Saturday, 16 May 2020

Anne Lister

The Real Gentlemen Jack
Molly Southward
BA History

The recent and critically acclaimed BBC series Gentlemen Jack has sparked an interest in the real woman behind the programme. Remarked to be the first ‘modern lesbian’, she had an incredible life that only became public knowledge many decades after her death. 

Anne Lister was born on the 3rd of April 1791 in Halifax, Yorkshire. She was the second child and eldest daughter of Jeremy Lister, a former soldier, and Rebecca Battle. The two were wealthy north of England landowners. She had five other siblings, four of them brothers, but only Anne and her younger sister, Marian, survived.

In 1793, the family moved to Skelfler House in Market Weighton. Anne began her education at home with the vicar of Market Weighton, the Reverend George Skelding. Later, in 1804, she was sent to boarding school in King’s Manor, York. She was expelled following a relationship with another female student, Eliza Raine, who later suffered from mental health issues. Raine was placed in an asylum following the discovery of Anne’s relationships with several other students. Following her issues with school, and the time she spent there as a child, Anne moved in permanently with her Aunt and Uncle at Shibden Hall in 1815. When her Uncle James died in 1826, Anne started to manage and renovate the estate. In 1836, when her Aunt and Father died, she took compete control of the estate.

Due to her inheritance, she became the owner of agricultural tenancies, town properties and a quarrying business which she went on to expand. She was known as being a firm, driven but fair landowner, who made major improvements to the estate. This is partially due to the fact she had been involved with the running of Shibden Hall from a young age. She was known by local people as ‘Gentlemen Jack’ and would often be seen wearing dark coloured men’s clothes. This led to her getting heckled and stopped in the street as well as being the target of abusive letters from local people.

Historians have argued that the prejudice she received from the people around her fuelled her desire to escape from the constraints of home in order to live her life as freely as possible. Because of this, she spent a lot of her adult life away from Yorkshire, travelling whilst using her income from the Hall to fund herself. Much to her family and business partners’ annoyance, she often only returned home when she ran out of funds or was forced to attend to urgent business.

She made her first trip to continental Europe in 1819, a two-month trip to France. In 1824, she returned to Paris and stayed until the following year. In 1826, she was back in Paris and began a tour of northern Italy and Switzerland, returning in 1828. In 1829, with Paris as her base, she visited Belgium and Germany before heading south to the Pyrenees and Spain. She also made the first ascent of Mount Perdu in the Pyrenees in 1830, before summiting Mount Vignemale in France in 1838. Her last trip began in 1839. It took her through France, Denmark, Sweden and Russia where she arrived in St Petersburg before travelling to Moscow. Travelling so extensively, taking part in such hard, traditionally ‘masculine’ physical activities, and all of this without a male chaperone, was unheard of for women of her class at this time.

There were two main loves of Anne’s life. The first was Mariana Belcombe, who she met aged 23. She was referred to as ‘M’ in Anne’s journals. However, Anne suffered from heartbreak following Mariana’s marriage to an older man in 1815 so that she could gain financial stability. Their relationship was ended and the heartbreak was said to have impacted Anne for the rest of her life. It is seen as one of the main reasons for her extensive travelling, using it as an attempt to escape from the memories.

 Her most retold and well-known relationship was with the heiress Ann Walker. The two women had been casual acquaintances throughout the 1820s, but they were first properly introduced when they became neighbours in 1832. Miss Walker had moved in with her Aunt and Uncle to recover from being of ‘unsound of mind’. Historians believe she may have been suffering with anxiety and depression. They began an intense and whirlwind romance in the following months.
The two were married on March 30th, 1834 in Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, York. The marriage took place under the cover of night using church blessings and the lighting of candles to consolidate their love and commitment to one another. This has been viewed as the first lesbian marriage in Britain. They later visited France and Switzerland for their honeymoon. The couple then moved in together at Shibden Hall and combined their landowning interests.
They both lived and travelled together until Anne Lister died aged 49 on September 22nd, 1840 in Georgia. She had contracted a fever while travelling with Ann. Her body was embalmed and brought to the parish church in Halifax to be buried by her lover on the 29th of April 1841. It remains there to this day. Her partner gained Anne’s estate from her will, and died in 1854 from ‘congestion of the brain’.

