M4C Logo AHRC Logo

Diane Strange

History, University of Leicester

Thesis title:

The Contempt and Reproach of our Nation: widows, minors, and the Court of Wards, 1625-1650

My research illuminates the court of wards as historians have never seen it. The corrupt, venal monster of child-trafficking and forced marriage that transcends four hundred years of history to reach us from the mouths and pens of contemporaries is considered not through the voices of politicians with an agenda, but of those who looked to it for succour. Drawing on the vast and untapped archives of petitions and depositions held in the WARD collections at The National Archives in Kew, London, my thesis disinters the voices of the men and women who used it: the petitioners who were forced, often through adverse circumstances and at great expense, to do business with the court. It investigates whether the court deserved the reputation it obtained, and how respective masters and their subordinates responded to their supplicants’ suits and troubles. 

In 1619, a subsidiary court of wards was established to manage wardship relating to lands held by Charles, Prince of Wales, as Duke of Cornwall and Earl of Chester. My research also analyses the work conducted by this court, the nature of its litigants, how it interworked with the king’s court of wards, and what effects Charles’s experiences of the court had on his fiscal policies and prerogative government as king. 

Most of the material I am consulting is untapped by historians, and the existence of the prince’s court has been almost wholly overlooked. My research therefore promises to offer exciting new insights into the workings of the court and the lived experiences of those who interacted with it.

Research Area

  • History


Journal articles

'From Private Sin to Public Shame: Sir John Digby and the use of Star Chamber in Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire, 1610', Midland History 44, 1 (Spring 2019), pp. 39–55. Winner of the Midland History essay prize 2018.

'Fighting for Hugh: the wardship of 'young Caulverley' of Lea Hall, Cheshire, 1620'. Winner of the Northern History essay prize 2021 (currently in peer review).

Book reviews

William Cecil’s Survey of Stamford 1595. A Town in Turmoil, by Alan Rogers (ed.) (Abramis Academic Publishing, 2020). Midland History, 46, 1 (March 2021), pp.147–148.

Reading early handwriting 1500–1700, by Mark Forrest (British Association for Local History, 2019). Local Population Studies (forthcoming).  

Blog posts

‘"Your petitioner having much suffered"’ – Petitioners to the Court of Wards during the British Civil Wars'. 'Civil War Petitions: Conflict, Welfare and Memory during and after the English Civil Wars, 1642–1710', civilwarpetitions.ac.uk (May 2020).


2020: Durham Early Modern Conference, University of Durham. 'A poore widow & destitute of friends': women's voices in the Court of Wards, 1610–1645'. Postponed until 2022 due to Covid-19.

2020: North American Conference of British Studies (NABCS), Chicago. 'Petitioning the Court of Wards during the British Civil Wars'. Cancelled due to Covid-19.

2016: Postgraduate Conference, University of Leicester. ‘The wrong, disadvantage, and disservice you did’: honour, myth-making, and the end of the Spanish match, 1623–1624’.

2015: Midland History Postgraduate Conference, University of Birmingham. ‘Wicked women and wolf-hooks: Digby v. Brounker and the case of the disputed bond’. 

Public Engagement & Impact

May-July 2021: The National Archives, Kew, London.

During this forthcoming three-month placement I will be conducting a comprehensive study of 'WARD 3, Depositions', a little-studied but highly illuminating collection of manuscripts at The National Archives. Whilst adding significantly to my own research, it will also deepen The National Archives' knowledge about this important collection and enable a programme of work that will bring the depositions to a wider audience. 

The project will comprise the digital imaging and examination of around thirty boxes of depositions from the reign of James I (1603–1625), each box containing on average fifty sets of interrogatories and their associated answers. Analysis of the manuscripts themselves in respect of their condition and cataloguing requirements will run concurrently with data collection, enhancing early modern records specialists' understanding of the records' condition and cataloguing requirements, as well as a heightened appreciation of the importance of the Court of Wards and Liveries in general, and depositions in particular, in early modern law, politics, and society.

July-September 2019: National Civil War Centre, Newark Museum, Newark, Nottinghamshire.

During this three-month placement I designed and co-authored the brochure for a new exhibition, 'The World Turned Upside Down'.  The activity fell into two parts. Firstly, I designed and part-wrote a 24-page colour brochure for a new exhibition at NCWC, 'The World Turned Upside Down'. I created the brochure in Adobe InDesign, also using Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator to create and enhance the images.  

The second part of the placement comprised the analysis of visitors’ responses to the exhibition. This aspect of the placement required the compilation of two questionnaires, one designed for school children aged 11 to 18, the other for adults, and a teacher’s consent form.  I conducted four visitor observation days at NCWC, which required engaging with visitors, handing them the brochure, asking them to complete the form either on paper or electronically via an iPad, and engaging them in conversation to learn more about the purpose of their visit and their responses to the exhibition.  Once the data had been collected, a report was generated that analysed the data and set out the advantages and the difficulties of encouraging the public to engage with the museum. It was intended that this would be used by the museum to help shape future policy. 

In addition, I gained valuable experience in how museums are curated and how exhibitions are managed, while learning about object handling and selection for display. The placement was extremely beneficial not just to myself, but also to NCWC, who will be able to develop and improve their visitor analysis procedures consequent to this project.

Other Research Interests

  • Anglo-Spanish diplomacy between 1604 and 1624 and the Spanish Match.
  • The political career of John Digby, first Earl of Bristol.
  • The British Civil Wars.
  • Women and the law.

Teaching Experience

'Waging Law in Early Modern England' (MA in English Local History, University of Leicester)

In Autumn 2019 I designed and delivered a three-hour session on the nature of law and the law courts in early modern England to MA students. This involved a 1.5-hour teaching session, and a 1.5-hour instruction in palaeography using documents selected for in-class, group transcription by the students.

'Abolitionists: Antislavery Activism in Britain and America, 1787–1865' (University of Leicester)

In 2020 I was enrolled as a teaching assistant on this third-year undergraduate module. As well as observing each session, this involved giving feedback on students' PowerPoint presentations. I also designed and delivered a twenty-minute PowerPoint presentation on Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin.

Prizes and Awards

2018: Midlands History Essay Prize

'From Private Sin to Public Shame: Sir John Digby and the use of Star Chamber in Northamptonshire and Bedfordshire, 1610'.

2021: Northern History Essay Prize

'Fighting for Hugh: the wardship of "young Caluerley" of Lea Hall, Cheshire, 1620'