While the new women's history has produced detailed accounts of women's lives, it has been very cautions about large-scale generalisations or theoretical development. This paper discusses macroquestions of historical change and attempts a historical periodisation of gender relations in Britain. It is important to distinguish changes in the form of partriarchy from those of changes in its degree. There has been a movement in the type of patriarchy from a private to a public form in Britain over the last century or so. This was caused by both the development of the demand for women's labour by an expanding capitalist economy and by the successes of first-wave feminism.