This is the first comprehensive introduction to the works and social contexts of women writers in early modern Britain, a period when it was considered unfeminine to write and yet women were the authors of many poems, translations, conduct books, autobiographies, plays, pamphlets and other texts. Drawing together the pioneering work of feminist literary critics and historians, this survey examines ways in which the idea of woman was constructed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and women’s role in and access to literary culture. It also focuses on women writers and their output across the spectrum of genres from courtly romance to Quaker prophecy. A unique chronology offers a woman-centred perspective on historical and literary events, and there is a guide to further reading. Women and Literature in Britain, 1500–1700 explores the history of women’s part in the development of literary culture, while revealing how paradoxical that history can be.