There is also material for a study of the realities of women’s legal rights in the personal petitions published by women in the mid seventeenth century concerning non-payments of legacies from the estates of their deceased relatives.Given the strict restriction on women’s presence in public, it seems astounding that groups of women were able to forge and enhance political ideas during this era. All women petitioners had to weaken the appropriate customs of virtuous female actions by making themselves observable, evident and perceptible in and around Parliament, which at this time was the most public of spheres.
The women’s petitions of the Seventeenth Century broke down in to three categories. The first being Miscellaneous petitions, most of these, petitioned for the Parliament to act to relieve the hardship, this may have been caused by the deterioration in trade due to consequence of the continued civil unrest. On October 1645, 2,000 maimed and wounded soldiers and widows presented a petition to the House of Commons protesting their hardship.The second category being Peace Petitions, some of these women wore white ribbons this was a symbol of their cause. The wearing of white ribbons was the distinguishing mark of peace petitioners, just as wearing of sea-green ribbons became that of the Levellers.
In August 1643, when groups of two to three thousand women converged on Parliament to petition for peace, the supporters of the war branded the women as the inferior sort’, ‘whores’ ‘the scum of the suburbs’ and an ‘abundance of Irish women.14 This reflected the claim that including women in politics would impair the principles of all that it concerned. Their protest ended in a violent siege, were some women were killed or seriously injured. Ironically enough, this was the peace-seeking mob, women killed by soldiers in this tumult, yet unappeased.
The third category were the Leveller petitions, their most intense period of protest being in April and May 164916. Leveller petitions clamed equality, a petition of April 1649 argued that women had an equal share and interest with men in the commonwealth, in May 1649 another petition justified the rights of women by asserting that women were created in the image of God. Some historians state that the Levellers were unpopular with both the Royalist and the Parliamentarians this was because they were seen as radicals. Most of the Leveller women’s petitions included well-acquired arguments for women’s political rights in contrast to political action for which the peace petitioners had given it.
Leveller women were not aristocratic women, nor were they mainly drawn from the very poorest in society, but they were principally artisans, with some form of property or skilled trade. News books gave daily accounts of the events in and around Parliament It would seem that petitions by women were considered very newsworthy as nearly all papers around at the time analysised especially during the turmoil of the peace and the leveller’s petitions. These news books just underlined existing mannerisms to women in public, thus acted as a possible deterrent to other women who may have been tempted in to taking on political thought and action.
The first incidents, which gave, rise to a large number of reports about women’s political actions were the Peace petitions of August 1642.19 According to Eales there is evidence of women taking part in local Parliamentary elections, Dame Elizabeth Copley daughter-in-law Catharine had the right to the nomination, it apparently was a legal part of her widows jointure, the Privy Council overturned it in 1572. It was not the sex but the lordship of the borough that mattered.
Some wives and mothers helped to organize campaigns for their husbands and fathers in order for them to get elected. Some elite women even after the Restoration still continued to influence the political process. It was at this time we saw the development of political groups this came in the form of the Whig and the Tory parties. There were other aspects of women getting involved in political issues, some women acted as spies for both or either sides. Some worked as fundraisers and set up committees that met two to three times weekly. The most common forms of political action for women were specking in public and participating in riots, demonstrations and processions.
Women were combining in an attempt to alter government policy, justifying their actions with the assertion that since they were affected by affairs of state, they should be allowed to express their opinions.2Women like Margaret Cavendish, wrote about women’s issues, one being how they were perceived in politics she stressed that women on the whole were excluded from politics she wrote we are no subjects of the state. 23 She felt very strongly about this issue, therefore feeling that women did not count unless through their husbands she goes on to say the truth is, we are no subjects, unless it be to our husband, and not always to them, for sometimes we usurp their authority, or else by flattery we get their good wills to govern.24
This era could be seen as the first step to women’s rights, Women’s right to vote, women’s rights to be MPs in Parliament and women’s right to speck out in public. The seventeenth Century women’s role was very minimal in all that they did and were allowed to do. If it were not for women in this era that fought for what they believed in would we have had women like Emily Pankhurst who took the fight to the next level in helping to get women the vote, more political rights and the first lady MP. Then in 1997 there were 119 women elected to Parliament.
In conclusion it can be seen that women’s political activities were not the same as men’s, as they were seen in a different light. On both sides powerful individuals were concerned to secure the success of their own family or patronage networks and this is an area in which the participation of women still awaits further serious detailed and systematic research. Clearly though some women did have a say in politics at this period manly by using their husband’s or father’s influence and position in all affairs of state this view is supported by Laurence who states that some women did influence their male relations and used their position to involve themselves in political affairs.
Men’s views at this time were that Women were expected to remain in the home, represent and protected by their husbands or father. When out in public women was considered prey to corrupting influences, which she was too illogical and emotional to resist. However this situation was backed up by firm code of behaviour for which all women were judged as honourable and righteous as they were said to be both silent and obedient to their husbands.
Even though this may suggest that perhaps women should remain at home and have no public life, this was clearly not the case. As it as been reported in the years which heralded the Civil War women had become all the more visible in all public life. Even women who had married often worked a long side their husbands in either their work shops or shops. Women certainly felt able to express political opinions28. As some saw it, it was their right to be equal. Women getting involved how they did at this time only seemed to happen during the Civil War as they had more opportunity to assert their views than before or even after the War.