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Spiritual Journal

If you find this article at all useful and want to quote it it is in ed. James Daybell, Early Modern Women and Politics 1450-1700 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004)


Beyond Microhistory: the use of women’s manuscripts in a widening political arena


I have deliberately set myself a challenge in this article by promising to go beyond microhistory. In women’s history this is a rather rash thing to do, because at the aristocratic level it is the individual woman’s rank, family and contacts which dictate her political influence. This is why the letter is the characteristic mode of political intervention by elite women, as demonstrated by so many of the other papers in this volume: it is the dominant writing practice for aristocratic women who want to engage in political projects of whatever nature using their own personal tokens of influence, such as rank, family, property. The Perdita Project—which was conceived to catalogue women’s manuscript compilations from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries--does not consider letters, at least not individual ones. However, I am going to look at the non-aristocratic manuscripts in the Perdita catalogue, which, because of rising literacy rates, tend to date from the later period, the second half of the seventeenth century, coinciding with the involvement in politics by a much larger proportion of the population. In this essay I am concerned with several questions. How different is political writing when non-elite audiences are the target? Do rhetoric and trope play a bigger part in political writing than the biography of the author? What role can women have within this popular politics, when their writing is thought of as “personal” and “private”?

Although the women I shall discuss are of ‘the middling sort’, the fact that they engaged in any kind of literary activity places them in the upper element of that category. They may be descended from gentle families, and may marry wealthy merchants: many wealthy merchants gentrified themselves in this period, through a process which involved buying estates in the country. They were often closely connected with ordained ministers, who were usually treated as ‘honourary’ gentry. They probably received some kind of education; one of the manuscripts I am going to discuss describes a kind of sub-university for women in the 1630s, made up of women who were sent to be educated by the wife of the principal of New Inn Hall, Dr. Rogers. Another describes a kind of Nonconformist academy for the daughters of Dissenting families, operating in Godmersham in Kent in 1670.[1] All of these manuscripts date from a period in the second half of the century when historians like Tim Harris, and Mark Knights have substantially charted involvement in politics by ‘the middling sort’.[2]

This article will chart the tones of what Bahktin calls a ‘double voice’ in these manuscripts. I will argue that the voice that many women ventriloquise has the ideal feminine tones of early modern patriarchy, masking any dissent. This rules out for most women publication in print, which tended to mark the female author as beyond the cultural pale; too rich, or too radical, or simply too vain. Attitudes to female publication are shown in Robert Boyle’s dedication of his book, Occasional Reflections, to Katherine Ranelagh. Although she was  ‘so great a Mistress of Wit, and Eloquence’, and encouraged him to publish his writing, she refused herself to publish anything at all: ”her Modesty did… confine her pen to Excellent Letters”.[3] This in itself is probably at once a statement of gender limitation in early modern culture, and a revelation of how a powerful woman might work effectively within it by avoiding publication: Katherine Ranelagh joins the list of early modern literary figures who thought Margaret Cavendish seriously deranged--”I am resolved she scapes Bedlam onely by being too rich to [be] sent thereto,” she wrote in1667.[4] If you were a Quaker woman of course you didn’t worry about your reputation, at least pre-1673. In 1673 the Second Morning Meeting was set up to censor manuscripts, and the minutes of these meetings reveal that the Quaker authorities were anxious about conforming to wider society’s attitudes to gender and to politics: in fact none of the works they passed are as radical as the earlier Quaker publications of women like Elizabeth Hincks.[5] Male-authorised female writing like the mother’s advice book were carefully constructed to avoid the criticism that attended the publication of women’s work.[6] There is only one work in the Perdita catalogue that seems to have been originally intended for publication, and there are actually two manuscript copies of this work, one in the Dr Williams Library, and one incomplete one in the British Library.[7] Both are entitled ‘The Life of Christopher Love’, by his wife, Mary Love. Christopher Love was the Presbyterian leader of the Love Plot, otherwise called the Presbyterian Plot, which aimed to put Charles II back on the throne. Many Presbyterian ministers and merchants were implicated in this conspiracy, but only Christopher Love was executed for treason, in 1651.

Samples of Mary Love’s writing had previously appeared in print, in Loves Letters, His and Hers, to each other, a little before his Death published in 1651, just after Love’s execution in August, and in Loves Name Lives, apparently intended to give a fuller record of Love’s correspondence, and published a few months later. This kind of authorship is well within that allowable to women: the letters are assumed to be private, the solemnity of the occasion and the intimacy of the relationship ruling out the rhetorical self-display that was particularly blameworthy in the female sex. Measures are taken, by the author herself or by editors unknown, to ensure that the manuscript ‘Life’ conveys the same impression of feminine submission. The aim of the manuscript is of course to draw attention to her husband rather than herself. She even erases her own name, which is now Bradshaw: she remarried in 1654, a fact which would, if acknowledged, clearly detract from the devotion to Christopher expressed in the manuscript.  Both manuscripts include a prefatory epistle by a man, ‘T. H.’, who has yet to be identified, who spends some time justifying and apologising for the fact that the author is female.[8] There is an apologetic letter to the ‘Christian Reader’ from Mary herself, couched in terms deeply familiar to any student of women’s writing: “Grudge not now to receive this unexpected Birth from a Woman... it is the only one of its Mother”(f.[1r]).

