Female and Male Voices in Early Modern England: An Anthology of Renaissance Writing

By Betty S. Travitsky; Anne Lake Prescott | Go to book overview

30
Mary Moders Carleton (d. 1673)
Thomas Whythorne (1528–1598)
Robert Spencer (fl. 1687–1689)

Mary Moders Carleton on Trial

We have few facts about Mary Moders Carleton (d. 1673) with the notable exception of her death by hanging as a felon. She was apparently a con-woman who found herself at several times in conflict with the law. Although she claimed foreign birth as a “German princess,” her enemies said that she was of lower-class British origin. The subject of close to a dozen narratives, her tale is the type of rogue biography that constitutes one basis for the early novels of the next century. While Carleton cannot be shown to have composed any of these pamphlets completely, her voice is heard in several, including the one we excerpt: an account of her arraignment for bigamy, printed by N. Brook in 1663. Her voice is confident and her arguments quick and resourceful. The indictment was brought by her father-in-law, and the trial provoked charges and countercharges among Mary Carleton, her husband, and his father. While early modern justice was executed swiftly, the court seems to have been fairly careful here in evaluating evidence that could have condemned Carleton to death. Nevertheless, women were disadvantaged under early modern law: they had no “clergy” (see below), and although in this case Carleton is judged innocent, she is left, as a “feme covert,” with no recourse for regaining property her husband and father-inlaw had taken from her since that property is not hers under the law. Our excerpts are from the 1663 text of The Arraignment, Trial, and Examination of Mary Moders. To preserve the original flavor, we have retained variations in the spelling of “Carleton.”

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