Women, gender and non-lethal violence in Quarter Sessions petitioning narratives

Cleaned-up and slightly extended version of a paper presented at the conference Gender and Violence in the Early Modern World (University of Cambridge, 23 November 2019).

Introduction

In 1594 Allys Whittingham, William Bealey and Margery his wife petitioned Cheshire Quarter Sessions, setting out the many abuses and outrages perpetrated against them by Anne Lingard.1

She had had unjust warrants against them, claiming to be afraid of “bodily harm”. This was “greatly astonishing” to the petitioners, who were “well known never to have disturbed her majesties peace” or threatened Anne herself.

Anne had come to Allys’s house early one morning and sneakily “convaye[d] her selffe into the house to doe some outrage upon” Allys, and finding her alone,

did assault and treade her the sayd Allys (beinge an aged woman) under feete and would her have murdred or otherwayes fouly intreated yf she hadd not bine prevented by [Margery] whoe hearinge the crye came imediatly…

This was “a matter soe shamfull and unnaturall, as the lyke by anie woman hath seeldome bine offred in anie [christian?] cuntrey or towne”. Further, Anne was a frequent disturber of the peace, causing many “unseemly” brawls and affrays, and upsetting the “best sort” of the town’s inhabitants.

As a result, Allys could “not be at peace within her owne house” and was “much affrayd” of further attacks; and so they prayed both to be released from Anne’s warrants against them and for the authorities to take action against Anne.

Some elements of the case are really unusual: the language – “shamfull and unnaturall… the lyke by anie woman hath seeldome bine offred” – as well as their demand for the magistrates to “brydle the outragousnesse of the sayd Anne Lingard”. There’s nothing quite like this in any of the other petitions.

Nonetheless it reflects a number of common themes in petition narratives by victims of violence:

  • a background context which includes malice and vexatious litigation, disordered behaviour (versus the quiet law-abiding victim);
  • at least one central, murderous, assault on weak, defenceless victims;
  • fear of further attacks and therefore the urgent importance of bringing the offender under control.

Continue reading Women, gender and non-lethal violence in Quarter Sessions petitioning narratives

Civil War Petitions in Denbighshire

I note that the website for Civil War Petitions: Conflict, Welfare and Memory during and after the English Civil Wars, 1642 – 1710 is up, with the first batch of petitions (I think) due later this year. And there are still a few days of Women’s History Month to run, so I thought it might be opportune to post a 1665 petition from a soldier’s widow from my old Denbighshire Quarter Sessions files.

The petition of Geelien Cowley ‘a poore widdow and mother of three smale fatherlesse children’:

that your petitioners late husband by name E[dward] Birien of Ruthin a souldier that served in his majestys service in Ireland neare upon three yeares & afterward he retorned to England he served in his majestys service there sixe or seaven yeares where in all these tymes he suffered many ympriso[nments] wounds & brueses wch made him unable to earn his liveliehoode & more especiallie this two yeares last past then he was allowed one of the majestys pensioners to receave a share of his majestys allo[wance] for maymed souldiers provided. Nowe may it please [your] worships to be advertised that the said Edward Birien your petitioners late husband, had a longe sicknesse, beeinge vearie poore & nowe called to gods mercie caused your petitioner to goe upon the credit with her neighbours to suplie her said husbands wants in confidence to receave his share & alloweance of pension as afore is set forth, but it was gods will to take hime to his mercie afore this generall sessions.

Most humbly prayeinge your worships to allowe your petitioner the pencion allotted her late husband for to paye to her creditors what she is engaged for & your worships further help & succours in such sort as your worships thinke meete without your worships comisseracion hearein your petitioner shall not be able to goe amonge good & charitable people for releefe to her & her smale children for feare of arrest or lawsuite. this I humblie bege for gods sacke…

The treasurer of the maimed soldiers’ fund was ordered to pay her the whole quarterly allowance due to her husband.

[NLW Chirk Castle Quarter Sessions files October 1665 B21/d7]