Elite Women project

Elite Women & the Agricultural Landscape, 1700-1830: a project funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council and the Leverhulme Trust (active 2010-2016).

PI: Dr Briony McDonagh

Project summary

The project investigates the role played by elite women in managing large agricultural estates, whether as wives, widows or single women. Female landowners controlled significant amounts of property in Georgian England, yet their contribution to the agricultural changes which transformed the rural landscape between 1700 and 1830 has been almost entirely overlooked.

Using archival materials from across eighteenth and early-nineteenth-century England, the project explores gentle and aristocratic women’s contribution to landscape change including parliamentary enclosure and agricultural improvement, country house building, landscaping and gardening. As a corollary to this, it also establishes the precise scale of women’s landownership in Georgian England for the first time.

In doing so, the project explores a series of important questions about propertied women’s role in Georgian society, as well as contributing to wider cultural debates about women’s place in the environmental, social and economic history of the English countryside.


  • B. McDonagh (2009) ‘Women, Enclosure and Estate Improvement in 18th-century Northamptonshire’, Rural History 20.2, pp. 143-62.
  • B. McDonagh (2011) ‘“All towards the improvements of the estate”: Mrs Elizabeth Prowse at Wicken, 1764-1810’, in R. W. Hoyle (ed.) Custom, Improvement and the Landscape in Early Modern Britain (Ashgate), pp. 263-88.
  • B. McDonagh and S. Daniels (2012) ‘Enclosure stories: narratives from Northamptonshire’, Cultural Geographies 19.1, pp. 107-121.
  • B. McDonagh, ‘On being “fully and completely mistress of the whole business”: propertied women and estate accounting in Georgian England’ (in review).
  • B.McDonagh, Elite Women and the Agricultural Landscape, 1700-1830 (Ashgate, forthcoming).

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