The reason historians know so much about Anne Lister’s life is that, starting in 1806, she wrote a partially encoded 26 volume-long diary. Linking to her love of education and literature, the code was made from a blend of algebra, ancient Greek mathematical symbols, punctuation and the Western zodiac. It has been dubbed ‘Anne’s Crypthand’. Anne believed that her code was unbreakable and no key was ever left for posterity. However, in the 1890s, the code was cracked by John Lister, the new owner of Shibden Hall, and his friend Arthur Burrell. They discovered that the code was used to cover up her sexual encounters. Sections with Xs and Qs were used to denote different sexual acts. The diary also included her notes on her seduction techniques, a skill on which she prided herself.  

In order to preserve the diaries, avert scandal and prevent their destruction, the diaries were hidden behind wall panelling in the Hall until John Lister’s death in 1933. When the ownership of the Hall was passed to Calderdale Council, the site became a museum. The journals were found and Anne Lister’s incredible and trailblazing life was brought back into public knowledge.

The Golden Lotus

A History of Foot Binding in China
Tom Wilkinson-Gamble
BA Modern and Contemporary History

Foot binding, despite its fall from regular practice, still remains one of the most famous traditions of classical Chinese culture. Though the exact origins of the practice remain unknown, it is thought to have started in either the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) or the subsequent Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD). Throughout the Song, Yuan and Ming dynasties foot binding was normally reserved for the upper classes and the aristocracy. By the Qing dynasty, however, the practice had spread to other social classes. 

The actual process of foot binding was typically carried out by the oldest female member of the family. First, the big toe would be broken and forced under the foot. Then, bandages would be wound tightly around the foot. The force of the bandages would distort the growth of the bones and cause the foot to grow into the shape of a distorted heel with an extremely high arch. For the bones to grow in the desired way, foot binding was normally started when the girl was between 5 and 10 years old. Bound feet were known as ‘lotus feet’ and the specially designed shoes they wore were appropriately named ‘lotus shoes’. Because of the disfigurement of the foot, women were forced to walk very carefully and daintily. This was considered attractive, even erotic, in classical Chinese culture.

After the republican government came to power in 1911, foot binding was declared illegal and its prevalence declined. However, in the more rural areas of the country, where the government’s control was far weaker, the practice continued in secret. By the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, the practice is all but dead. In 1999, the last factory producing specially designed ‘lotus shoes’ closed down. As of the 2010s, only a handful of women are known to have bound feet.

Pendroni…Rhywedd a’r Troubles yng Ngogledd Iwerddon [Pondering...Gender and the Troubles in Northern Ireland]

Mari Elin Wiliam 
Lecturer in Modern History/ Darlithydd Hanes Modern

Deillia’r pendroni yma o ffynonellau gweledol a thrafodaethau ar y modiwl is-raddedig Nationalism in the UK 1916-1997. Diolch o galon i grŵp 2019/2020 am eu brwdfrydedd a’u hysbrydoliaeth / These ponderings stem from visual sources on the Troubles in Northern Ireland and associated discussions in the undergraduate module Nationalism in the UK 1916-1997. Heartfelt thanks to the 2019/2020 group for their enthusiasm and inspired observations in class.

Ym mis Chwefror 2020 roedd Sinn Féin yn ymfalchïo yn ei llwyddiannau yn etholiad cyffredinol Gweriniaeth Iwerddon.  Merched a ddominyddai’r delweddau o’r dathlu: yn benodol, Llywydd Sinn Féin, Mary Lou McDonald, a Michelle O’Neill, ei his-lywydd a Dirprwy Brif-Weinidog yng ngweinyddiaeth ddatganoledig Gogledd Iwerddon.  Gydag Arlene Foster yn arwain y Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) ac yn Brif-Weinidog yn Stormont, mae’r sbectrwm gwleidyddol - o’r Gweriniaethwyr i’r Unoliaethwyr - ar droad degawd newydd yn fwrlwm o ferched. 

