Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Dissertation


English Language and Literatures



First Advisor

David L Miller


This dissertation provides a new way to examine the early modern family while denaturalizing a more familiar one. My project starts with the oft-observed fact that early modern English texts used familial terminology to describe a whole host of relationships, not simply those of blood or marriage. In a culture that insisted that God was the only true father, spiritual kinship was not simply one bond among others. Period writers took seriously Christ's assertion that 'whosoeuer shall doe my Fathers will, the same is my brother and sister and mother.' Consequently, I argue that the spiritual family in post-Reformation England was less a stable identity than a series of practices that bound early modern believers to the divine Father.

I explore the spiritual family in post-Reformation England through an analysis of different sociological spaces and the familial practices those spaces enabled. England's sixteenth-century break from the Roman Catholic Church significantly altered the way the spiritual family was practiced. Chapters two through four examine those changes in the church, household, and court respectively. In the church, doctrinal changes left believers unable to confirm their own salvation. In the home, the material household and household of faith became synonymous, redefining the duties and responsibilities of the household governor. At court, the ruler stood as the supreme head of the church, but his relationship to divine authority demanded constant support. The spiritual family constituted itself in these separate arenas through the respective practices of salvation, imitation, and legitimation. Chapter five examines an alternative to the patriarchal structure of the spiritual family. Aemilia Lanyer's Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum overtly challenges patriarchy and the spiritual practices associated with it, offering the virtuous practice of writing as an alternative mode of spiritual identity.