Political Speaking Justified: Women Prophets and the English Revolution

Political Speaking Justified: Women Prophets and the English Revolution

Political Speaking Justified: Women Prophets and the English Revolution

Political Speaking Justified: Women Prophets and the English Revolution

Synopsis

Political Speaking Justified traces the development of the idea of female political authority in three women prophets of the English Revolution. Following in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets, these women - Eleanor Davies, Anna Trapnel, and Margaret Fell - believed that God called them to communicate his will to the leaders of the nation. They entered the public sphere intent on bringing about a godly order and, as part and parcel of this goal, they deemed it necessary to create a political realm in which women's voices could be heard.

Excerpt

This study demonstrates that the women prophets of the ENglish Revolution inaugurate an early phase in the rise of modern feminist consciousness. Although the women prophets are not feminists in the sense that they do not intervene in the political sphere solely to improve the lives of women, they do represent an important moment in the history of feminism because they seek to justify a role for women as political activists. I make my case in two ways. First, I emphasize the relationship between prophecy and politics. in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets, the women I discuss claimed that God called them to convey his word to the leaders of the nation. Their resulting prophecies— including denunciations of Charles I and Oliver Cromwell, predictions of the imminent apocalypse, and pleas for religious toleration—placed them in the forefront of political events. Second, I illustrate how prophecy’s political imperative promoted among female visionaries the understanding that they as women could assume politically significant roles. Commanded by God to deliver messages of national import, these women needed to be believed and thus they needed to constitute themselves as politically viable speakers and writers. While this was a difficult task in a society that equated women’s public speech with sexual impropriety, the women prophets successfully proved that their authority as women could be consistent with the terms of political power. These terms themselves shifted markedly over the course of the English Revolution, but they ultimately defined a political order that privileged individual agency over and against the dictates of a predetermined hierarchy. I chart the ways in which three women prophets active in the beginning, middle, and end of the period respectively—Lady Eleanor Davies, Anna Trapnel, and Margaret Fell—register this broad shift in the definition of political authority.

What I discover is that female authority evolves from being an adjunct of patriarchy to an attribute of female sexuality. Where Lady Eleanor had once predicated her authority upon her . . .

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