Fodd bynnag, ffenomenon go ddiweddar yw i ferched fod ar flaen y gad yn cynrychioli gwleidyddiaeth Gogledd Iwerddon: am ddegawdau yn dilyn cychwyn y Troubles yn 1968 delwedd wrywaidd iawn oedd i’r ymrafael.  Er mai cymedroldeb protestiadau’r Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (sefydlwyd 1966) a amlygodd y rhagfarn sectyddol a wynebai’r lleiafrif Catholig yng Ngogledd Iwerddon, militariaeth a saernïodd y gwrthdaro fel un gwaedlyd a hirdymhorol.  Rhwng grwpiau parafilwrol fel yr IRA (Irish Republican Army) gweriniaethol, a’r UVF (Ulster Volunteer Force)/ UFF (Ulster Freedom Fighters) Teyrngarol, portreadwyd cymunedau mewn llefydd megis Belfast a Derry fel rhai dan reolaeth dynion mewn balaclafas oedd wedi’u harwisgo â gynnau AK47.  Pan anfonwyd y Fyddin Brydeinig ar strydoedd Gogledd Iwerddon i ‘gadw trefn’ o 1969 ymlaen, atgyfnerthwyd yr ymdeimlad macho wrth i ddisgwrs rhyfelgar am ‘wrhydri’ ac ‘arwriaeth’ gael ei ddyrchafu o’r naill ochr.  Y tu hwnt i’r iwnifform, dynion yr eithafion hefyd oedd prif ladmeryddion y Troubles: o Gerry Adams a Martin McGuinness yn eirioli ar ran Sinn Féin/IRA, i ‘r efengylwr unoliaethol Ian Paisley yn tanio o blaid Protestaniaid a grwpiau Teyrngarol. 

Bron yn awtomatig felly, lluniwyd yr hanes fel un ‘dynion’, ac yn sicr yn un ‘gwrywaidd’ ei naws. Er fod gan ferched bresenoldeb mewn hanesion o’r Troubles, gan amlaf gosodwyd hwy ar y cyrion, mewn rôl famol/gofalgar neu fel dioddefwyr:  straeon sy’n rhy gyffredin i gynhyrfu llawer o sylwebwyr, neu’n fawr mwy nac addurn i’r brif ffrwd wrywaidd.

Yn ei hymchwil ar ‘Brotest Fudr’ y cyfnod 1978-1981 mae’r hanesydd Rachel Oppenheimer yn feirniadol o’r duedd i ynysu ysgolheictod ar ferched yn y Troubles i flwch ‘hanes merched’, gan fod hynny’n cyfrannu at eu hesgeuluso o naratifau canolog.  Roedd y gwrthsafiad ‘Budr’ – a nodweddwyd gan garcharorion yn lledaenu baw ac wrin ar hyd waliau eu celloedd - yn gydran o Ryfel Carchar Gweriniaethwyr Gwyddelig wrth iddynt hawlio nad oeddent yn droseddwyr cyffredin, a gan hynny’n haeddiannol o statws fel carcharorion gwleidyddol.  Er mai protest y dynion yng ngharchar y Maze sydd yn cael ei phortreadu fel yr un arwyddocaol (wrth iddynt feithrin gwalltiau a barfau hir a’u hymdebygai i Grist), roedd merched yng ngharchar Armagh hefyd yn gwrthdystio, ond mewn modd mwy trawiadol byth wrth i’w celloedd hwy gael eu patrymu gan ysgarthion, gwaed mislif, tamponau a phadiau hylendid.  Yn 1980 smyglwyd ffotograff o Mairéad Farrell allan o’i chell yn Armagh: ffotograff eiconig gan ei fod herio gwerthoedd cymdeithasol ceidwadol a phatriarchaidd (Catholig a Phrotestannaidd), yn ogystal â bod yn symbol o Weriniaetholdeb.  Yn hytrach na delwedd o ferch oddefgar, fregus oedd yn ddibynnol ar ddynion i’w hamddiffyn, ymddangosai Farrell yn feiddgar a chadarn mewn protest wleidyddol oedd yn ategu’r un yn y Maze, ond hefyd yn mynd gam ymhellach – ac yn rhy bell i rai Gweriniaethwyr – gan danseilio’r tabŵ ar y mislif.  Trwy edrych ar y ‘Brotest Fudr’ yn Armagh a’r Maze yn gyfochrog datgelir nid yn unig haenau amrywiol o Weriniaetholdeb, ond hefyd gymhlethdodau rhywedd yn gymysg â’r Troubles.

