’, in B. van Bavel and P.R. Schofield, eds, The Development of Leasehold in Northwestern Europe, c. 1200-1600, Brepols, 2008, pp.139-54.
  • Jane Whittle, ‘Population mobility in rural Norfolk among landholders and others c.1440-c.1600’ in C. Dyer ed., The Self-Contained Village? The Social History of Rural Communities, 1250-1900, University of Hertfordshire Press 2006, pp.28-45.
  • Jane Whittle, ‘Tenure and landholding in England 1440-1580: A crucial period for the development of agrarian capitalism?’ in B.J.P. van Bavel and P. Hoppenbrouwers eds. Landholding and Land Transfer in the North Sea Area, Brepols 2004, pp.237-49.
  • Jane Whittle and Margaret Yates, ‘ “Pays réel or pays légal?” Contrasting patterns of land tenure and social structure in eastern Norfolk and western Berkshire, 1450-1600’, Agricultural History Review 48:1 (2000) pp.1-26.
  • Jane Whittle, The Development of Agrarian Capitalism: Land and Labour in Norfolk 1440-1580, Oxford University Press 2000, pp.xii + 361.
  • Jane Whittle, ‘Individualism and the family-land bond: a reassessment of land transfer patterns among the English peasantry c.1270-1580’, Past and Present 160 (1998) pp.25-63.
  • Jane Whittle, ‘Inheritance, marriage, widowhood and remarriage: a comparative perspective on women and landholding in north-east Norfolk, England, 1440-1580’, Continuity and Change 13:1 (1998) pp.33-72.  

Research collaborations

My current research collaborations include work with:

Mark Bell, The National Archives: on the digital transcription and analysis of PCC wills, using Transkribus - part of our Leverhulme funded 'Material Culture of Wills' project (2023-7).

Dr Ben Schneider, Oslo Met University, Norway, on his young CAS project 'Work and Wellbeing in History' (2022-4) on which I am research partner.

Dr Mark Hailwood, University of Bristol on work in early modern England in the 'women's work in rural England' project and 'FORMSofLABOUR' project.

The 'Gender and Work' project at Uppsala University, Sweden, led by Professor Maria Agren: a long term collaboration comparing and developing research methodologies for studying gender and work.

Dr Thijs Lambrecht, University of Ghent, on the comparative history of European Labour Laws (c.1300-1850), as part of the 'FORMSofLABOUR' at Exeter, and CORN at Ghent.

Research supervision

Please get in touch if you are interested in doing a PhD on any of the topics or subject areas below, or would like more details about opportunities for funding. PhD students in History at Exeter can apply for funding from the AHRC (social and cultural history) and ESRC (economic and social history). I organise a fortnightly blog discussion group in economic and social history for PhD students, postdocs and staff. See our blogs here:

I welcome enquiries from prospective students wishing to research any area within my expertise but would particularly welcome students to work on these specific PhD projects:

  • The consumption of textiles in England 1540-1640 (using evidence from PCC wills, household accounts and inventories).
  • The consumption of non-European goods in England 1450-1650 (food, textiles, furnishings)
  • Evidence of slavery in English wills 1630-1730 (using the PCC wills archive)
  • The life-cycle of debt and credit, using probate documents (wills, inventories and accounts) from East Kent to track debt and credit through families between marriages and generations.
  • Rural craftsmen 1560-1700: training, organisation and wealth (using evidence from probate inventories, household accounts, quarter sessions documents)
  • The end of serfdom, copyhold tenure and rights to land 1450-1650 (using Kingston Lacy, Dorset as a case study).
  • Food, diet and eating in English households 1520-1640 (using household accounts and other household documents).
  • Regional comparisons in housing culture, southern England 1500-1700 (houses, probate inventories)
  • The Western Rebellion of 1549, using evidence from manorial records to map the geography and social structure of events and involvement.
  • Service and apprenticeship in rural south-west England c.1750-1850 (census records, settlement examinations, apprenticeship agreements).

I am also keen supervise students on the following topics:

  • Late medieval and early modern rural England, especially rights to land (land tenure, land market, common rights, enclosure), standards of living, village communities.
  • Types of work in England from the medieval period to the 19th century: servants, the household economy, wage workers, the labour laws.
  • Consumption and material culture from the 15th to the 17th century, including food, clothing, houses, and domestic furnishings.
  • Popular rebellion in Devon, Cornwall and Norfolk 1381-1549, and disputes over rights to land (e.g. enclosure riots) and personal status (serfdom) 1400-1700.