It is obviously important for the impact of the work that Mary Love should be considered inexperienced and indeed reluctant as an author. She does not consider her letters, already published and to be republished in 1663, to be an act of authorship as such, a judgement consistent with cultural expectations of letter-writing as private and unrhetorical. Such letters from women were to become familiar features of Nonconformist martyrology in the Restoration, beginning with the accounts of the deaths of the regicides, and continuing until the famous Western Martyrologies in the final decade of the seventeenth century that commemorated the victims of Judge Jeffries: because they were considered to be without rhetorical strategy, they were offered as proof of the character of the martyr.[9] The ‘Life’ is also a genre associated with martyrology, of course. The publication of Samuel Clarke’s volumes of Eminent Lives  in 1660 and 1662, which are probably contemporary with Mary Love’s work, and which included a number of women’s biographies, established a new political potential for the exemplary life: the familiar patterns of Foxean martyrology are wrested from their anti-Catholic context and made to perform in the service of resistance to Tory Anglicanism, a function which they performed well. These early 1660s publications clearly form part of a Presbyterian drive for recognition, if not full political power at the Restoration of Charles II. Love’s was a name to conjure with at the Restoration for those Presbyterians who had hoped for some recognition for their support for the King in less happy days. Presbyterian poet Robert Wild, the most popular poet in London according to Dryden, had republished his 1651 poem The Tragedy of Christopher Love at Tower-Hill in 1660, an act clearly intended to prompt the King’s memory.[10] There followed a rash of publications and re-publications all exploiting the name of Love: the village scribe of  Ashton-in-Makefield, Presbyterian Roger Lowe, purchased a volume of Love’s sermons in 1663.[11]

Mary Love’s ‘Life’ probably dates from the same period, in the immediate aftermath of the Restoration in 1660 or soon after. The political message of this work is clear, and is expressed in her prefatory epistle: ‘none know better how to love their King even to the death then they who but know how to love their God’(f.[1v]). This represents an unequivocal plea for the Presbyterians to be included in national politics. The document must date from before 1663, as Faith Lanum has recently established that she died in this year, and the epistle by T.H. speaks of her as if she is still alive.[12] The composition of the ‘Life’ itself probably dates from before 1662, as she celebrates the absence from church life of the Book of Common Prayer, and of ceremonies: ‘which in those Evening times were more then in use, but for these many years these shadows have dispersed before the Sun.’ She adds, darkly: ‘God grant that our abuse of light may not cause them to appear again’.[13] Of course, by summer 1660, the diarist Thomas Rugge had reported the Presbyterian Thomas Manton using the Book of Common Prayer in his services, and one of the first acts of the Cavalier Parliament in May 1661 was to insist that its members received the Sacrament according to the Church of England rite.[14] The manuscript ends with a thinly-veiled plea for vengeance on Christopher Love’s killers (pp. 141-3), a sentiment that certainly was in harmony with the mood of the summer of 1660, for some of those who had condemned Christopher Love had also condemned the King, and were on trial for their lives. One of the charges of the State against the regicide Major-General Harrison, executed in October 1660, actually related to the death of Christopher Love.

In the letter prefacing Mary Love’s account, ‘T.H.’, confirming a date for composition of the discourse by 1660, is puzzled as to why it was not published immediately at the Restoration ([f. 2r]). It may be that circumstances changed too quickly. In 1658, prior to the Restoration, Charles II was writing to Thomas Cawton, another Presbyterian Plot conspirator in exile in Holland, looking for his support, stressing his Protestant credentials, and asking Cawton to make these known among his colleagues in the Reformed Church.[15] This letter, a propaganda coup for the Presbyterians, was published in 1660, along with a Latin translation for the benefit of French and Dutch ministers by Major-General Massey which made clear that he was with the King when he wrote the letter. Major-General Massey was another Presbyterian Plot conspirator and Civil War hero: in April 1660 A letter from an eminent person in Gloucester described his rapturous return to Gloucester, where he was made a freeman of the city and elected burgess.[16] In March 1660 Alderman Bunce, also a Presbyterian plotter, arrived to great acclaim on the floor of the Royal Exchange. It was assumed in many quarters that Presbyterian fortunes were on the rise. However, the Worcester House Declaration of September 1660, rather favourable to Presbyterians, never passed into law. By October the consecration of new bishops was beginning. As Mary Love wrote in the prefatory letter to her manuscript, ‘some constellations seeme to threaten at the instant of its Nativitys’.

