Journal of Early Modern Studies

Volume 7, Issue 2, Fall 2018

Julia D. Combs
Pages 55-71

Fountains of Love
The Maternal Body as Rhetorical Symbol of Authority in Early Modern England

For Erasmus, the two fountains streaming milky juice—a new mother’s breasts—represent powerful symbols of love and authority. Erasmus describes the mother’s breasts as fountains oozing love to the sucking child. Elizabeth Clinton extends the image of Mother to represent God, reminding the nursing mother that when she looks on her sucking child, she should remember that she is God’s new born babe, sucking His instruction and His word, even as the babe sucks her breast. Dorothy Leigh extends the image of the nursing mother to an image of Christ himself. Mother’s love, especially a breast-feeding or “lying in” mother’s love, is one of the most authoritatively gendered representations of love. Issues of gender and authority converge often around the image of the breast-feeding mother. Drawing on the image of the nursing mother, Dorothy Leigh and other early modern writers actively engaged in the most contentious and public debates of their day, including the authority of men, preachers and kings.