There was an exception to this rule, which was for widows who were entitled to a proportion of their husband’s estate. During this time a small number of widowed women had petitioned Parliament in matters that related to their estates, a major problem here was that vast majority of women, had little or no access to the law. In 1654, Margaret Somerset the Countess of Worcester, Anne Henshaw and Katherine Stone all dependants of royalist whose estates had been confiscated by parliament.
Petitioned to claim their rights to one fifth of the property. 10 Other parliamentary petitioners comprise of Susannah Bastwick and Mary Blaithwait Susannah Bastwick had petitioned the Commons on a numerous times manly for her husband and the actions that had been taken by the royalist she wanted them over turned. There is also material for a study of the realities of women’s legal rights in the personal petitions published by women in the mid seventeenth century concerning non-payments of legacies from the estates of their deceased relatives.Order now
11 Given the strict restriction on women’s presence in public, it seems astounding that groups of women were able to forge and enhance political ideas during this era. All women petitioners had to weaken the appropriate customs of virtuous female actions by making themselves observable, evident and perceptible in and around Parliament, which at this time was the most public of spheres. The women’s petitions of the Seventeenth Century broke down in to three categories.
The first being Miscellaneous petitions, most of these, petitioned for the Parliament to act to relieve the hardship, this may have been caused by the deterioration in trade due to consequence of the continued civil unrest. On October 1645, 2,000 maimed and wounded soldiers and widows presented a petition to the House of Commons protesting their hardship. 12 The second category being Peace Petitions, some of these women wore white ribbons this was a symbol of their cause. The wearing of white ribbons was the distinguishing mark of peace petitioners, just as wearing of sea-green ribbons became that of the Levellers.
13 In August 1643, when groups of two to three thousand women converged on Parliament to petition for peace, the supporters of the war branded the women as the inferior sort’, ‘whores’ ‘the scum of the suburbs’ and an ‘abundance of Irish women. 14 This reflected the claim that including women in politics would impair the principles of all that it concerned. Their protest ended in a violent siege, were some women were killed or seriously injured. Ironically enough, this was the peace-seeking mob, women killed by soldiers in this tumult, yet unappeased15
The third category were the Leveller petitions, their most intense period of protest being in April and May 164916. Leveller petitions clamed equality, a petition of April 1649 argued that women had an equal share and interest with men in the commonwealth, in May 1649 another petition justified the rights of women by asserting that women were created in the image of God. 17 Some historians state that the Levellers were unpopular with both the Royalist and the Parliamentarians this was because they were seen as radicals.
Most of the Leveller women’s petitions included well-acquired arguments for women’s political rights in contrast to political action for which the peace petitioners had given it. Leveller women were not aristocratic women, nor were they mainly drawn from the very poorest in society, but they were principally artisans, with some form of property or skilled trade. News books gave daily accounts of the events in and around Parliament18 It would seem that petitions by women were considered very newsworthy as nearly all papers around at the time analysised especially during the turmoil of the peace and the leveller’s petitions.
These news books just underlined existing mannerisms to women in public, thus acted as a possible deterrent to other women who may have been tempted in to taking on political thought and action. The first incidents, which gave, rise to a large number of reports about women’s political actions were the Peace petitions of August 1642. 19 According to Eales there is evidence of women taking part in local Parliamentary elections, Dame Elizabeth Copley daughter-in-law Catharine had the right to the nomination, it apparently was a legal part of her widows jointure, the Privy Council overturned it in 1572.
It was not the sex but the lordship of the borough that mattered20 Some wives and mothers helped to organize campaigns for their husbands and fathers in order for them to get elected. Some elite women even after the Restoration still continued to influence the political process. It was at this time we saw the development of political groups this came in the form of the Whig and the Tory parties. There were other aspects of women getting involved in political issues, some women acted as spies for both or either sides. Some worked as fundraisers and set up committees that met two to three times weekly.