Dorothy Leigh and Her Advice to Her Sons

Leigh’s book continues to be a valuable read.

Leigh spends much time instructing her sons on their roles of fathers. First of all, they should make sure their children, “males or females, may in their youth learn to read the Bible in their own mother tongue.”[10] Children can start learning to read when they are four. By the age of ten, they should read well. This is their duty during this stage of their life, “to learn how to serve God, their King and Country by reading.”[11] She reminds her sons to bring up their children “with gentleness and patience. … for frowardness and curtness harden the heart of a child, and make him weary of virtue.”[12]

 

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]

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