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Clinton, Elizabeth


Subject Literature » Renaissance Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405194495.2012.x


Elizabeth Clinton, countess of Lincoln (?1574–?1630), is the author of one known work, a tract in defence of breastfeeding entitled The countess of Lincolns nurserie (1622). Daughter of Sir Henry Knevitt of Charlton, Wiltshire, Elizabeth married Thomas Clinton (otherwise Fiennes), Lord Clinton sometime after 21 September 1584. By her own account, Clinton had 18 children, of whom as many as half died during infancy. Clinton attributed at least ‘one or two’ of these deaths to her use of wet nurses instead of breastfeeding the infants herself. Although few details of her life survive, it is known that her son Theophilus, who succeeded his father as earl of Lincoln in 1616, brought a suit in chancery against his mother over the guardianship of his three younger brothers. One of Clinton's daughters, Arabella, emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1620, but died shortly after arriving. Clinton probably died in 1630. The countess of Lincolns nurserie should be considered in the context of seventeenth-century notions about maternal breastfeeding. For noblewomen, the employment of wet nurses was the norm, even as (and perhaps also because) the majority of early modern women breastfed their children. Breast milk was understood to have medicinal as well as nutritive properties, and was believed to be, like semen, purified blood. However, many thought the beneficial effects of breast ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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