Dorothy Leigh and Her Advice to Her Sons

Her voice is honest, direct, humble, and insightful, facing with clarity and discernment many important issues in light of Scripture and for the glory of God.

Her book, The Mothers Blessing, was written as a letter to her grown children after their father had died. This was an acceptable form of writing for women. What was unexpected was its reception. Printed soon after her death (1616), it became an instant success, so much that 23 editions were published before 1674.

 

One of the best-selling 17th-century manuals on parenting written by a woman, Dorothy Leigh. What may seem perfectly normal to us was unusual in an age when women’s writings were rarely taken seriously. Books on marriage, parenting, and even midwifery were written by men. But Leigh’s distinctly feminine view of marriage and parenting provides an important perspective in the training of her sons, and her reflections on prayer, the sabbath, the importance of sound preaching, and other aspects of the Christian life are weighty and worth of notice.

Little is known of Leigh’s life. We only know her maiden name was Kempe and she married a gentleman from Cheshire County, Ralph Leigh. Together, they had three sons, George, John, and William.

Her Book

Her book, The Mothers Blessing, was written as a letter to her grown children after their father had died. This was an acceptable form of writing for women. What was unexpected was its reception. Printed soon after her death (1616), it became an instant success, so much that 23 editions were published before 1674.

While Leigh might not have anticipated such a response, she clearly hoped that the book would benefit more people than just her sons. She dedicated it to Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia, daughter of James I, and listed as one of her purposes “to move women to be careful of their children.”[1]

As it was common at that time, the book starts with a word of apology for writing, especially since Leigh is a woman, and there are many “godly books in the world that mold in some men’s studies.”[2] It’s her motherly love, she says, that compelled her to write: “Can a Mother forget the child of her womb?”[3]

In a moving paragraph, she recounts the efforts and sacrifices every mother makes for her children, carrying them within her, “so near her heart,” bringing them into the world, and praying as she breastfeeds them, “when she feels the blood come from her heart to nourish” them. “Will she not labor now till Christ be formed in” them?[4]

General Advice

Her first advice to her sons is they might live for Christ and daily “labor for the spiritual food of the soul…as the children of Israel gathered Manna in the wilderness. By the which you may see that it is a labor, but what labor? A pleasant labor, a profitable labor, a labor without the which the soul cannot live.”[5]

Besides this, they should not fear poverty, knowing that “it is the state of the children of GOD to be poor in the world.” In fact, “the fear of poverty makes men run into a thousand sins.”[6]

Likewise, they should not fear death, “for the fear of death hath made many to deny the known truth, and so have brought a heavy judgement of God upon themselves.”[7] No one can escape death, so instead of fearing it they should be prepared for it, by strengthening their faith “with the promises of the Gospel, as ‘He that liveth, and believeth, shall not die: and though he were dead, yet shall he live.’” And “whether I live or die, I am the Lord’s.”[8]. And this strengthening comes by meditating on God’s word—not simply reading it.

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