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Start of Trade with West Africa: Where is the African Voice?

Martin Marries Isobel: Where is her Voice?

On 30 September 1559 Martin marries a Yorkshire widow, Isobel Richard. Isobel has two children from her previous marriage and a substantial fortune. We know nothing about their home life, other than they have no children together.

At this time, all property belonged to the husband in a marriage.

Women had little or no social standing without a male guardian (father, husband) and there would have been cultural pressure for her to remarry and give security for her and her children. Martin wanted a male heir, and the lack of such in their marriage leads him to effectively abandon her.

Through a letter written by the Earl of Walsingham to another man in 1578, we hear that Isobel has petitioned him to cover debt of £4. Owing this debt has meant she is in the poorhouse.

‘In her most lamentable manner shewth into your honour your humbe oratrx Isabell Frobusher, the moste miserable woman in the world… her husband Captain Frobusher who hathe not only spent that which her [1st] husband left her, but the portions also of her poor children, and hath put them all to the wide worlde to shifte in a most lamentable case… they are want of food, ready to starve…’

Martin spends Isobel’s fortune on his future voyages and Isobel dies in the poorhouse in 1588, the same year as Martin is involved is disbanding the Spanish Armada.

Questions:

  • Do you think they married for love?
  • Why do you think we have no evidence about their domestic life?
  • Can we hear Isobel’s voice? If not, why not?

We know these facts from documents sanctioned by the men in Isobel’s life. Birth, marriage, poorhouse records and letters will have been recorded by the Church and the fortune through her first husband’s will. We hear nothing of Isobel’s voice.