Vanished comforts
: locating roles of domestic furnishings in Scotland 1500-1650

  • Michael Pearce

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Household inventories record objects that can be compared with surviving artefacts contributing to the study of material culture and social history. However, this thesis shows how heterogeneous inventories found in early modern Scottish sources resist quantification and aggregation. Instead, qualitative use of inventory evidence is advocated. Inventories can contribute information on the locations of activities in the home. These activities may be preferred to the object as evidence of historical change and as units of international comparison. Furnishing a house was cultural activity, and a construction of culture. In this study, objects are regarded as participants in cultural activities, strategies, and the construction of values.

    Sixteenth-century inventories are often impersonal and tend to show similarities in content, encouraging mechanistic interpretations of domestic life. The seventeenth century saw a proliferation of household equipment and furnishing for elites throughout Europe due to changes in production and consumerism. Some of this new furnishing was bought in London, some in France. While national difference was apparently maintained in architecture, new furnishings may have effaced distinctions within elite rooms. Scottish and English culture was merged by aristocratic intermarriage.

    This new culture is seen in the inventories of Mary, dowager Countess of Home. She maintained houses in England and Scotland. Some of her furnishings represented the style of an inner circle at court. Her inventories are also significant because they detailed equipment for a range of activities. She personally prepared medicines and sweetmeats, and had a number of scientific instruments. Pursuits reconstructed from the detail of later inventories can illuminate other domestic situations where clues are more subtle or absent. The level of autonomy Lady Home and her daughters exercised over their homes is a reminder of the agency exercised by women over furnishings, gardens, architecture, and estate policy.
    Date of Award2016
    Original languageEnglish
    SponsorsArts & Humanities Research Council
    SupervisorAlan MacDonald (Supervisor) & Stephen Jackson (Supervisor)


    • Scottish history
    • Early modern Scotland
    • Union of the Crowns
    • Material culture
    • Furnishings
    • Agency
    • Consumerism

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