Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Book Write-Up: Political Speaking Justified

Teresa Feroli.  Political Speaking Justified: Women Prophets and the English Revolution.  Newark: University of Deleware Press, 2006.

Political Speaking Justified is about women prophets in seventeenth century England.  During that time, James I ruled the country, his son Charles would succeed him, and Charles was killed and replaced by Puritan Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell.  The women prophets whom Teresa Feroli profiles wrote about such events.

What did these prophetesses have to say?  With whom did they side, Charles or Cromwell?  Well, Lady Eleanor Davies supported James I because she saw him as a bulwark against Roman Catholicism.  She did not care for his son, Charles, however, believing that James’ daughter Elizabeth would make a better successor because she had James’ virtues.  Charles’ marriage to a Catholic woman aroused a great deal of controversy, and Lady Eleanor was also upset that Charles did not step forward to support a prominent relative of hers, who was accused of sodomy.  Lady Eleanor thought that her days were the end times preceding the second coming of Christ, and she freely associated people of her time with biblical characters, some of them unsavory.

Overall, my impression is that most of the women prophets whom Feroli profiles did not care for Charles.  That did not mean that they were Cromwell supporters, for one prophetess declared that Cromwell was becoming too attached to luxury.  Moreover, more than one prophetess supported the institution of monarchy, but their problem was that they did not think that Charles was serving the English people as a king should.

Feroli wrestles with the question of whether these female prophets can indeed be called feminist.  They were women writing about the political issues of the day, but did they promote gender equality?  Actually, some of the prophetesses upheld patriarchy.  Lady Eleanor demonized the wife of her accused relative, comparing her with wicked women in the Bible, and more than one prophetess wrote that God was sending a woman to prophesy because the men were not doing what they should, as if God sending a woman was somehow a punishment.  At the same time, there were prophetesses who defended the right of women to speak, to prophesy, and to lead, appealing to such biblical examples as Deborah, Anna, and the women who first encountered the risen Christ.  Quaker George Fox and his wife wrote at length about the contributions that women could make.

Feroli also interacts with the question of how women exercised power in seventeenth century England.  One way was through fasting, which was believed to bring people closer to God and to grant them a degree of authority.  One woman Feroli profiles, Anna Trapnel, was notorious for her fasting.

I enjoyed this book on account of my interest in Puritanism, to which the seventeenth century is certainly pertinent.  Moreover, Lady Eleanor’s end-time proclamations and interpretation of her contemporaries in light of the Bible were very intriguing.  I would have liked to have seen more, however, about what the female prophets thought about the Puritans, and how society responded to the female prophets’ messages.  At the same time, I have to remember that Feroli could only work with the sources that she had and what they say.

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