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Professor Jane Whittle

BA (Manchester) DPhil (Oxon)

Professor of Economic and Social History


01392 723292

I am historian of late medieval and early modern England with particular interests in economic development, work, gender, popular protest, consumpton and material culture. For further details please see the description of my research interests.

Research interests

Funded research projects:

2019-2024: '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' will run from Sep 2019 to Sep 2024.

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 Mark Hailwood, 'The gender division of labour in early modern England' Economic History Review, available prepublicaton on journal website 2019.
  • 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

Both the 2004 book based on a study of 8000 probate inventories, written jointly with Mark Overton, Darron Dean and Andrew Hann, and 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’)  examine consumption and household economies. 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 forthcoming.
  • Jane Whittle, 'Home and work' in Amanda Flather ed., A Cultural History of the Home: The Renaissance 1450-1650, Bloomsbury forthcoming.
  • 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 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.

I have ERC (European Research Council) funding a part of a larger projct for a PhD on:

Pauper apprenticeships 1580-1720: work and the poor laws

Exeter has access to ESRC PhD funding which can be used for any of the PhD projects suggested below - the deadline for applications is January or February each year. Exeter has a good track record of success in getting funding for PhD projects of this type.

I would particularly welcome students to work on these specific PhD projects, some of which I have already scoped out the document-base for:

  • Gendered patterns of work and time-use 1700-1820, using incidental evidence from witness statements
  • A comparison of 17th century estate labour of particular landowners in England and the colonies (with an emphasis on freedom and control)
  • 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.
  • The end of serfdom, copyhold tenure and rights to land on the Kingston Lacy estate, Dorset, 1450-1650.
  • Regional differences in diet from the study of household accounts 1580-1650.
  • The Western Rebellion of 1549, using evidence from manorial records to map the geography and social structure of events and involvement.

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:

  • Juliet Gayton, ‘Tenants, tenures and transfers: the landholding experience of rural customary tenants in some Hampshire downland manors, 1645-1705'. Awarded 2013.
  • Geoffrey Woodward, 'The dissolution of the chantries in south-west England 1548-1603. Awarded 2015.
  • Kate Osborne, 'Illuminating the chorus of the shadows: Elizabethan and Jacobean Exeter 1550-1610'. Jointly supervised with Jonathan Barry. Awarded 2016.
  • Ed Taylor, 'Expressions of occupational identity in Early Modern England' (ESRC funded). Jointly supervised with Henry French. Awarded 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. Awarded 2017.
  • Marion Hardy, 'Poor travellers on the move in Devon 1598-c.1800'. Awarded 2017.

PhDs in progress:

  • Cathy Talbot, ‘Trans-Atlantic Consumerism in the 18th Century:  A comparative Study of the Material Culture of Ordinary People in Britain and her American Colonies.’ First supervisor.
  • Andrew Binding, ‘Consumption and material culture in south west England, 1650-1750’. First supervisor.
  • Paul Williams, ‘The trading community of Exeter, 1470-1570’. First supervisor.
  • Amy Ridgway, 'Wage labour and poverty on a Dorset estate, c.1680-1834'. ESRC funded. First supervisor.
  • Imogene Dudley, 'Women's work in household accounts 1500-1700.' Leverhulme funded. First supervisor.
  • Richard Cooke, 'Economic development in fifteenth-century Devon'. First supervisor.
  • Nigel Pratt, 'Decorative plasterwork in early modern south-west England'. 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

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

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 the AHRC peer review college

Member of the ESRC peer review college


  • 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