Reminder: WSG seminar September 2021

The first seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 25 September 2021.

This seminar will take place on Zoom. Please be aware, you must be a member of the WSG to gain access to the Zoom sessions. The links are distributed through our WSG mailing list 24-hours before the event. Becoming a member means you will be able to attend the Zoom and in-person seminars for the 2021-2022 season.

Valerie Schutte

Anachronistic Representations of Edward Underhill

Upon Queen Mary I’s accession on 19 July 1553, Edward Underhill, a Gentleman Pensioner under Henry VIII and Edward VI, was arrested for producing an anti-Catholic ballad, interrogated by the Privy Council, and served one month in prison. Yet he went on to serve as a Gentleman Pensioner during Wyatt’s Rebellion and at Mary’s wedding. In 1561, he wrote a memoir of his life beginning with this arrest. His memoir received much historical attention in the mid-nineteenth century, as it was reproduced several times in both extracts and its entirety. This culminated in two high-profile publications in the 1840s, one historical and one fictional. The first of which was William Harrison Ainswoth’s novel, The Tower of London (1840). In this novel, Ainsworth emphasizes Underhill’s zealous religious convictions. He is an outspoke supporter of Jane Grey, who eventually gets burnt at the stake on Tower Green for his beliefs. Five years later, the Strickland sisters mention Underhill in their Lives of the Queens of England.

In this presentation, I will offer a textual transmission of Underhill’s memoir from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries, as well as analyze the memoir for Underhill’s service to the crown. I will focus my time on the anachronisms employed by Ainsworth in his presentation of Underhill. Ainsworth describes Underhill as an “enthusiast,” which would have held distinct meaning for his Victorian audience, suggesting an extravagance applied to dissenting religion. Ainsworth carefully crafted Underhill’s character through religious anachronism to show his disapproval of religious fanaticism, for both Protestant extremism, as well as Mary’s Catholicism. In Ainsworth’s depiction, Underhill is the first victim of religious persecution in Mary’s reign and is a symbol of all that was to come.

 Hampton Court Conference 1604

 First, The Church of England since the abolishing of Popery hath ever held and taught, and so doth hold and teach still, That the Sign of the Cross used in Baptism, is no Part of the Substance of that Sacrament: For when the Minister dipping the Infant in Water, or laying Water upon the Face of it (as the manner also is) hath pronounced these Words, I baptize thee in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, the Infant is fully and perfectly Baptized: So as the Sign of the Cross being afterwards used, doth neither add any thing to the Vertue or Perfection of Baptism, nor being omitted, doth detract any thing from the Effect and Substance of it.

Secondly, It is apparent in the Communion Book, that the Infant Baptized is by Vertue of Baptism, before it be signed with the Sign of the Cross, received into the Congregation of Christ’s Flock as a perfect Member thereof, and not by any Power ascribed unto the Sign of the Cross. So that for the very remembrance of the Cross, which is very precious to all them that rightly believe in Jesu Christ, and in the other respects mentioned, the Church of England hath retained still the Sign of it in Baptism: following therein the Primitive and Apostolical Churches, and accounting it a lawful outward Ceremony and honourable Badge, whereby the Infant is dedicated to the Service of him that died upon the Cross, as by the words used in the Book of Common Prayer it may appear.

Lastly, The use of the Sign of the Cross in Baptism, being thus purged from all Popish Superstition and Error, and reduced in the Church of England to the primary Institution of it, upon those true Rules of Doctrine concerning things indifferent, which are consonant to the Word of God, and the Judgments of all the ancient Fathers: We hold it the part of every private Man, both Minister and other, reverently to retain the true use of it prescribed by publick Authority, considering that things of themselves indifferent, do in some sort alter their Natures, when they are either commanded or forbidden by a lawful Magistrate; and may not be omitted at every Man’s pleasure contrary to the Law, when they be commanded, nor used when they are prohibited.

