A Brewing Storm: Alewives in sixteenth-century Inverness

Women played a crucial role in the economy and society of early modern Inverness. Among the most visible were the brewsters and alewives, women who produced and sold ale, a staple of the urban diet. Because brewing was highly regulated by the local authorities, such women were far more visible in the records than many of their urban sisters.

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Image of alewife used with the kind permission of Historic Environment Scotland

This talk will look at the lives of the brewsters and alewives as they appeared in the surviving town court records of Inverness, 1556-86, and what they can reveal more generally about women’s contributions to urban society. It will look in particular at the colourful life of Elspeth Barnet, a domestic servant who went on to spend her adult life in the brewing trade. From earning her living and breaking the rules while doing so, brawling with customers and other townspeople, assisting other brewsters, supporting her husband when he also got into trouble, and even being banished from the town on occasion, Elspeth Barnet demonstrates the assertiveness and agency of women in early modern Scottish towns.

Elizabeth Ewan recently retired as Professor of History and Scottish Studies at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. She researches medieval and early modern Scotland with a particular interest in gender history, urban history, and crime.

This talk is part of the Highland Archaeology Festival of events.

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