It may be that potential publishers of Mary Love’s treatise missed the moment: the stars which threatened at the moment of its birth were not deceptive. At the beginning of 1662 in reward for his relentless pursuit of subversive printers Roger L’Estrange was made Surveyor of the Press. His 1661 publication The Holy Cheat had made it clear what he thought of Presbyterian pretensions to Court favour; thereafter, Presbyterian publications had a rough ride. State papers reveal that in the Secret Service in the 1660s a history of support for Love was considered a minus rather than a plus: to would-be absolutists, resistance to any authority, including that of the usurper Cromwell, was potentially dangerous.[17] Mary Love’s ‘Life of Christopher Love’ did not achieve printed publication in the early 1660s, but it probably circulated in manuscript. Watermarks and handwriting suggest that the Dr. Williams’ Library manuscript was transcribed much later than the early 1660s, possibly in the early eighteenth century, when once again Presbyterians were striving for influence, and Christopher Love again seemed a name with some political resonance. In The Dissenter’s Answer to the High Church Challenge, a 1704 pamphlet written to defend the political interests of Nonconformists, Daniel Defoe mentions that he is proud to possess a mourning ring given out at the funeral of Christopher Love.[18]

Thus far in this essay I have in fact indulged in microhistory, in contravention of earlier claims, but the context I have sketched is relevant for a significant cluster of manuscripts for which I am also going to suggest a similar mode of circulation, ‘scribal publication’. These manuscripts can loosely be described as ‘spiritual journals’, documents of religious devotion that are tied to specific dates: the structural similarity of Robinson Crusoe to the spiritual journal is no coincidence. It is surprising that so many have survived, lacking the natural repository of the stately home where so many aristocratic manuscripts were preserved, and I suspect that they are representative of a far larger body of writing. They are probably the biggest homogenous group within the Perdita project apart from the receipt books, of which well over one hundred survive. In total, there are 15 ‘spiritual journals’ in our catalogue, more than the number of conventional diaries which tend to come from aristocratic contexts and which, I think, fulfil a completely different function.[19]

The most famous spiritual journal of the period is actually that of an aristocrat, the countess of Warwick, Mary Rich, but although her writing clearly helped to establish the rhetorical form--extracts from it were printed in her lifetime by her chaplain--it does not share the features I am going to identify as political in other spiritual journals. This may be because her manner of political operation was that which I have suggested is characteristic of aristocratic women: she was consulted by many influential politicians and churchmen of the period--indeed, she was related to many of them—which meant that she was able to exercise personal influence. The remaining spiritual journals are almost exclusively a product of wealthy women of the merchant classes, on the margins of the gentry, who have close ties to the Nonconformist ministry; women like Mary Love, who was the daughter of wealthy City merchant Matthew Stone, or Mary Roberts, member of an extremely influential Nonconformist family from Sussex, or Ollive Cooper, daughter of a Presbyterian businessman from Nottingham, or, of course, Mary Penington, wife of prominent Quaker Isaac Penington.


The writing of the spiritual journal was clearly a widespread literary practice. In funeral sermons quoting from the spiritual journals of godly women from merchant and gentry classes was common among in the pre-Civil-War period, to establish the dead women’s elect status and holy lives.[20] Samuel Clarke’s 1662 volume A collection of the lives of ten eminent divines contained two extracts from women’s spiritual journals in the women’s Lives which constitute the second part of the volume. The link between hagiography and spiritual journal is obviously very close--the latter could be the material for the former--but I suggest that the political power of the spiritual journals was in their reader’s capacity to read hagiography, a blatantly political form, into the spiritual journal, which was perceived as primarily devotional. The Henry family of Cheshire, famous Presbyterians, read Clarke’s Eminent Lives to each other, and at least one of the daughters, Ann Hulton, knew some of them off by heart.[21] Her sister, Sarah Savage, describes reading other women’s Lives which were sent to her: these Lives may have been the spiritual journals themselves. Philip Henry seems to have made a practice of using his sisters’ spiritual journals to compile memoirs of them after their deaths; his memoir of Eleanor Radford, Matthew Henry’s third daughter, did exist in the Henry papers in the nineteenth century, in Sarah Savage’s handwriting. A memoir of Ann Hulton, his youngest sister, composed in this way, circulated in manuscript in the early eighteenth century with a preface by the learned and persecuted Presbyterian James Owen, and it contains extracts of her spiritual diary, in true Samuel Clarke fashion.[22]  Certainly, Sarah Savage’s journal circulated: two of her numerous volumes exist in later copies in the Bodleian Library and the Doctor Williams Library, and demonstrate that she had internalised the characteristic rhetoric of providential intervention and divine deliverance.[23] In the later seventeenth century, in a period of intense persecution of Nonconformists, such circulation was obviously a spiritual encouragement, but spiritual and political are always extremely close in this period, as I hope to show. Sarah Savage’s father Philip Henry burnt his journal when he heard there was a warrant out for it.[24]

Although the surviving spiritual journals appear to be texts of private devotion--deliberately so, I believe--their circulation and in some cases their very composition are politically motivated. With one or two exceptions these later seventeenth-century journals are written by Independents or radical Presbyterians. From the late 1660s onwards, the more politically active wing of Presbyterianism, whose leaders were called the Ducklings, because of their readiness to abandon the idea of comprehension into a State Church and ‘take to the waters’ of Dissent, was linked by the government with Independency and Anabaptism in the pejorative term ‘fanaticism’.[25] In the politico-religious crises of the Clarendon Code and the London riots, the Exclusion Crisis and the Monmouth rebellion, Presbyterians and Independents tended to act together.

