Early Modern English Noblewomen and Self-Starvation: The Skull Beneath the Skin is a unique exploration of why early modern noblewomen starved themselves, how they understood their behaviour, and how it was interpreted and received by their contemporaries.

The first study of its kind, the book adopts an interdisciplinary and highly detailed approach to examining women’s self-starvation between 1500 and 1640. It is also the first book to focus on this behaviour among noblewomen. Beginning with a contextual outline of gender, food and embodiment in early modern culture, the book then looks explicitly at the food behaviour of several well-known figures, including Elizabeth I, Catherine of Aragon, Mary I, Arbella Stuart, and Katherine Grey. Each case study engages with a variety of primary sources, such as letters and legal documents, as well as with literary texts, providing an in-depth exploration of the relationship between self-starvation and concepts of autonomy, sexuality, and literal and symbolic imprisonment, highlighting the body and specifically the act of eating as fundamental to identity in the early modern period and today.

Employing both literary and historical methodologies, Early Modern English Noblewomen and Self-Starvation is an important contribution to the study of the history of the body and is essential reading for students and academics of early modern women’s history, gender history, food history, and the history of the body.

chapter |16 pages


part I|2 pages


chapter 1|16 pages

Modern vs early modern bodies

18Anorexia nervosa and other historically situated forms of self-starvation

chapter 2|12 pages

Fasting and food in early modern society

‘At dinner, supper, or in taverns’ 1

chapter 3|11 pages

Women, food, and early modern households

‘None other wyse than the capitaine of a garison’ 1

chapter 4|21 pages

The female body in early modern England

‘Oh, that we may call these delicate creatures ours/and not their appetites!’ 1

chapter 5|22 pages

Women and self‑starvation on the Renaissance stage

‘Dead’ ‘Dead!’ ‘Starved!’ 1

part II|2 pages

Case studies

chapter 6|13 pages

Catherine of Aragon and Mary Tudor

102Eating and identity, royalty, and resistance

chapter 7|28 pages

‘The body of a weak and feeble woman’

Elizabeth I and eating, power, politics, and penetration 1

chapter 8|22 pages

‘With my body, I thee worship’

The tragedy of Lady Katherine Grey

chapter 9|45 pages

‘So Wilfully Bent’

Arbella Stuart, starvation, strategy, and survival

chapter |11 pages


The skull beneath the skin: starvation and embodied selfhood then and now