Helen Leighton-Rose

Women’s  Subversion of the Scottish Church Courts 1707-1757

My quantitative and qualitative analysis of eighteenth century Scottish Kirk Sessions had shed light on Scottish women’s subversive and consistent challenges to patriarchal control. Numerous women argued against the judgement of these sessions and petitioned the Presbytery courts. The paper will highlight some illuminating examples of women’s subversion including the subversion of the Scottish Kirk by Isabel Clinckscales who irregularly married Thomas Lyon, unknown to her to be a thrice bigamist. Over eighteen months Isabel was called before the Kirk Sessions and ordered to perform penance as an adulteress which she consistently refused. She subverted the kirk authority to such a degree she was placed under the penalty of lesser excommunication. There is no record of Thomas Lyon receiving any rebuke. On the 25th January 1722 Elders of Duns Kirk deem

‘..after all the serious dealings with Isabel Clinkscales she still persisted in her obstinacie, he therefor this day according to the recommendation did lay the said Isabel Clinkscales under the sentence of the Lesser excommunication’.

My paper will raise the profile of the richness of archival material for Scottish border towns.

Matthew Reznicek

Healing The Nation: Women, Medicine, and the Romantic National Tale

The National Tale, a literary attempt to understand and reconcile the 1800 Act of Union, was dominated by early nineteenth-century women writers, including Maria Edgeworth, Sydney  Owenson, and Germaine deStaël; using gendered embodiments of various national identities, the National Tale imagined socio-political union through the union of individuals. For roughly the past thirty years, scholars the Romantic period have understood the National Tale in terms of marriage, whether a shotgun marriage, an arranged marriage, or a forced marriage. What this focus on marriage has overlooked is the repeated pattern in which National Tales alsodepend upon an act of healing before the marriage can take place. Surprisingly, this medical aspect of the National Tale and its narrative of social cohesion has been ignored and unrecognized. By exploring the role of illness and healing in the National Tale, the medical metaphors not only help diagnose and mark as different the foreign body,  but the act of healing fundamentally restores the newly formed body politic to its new and healthy condition. This analysis reveals a pattern in which women perform the medical care that heals these diseased populations, allowing them to achieve full membership in the social body. Despite the long-eighteenth-century belief that men and medicine were responsible for  national well-being, the National Tales of Walter Scott, Maria Edgeworth, and Sydney  Owenson undermine this medical and political narrative by having a diseased or unwell male body stand in for the nation and a female physician or healer work to heal and restore the national body to health. Thus, the medical role of women in the National Tale reveals the interconnections between illness, healing, and the narrative form of the National Tale. To provide a small iteration of this pattern, I will attend to the moments of medical anxiety and fever in Sydney Owenson’s The Wild Irish Girl (1806), Maria Edgeworth’s Ennui (1809),  and briefly Walter Scott’s Waverley (1814) to render visible the political and social role that healing women play in the National Tale.

Norena Shopland

Women Dressed as Men

Much of women’s history has been dominated by exclusion – but where exclusion exists there will always be those who challenge that state. A History of Women in Men’s Clothes sets out to show how women utilised clothes banned to them to escape domestic violence; to earn money when the man had died or left the family and women’s wages were not enough to live on; to find a man who had deserted them; to avoid being sexually accosted when travelling; so those we would today recognise as lesbian and trans could live freely; and many more.

During the late 18th-early 19th centuries so many women had become female sailors and soldiers that newspapers were complaining there would be no room for men. While books exist on both groups they are placed in an ‘other’ category of sexual orientation and/or gender identity when in truth it was common among all women. Similarly, in the theatre, actresses were being forced to sign contracts that they would appear ‘in male attire’ as managers sought to exploit this highly lucrative market. Leaving the odd situation of men forcing women to appear as men for the heterosexual male gaze.

Research for the book realised around 4,000 worldwide articles, most of them unpublished outside their original source and only 10% was used for the book. As this research was conducted in English and stopped when enough material had been gathered it can be imagined how much more there is to discover. But one thing is clear, thousands upon thousands of women across the world refused to be constricted by what clothes they were told they could wear – and women’s history now needs to recognise this.

For further information, see our seminars page.  To join the WSG, see our membership page.