Unlike aristocratic and Anglican diaries of this period, Nonconformist journals do not give specifics of the author’s secular circumstances: the symbolic capital they are drawing on is not linked to the individual attributes drawn on by aristocratic women. Even names are omitted or referred to in code. The first manuscript I would like to discuss is in some ways not a conventional journal, although it is a dated record of spiritual experience. It is in poetry, and its author Julia Palmer acknowledges the transgressive nature of her inspired act by explicitly renouncing what she calls the ‘sin’ of modesty.[26] However, it is in the simple non-rhetorical form which is considered to be the kind of poetry appropriate for women in the seventeenth century. Her poems are in two groups of one hundred, mimicking the most famous Presbyterian collection of hymns in the period, William Barton’s ‘Centuries’. Many of her poems are in the metres of his hymns, and it is conceivable that they were actually sung: according to the introductory poems for each ‘Century’, she certainly intended them for circulation, and she left the copy of the manuscript that we have to a wealthy apothecary who was linked with the famous centre for Independent/Presbyterian cooperation, Pinner’s Hall.[27] The ‘Centuries’ of Julia Palmer cover a crucial period of Nonconformist activity, including the response to the Declaration of Indulgence in the early 1670s, and clearly respond to specific political events, often included in the titles of the poems: but she encrypted those details in her own personal shorthand, a prudent strategy which is deeply frustrating to a modern reader. Several of her poems seem to refer to the Dutch War, such as the poem below, responding to what she calls ‘this sad news’ in the previous poem.


6          From dark, and cloudy providences, upon the church, & people of god.                        June 25  72


Shall wee, our father angry see

And shall we, unconcerned bee

Oh shall we not, be sore afraid

When we doe see, the rod is laid

On others, whilst we ar as much,                       5

Or rather more, in fault then such

Who have already smarted by

The hand of him, who dwells, on high

Whilst we doe know our selfs as deep

In giult, shall we not att thy feet              10

Throw our selfs down, and lye prostrate

Untill thou shalt comiserate

And take away, the guilt of sin

In which we have walowed in

How should we wrastle, with thee now  15                    p. 170

By faith, and pray’r, least thou shouldst vow

The vialls of thy wrath, to poure

And all thy Judgments, on us showr

What arguments should we now use

That thou mayst not our pray’rs refuse               20

Wee can out of our selfs draw none

But what we fecth from thee alone.

And from the glory of thy name

Which wicked men doe now profane

Oh wilt thou on, the wicked shine                      25

whilst thou dost seem, to cast of thine

Thou smilst upon their eterprise

And wilt not hear thy peoples crys

Oh wilt thou favour their design

Whilst they against thee, doe combine               30

And plot how they may doe their best

For to destroy, thine interest

And from the earth cut off the race

Of thosse that love, and seek thy face.[28]

This poem, in the tradition of the Psalms, manages at the same time to ask forgiveness for guilt and lay blame firmly at the door of ‘the wicked’. ‘Interest’ is a word from the controversies surrounding the Restoration, and refers to God’s stake in human politics, which is seen by Palmer as being firmly located in the godly, reformed Protestants of England and of Holland. This poem reflects her response to the news of June 1672, which was of the bloody victories of the English and French fleet , and the flight of the Dutch before a land invasion by the French.[29] The plotters in line 31 are the Royalist government of Charles II who are seen as in league with the French Catholics. At this stage Palmer and her contemporaries knew nothing about Charles’ secret promise to the French at the treaty of Dover, to bring the country to Catholicism, but they suspected the worst. An interesting feature of this poem is in its date, soon after the Declaration of Indulgence in March 1672  which was meant to appease Nonconformists and resign them to non-resistance to government policy, in particular, the war with the Protestant Dutch. Despite the fact that Julia Palmer’s husband Nicholas received a licence as a Presbyterian preacher in May (for the same congregation in Windsor which wrote the letter of support to Christopher Love included in Mary’s ‘Life’) she is certainly not appeased or resigned.[30]

The convention within spiritual journals of refusing to name names may have had the pragmatic effect of deflecting government suspicion. However, there was a spiritual rationale for it. As Ollive Cooper scornfully declared in her spiritual diary for 1704, the ‘Temporall favours’ of one’s own life are but ‘the dark side of gods goodness’, less spiritually valuable than the development of one’s relationship with Christ.[31] This spiritual motivation may also have the political advantage of acquiring spiritual capital, part of the double-voiced utterance I described earlier. The woman’s holiness is attested to by the cultural form in which she has chosen to write, which is assumed to be private, the product of communion with God. Thereafter, as long as the appropriate biblical rhetoric is used, any expressed opinion has the stamp of godly piety. A contemporary reader would of course have little problem identifying the dated events to which Palmer is responding. The documents have little obvious political relevance today, but within their particular cultural context they could function effectively in the way I have reconstructed for Elizabeth Jekyll’s spiritual diary in a recent article for English Manuscript Studies.[32] I have argued there that her diary is transcribed and circulated in 1685, when her husband’s printing press was closed down, and the danger was such that the only safe publications were “private” manuscript transcriptions of a “private” woman’s journal. Nevertheless, to those who knew how to read the codes, these documents were politically charged.

