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Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award

January 2022

Degree Type


Degree Name




First Advisor

Jaime Goodrich


While the concept of “spiritual maternity” has a long history in Christian tradition and has been well-studied and documented in the context of the English Middle Ages, this project aims to extend scholarly consideration of spiritual maternity to the English Renaissance. In this period, maternal metaphors take on a new quality due to the tumultuous social, political, and religious effects of the Reformation and Counter Reformation in England. Often when the concept of spiritual motherhood is evoked, it is in direct connection to the facility of identity-building of religious (and even religio-national) communities; this project will study this emphasis specifically. The chapters examine Queens Katherine Parr and Elizabeth I’s role in the English Reformation and their “mothering” of a new Protestant national identity; the early modern discourse over breastfeeding and the abundance of nursing metaphors used in a spiritual context in seventeenth century sermons, catechisms, and other religious writing; the effective “matriarchy” of the English recusant Catholic community during the Counter Reformation and the texts it produced; and the writing of English nuns living in exiled convents on the European continent after the dissolution of the monasteries. This project seeks to show how the metaphor of maternity was powerful and effective in both bringing people together but also distinguishing them from others. It traces how political, religious, and spiritual communities were built, extended, and defended through having common “mothers” and “drinking” from the same “nurse.”

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