Reminder: WSG seminar September 2021

The first seminar of the year takes place on Saturday, 25 September 2021.

This seminar will take place on Zoom. Please be aware, you must be a member of the WSG to gain access to the Zoom sessions. The links are distributed through our WSG mailing list 24-hours before the event. Becoming a member means you will be able to attend the Zoom and in-person seminars for the 2021-2022 season.


Valerie Schutte. Anachronistic Representations of Edward Underhill

Helen Leighton-Rose. Women’s Subversion of the Scottish Church Courts 1707-1757

Matthew Reznicek. Healing The Nation: Women, Medicine, and the Romantic National Tale

Norena Shopland. Women Dressed as Men

For further information, see our seminars page.  To join the WSG, see our membership page.

Reminder: WSG seminar November 2019

The second seminar of the year takes place on Saturday 23 November, with papers on early modern science, authorship and overlooked lives.

Seminars take place at the Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, WC1N 1AZ, starting promptly at 1pm and finishing at 4pm.  Doors open at 12.30.  The Foundling is a wheelchair accessible venue, and directions for getting to the Museum can be found here, including those for the visually impaired.  All seminars are free and open to the public, though refreshments will cost £2 to those who aren’t WSG members.  Those attending the seminars are welcome to look round the museum before or after.

Saturday 23 November, 2019. Chairs Miriam al Jamil and Felicity Roberts
Masuda Qureshi: Celestial Revolutions: Hester Pulter and the circular skies.
Natasha Simonova: ‘Semiramis does not stand still’: Amabel Polwarth and Amateur Authorship
John Beddoes: Anna, Emmeline and Maria Edgeworth, Three Sisters of the Enlightenment: “I do not wish to be the cause of one of your tight laced faces.”
Francesca Saggini: Below and Beyond. On Re-reading Burney’s Biographies

For further information including abstracts, see our seminars page.  To join the WSG, see our membership page.

A Celebration of Mary Wollstonecraft

Many thanks to WSG member Emma Clery who organised this fascinating day and invited our group; the following report is by Charmian Kenner, one of a number of WSG members who attended.

A celebration of Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) held on 27 April 2019, the 260th anniversary of her birth, invited us to consider her ‘in the round’ by discussing her life, work and legacy through research in history, literary criticism, politics and philosophy; and by experiencing representations of Wollstonecraft through art, film and drama. We met in the atmospheric Old St Pancras Church in London, with participants sitting on either side of the aisle that Wollstonecraft walked down to marry William Godwin, and with a lunchtime visit to the original site of her grave in the churchyard. Participants came from around the UK and as far afield as Japan and the US.

A theme throughout the event was how Wollstonecraft’s thinking prefigured and fed into ideas and struggles of today. Hannah Dawson focused on Wollstonecraft’s central concern with freedom, or rather women’s lack of it, since economic dependence on men meant vulnerability and loss of self, leaving women obsessed with beauty as their only asset to hold the male gaze – a condition from which we have yet to entirely escape. Wollstonecraft’s argument that women were playing a part assigned to them by society, rather than this being their authentic nature, links directly with today’s views on gender as a construct we can change. Catherine Packham pointed to connections between Wollstonecraft’s critique of modernity, in particular the late eighteenth-century social and economic order, and analyses by current theorists such as Thomas Piketty. Laura Kirkley highlighted Wollstonecraft’s cosmopolitan outlook, seeing humans as globally interdependent with shared moral obligations, exemplified in her support for Native Americans and her criticisms of empire.

A rousing discussion of ‘What would Mary do?’ with Shrabani Basu, Charlotte Gordon and Bee Rowlatt, imagined multiple possibilities for a contemporary Wollstonecraft, from having a strong social media presence to speaking out on modern slavery and refugee issues, to being a campaigning member of the academy. The latter position was impossible to achieve in her lifetime, and Andrew McInnes reminded us of the tensions in being a ‘philosophesse’ in the late eighteenth century, when women thinkers were both celebrated and stigmatised, though Wollstonecraft tried to take a gender neutral position and establish herself as a philosopher first and foremost. Isabelle Bour pointed out that Wollstonecraft’s reception was different in France at the time, where her life was not seen as scandalous, and she was appreciated as an intellectual in the mode of Germaine de Staël. Translations of Wollstonecraft’s work were popular with moderate Girondin revolutionaries and her ideas became part of progressive French thought.