The perceived power of such women’s manuscripts is based on the belief that feminine weakness precludes the living of a holy life without the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit. This ‘proof’ that a woman’s writing is divinely supported and sanctioned is extremely valuable politically. One of the earliest ‘exemplary lives’ of a woman is The Christian Life and Death of Mistris Katherin Brettagh, which went into 34 editions between 1591 and 1700, and must have helped to form a feminine ideal of Christian heroism in the seventeenth century. Katherin Brettagh’s exemplary life is enlisted in an anti-Catholic polemic:

It must needs be a divine Religion and truth comming from God, that thus can fill the heart and mouth of a weake woman, with such admirable comfort. And a wretched conceit, and mere Antichristian, is that Religion, which so hateth and persecuteth this faith.[33]

Another series of manuscripts which transcribe Rose Hickman’s story of her Marian exile in Holland in the mid-sixteenth century, carry exactly this burden of interpretation.[34] After 1660, the symbolic capital accrued by a century of Protestant martyrology was exploited against the Stuart government.

The journals record an ever-present threat of martyrdom, which seems strange to a reader with the knowledge that the Glorious Revolution took place later in the century, assuring the future of a Protestant monarchy. There are recurrent concerns of invasion by the French, which is assumed in the 1660s and 70s to entail martyrdom for all sincere Nonconformists.[35] Another trope often used, perhaps paradoxically, as polemic, in anti-Catholic rhetoric of the first half of the century, is that of the believer as Bride of Christ.  Several women go through scripted ‘marriages’ with Christ, recorded in their journals; they describe feelings of spiritual bliss. Elizabeth Turner’s journal entry for 22nd January 1666 includes an ‘amazinge covenant’ based on the marriage service, marking her betrothal to God: “I doe heer wth all my power accept thee for my head & husband: for better for worse, for all times & conditions: to love honor & obey thee before all others ... neither life nor death shall part beetweene thee & mee.”[36]

While tropes of the mystical marriage might inspire literary criticism of a psychoanalytic nature, this rhetoric is not usually assigned its historical and political significance. In the mid- 1670s there was a major controversy over Nonconformists’ use of the trope of the Bride of Christ, and the rhetoric of the Song of Songs. William Sherlock in 1674 had continued the attack on Dissenting beliefs and discourse started by Simon Patrick and Samuel Parker in A Discourse Concerning the Knowledge of Jesus Christ, and our Union and Communion with him.[37] This time the targets were the Independent John Owen and the Presbyterian Thomas Watson, who had both written spiritual treatises in 1657 which asserted the primacy of the marriage relationship between Christ and the believer. On the first page Sherlock denies that the person of Christ is anything more substantial than a metaphor: it is thus impossible to have a relationship of any sort with Him, let alone that suggested by an allegorical interpretation of the Song of Songs. He employs a patriarchal view of marriage to reinterpret the Biblical metaphor of the Bride:

When the Scripture calls Christ our Husband, and the Church his Spouse, it means no more, but that Christ is our Head and Governour, who rules his Church with as great kindness, tenderness and compassion, as a Husband exerciseth towards his Wife, and that we are to pay the same love, duty and obedience to Christ, that Wives owe to their Husbands; and here we must have done with the Metaphor, unless we will turn Religion into a Romance.[38]

The ‘romance’ with Christ was of course a central experience of Nonconformist Christianity, particularly for women, as Thomas Vincent’s sermon to a convention of Presbyterian women in 1672, Christ The Best Husband , made clear. Sherlock’s treatise provoked many responses. Robert Ferguson, in The Interest of Reason in Religion (1675), identified a political intent in the reluctance of Church of England theologians to recognise the metaphorically encoded union of believers with Christ: “by our Fellowship with Christ which the Sacred Writers so Emphatically speak of, we are told there is only meet such a Political Union, as is betwixt a Prince and his Subjects, between Superiours, and Inferiors.”[39] In fact, it was the immediate union of Christ and believer that Tory Anglicans considered ‘political: it could give a beggar--or a woman--unmediated access to the divine, with alarming consequences. The spiritual journals celebrate that access in a defiantly egalitarian manner.