Adlewyrchir hyn hefyd trwy gymryd cipolwg ar Bernadette Devlin, ymgyrchydd hawliau sifil a etholwyd fel Aelod Seneddol (AS) Unity/Annibynnol dros Ganolbarth Ulster yn 1969.  Yn 21 oed hi oedd y ferch ieuengaf ar y pryd i ddod yn AS, a rhwng ei hoed, ei rhyw a’i hagwedd gwrth-sefydliadol roedd yn tramgwyddo mewn amryfal ffyrdd ar arferion ‘gwrywaidd’ gwleidyddiaeth seneddol a pharafilwrol yr oes.  Amlygwyd hynny yn sgîl Bloody Sunday yn 1972, pan laddwyd 14 o drigolion gan y Fyddin Brydeinig yn ystod gorymdaith hawliau sifil yn Derry.  Roedd Devlin ar yr orymdaith hon, a’r diwrnod canlynol roedd yn y Tŷ Cyffredin i wneud safiad ar ran y dioddefwyr a’u teuluoedd.  Cythryddwyd hi i’r fath raddau gan oerni a diffyg edifeirwch yr Ysgrifennydd Cartref Ceidwadol, Reginald Maudling, nes iddi roi slap iddo yn y siambr.  Mewn cyfweliad yn fuan iawn wedyn gyda thyrfa o ohebwyr cyhuddwyd hi o fod yn ‘emotional’ ac ‘unladylike’, gyda geirfa fisogynistaidd o’r fath yn cael ei ddefnyddio i’w difrïo a’i chyfleu fel ‘hogan bach ddrwg’.  Roedd yn eironig fod llawer o’r wasg yn dewis canolbwyntio ar ‘drais’ Devlin - gan ei fod yn herio normau rhywedd - yn hytrach na’r trais milwrol marwol oedd wedi ennyn ei hatgasedd yn y lle cyntaf.  Mewn modd clinigol, gwrthododd Devlin wahoddiad un o’r gohebwyr i ymddiheuro i Maudling, gan nodi’n gadarn ‘I’m just sorry I didn’t get him by the throat’, a labelodd y digwyddiad fel ‘simple proletarian protest.’  Er fod cynhyrchwyr ffilm wedi cael eu denu at fywyd Devlin, hyd-yn-hyn cyfyngedig yw’r sylw academaidd iddi.  Mae’n ffigwr coeth i’w hastudio, nid yn unig o bersbectif rhywedd, ond hefyd fel un a roddai bwyslais cytbwys ar sosialaeth ynghyd â Gweriniaetholdeb Wyddelig (bu’n flaenllaw wrth sefydlu plaid fyrhoedlog yr Independent Socialist Party ddiwedd y 1970au), ac a ddewisodd, mewn cyferbyniad â Sinn Féin, eistedd yn y Tŷ Cyffredin, gan ei gosod ar lwybr mwy cyfansoddiadol (er gwaethaf natur ei rhethreg!) yn braf cyn i Adams a McGuinness ddechrau gwyro oddi wrth genedlaetholdeb grym-ffisegol yn ystod y 1980au. 

Yng Ngogledd Iwerddon mae murluniau’n ffyrdd o gofnodi a siapio’r cof cymdeithasol, a dengys y ffaith fod Devlin wedi cael ei murlunio yn y Bogside yn Derry ei dylanwad ar y gymuned honno.  Ond, fel y gwelir gyferbyn, nid Devlin yw’r unig ferch i gael ei darlunio: mae hi’n cyd-sefyll gyda ddynes anhysbys yn dal caead bin, mewn cyfeiriad at yr arferiad mewn cymunedau Catholig i ferched guro’r caeadau yn swnllyd i rybuddio (dynion fel arfer) fod y Fyddin Brydeinig ar patrol.  Gymaint oedd arwyddocâd y ddefod yma nes iddi hefyd gael lle canolog ar furlun Mná na hÉireann (Merched Iwerddon) a ddadorchuddiwyd yn 2014, hefyd yn y Bogside.  Yn hwn nid oes lle i Devlin, ond yn ei brysurdeb mae’n cyfleu ystod o brofiadau hanesyddol merched wnaeth herio gafael Prydain ar Iwerddon: o Brotestaniaid a Ffeniaid yn y 18fed a’r 19eg ganrif, i Constance Markievicz, yr unig ddynes i gael ei dedfrydu i farwolaeth yn dilyn Gwrthryfel y Pasg yn 1916 (cymudwyd hyn, ac yn 1918 hi oedd y ferch gyntaf i gael ei hethol i’r Tŷ Cyffredin).  Mae’n portreadu merched mewn rôl parafilwrol, ar ffurf y Cumann na mBan, yn ogystal ag unigolion fel Ethel Lynch, gwirfoddolwr i’r IRA a laddwyd mewn ffrwydriad yn 1974.  Dangosir merched ar brotest y flanced gyda’r slogan ‘Do you care?’.  Gallai hyn fod yn gwestiwn i’r awdurdodau, ond hefyd i’r gymuned Weriniaethol ehangach yn wyneb eu ffafriaeth hanesyddol i naratif y dynion oedd dan glo.  Clodforir merched yn ogystal am eu rôl mwy ‘traddodiadol’ fel dioddefwyr a galarwyr, mewn murlun sy’n trwytho’r tirlun gyda’u cyfraniadau ‘benywaidd’ a ‘gwrywaidd’, gan yn gydamserol ddatgymalu rhywfaint o’r fytholeg rywedd ymhlyg yn yr ymrafael.

