This elegant accessory case or étui (c. 1710) was a gift from Queen Anne to her chambermaid, Abigail Masham (1670?–1734). It contains the essentials for an elite woman’s life of sewing, dining and grooming: an exquisite pair of scissors, a bodkin for threading ribbon or pinning hair, a fruit knife and a combined pen-pencil. The jewelled case, made of agate mounted in gold and set with an emerald and diamonds, probably hung from Abigail’s girdle, almost like a holster.
The case supports the idea of women as decorative, domestic objects, but it also shows their influence. The base is engraved with the message, ‘Masham from her Lovin Dux [the Latin word for leader]’. It reveals the affection between two of the most powerful women in early 18th-century Britain.
Women’s power: Queen Anne and Abigail Masham
Around 1700, Abigail (née Hill) entered Princess Anne’s household with the help of her wealthier cousin, Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough. When Anne became queen in 1702, Sarah was still her favourite and the Marlboroughs held huge sway in Britain. By 1710, however, the Tory Abigail had displaced her Whig cousin, and she was working behind the scenes to change the political landscape. By 1711, Abigail had gained control of the Privy Purse, and in 1712 her husband Samuel Masham – whom she had married in 1707 – was honoured as a baron.
‘A two-edg’d weapon’: Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock
A lady’s case, scissors and bodkin feature in Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock (1712–14), which revolves around a quarrel at Queen Anne’s court. At the climax of the poem, a baron uses a tiny pair of women’s scissors to steal a lock of Belinda’s hair (3:128). He borrows the ‘two-edg’d weapon’ from Clarissa’s ‘shining case’. In revenge, Belinda threatens him with a ‘deadly bodkin’ (5:88). By using epic language to describe these ‘trivial things’, Pope mocks the pride and pretensions of the fashionable set. At the same, he shows the ‘mighty’ impact of rifts within this high society circle (1:2).
- Article by:
- Andrew Macdonald-Brown
- Gender and sexuality, Travel, colonialism and slavery, Satire and humour
Andrew Macdonald-Brown shows how Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock progresses from satirising the foolishness of wealthy young women to exposing the violence that results from unequal power relations, whether between men and women, rich and poor or imperial powers and colonised nations.