The life of a clergyman’s wife two or three hundred years ago was somewhat circumscribed. Except for the occasions when she mounted a horse behind her husband to visit friends, she did not travel outside her own parish, and her ordinary days were busily occupied in attending to her family, and in supervising and sharing in the many activities of the house – combing and spinning of wool, carding and heckling of hemp and flax, the brewing of small beer, the making of butter, bacon, salted mutton and beef, salted herring and cod-fish, looking after the poultry and bee-hives, milking sheep in the sheep fold and making sheep’s and goat’s cheeses.
In the outspoken 17th century the clergyman’s wife sometimes refused to keep strictly to her role of housewife and allowed her tongue to wag too freely. In such a case she discovered that her social position did not save her from the consequences of her indiscretion.
In 1637 for example, the wife of the Vicar of Kirk German was brought before a Church Court for saying that a certain Peel woman was a witch. She paid for her offence by doing penance at the north stile of St Peter’s in Peel, with a bridle of leather in her mouth, whilst her husband’s congregation filed past her out of Church.
A complaint of another kind was made in 1669 against the English-born wife of Charles Parr, Vicar of Kirk Lonan. She was presented by the Chapter quest for not coming to Church. Her attitude before the Court was that of a contemptuous newcomer. “The Minister’s wife,” she said, “not having the service of the Church read to her in English and not understanding the Manx, absents herself till the parish will allow half the service to be read in English; and then she will truly observe the service.”
If the Spiritual Judges were taken aback by her nonchalance, they soon made her realise that a change of mind on her part was preferable to a stay in the bleak prison of Castle Peel; and she quickly decided to reform her ways.
(source: Manannan’s Isle by David Craine (1955); artwork is Woman in an Armchair by Charles François Hutin http://bit.ly/1ojxguM)