The Politics of Female Alliance in Early Modern England

The Politics of Female Alliance in Early Modern England

The Politics of Female Alliance in Early Modern England

The Politics of Female Alliance in Early Modern England

Synopsis

In the last thirty years scholarship has increasingly engaged the topic of women’s alliances in early modern Europe. The Politics of Female Alliance in Early Modern England expands our knowledge of yet another facet of female alliance: the political. Archival discoveries as well as new work on politics and law help shape this work as a timely reevaluation of the nature and extent of women’s political alliances. Grouped into three sections—domestic, court, and kinship alliances—these essays investigate historical documents, drama, and poetry, insisting that female alliances, much like male friendship discourse, had political meaning in early modern England. Offering new perspectives on female authors such as the Cavendish sisters, Anne Clifford, Aemilia Lanyer, and Katherine Philips, as well as on male-authored texts such as Romeo and Juliet, The Winter’s Tale, Swetnam the Woman-Hater, and The Maid’s Tragedy, the essays bring both familiar and unfamiliar texts into conversation about the political potential of female alliances. Some contributors are skeptical about allied women’s political power, while others suggest that such female communities had considerable potential to contain, maintain, or subvert political hierarchies. A wide variety of approaches to the political are represented in the volume and the scope will make it appealing to a broad audience.

Excerpt

In the Egerton manuscript collection of the British Library, a beautifully bound and illustrated volume testifies to the persuasive power of the notion of female alliance. Dedicated to Queen Anna by her “humble handmaid” Anna Walker, A sweete savor for woman composed of the flowers of the holy scripture (c. 1606) is a religious miscellany that includes a lengthy sermon, doggerel verse, hand-tinted drawings, and autobiographical material. Adorned with the running head “from woman to woman,” the manuscript invokes not only the gender the author shares with her dedicatee but also their shared first name and Danish cultural origins. Indeed, Walker claims not only that her parents “receaved much good and grace” from Queen Anna’s mother, Queen Sofia, but also that the king of Denmark called her father “brother.” Despite such prestigious connections, however, Walker has clearly now fallen from grace: widowed and distressed, she “prostrates” herself, “wetherbeaten & beare,” before the queen, and begs her assistance. in one illustration, for example, Queen Anna is shown on the left, sumptuously clothed and basking in the sun, while Anna Walker, on the right, kneels naked on the ground with hands clasped in a shower of rain. Between the two figures lies Walker’s father’s dead body clothed in a full suit of armor; ships tossed at sea in the background suggest adversity. Here Walker . . .

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