The History Woman's Blog

How not to write women out of history

Posted in Academia, Early Modern, History, literature, Political Thought, Politics, Republicanism, Seventeenth Century by thehistorywoman on January 17, 2020
PoW1646

The Parliament of Women (1646), on which Neville based his satirical libels.

Admittedly, my headline sounds a bit dramatic. But I am serious about this. Several years ago, I reviewed two books in short succession: one, a collection of essays on Oliver Cromwell, another, a history of gender in the English Revolution. The former barely mentioned any women at all, the latter focused on gender relations during this crucial period of British history.

The two books could not have been more different from each other, and yet, they covered similar issues. This made me think more about the way in which I was treating women in my own writing on seventeenth-century English republicanism.

I had to admit to myself, that I too had written my PhD thesis on a male republican, Henry Neville (1619-94), who was a bit of a misogynist himself. (He married a much younger woman to lay hands on her estate and then largely ignored her for the rest of her short life.)

It had not even occurred to me to look for a female subject to write about, mainly because I was under the naïve impression that – with the possible exception of Lucy Hutchinson – female republicans in the seventeenth century simply did not exist. This impression, no doubt, was based on the existing literature.

Ironically, it was through Neville himself that I came to engage with women in the English Civil War and its aftermath after all. In his Parliament-of-Women satires, Neville had used the image of an all-female assembly to poke fun on the weak and useless male MPs at Westminster in the late 1640s and early 1650s. This led me to investigate the political activities of women during the period from female petitioners to prophetesses and the activist wives of Leveller leaders.

IoP_Full_Wood copy

Frontispiece of Neville’s The Isle of Pines (1669).

Likewise, Neville’s fictional Restoration travel narrative The Isle of Pines had used a particular depiction of gender relations to pose questions about the legitimacy of political patriarchalism and hereditary rule. So I got hooked on the gender theme and promised myself to pay more attention to the female figures and voices that appear like faint shadows in the documents and secondary literature.

When I was writing my forthcoming book on The English Republican Exiles in Europe during the Restoration, for instance, I realised what an important role Elizabeth Ludlow (c 1630-1702) held in the wider republican nexus.

Not only did she facilitate the flight of her regicide husband, Edmund Ludlow (1617-92), into continental exile in 1660, she also maintained a communication network that allowed the fugitive to stay in contact with important allies over many years. (more…)