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Blurring boundaries: shifting perceptions of femininity in the context of the English Civil War

The English Civil War represents a liminal period within the history of the
nation, one that offered many opportunities for experimentation with gender roles in
social institutions. This historical episode had no universally legitimate authority, in
either the government or the church, and the population had to deal with the resulting
confusion individually. In comparing the writings and actions of women during this
period with the popular publications of men that described and prescribed women's
behavior, I argue that a significant number of men and women disregarded prescribed
gender roles out of necessity. The major themes of this thesis involve the relationship
between power and gender, as seen through contemporary language and writing that
reveal how English culture viewed women acting in "masculine" endeavors in a time of
crisis. Any perceived threat to the social order or the gender hierarchy of early modern
England caused anxiety, but the actual challenges to this social organization posed by
the Civil War provoked a substantial backlash. However, the women who acted in the
war in public developed an identity independent of their culturally subordinate status. In order to substantiate this argument, this thesis discusses the fluid nature of gender,
including the significant changes that resulted within the decades of the Civil War, as it
was depicted in seventeenth-century England. Using primary documents, including
letters, pamphlets, diurnals, and diaries, I show how the gender roles created by the
church, state, and society were contradicted by the reality of the behavior exhibited by
the participants in the English Civil War. I examine both women who acted within the
traditional confines of femininity and those who transgressed these boundaries. Close
attention is paid to women's activities in the areas of defense, religion, and politics. In
conclusion, the thesis examines the ways in which historians have sought to interpret this
period and place the actions of women within a patriarchal context. Possible challenges
to the gender hierarchy caused great anxiety amid early modern England, but actual
transgressions of gender roles, which occurred during the English Civil War, prompted a
reevaluation of femininity.
Date02 June 2009
CreatorsScamardo, Tara Marie
ContributorsRosenheim, James M.
Source SetsTexas A and M University
Detected LanguageEnglish
TypeBook, Thesis, Electronic Thesis, text
Formatelectronic, application/pdf, born digital

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