ABSTRACT

LOOKING BACK TO THE Restoration late in his life, the royalist leader and historian, Edward, earl of Clarendon, attributed the immorality of King Charles II to the attacks on all hierarchy and authority in the 1640s and 1650s:

All relations were confounded by the several sects in religion which discountenanced all forms of reverence and respect, as relics and marks of superstition. Children asked not blessing of their parents; nor did they concern themselves in the education of their children…. The young women conversed without any circumspection or modesty, and frequently met at taverns and common eating houses; and they who were stricter and more severe in their comportment, became the wives of the seditious preachers or of officers of the army…. Parents had no manner of authority over their children, nor children any obedience or submission to their parents, but everyone did that which was good in his own eyes. This unnatural antipathy had its first rise from the beginning of the rebellion, when the fathers and sons engaged themselves in the contrary parties, the one choosing to serve the king and the other the Parliament…there were never such examples of impiety between such relations in any age of the world, Christian or heathen, as that wicked time, from the beginning of the rebellion to the king’s return. (The Life of Edward Earl of Clarendon)

Clarendon’s comments introduce two important themes for a discussion of the part played by women in the English revolutions of the 17th century: a parallel between political division and breakdown of order in the family, and a stress on the role of religious divisions in promoting a broader assault on social practices and conventions. In January 1649 Charles I-the “politic father of his people”—was executed after a public trial for betraying his people’s trust; the House of Lords was abolished and the surviving House of Commons established a “Commonwealth” or republic, built on the declaration that the people, under God, were the source of all just power, and that this power was exercised through Parliament. The radicalism of this political transformation, at least in the short term, might suggest radical debate about familial authority also. Although the civil wars were in part the product of splits in the ruling elites over a variety of political and religious issues, significant elements from outside the normal political elite were also heavily involved-on both sides, but perhaps most importantly in support of Parliament. In the early 1640s Parliament’s propaganda quite deliberately presented itself as the “representative of the people” and rallied those people (loosely defined) to the defense of true religion, law, and liberties. This appeal to “the people” was crucial in the later 1640s, but it remains to be seen how far it involved a politicization of women as well as men such as those serving in Parliament’s army.