"The women of the property-owning class will always fanatically defend the exploitation and enslavement of the working people, by which they indirectly receive the means for their socially useless existence."
"The English Civil War broke out over issues; both political and religious Gender was not among them."
Ann Hughes is Professor of Early Modern History at Keele University; she has published widely on mid-seventeenth Century English history. Her specialities are the study of Gender, print culture and religion. She is undoubtedly one of the foremost authorities on the English Revolution.
In this slim volume, Hughes attempts "to discuss all the ways in which the political upheavals of the mid-seventeenth century interacted with, were affected by and had an impact on gendered roles and relationships."
After a dearth of studies of women and the English revolution, the recent spate of publications examining women and the English revolution, including Hughes's book is to be welcomed up to a point. There is still no of the biography of two of the most famous Leveller women Katherine Chidley and Elizabeth Lilburne.
While one book cannot make up for a few centuries of neglect Hughes's book is an important contribution to our understanding of the role women played in the English revolution.
Hughes's book is part of a proliferation of Gender orientated books that have been published over the last few decades. This relatively new type of historiography has been promoted heavily by universities and publishers alike. The recent proliferation of books, articles, etc. has many reasons. One major factor being the growth of women historians who have started to explore this previously under-researched subjects. Another reason is that women, in general, have a much-increased degree of political freedom and economic independence than previous generations of women.
One of the major problems with this type of politically motivated historical study is the evisceration of class. There cannot be a genuine struggle for women's emancipation without an examination of the class nature of female exploitation. As this article points out "There is more talk of gender in the American and global media than perhaps at any previous moment in history. The #MeToo campaign in the US has supposedly brought the conditions of women to the fore like never before. The US media and Hollywood are animated by hardly anything else.
"But this is a fraud. The women are getting nearly all the coverage belonging to the upper echelons of society, the richest five or ten per cent. Working-class women are nowhere to be seen in all this, except for a few token exceptions that prove the rule. This skewed class lineup in the media coverage reflects a greater social reality: the gap between affluent women and working-class women has widened dramatically in the past several decades. On International Women's Day in 2018, what are the conditions of the great majority of women in the world, those who are ignored by the media, those who do not get their faces and their complaints on the evening news? Today, of the 1.3 billion of the planet's 7.6 billion inhabitants living in extreme poverty, 70 per cent are women or girls, according to Project Concern International."
The striking feature about the subject matter of Hughes's book is that many of the problems faced by 17th Century women are unfortunately still with us in the 21st Century. As I said earlier, there is a dearth of material written on the plight of women in the 17th Century.It is over eighty years since Alice Clark wrote a major work analysing the working life of women in the 17th Century. Sharon Howard, in an article about Clark wrote, "I have a soft spot for Alice Clark (not least for her maxim that "those who do not make mistakes do not make anything"). This was her only book. She was not a well-known academic historian; rather, a feminist and businesswoman whose life encompassed many other activities and who only began historical research at the age of 38. She was a member of the Clark family, who were Quakers, of shoemaking fame (you know, those horrible sensible shoes you wore as a kid because your mum made you, except they recently got all trendy and cute).Born in 1874, she was firmly influenced by the 'first wave' of feminism, particularly by debates about female economic dependence and 'parasitism' on men and its adverse effects on women and society as a whole. She also needs to be understood in the context of early 20th-century concerns about the social consequences of industrialisation and pioneering sociological investigations into contemporary conditions of the poor, and increasing interest in what was then called 'economic history' (it would now be termed social history). The contribution made to that historiography by women was subsequently ignored by many historians; feminist historians have in more recent decades worked to reconsider their significance ".
Gender historiography is a relatively new concept in which to study women's role in history. The systematic study of women in history is largely a by-product of the genre "History from below" instigated by the Communist Party History Group. While producing some important research and publications, the replacing of gender over class in the study of historical events is a move away from a classical or orthodox Marxist approach.
Gender studies were heavily promoted by journals such as History Workshop. The growth in gender studies was also facilitated by books like The Making of the English Working Class by Edward P Thompson. Independent women historians and writers started to insist that "women's experience no longer is 'hidden from history.
