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Dr Gemma Allen

Gemma Allen photo

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Professional biography

I read History and English as an undergraduate at St Catherine’s College, Oxford. After working as a researcher for historical TV documentaries (including the RTS award nominated Blitz Spirit), I returned to Oxford for postgraduate study, receiving my doctorate in 2010 from Jesus College. Whilst completing my doctorate, I held a one-year lectureship at Lincoln College, Oxford, and for the following two years I was a lecturer at Pembroke College, Oxford. I joined the OU as a lecturer in early modern history in 2012.

I am a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and a BBC Expert Woman. I am also the Director of Research for the School of Arts & Humanities at the OU, and an Athena Swan Champion.

Research interests

My research centres on the political, religious and gender history of later sixteenth and early seventeenth-century England and particularly the study of early modern women.

My book, The Cooke Sisters: Education, Piety and Politics in Early Modern England (2013), explores the lives of five remarkable sixteenth-century women: Mildred Cooke Cecil (1526-1589), Anne Cooke Bacon (1528-1610), Margaret Cooke Rowlett (c.1533-1558), Elizabeth Cooke Hoby Russell (c. 1540-1609) and Katherine Cooke Killigrew (c. 1542-1583). Part of the select group of Tudor women allowed access to a formal education, the Cooke sisters were also well-connected through their marriages to influential Elizabethan politicians. Drawing particularly on their own writings, this book reconstructs for the first time the sisters' humanist education and reveals the extent of their religious and political agency. The book was runner-up for the 2014 WHN Book Prize.

The extensive extant correspondence of one of the Cooke sisters, Lady Anne Bacon, is the subject of my edition for the Camden series. My current research project looks more widely at the political activities of early modern Englishwomen. This includes my recently published article on English ambassadresses in early modern diplomatic culture.

I am a member of the steering committee for the Gender and Otherness in the Humanities (GOTH) research centre. I am also a member of the Medieval and Early Modern Britain History Research Group and the Medieval and Early Modern Research Group at the Open University.




The Cooke Sisters: Education, Piety and Politics in Early Modern England (Manchester University Press, hardback 2013, paperback 2016).


The Letters of Lady Anne Bacon (Camden Society Publications/CUP, 2014).

Journal Articles

'The Rise of the Ambassadress: English Ambassadorial Wives and Early Modern Diplomatic Culture', The Historical Journal, 62:3 (2019), pp. 617-638.

Peer-reviewed chapters

‘Women as Counsellors in Sixteenth-Century England: The Letters of Lady Anne Bacon and Lady Elizabeth Russell’ in J. Daybell and A. Gordon (eds), Women and Epistolary Agency in Early Modern Culture, 1450-1690 (Routledge, 2016), pp. 81-95.

‘“a briefe and plaine declaration”: Lady Anne Bacon’s 1564 Translation of the Apologia Ecclesiae Anglicanae’, in P. Hardman and A. Lawrence-Mathers (eds), Women and Writing, c.1340-c.1650: The Domestication of Print Culture (Boydell and Brewer, 2010), pp. 62-76.


Review of Linda Levy Peck, Women of Fortune: Money, Marriage and Murder in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 2018) in The American History Review, 125:4 (2020), pp. 1506-1507.

Review of An Apology or Answer in Defence of The Church Of England: Lady Anne Bacon's Translation of Bishop John Jewel's Apologia Ecclesiae Anglicanae, ed. P. Demers (Cambridge, MHRA, 2016) in Renaissance Quarterly, 70.1 (2017), pp. 361-2.

Review of The Letters of Luisa de Carvajal y Mendoza, edited by G. Redworth (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2012) in The English Historical Review, CXXIX, 536 (2014), pp. 203-204.

Review of Laura Lunger Knoppers (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Early Modern Women’s Writing (Cambridge, 2009) in The English Historical Review, CXXVI, 521 (2011), pp. 934-936.

Review of Melissa Franklin Harkrider’s Women, Reform and Community in Early Modern England: Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, and Lincolnshire’s Godly Aristocracy (Boydell and Brewer, 2008) in The English Historical Review, CXXIV, 510 (2009), pp. 1164-5.

Teaching interests

For several years I was the chair of the early modern module, A223: Early Modern Europe: Society and Culture, 1500-1780. I wrote several of the module's chapters, as well as writing and presenting various associated audios and films. I have also contributed to the new level 1 course, A111: Discovering the Arts and Humanities, as well as writing the block, 'Approaches to Early Modern History' for the MA in History (A883).

I have previously chaired A200: Exploring History: Medieval to Modern, 1400-1900 and Y180: Making Sense of the Arts. I have also taught and examined for A218: Medicine and Society in Europe 1500-1930.

I welcome PhD proposals in particular on early modern women and gender, sixteenth-century political and religious culture, as well as early modern correspondence and receipts. 

Impact and engagement

I am currently the academic consultant for a new OU-BBC2 coproduction.

I have extensive media training, as in January 2013 I was selected out of two thousand applicants to receive specialist training as a BBC ‘Expert Woman’. Follow this link for details about my recent appearance on BBC R4’s Woman’s Hour. For further information about my media work and my new podcast series, see my personal webpage, You can also find me on Twitter, @DrGemmaAllen.

External collaborations

I was a collaborative project director for the WEMLO (Women's Early Modern Letters Online) project, now embedded as part of the Cultures of Knowledge project.

I have previously acted as external examiner for the Certificate of Higher Education in History and the Graduate Certificate in History at Birkbeck, University of London. I am now external examiner for History at the University of Portsmouth.


The Rise of the Ambassadress: English Ambassadorial Wives and Early Modern Diplomatic Culture (2019-09-01)
Allen, Gemma
The Historical Journal, 62(3) (pp. 617-638)

The Cooke sisters: education, piety and politics in early modern England (2013-07-31)
Allen, Gemma
Politics, Culture & Society in Early Modern Britain
ISBN : 978-0-7190-8833-9 | Publisher : Manchester University Press

Women as counsellors in sixteenth-century England: The letters of Lady Anne Bacon and Lady Elizabeth Russell (2016-06)
Allen, Gemma
In: Daybell, James and Gordon, Andrew eds. Women and Epistolary Agency in Early Modern Culture, 1450-1690. Women and Gender in the Early Modern World (pp. 81-95)
ISBN : 978-1472478269 | Publisher : Routledge | Published : Abingdon

"a briefe and plaine declaration": Lady Anne Bacon’s 1564 Translation of the Apologia Ecclesiae Anglicanae (2010-08-19)
Allen, Gemma
In: Lawrence-Mathers, Anne. and Hardman, Phillipa eds. Women and Writing, c.1340-c.1650: The Domestication of Print Culture. Manuscript Culture in the British Isles (pp. 62-76)
ISBN : 978-1-90315-332-1 | Publisher : Boydell & Brewer | Published : Woodbridge

The Letters of Lady Anne Bacon (2014-04-30)
Allen, Gemma ed.
Camden Fifth Series
ISBN : 9781107056541 | Publisher : Cambridge University Press | Published : Cambridge