Dadleua’r archaeolegydd Laura McAtackney fod gan waliau mewn cymdeithas ranedig, fel Gogledd Iwerddon, swyddogaeth ddeuol: ar un llaw, trwy gartrefu murluniau a graffiti, maent yn ddulliau o gyfathrebu, ond hefyd, yn fwy negyddol, gellir eu portreadu fel gwahanfuriau sydd yn hybu ‘self-containment and isolation that deny multiple-perspectives and acknowledgement of shared…narratives.’  Yn sicr mae profiadau merched yn y Troubles yn rhan o’r ‘shared narrative’ traws-gymunedol yma, ond yn un sy’n stryffaglu i groesi ffiniau murluniol a sectyddol.  Mae Bill Rolston, cymdeithasegydd sydd yn arbenigo mewn diwylliant gwleidyddol poblogaidd Gwyddelig, o’r farn fod absenoldeb merched o ddisgwrs gweledol Teyrngarol yn ‘tantamount to silence’.  Perygl hyn, gan ategu McAtackney, yw mygu’r tebygrwydd rhwng profiadau Catholigaidd a Phrotestannaidd.  Er enghraifft, tra’r oedd merched dosbarth gweithiol y caeadau bin yn chwarae rhan yn y rhyfela trefol ar yr ochr Weriniaethol, roedd eu cymheiriaid Unoliaethol hefyd yn brysur yn yr ymgyrch ‘ryfel’.  Mewn cyfweliad yng Nghanolfan Ferched Ffordd Shankill yn 2013 nododd Eileen Weir, a fagwyd yn y gymuned Brotestannaidd honno, ei bod wedi ymuno efo’r Ulster Defence Association (UDA) Teyrngarol ddechrau’r 1970au, a’i dyletswyddau oedd gofalu am yr henoed ac arsylwi merched ifanc i sicrhau nad oedd unrhyw ‘hanky panky’ yn mynd ymlaen gyda pharafilwyr oedd ar ddyletswydd yn gwarchod ‘no-go areas’.  Adleisir y math yma o blismona moesol yn nofel Anna Burns, Milkman (2018), sy’n seiliedig ar ei phrofiadau hi o’i phlentyndod Catholig yn Belfast a chlawstroffobia byw mewn cymuned oedd wedi’i sylfaenu ar fawrygu parafilwyr Gweriniaethol, a lle’r defnyddiwyd gossip fel arf i reoli ymddygiad a chymeriad merched.  Awgryma’r esiamplau hyn fod y naill ochr i’r hafn sectyddol wedi’u crisialu gan geidwadaeth foesol.

Bellach, yn arbennig yn dilyn Cytundeb Dydd Gwener y Groglith yn 1998, mae cymdeithas Gogledd Iwerddon yn un llai milwriaethus.  Byddai’n rhwydd dadlau fod y pwyslais cynyddol ar gymodi a gwleidydda cyfansoddiadol wedi creu atmosffer mwy croesawus i ferched.  Ond, er fod y rhod wedi troi mewn nifer o ffyrdd, fel mae’r cipdrem yma wedi dangos, roedd merched yn perfformio rhychwant o swyddogaethau yn yr ymrafael ers y cychwyn.  Nid ategolyn bach ffrili a neis, gyda diwedd ‘hapus’ i’w stori, yw eu hanes.  Yn hytrach mae’r prism rhywedd yn un cwbl ganolog i arddangos cymhlethdodau a heterogenedd y Troubles a’r paradeim diwylliannol Gwyddelig yn ystod yr 20fed ganrif.