Books that started to examine women's role in history were not always met with support. When the outstanding historian Keith Thomas who taught history at Oxford in the 1950s decided to set up a series of lectures on Women and the 17th Century his attempt was met with at best indifference and worse outright hostility.
The period that Hughes writes about was truly a world turned upside down, where traditional family roles were coming under high pressure. As Alison Jones points out "The Civil War of 1642-1646 and its aftermath constituted a time of great turmoil, turning people's everyday lives upside down. It not only affected the men in the armies, but it also touched the lives of countless ordinary individuals. It is well known that women played a significant role in the Civil War, for example, defending their communities from attack and nursing wounded soldiers. What is often forgotten, however, is that some women took advantage of the havoc wrought by the conflict to dissent from conventional positions in society.The slightest deviation by women from their traditional roles as wives and mothers was condemned by this patriarchal society. Therefore dissent could take many forms that today do not appear particularly extreme – for example, choosing to participate in emerging radical religious sects, having greater sexual freedom, fighting as soldiers and practising witchcraft".
It took much courage to take part in the struggles of the day. The punishment for doing was swift and brutal. Heavy punishment was meted out to those women who rebelled against the prevailing orthodoxy. One such 'rebel' was Margaret Cavendish who wrote in a tract We become like worms that only live in the dull earth of ignorance, winding ourselves sometimes out by the help of some refreshing rain of good educations, which seldom is given us; for we are kept like birds in cages to hop up and down in our houses, not suffered from flying abroad to see the several changes of fortune, and the various humour, ordained and created by nature; thus wanting the experiences of nature, we must need to want the understanding and knowledge so consequently prudence, and invention of men: thus by an opinion, which I hope is but an erroneous one in men, we are shut out of all power and authority, despised, and laughed at, the best of our actions are trodden down with scorn, by the overweening conceit men have of themselves and through despisement of us".
According to Hughes, society's problem was not the result of a class struggle but was because England was a patriarchal society. While Hughes acknowledges the fact that political and economic differences did occur among men and women, these are mostly ignored. She contends that the primary motivating factor for pursuing civil war was the struggle of women versus men.
Hughes states that "neither women nor men form a homogeneous category, and in this book, their experiences during the English revolution are structured by age, social and marital status, religion, and political allegiance, and sometimes by national or ethnic identity, as well as by Gender. One category missing from this list is class.
I must admit I have problem historians who advocate the theory of patriarchy. Under the guise of investigating all women's history, there has developed a tendency to reduce all women's struggle to a fight against repression regardless of what class they belonged.
The promotion of women's studies came at the same time number of revisionist started to attack previous whig and Marxist historiography.Hughes promotion of Gender studies is in direct opposition to a class-based study of history.
To conclude Hughes book is not without merit as Gaby Mahlberg says
"The power of Hughes's book, and what makes it so valuable to both specialist scholars in the field and their students, is the great wealth of primary source material on which it is based and the ease with which the author moves between the micro-stories of early modern men and women, their wider context, and ongoing historiographical debates. Gender and the English Revolution are likely to join The Causes of the English Civil War (London, 1991) as staple reading for students of the mid-seventeenth century". Despite the criticisms and caveats, which include Hughes abandonment of any class-based analysis of the English revolution the book is worth reading.
 The condition of working-class women on International Women’s Day-https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2018/03/09/pers-m09.html
 Early Modern Notes by Sharon Howard entitled Alice Clark, working women's historian.
 Reviewed Works: Hidden from History. Rediscovering Women in History from the 17th Century to the Present by Sheila Rowbotham; Woman's Work. The Housewife, Past and Present by Ann Oakley-Review by: Susan J. Kleinberg-Journal of Social History
Vol. 10, No. 1 (Autumn, 1976), pp. 99-103
 Dissent and Debauchery: Women and the English Civil War- Alison Jones
 Philosophical and Physical Opinions (1655)
 Gaby Mahlberg's Review 12th July 2012 -www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09612025.2012.706066