Research students

Recently completed PhDs:

  • Li Jiang, 'Wage labour in early modern gentry households' (China Scholarship Foundation). 2022.
  • Richard Cooke, 'Economic development in fifteenth-century Devon'. 2021.
  • Andrew Binding, 'Architecture and domestic behaviour in south west England, 1600-1750'. 2021
  • Paul Williams, 'The trading community of Exeter, 1470-1570'. 2021
  • Amy Ridgway, 'Wage labour and poverty on a Dorset estate: c.1680-1834' (ESRC funded). 2020
  • Nigel Pratt, 'Decorative plasterwork in early modern south-west England', 2020
  • Imogene Dudley, 'Evidence of women's waged work from household accounts, 1644-1700: three case studies from Devon, Somerset and Hampshire' (Leverhulme funded). 2019
  • Catherine Talbot, 'From marketplace to domestic space: a comparative analysis of the processes of consumption in Bristol, England, and Boston, Massachusetts, c.1700-1760'. 2019
  • Ed Taylor, 'Expressions of occupational identity in Early Modern England' (ESRC funded). Jointly supervised with Henry French. 2017
  • Charmian Mansell, 'Female servants in the early modern community: a study of church court depositions from the dioceses Exeter and Gloucester c.1550-1650' (AHRC funded). 2017
  • Marion Hardy, 'Poor travellers on the move in Devon 1598-c.1800'. 2017
  • Kate Osborne, 'Illuminating the chorus in the shadows: Elizabethan and Jacobean Exeter 1550-1610'. Jointly supervised with Jonathan Barry. 2016

PhDs in progress: 

  • Linda Henderson, 'Class, gender and the nature of scientific improvement: a case study of the Aylesbury duck industry' (ESRC funded). Joint supervisor with Henry French.
  • Amy Smith, 'A history of female ale-sellers in south-west England, 1550-1700' (AHRC funded). Joint supervisor with Mark Hailwood, University of Bristol.
  • Nicholas Collins, Work, leisure and gender: a time-use study of England, 1700-1850' (ESRC funded).
  • Charles Waddicor, 'Improvement and conflict in the land managemetn of new landlords in Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire after the dissolution (1536-1640).
  • Gavin Bacon, 'The village of Evershot, Dorset, 1840-1900: A Microhistory'. First supervisor.

Other information

Administrative posts

Director of Undergraduate Studies, History Department, 2004-7.

Member of Learning and Teaching Committee for the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, 2004-7.

Member of University Senate, 2006-2009.

Academic lead for department of History, 2010-11.

Director of Research, History  Department, 2011-2013.

Membership of Learned Societies

Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

Member of the Economic History Society (council member 1999-2004).

Chair of the British Agricultural History Society (on the executive committee since 1999; organiser of the annual Winter Conference 2001-2012).

Member of the CORN research network (Comparative Rural History of the North Sea Area).

External examining

PhDs examined at the Universities of Leicester, Cambridge, Middlesex and Queen Mary London.

Currently external examiner for early modern history (undergraduate and MA) at Aberystwyth University.

Reviewing grant proposals

The Wellcome Trust

The Leverhulme Trust

Arts and Humanities Research Council

Economic and Social Research Council

Contribution to discipline

General Editor of Studies in Regional and Local History published by University of Hertfordshire Press 2013-

Member of Council for the Economic History Society 1999-2004 and 2016-19

Member of the Executive of the Agricultural History Society 1999-2015 and chair 2012-15

Fellow of the Royal Historical Society 2005-

Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences 2016-

Member of expert panel on History & Archaeology for FWO (Research Foundation Flanders, Belgium) 2019-

Member of the AHRC peer review college

Member of the ESRC peer review college


Podcast: History Extra (Official Website of BBC History Magazine) ‘The Black Death and social change’ (April 2020)

Blog: ‘Responding to a crisis: the Black Death, COVID-19, and universal basic income’ (April 2020), and republished by History Workshop Journal on

Contributed to programme on ‘The motherhood myth’ produced by Professor Emma Griffin for BBC Radio 4, (March 2019)

Expert on early modern economic and social history filmed for BBC series on ‘The History of the English Village’, broadcast 2018 (BBC South West) and 2019 (BBC 4) (June 2018)

Contributed to programme on ‘Mind the gender pay gap’ produced by Professor Emma Griffin for BBC Radio 4 (March 2018)


  • 1991 - BA History, University of Manchester, First Class Honours
  • 1995 - DPhil Modern History, University of Oxford: 'The Development of Agrarian Capitalism in England, c.1450-1580'
  • 1995 - appointed Lecturer in Economic and Social History, University of Exeter.
  • 2002 - promoted to Senior Lecturer in Economic and Social History, University of Exeter.
  • 2008 - promoted to Associate Professor in History, University of Exeter.
  • 2012 - promoted to Professor of Economic and Social History, University of Exeter.


  • 2005 - Elected Fellow of the Royal Historical Society
  • 2012-2015 - Chair of the British Agricultural History Society
  • 2017 - Conferred Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences


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