Margaret Beaufort

A Female Force to be Reckoned With
Leah Jepson
MA History

Margaret Beaufort; a woman of great historical significance, yet also strangely lacking in academic appreciation. A woman who pursued and achieved her own ends, yet is overlooked as an illustration of female agency within a society where women were typically, and erroneously, assumed to have had none. A woman who is probably better known for her role in historical fiction than in historical reality, more for her intense piety than her role as one of the most prominent players of the turbulent fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. 

Margaret was a woman who, during her long life, was a first-hand witness to the tumultuous years of the Wars of the Roses. Through her efforts, she helped establish the infamous Tudor dynasty in the name of her son, who would become Henry VII of England. Married at twelve to Edmund Tudor, both widow and mother at thirteen, Margaret was a woman who refused to remain idle. She negotiated, integrated, and plotted herself towards success. She risked her life and reputation in her son’s cause, though it is impossible to fully distinguish between it and her own. However, she was also a woman who achieved these things without stepping outside the lines of her accepted sphere as a woman. She was no Margaret of Anjou, ‘interfering’ in matters of government and stomping on the toes of powerful men. She remained, for the most part, behind the scenes, yet also often in plain sight.

An adroit Lancastrian, she integrated herself into the Yorkist court, making connections, forming networks, and working towards a greater goal. Her ‘invisibility’ was perhaps one of her greatest assets, allowing her to establish herself surreptitiously before revealing the extent of her efforts in her son’s triumph at Bosworth Field in 1485.

In many ways, it is easy to over-complicate Margaret, primarily because we often find it difficult to reconcile medieval female experience with the non-domestic. The political triumph of her later years has traditionally been in conflict with her intense religiosity, and scholarship has frequently been divided into two camps; those who celebrate her as an exemplar of piety, and those who condemn her excursions into the ‘masculine’ politic.

However, these approaches typically share two common misconceptions. Firstly, that the domestic had no impact outside the privacy of the household, and secondly, that the political was strictly concerned with matters of government. This, it turns out, was far from the case. The households of medieval noble families were often hubs of activity branching off from the wider context of the royal court. Here, factions grew from close family networks, reinforced through marriage alliances, patronage and feudal hierarchy. The domestic was often far from the private, and in a society where the future of the collective typically outweighed that of the individual, the family was a significant source of agency and power available to men and women alike, albeit often in different ways.
Within this context, the political entailed far more than matters of government. It extended to the intimacy of the marriage bed, the raising and education of children, and the creation of kinship networks, all of which would contribute, directly or otherwise, to the political fabric of the nation. The domestic was a socially acceptable context in which female agency could thrive, and it would be where Margaret would establish the foothold which would ultimately enable her to pursue her own ends.

One of the most obvious means available to her was marriage. Within the medieval context in particular, marriage has received a lot of bad press, thanks to persistent focus on what is perceived as female subjugation. Whilst women certainly did not enjoy equal status with their husbands, the over-generalised assumption that all women suffered as a result of arranged matches and masculine abuse has meant that it is typically seen in the negative, rather than as a potential tool which women often readily employed to their own ends. Marriage itself did not typically carry the same connotations as it does today, and within noble and gentry families in particular, it was understood more as a business arrangement than as a result of mutual love and affection. Whilst these things might develop during the marriage, and some did indeed marry for love, they did not constitute the primary factors when considering potential matches.

For Margaret, marriage offered security and a means of advancing both her own interests and those of her son. By the time Henry was born in 1457, she was already a widow, and aged just thirteen, she recognised the need to remarry quickly. Her latter two marriages, first to Henry Stafford, second son to the Duke of Buckingham, and secondly to Thomas Stanley, a prominent member of the Yorkist court, were pursued and arranged by Margaret herself. They provided her with a safe haven and a legitimate means of advancing her cause through interaction and association with other powerful nobles. Her marriage to Stanley in particular allowed her access to the inner circles of the Yorkist regime, and she would spend the twelve years from 1271 to 1483 integrating herself behind enemy lines.

Motherhood too allowed Margaret to operate within the political in a socially acceptable way. For noble and gentry women, children, particularly sons, provided them with a stake in the great game of court politics, and Henry Tudor afforded his mother opportunities for agency long before he acceded to the throne. Through her son, Margaret had a legitimate cause to pursue which would ultimately draw people to their side prior to 1485. Whilst Henry would spend most of the first half of his life either as the ward of another or in exile, his identity as potential, albeit weak, claimant to the throne meant that, should the Yorkist regime fail, or be overturned, Margaret’s son might well be looked on as an attractive alternative.

