A Poor Hand-Maid’s Tale: Love, Petitioning and Print in Seventeenth-Century England

The second post in our Postgraduate and Early Career Takeover comes from Scott Eaton, an ECR interested in early modern witchcraft, religion, art and print cultures. His book on the witch-finder John Stearne is available from Routledge now. You can follow him on twitter: @StjEaton.

On 22 August 1651 Christopher Love was executed for treason for conspiring with Royalists to restore the King, Charles II, to the throne. His wife, Mary Love, had worked tirelessly to try and save him. While he was being held in the Tower of London, Love petitioned, ‘stood dailie’ at Parliament’s doors and even sent messages to Cromwell in Scotland (at the cost of £100!) in the hope she might secure her husband’s release. Unfortunately, she failed in her efforts. Shortly after Christopher’s death, however, Mary published her petitions and included letters they had written to each other before he was executed. Her publications can provide insight into petitioning, print and gender roles in seventeenth-century England.  

Petitioning was an acceptable way for the ‘ruled’ to address the authorities and make their voices heard, whether seeking action, intercession or mercy, like Love. The 1640s saw a breakdown over censorship of the press and a rise of female assertiveness in the political arena, allowing printed petitions attributed to women to proliferation more widely than before. Mary Love’s printed petitions obviously came after these events had happened, giving her a precedent to follow.

The Resolution of the Women of London to the Parliament (1642), EEBO
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‘The devil will tear me in pieces’: Self-destruction and sympathy in a seventeenth-century witchcraft case

We are delighted to launch our Postgraduate and Early Career Takeover with this post from Imogen Knox. Imogen is an M4C funded doctoral researcher at the University of Warwick whose work focuses on suicide, self-harm and the supernatural in Britain, 1560-1735. Find her on twitter at @Imogen_Knox.

Self-destruction was interwoven with the roles of both witch and bewitched in early modern Britain. Witches committed spiritual suicide in signing themselves over to the devil, and in turn the devil tempted his imprisoned servants to self-destruction to secure his grip on their souls. The spiritual and actual suicide of witches, like criminals, reinforced their guilt in the contemporary imagination. Witches also tormented their victims with temptation to self-destruction.

Witches making a pact with the devil. Compendium maleficarum. Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Both those afflicted by witchcraft and witches themselves expressed self-destructive temptations. One such admission would produce sympathy, the other scorn. In this post I examine the case of the witchcraft of Anne Bodenham and her victim Anne Styles to show how, by mirroring each other’s self-destructive behaviours, the women negotiated contemporary ideas around innocence, guilt, female nature, and spirituality. One would emerge as an innocent victim, the other an unrepentant sinner.

Dr John Lambe, Anne Bodenham’s reputed tutor. John Lambe, an infamous medical practitioner and magician. Wood engraving. Wellcome Collection. Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Anne Bodenham, of Fisherton Anger, near Salisbury, was a reputed cunning woman. It was her ability to locate stolen goods that first brought Anne Styles to her in 1653. Styles, a young woman employed as a maid in the Goddard household, was illiterate and ‘altogether ignorant of the Fundamentall grounds of Religion’ according to the court clerk Edmund Bower. In contrast, the eighty-year-old Bodenham owned ‘a great many notable books’ and claimed to have been taught by the infamous Dr Lambe. Styles made multiple visits to Bodenham, to consult on various issues for the Goddard family, chief among the fear of Styles’ mistress that she was to be poisoned. After several visits, Bodenham offered to take Styles on, ‘to live with her’ and ‘teach her to doe as she did’. However, when Bodenham transformed herself into a cat, Styles was ‘very much affrighted’. Bodenham, seeing that she had misjudged the situation, let Styles go. To ensure that Styles would not ‘discover her’, Bodenham had Styles sign her name in blood in a book, while two conjured spirits looked on.

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the many-headed monster postgrad and early career takeover!

We monster heads still strongly believe in the value of the blog format, but sadly life has conspired to mean none of us can post as often as we used to. The site remains popular though, and we receive an average of around 5,000 views per month. So rather than having this platform sit here twiddling its thumbs, we put our monstrous heads together to think about how we could make the most of it at the current time. The answer was obvious: for at least the next six months we want to make the monster a platform for our postgraduate and early career readers to showcase their research, and to voice their views on academic life.

We hope there will be a number of benefits. Obviously the takeover will give early career scholars the chance to bring the fruits of their research to a wide audience, but it is also an opportunity for writers to give blogging a try and for us to share some of the insights we have gained over the years. Of course with lockdowns still in place in many parts of the globe, and with further postponements of conferences and symposia, the takeover is also intended as an alternative way of encountering and engaging with current research and work in progress – and in a digestible format that can fit in around online teaching, caring duties, daily exercise and lying on the floor in a darkened room breathing deeply, etc.

So if you are a budding historian who does not have a permanent academic job (our deliberately baggy definition of postgrad/early career), then please consider writing a blog for us. You can download our simple guidelines and style guide here: Submission Guidelines For Authors.

The rest of this post provides a gloss on the guidelines, familiarising potential contributors (or anyone else thinking of venturing into blog writing) with the reasons why we have come to write for the monster in the way that we do. As you will see, most of them relate to our sense of who reads the blog, when and why.

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