Janet Todd and Lyndall Gordon, whose studies led the way in research on Wollstonecraft, both contributed to the day. Lyndall Gordon, looking for missing pieces in the jigsaw of Wollstonecraft’s life, shared her latest investigations into Mary’s stay in Hamburg, where she seems to have discovered a fraud that shook her faith in lover Gilbert Imlay. Janet Todd relished the burgeoning interest in Wollstonecraft studies, compared to the 1960s when her proposed PhD on Wollstonecraft was deemed ‘too obscure’. She also warned us against making Wollstonecraft, who characteristically was ‘always prickly’ and swam against the mainstream, into a ‘national treasure’. Speakers and audience at the conference agreed that Wollstonecraft sustains us today with her resilience in the face of life’s challenges, both personal and political.

A number of organisations carry on Wollstonecraft’s legacy. The Mary Wollstonecraft Fellowship celebrates her writing with talks and events; the Mary Wollstonecraft Philosophical Society disseminates her work and that of other women philosophers of the period, including through university curricula; the Wollstonecraft Society promotes education in schools; Mary on the Green fundraises to place a statue of Wollstonecraft by Maggie Hambling on Newington Green; and New Unity has a Heritage Lottery funded project at Newington Green Meeting House, ‘Uncovering the Dissenters’ Legacy at the Birthplace of Feminism’.

WSG seminars 2015-2016 announced

Anonymous, trade card, paper, c1760, collected by Sarah Sophia Banks.  BM D,2.3603.
Anonymous, trade card, paper, c1760, collected by Sarah Sophia Banks. British Museum D,2.3603. © The Trustees of the British Museum

The Women’s Studies Group 1558-1837 is pleased to announce its seminar schedule for the forthcoming academic year.  Seminars will take place at the Foundling Museum, London, WC1N 1AZ, and start promptly at 1pm, finishing at about 4.  Tea and biscuits are provided.  Why not arrive early and see the Foundling’s current exhibition, or hear a gallery talk?

This year seminars organiser Dr Carolyn Williams has drawn together papers with musical themes, as well as on collecting, natural philosophy, literature, politics, and book history from across WSG’s 16th- to early 19th-century range.  Dates and speakers are as follows:

Saturday 26th  September, 2015, 1-4pm, Foundling Museum
Diana Ambache, ‘Women composers of the late 18th century’
Professor Paula Higgins, ‘Suppressing the Suppression of Fanny Hensel: Textual Ellipsis and Other Signs of Biographical Censorship’
Dr Arlene Leis, ‘Sarah Sophia Banks as a Collector’

NB Diana Ambache will have CDs of the composers profiled on sale, from £6 to £14.

Saturday 28th November, 2015, 1-4pm, Foundling Museum
Associate Professor Tita Chico, ‘Knowledge Seduction’
Dr Andrew McInnes, ‘Resistant Readers in Sarah Fielding’s The Governess’
Chrisy Dennis, ‘“We were born to grace society: but not to be its slaves”: Chivalry and Revolution in Mary Robinson’s Hubert de Sevrac, A Romance of the Eighteenth Century (1796)’

Saturday January 30, 2016, 1-4pm, Foundling Museum
Valerie Schutte, ‘Pre-accession Printed Book Dedications to Mary and Elizabeth Tudor’ (see a publication of Valerie’s here)
Brianna Elyse Robertson-Kirkland, ‘Venanzio Rauzzini (1746 – 1810) and his female operatic students’
Sarah Oliver, ‘From Rape to Desire: Mary Hays’s Revision of the Love Theme and Jane Austen’s “New” Heroines’ (see a publication of Sarah’s here)

For more information, and brief abstracts of the papers, see our current seminars page, like WSG’s facebook page, or follow @WSGUK.