Unfortunately, as with Katherine Brettagh and the women in Clarke’s Eminent Lives, what looks like a spiritually democratic ideal only goes so far. Women’s writing of this kind is valuable because of the perceived weakness of women: they are unable to become authors unless they are divinely inspired. This model is familiar to us through the activities of the female prophets during the Interregnum: Anna Trapnel, and early Quaker prophetesses such as Elizabeth Hincks. Although the women I have discussed in this essay mimic the same passive model for authorship, Presbyterians had no female prophets in their midst. Moreover, they were less willing to abandon conventional politics, with its male networking to ensure personal influence, than Quakers or even Baptists. It is no coincidence, therefore, that every woman God chose to inspire from this Presbyterian or Independent context was connected to a prominent man: it is always important, as the titles of the martyrologies show, that the subjects are ‘eminent’. The women whose spiritual journals have survived are those of Nonconformist activists: Elizabeth Jekyll, whose husband’s radical career started with his involvement in the Christopher Love plot and continued until the Glorious Revolution; Elizabeth Turner, from the influential Independent Broadnax family of Kent, whose father had been a major in Cromwell’s army, whose husband Thomas was a Canterbury lawyer employed by London Nonconformist leaders at times of crisis, and whose brother-in-law was Thomas Papillon; Eleanor Stockton, wife of famous Independent minister Owen Stockton. Marion Veitch, whose memoir exists in two eighteenth-century copies in the National Library of Scotland, was the wife of Argyll’s co-conspirator Veitch, in the conspiracy which accompanied the similarly unsuccessful  Monmouth Rebellion. All this opens up the question of whether the composition of these journals, apparently private and spiritual writing by women, was in fact manipulated by men with political ambition. I am not entirely sure, for example, that Mary Love wrote ‘The Life of Christopher Love’. It would have needed to exist, under her name, whoever wrote it. Most of these documents exist in copies or fair copies, indicating the possibility of editing. Elizabeth Jekyll’s diary cannot possibly be the private autograph document which it pretends to be because she was dead by the time it was copied. Since it extols the godliness of her husband, John Jekyll, who was in serious political trouble at the time that it was transcribed in 1685, my suspicions are that he responded to the shutting down of his illegal printing press and his imprisonment at the height of the Monmouth rebellion by circulating a manuscript that had all the hallmarks of vindicatory Protestant rhetoric.

Suspicions that these documents were for public consumption rather than private reading are confirmed by the nature of the manuscripts themselves. Only in one case do we have what is obviously the original notebook of the journal, with differing inks and deteriorating handwriting. Eleanor Stockton’s journal shows the editing of an‘eminent life’ in progress. Her description of the death of her favourite daughter ends with what looks like an indictment of God, but it is not allowed to stand: many years later in a shaky hand she added the ‘approved’ interpretation of this terrible event, that God allowed it to happen because of her own sin.[40] There is obviously an imperative to produce the rhetoric of the ‘exemplary life’ in the spiritual journal, a textual pressure which could impact on behaviour during the subject’s life. The introduction to Her Own Life raised the possibility of the text writing the life, rather than the life forming the text: Jonathan Scott traces the behaviour whereby Algernon Sidney ensured he would be the subject of a powerful Whig martyrology.[41] In Eleanor Stockton’s journal we see the pressure on the narrative induced by the fact that she knew that her text would be read by others. This pressure is of course partly self-induced: Mary Penington consciously wrote her manuscript to be read out to other Quaker congregations. Of course, if women did not want their writings to be read by others, they burned their papers at the onset of serious illness. Thus, there are very few documents in this cluster that can be considered ‘private’ in any sense, even, or perhaps especially, Katherine Austen’s which has the seventeenth-century equivalent of ‘Private--Keep Out’ on the cover: ‘Whoso euer shal look in these papers and shal take notice of these personal occurrences: wil easily discerne it concerned none but my self: and was a private exercise directed to my self. The singularity of these Conceptions doth not aduantaige any’. [42]

More evidence that the spiritual journal is a literary form with rhetorical conventions rather than a divinely attested ‘proof’ of the holiness of its author--if we needed it--is in the survival of two manuscripts from Royalist gentry contexts, which were not usually associated with the form. Their female authors clearly saw the potential of the form to achieve aims other than merely spiritual propaganda. Alice Thornton's first 'Book of Remembrances' is dated 1668, and was part of an attempt to refute scandalous accusations. The rumours were that she had fallen in love with Thomas Comber, then a young curate rather than the distinguished Dean of Durham he was to become, and had married her 14-year-old daughter off to him to cover for the fact that they all lived in the same house: ‘I sent my owne Booke of my Life, the collections of God's dealings and mercys to me and all mine sattisfy all my friends of my life and conversation ... that it was not such as my deadly enymyes sugested.’[43] She offered a contents index to help her readers interpret this document, and reported a successful outcome: apparently the conventions of the spiritual journal, which signified sincerity and holiness, were so powerful that the doubleness of the voice was not perceived.[44] Anne Halkett’s well known autobiography, justifying her relationship with Colonel Bamfield, was composed in a break from writing her rather more extensive spiritual journal which was probably perceived as a similarly vindicating project: her minister published extracts after her death.[45]

The political usage of the spiritual journal, then, illuminates several important aspects of the part gender plays in politics in the second half of the seventeenth century. Unlike the activity of politically active women at the aristocratic level, it erases the personalities and circumstances of individual women. This is partly because ideal Nonconformist lives are expected to fulfil certain patterns, and partly a function of gender ideology. Conformity to stereotypes of femininity is crucial to the communication of any political opinion at all, and this gendering extends to choice of rhetorical form and style. The power of the manuscript, rather than residing in the political influence of the individual woman, who becomes less important both in the ideology and the practice of a more popular politics, resides in features such as the rhetoric of providential deliverance from persecution and accident, and the use of tropes such as the author as Bride of Christ. Such a move from the authorship of one real woman to a gendering of a particular document, of course, makes it less important that the writer is who the manuscript asserts her to be. I find these manuscripts rather unhelpful as a way of reconstructing individual women’s lives, which is what feminist scholars have hoped for from journals, although there are times when the reader’s awareness that this is a male-dominated rhetorical construct is overwhelmed by an irresistible sense of sisterly solidarity, as when Elizabeth Turner is abandoned in the middle of labour by her midwife who had had a better offer, and had to deliver the baby on her own.[46] What they do illustrate is the way in which a feminine ideal, based on Protestant proto-democratic principles, could operate politically in an oppositional politics which possessed moral and political currency in the second half of the seventeenth century.


