This assignment will be looking into what if any, did women do in the Seventeenth Century in the way of politics and political affairs. As with this time, men were the dominant being, the head of the house and women just being Second class citizens. To a small degree women did dabble in politics it would have been classed as minimal as they were seen inferior to men. But according to Weigall in 1642 women were coming to play a remarkably vigorous part in politics too. 1 In her own life T. E. states the opposite view and writes that women have no voice in Parliament, they …
have nothing to do in constituting laws, or consenting to them, or interpreting of laws or in hearing them interpreted at lectures, lets or charges, and yet they stand tied to men’s establishments, little or nothing excused by ignorance. 2 This to an extent was the truth, as what could women do, at this time apart from the domestic sphere in which they seemed domed to belong in. The roles of women were limited. This can be a difficult subject to study objectively, as women had few rights in the early modern period.
There is the danger of supposing that because women were very much confined to the domestic sphere that they were unhappy, oppressed, and abused by tyrannical husbands. While tyrannical husbands certainly existed, there is no evidence to suggest that they were the norm and that women were generally mistreated and unhappy. Yet in the mid-sixteenth Century there were female queens ruling England, Mary Tudor, her sister Elizabeth and their cousin Mary Queen of Scots. The contention that as women they could not rule was ancillary to wider political and confessional debate between Protestants and Catholics3
The issue here was not just their gender but their religion too. As a woman could they rule England as well as a man, this was the feeling by most at this period of time the most being male. The reigns of Tudor and Stuart queens in England should thus properly be seen as an extension of political activities of aristocratic and gentry women within their own family networks, in which blood ties and patronage links were all important to the exercise and accumulation of power. 4 In other words it seemed only that aristocratic women who had male family members to influence them could possible have a small say in politics.
The years from 1640 to 1660 were to become an important period for women at this time when woman took a public role representation in all political affairs. The Civil war affected all, whatever elite group they were, which helped promoted, large sweeping demonstrations by women. The first was on January 1642, when a company of women delivered a petition to the House of Lords, complaining of the decay of trade and demanding an end to religious disputes and relief of Protestants in Ireland after the recent insurrections5
The civil war brought about many issues, with the men folk away fighting, women were left and therefore forced suddenly into public life weather they liked it or not. They had to run the family businesses and still support their families during the time of their husband unavailability. The rise of mass political activity of a new kind, accompanied by demonstrations in the street and petitions, and a high level of popular political consciousness, including for the first time petitioning and demonstrating by women and apprentices.
6 Women presented petitions to Parliament during the period 1641 to 1653. The women petitioners of the English Civil war were the first organized groups of women to take direct political action in England7. Women who were on either side, from royalist to parliamentarian presented petitions to government it was not just one or the other; both parties implicated petitions. Some Historians feel that these women were true pioneers in the realisation that they were the first women to establish campaigns of political action.
The women petitioning Parliament in 1642 and 1643 were taking action as women and speaking for women, and thus for the time their political role was sex- differentiated and an assertion of gender8 In January 1642 some 400 women presented a petition to the House of Lords on the subject of the decay of trade and their general distress. 9 The political turmoil of the Seventeenth-Century led women to controversy views on politics, as women they had no political identity in their own rights only through their husbands or fathers.