Info

for most reports of it come from extremely hostile observers such as Thomas Edwards who were in turn criticized for making up some of their accounts. Women tended to preach spontaneously at informal or clandestine meetings, and their listeners never thought to record the content of their sermons, so it is unclear how much sustained influence they exerted.

Women clearly did have an impact on the spread of more radical religious ideas through two other activities, organizing what were known as 'gathered' churches in their own homes and publishing pamphlets. Puritan women had often organized prayer meetings and conventicles in their houses during the early part of the seventeenth century, and after the Restoration they continued to open their homes to Baptists, Presbyterians, Quakers, and other groups. Post-Restoration commentatorsbelittled such groups by pointing out the large number of women they attracted, though again we have few objective records with which to judge the actual gender balance. As noted above, political and religious pamphlets authored by women appeared most frequently during the two decades when censorship was not rigorously enforced, as part of a more general explosion of pamphlet literature by a wide range of authors. Though most female authors deprecated their own abilities and described themselves as 'instruments of God's power', they clearly intended their works to be read by men and felt no limits as to subject matter, delving into complex theological and doctrinal matters and directly challenging the actions of the king or parliament.

A sense of urgency pervades most women's pamphlets, an urgency which occasionally led women to more overtly political actions. Several times during the Civil War decades, womenpetitionedparliament directly. In 1649, hundreds of women petitioned for the release of the Leveller leader John Lilburne, and 7,000 Quaker women signed a petition to parliament in 1659 for the abolition of the tithes. The language of the Leveller women clearly indicates that they felt a right to operate as political actors: 'We cannot but wonder and grieve that we should appear so despicable in your eyes as to be thought unworthy to Petition or represent our Grievances to this Honourable House. Have we not an equal interest with the men of the Nation, in those liberties and securities contained in the Petition of Right, and other good Laws ofthe Land?'3 Not until the French Revolution did statements such as this, claiming political rights for women who were not hereditary rulers, emerge again in Europe.

Such actions came to an abrupt end with the Restoration, and most of the radical groups in which women had participated died out. The most important exceptions to this generalization were the Quakers, who had been the most supportive of women's independent religious actions throughout

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment