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).
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.