[1] DWL MS 28.58, p. 22: Centre for Kentish Studies, Maidstone MS U1015 F 27, [f. 53v].

[2] Tim Harris, London Crowds in the Reign of Charles II; propaganda and politics from the Restoration to the exclusion crisis (CUP, 1987): Mark Knights, Politics and opinion in crisis 1678-81 (CUO, 1994)

[3] Robert Boyle, Occasional Reflections, 2nd ed. (London, 1669), sigs A4v-A5r.

[4] British Library, Althorp Papers, Box 4, uncatalogued letter of April 13th. Quoted in Elizabeth Anne Taylor, “Writing Women, Honour, and Ireland, 1640-1715”, unpublished PhD thesis, University College, Dublin 1999, p. 285.

[5] London, Friends House Library, Morning Meeting Minutes Book, transcript of vols. 1 & 2 (1673-1700) shows examples of women’s manuscripts being rejected because they are too critical of the government: Judith Bulbye’s ‘Lament’, for example, in January 1689 (p. 88) . Elizabeth Redford was told in July 1695 that she had not been inspired by God to write her paper (p. 60): Alice Hayes, being forbidden to publish in print in July 1699, was allowed to publish in manuscript as long as she addressed her writing only to other women (p. 164). Abigail Fisher, in September 1693, was told to rewrite her poetry in prose (p. 24). 

[6] See Sylvia Brown, “The Approbation of Elizabeth Jocelin”, English Manuscript Studies 9 (2000), pp.129-164.

[7] Dr. Williams’ Library MS 28.58: BL Sloane MS 3945, ff. 78-113. Faith Lanum, of St. Edmund’s College, Cambridge, has worked on these manuscripts for the Perdita Project.

[8] Dr. Williams’ Library MS 28.58, f. [3r] (my foliation)

[9] See The Speeches and Prayers of Some of the Late Kings Judges (London, 1660)s: The dying speeches, letters and prayers & c. of those eminent Protestants who suffered in the west of England and elsewhere, under the cruel sentence of the late lord Chancellor, then Lord Chief Justice Jeffreys (London, 1689): The Western Martyrology or Bloody Assizes (London, 1705).

[10] Keith Walker, John Dryden: A Critical Edition of the Major Works (OUP, 1987), p. 77. Wild is described as ‘the very Withers of the City’.

[11] The Diary of Roger Lowe of Ashton-in-Makefield, Lancashire, ed. William L. Sachse (Longmans, 1938), p. 25.

[12] Chester Public Record Office, Parish Records of St Peter's Church, Chester: "Mary wife unto Mr Edward Bradshaw mercer and Mrs Mary Davies died both the 14th day of May & were buried both in one
grave 1663"

[13] Dr. Williams’ Library MS 28.58, p. 37.

[14] British Library Add MS 10, 116, f. 95.

[15] A Letter from K. Charles the Second, Third Monarch of Great Britain: to Mr Cawton, of the English Church in Roterdam, to be communicated to the rest of the Ministering Brothers of the Reformed Churches in Holland in defence of Himselfe in the matter of Religion (London, 1660).

[16] ‘Mercurius Politicus Redivivus’, BL Add MS 10, 116 ff. 79v-81r, 83v.

[17] CSPD 1671, p. 560.

[18] Daniel Defoe, The Dissenters Answer to the High-Church Challenge (London, 1704), p. 43.

[19] Centre for Kentish Studies, Maidstone MS U1015 F 27, Elizabeth Turner’s journal:  British Library MS Add. 42849 -women’s devotional journals, 1686-1752: Beinecke Library, Osborn MS b. 221 -Elizabeth Jekyll’s spiritual journal: Chester RO, D/Basten/8 -diary, 1686-87, of Sarah Savage,:East Sussex Record Office, Lewes, DUN 52/10/3 -Mary Roberts’s (d. 1666) devotional diary, 1660-61: British Library MSS Add. 27351-27358 -diaries and meditations of Mary Rich, Lady Warwick, 1666-77:  Dr Williams’ Library MS 24.8 -Occasional reflections of Mrs Elianor Stockton: MS 24.49 -Ollive Cooper’s journal; Bodleian Library MSS Rawlinson Q.e.26-28 -devotional MSS by a woman: MSS Adv. 34.5.19 and Adv. 32.4.4 -copies of memoirs of Katharine Ross and Jean Collace, 17th c: National Library of Scotland MS Adv. 34.6.22 -copy of memoirs of Marion Veitch: Friends House Library, Penington MS vol 4 William Andrewes Clark Memorial Library, UCLA, MS P1745 M1 P744 1671-3 Bound, ‘The Centuries of Julia Palmer’.

