Divers Well-Affected Women (1649)
John Taylor (1578–1653)
Traditionally, women have been expected to maintain public silence and act under what St. Paul calls the “headship” of men in this life (1 Tim. 2:12–14). But the participation of women in public affairs has often been welcomed at times of crisis. During the political and religious tumult of the mid-seventeenth century, when such “Levelers” as John Lilburne (1614?–1657), William Walwyn (fl. 1649), and the even more radical Gerrard Winstanley (1609–1676) were agitating for profound social and political change, women also acted in many forthright ways. Among royalists, many defended homes under siege (Lady Brilliana Harley, notably, died soon after such an episode); many were sent to negotiate concerning the family estates. Humbler women, too, often took a direct part in public affairs, as witness the flurry of mass petitions from which we take our excerpts. These petitions, which occasionally allude to an “ancient” English right of any person to petition, ground that right in Paul's insistence (Gal. 3:28) that in Christ there is neither male nor female. Other traces of what we would today term feminist sentiment are sometimes discernible. For our two sample texts, we rely on the original petitions, arranged chronologically.