Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

Royalist Women Petitioners in South-West England, 1655-62

Academic journal article The Seventeenth Century

Royalist Women Petitioners in South-West England, 1655-62

Article excerpt

There is literature on Royalist women in south-west England who defended castles while their husbands and sons were away fighting in the Royalist army during the Civil Wars. These women included the Marchioness of Winchester who withstood the siege of Basing House for two years, Lady Mary Banks who defended Corfe Castle for her husband, and Lady Blanche Arundel who defended Wardour Castle for her son against Parliament.1 Leveller petitions presented to Parliament in the 1640s by Elizabeth Lilburne, Mary Overton and Katherine Chidley for the release of John Lilburne and Richard Overton are also well documented.2 But the suggestion of a network of Royalist women petitioners in south-west England during the 1650s and early 1660s has been overlooked by social historians.

After the Battle of Naseby in 1645, the whole of England was under Parliament's control. It led to Royalists being widely sequestered during the 1640s for delinquency, and petitioning against compounding for their estates. In the aftermath of rebellion, Royalists condemned as traitors appealed through law to Parliament for pardon, and women interceded on their behalf as wives, sisters, mothers and daughters. By the mid-1650s, Royalist petitions had escalated in number. This was due to three confiscation acts being introduced in 1651-52 following the Battle of Worcester.3 It entailed lands and estates of Royalists convicted as traitors being forfeited and sold by the state. Such action was instrumental in the escalation of petitions from Royalist women who petitioned on behalf of their men. However, the majority of these women were wives who petitioned for their husband's pardon, or if that failed, their own subsistence.

This situation is a contrast to the plight of Parliamentarian war widows, as stipends were granted to thousands of women whose husbands had been killed in the service of Parliament by county funds through the assizes during the period 1645-1660.4 But these women had to prove that their husbands had fought for Parliament and they were living in poverty due to their husband's death.5

The petitions of Royalist women who pleaded for their husband's pardon, and subsequently his life, are emotive in textual content in so far that the wife is repentant on behalf of her husband. The initial point of the Royalist women petitioners of south-west England was Penruddock's Rising in 1655. John Penruddock of Compton Chamberlayne, Wiltshire, led an abortive Royalist insurrection in the west, but was easily defeated by Parliamentarian troops under the command of Captain Unton Croke from the garrison at Exeter. The insurrection was alleged to have been part of a wider conspiracy that involved collusion between Royalists and Levellers. Penruddock and his associates, known as the Salisbury rebels, were tried by a commission of oyer and terminer at assizes held at Exeter, Salisbury and Chard. John Penruddock was sentenced to death, but the majority of the rebels, although receiving sentences of death, were transported and sold into indentured servitude in Barbados. However, seven of the rebels besides Penruddock and his next in command, Colonel Hugh Grove, were executed.6

It was whilst John Penruddock was awaiting execution in Exeter Gaol that his wife Arundel initially petitioned the Lord Protector in 1655 to show clemency (Appendix 1).7 A similar petition was written jointly by Mrs Penruddock and Anne Duke, the sister of Robert Duke, gentleman of Southampton, who was also being held at Exeter Gaol, condemned to death for High Treason, for his part in the insurrection. The petition is addressed to John Glynne, one of the judges who had tried Penruddock and Duke (Appendix 2).8 It is interesting to note that the women emphasise the fact that the two condemned men have thirteen children between them: 'poor orphans who shall ever pray'. Even John Penruddock, in a petition to the Lord Protector after condemnation, pleaded: 'mercy, not for his own sake, but for so many innocents; his wife, children, relations who are too numerous to be made miserable by his death'. …

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