[20]Sources in Clarke’s volume: Elizabeth Juxon, married to a wealthy London citizen, her funeral sermon of 1619: Stephen Denison The new creature: a sermon. Jane Ratcliffe’s spiritual journal is extracted in Clarke’s volume, copied from her 1630s funeral sermon by John Ley, who was to become a fervent Presbyterian member of  the Westminster Assembly. Richard Baxter produced, as conclusive proof of her elect condition, the spiritual diary of twenty-five year old Jane Baker, for whom he preached a funeral sermon in 1659: Richard Baxter, A Treatise of Death (London, 1660) For more politically engaged personages such as the Earl of Warwick who died in 1658, such written proof of holiness turns the funeral sermon into political oratory. Edmund Calamy, A Patterne for All (London, 1658).

[21] Memoirs of the Life and Character of Mrs Sarah Savage to which are added Memoirs of her Sister, Mrs. Hulton, 4th ed (London, 1829), p. 295.

[22] Memoirs, p. 279.

[23] Crawford, P. (1988). “Katherine and Philip Henry and their children: a case study in family ideology”. Transactions of the Historical Study of Lancashire and Cheshire, 134 (1984), pp. 39-74.

[24] Douglas R. Lacy, Dissent and Parliamentary Politics in England, 1661-1689 (Rutgers University Press, 1967), p. 368.

[25] CSPD 1671, 496: ‘The people grow more fanatic: all the Presbyterians are going to Independents.’

[26] The’ Centuries’ of Julia Palmer, eds. Victoria Burke and Elizabeth Clarke (Trent Editions, 2001), p. 277.

[27] For detailed context see The’ Centuries’ of Julia Palmer, pp. i-ii.

[28] The’ Centuries’ of Julia Palmer, pp. 178-9.

[29] See Stephen Pincus, “Republicanism, absolutism and universal monarchy. English popular sentiment during the third Dutch war” in ed. Gerald Maclean, Culture and Society in the Stuart Restoration: Literature, Drama, History (CUP, 1995), pp. 241-166. I do not agree with Pincus’ claim that there was no opposition to the Dutch war on its outbreak, but he is right to stress the importance of the events of June 1672.

[30] Dr. William’s Library MS 24.28 pp. 45-6: CSPD 1672, p.55, p.196.

[31] Dr. William’s Library MS 24.29, f.19v.

[32] Elizabeth Clarke, “Elizabeth Jekyll’s Spiritual Diary: Private Manuscript or Political Document?”, English Manuscript Studies, 9 (2000), pp. 218-237.

[33] William Harrison, The Christian Life and Death of Mistris Katherin Brettagh  (London, 1641).

[34] For a printed edition of this MS see Maria Dowling and Joy Shakespeare, ‘Religion and Politics in Mid-Tudor England Through the Eyes of an English Protestant Woman: The Recollections of Rose Hickman’, BIHR, 55 (1982), 94-102.

[35] See Jonathan Scott, “England’s Troubles: Exhuming the Popish Plot” in eds. Tim Harris, Paul Seaward and Mark Goldie, The Politics of Religion in Restoration England (Blackwell, 1990), p. 115 on the sense of threat felt by English Nonconformists in this period.

[36] Centre for Kentish Studies, Maidstone MS U1015 F 27, [ff. 58, 60] (MS unfoliated: this is my own foliation)

[37] Simon Patrick, A Friendly Debate Between a Conformist and a Non-conformist, (1669): Samuel Parker, A Discourse of Ecclesiastical Polity, (London, 1667) p.158. Sherlock explicitly criticises Thomas Watson’s book, On The Loveliness of Christ (London, 1657) and John Owen’s Of communion with God: the Rather, Sonne and Holy Ghost, each person distinctly; or, The Saints’ fellowship with the Father, Sonne and Holy Ghost, unfolded (Oxford, 1657).

[38] William Sherlock, A Discourse Concerning the Knowledge of Jesus Christ, and our Union and Communion with him (London 1674), p. 287.

[39] Robert Ferguson, The Interest of Reason in Religion (1675), p. 187.

[40] Dr. Williams’ Library MS 24.8, f.19.

[41] Elspeth Graham et al (eds), Her Own Life: Autobiographical writings by seventeenth-century Englishwomen (Routledge, 1989), p. 17. Jonathan Scott, Algernon Sidney and the Restoration Crisis 1677-1683 (CUP, 1991), pp. 317-347.

[42] British Library Add. MS 4454, fol.4v.

[43] The Autobiography of Mrs Alice Thornton. Surtees Society 62, Edinburgh, 1873, p. 259.

[44] Four differing manuscripts of Alice Thornton’s ‘Life’, seem to have been extant when the late nineteenth-century edition was put together. Two of these are now in private hands, although microfilms are available for consultation at the British Library. One is on microfilm at Yale University, although the original has been lost, and it is this that I am referring to here. I am grateful to Raymond Anselment whose recent work on the manuscripts I have seen.

[45] National Library of Scotland, MSS 6489-6502.

[46] Centre for Kentish Studies, Maidstone MS U1015 F 27, [ff. 27, 28].