However, whilst the Yorks remained in power, it was also a dangerous position for Henry.  History does not tell us exactly when Margaret’s ambitions transitioned from bringing her son home from exile to placing him on the throne of England, if they had ever been otherwise. What we can suggest though is that Margaret played the game well, not revealing her hand or overtly stating Henry’s claims. We also know that, at least by the time Richard III seized the throne in 1483, she had begun to plot his downfall with other nobles, most notably the Duke of Buckingham, who also had a claim to the throne, and Elizabeth Woodville, the widow of Edward IV.

Following the disappearance of Edward’s sons in the Tower of London, Margaret and Elizabeth came together to arrange the marriage of their children, Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York. The plan was that Henry would take the throne and, in order to bolster his shaky claim to it, marry Elizabeth.  In return, her mother, Elizabeth Woodville, would pledge her support to Henry’s cause. Together, the plotting of these two powerful women demonstrated the significance of established networks in promoting female agency.

Whilst initial attempts to unseat Richard were unsuccessful, Henry Tudor would go on to secure his infamous victory at Bosworth Field in 1485, taking the throne as Henry VII, the first monarch of the Tudor dynasty. Following this, her ultimate triumph, Margaret became an active and prominent figure at her son’s court. She was referred to as ‘My Lady the King’s Mother’, and would come to enjoy legal and social independence which most other married women could not. Henry’s first parliament recognised her right to hold property independently of her husband, and towards the end of his reign, she was given a special commission to administer justice in the north of England. Following Henry’s marriage to Elizabeth of York, she was reluctant to accept a lower status, and wore robes of the same quality as her daughter-in-law, walking only half a pace behind her on official occasions. She would sign her name Margaret R., perhaps to signify her royal authority, with R. standing potentially for regina – the Latin word for queen customarily employed by female monarchs.

Margaret’s story not only demonstrates the potential for agency available to women, but also raises questions as to how these women have been recorded and studied. That Margaret receives little attention within the primary documentation prior to her son’s reign might suggest to some that she had little involvement in the politics of her day. I however would challenge this approach by suggesting that she had little direct involvement in matters of government. Historians have since come to appreciate that the political went far beyond the governance of the nation i.e. the type of politics that primarily left its mark on written documents. Today, we can suggest that Margaret’s relative obscurity was more a result of her operating behind the scenes than of her absence from the political landscape. That she pursued and achieved her ambitions is testament not only to female opportunity, but also to how far a woman could and would go.

However, Margaret is far from being a unique case. Whilst her ultimate triumph draws more attention to her experience than many other individuals, her story is also an entreaty for adopting a similar approach to the study of other noblewomen in the past, women who had comparable access to similar modes of agency. Furthermore, it demands a reconsideration of approaches to medieval marriage and motherhood, and a redefinition of the domestic. Whilst Margaret was indeed a pious woman and a learned scholar, she also operated on a similar level to so many other women. Marriage and motherhood should no longer be understood solely through the lens of female subjugation, but also through those of female opportunity.

Margaret’s participation in the great political game as both wife and mother enabled her to establish herself as the matriarch of one of the most infamous royal dynasties in history. It is therefore strange that she has not received much attention in scholarship. However, as history, and women’s history in particular, continues to develop and to reshape approaches to the past, it can be hoped that she will finally get the recognition she deserves as one of the most successful political players England has fostered.

A Letter to Women Kind

Dear mothers, sisters, grandmothers, wives, partners, girlfriends, friends, daughters

We write to you to bring to bear with big hearts and care an issue that has been neglected, one that needs addressing in a format as intimate as a letter. It is an intimate topic: after all, affairs of the heart often are. A more structured outlook would only detract from the message we hope to give you, one which very much runs counter to the general opinion found on university campuses and, too often, in wider society.

The issue is a simple one.  You have lost faith in us, men.  Without detracting from the real difficulties women face - and we know that there are real injustices against women - we beg you for your patience as we remind you that you are loved. We are your fathers, grandfathers, brothers, sons and friends, and it is certainly a warped reflection on society that we have to ask the people who brought us into this world not to fear us. The issue is fear in a world where we men, especially heterosexual men, have been vilified.  This is not a whiny, unnecessary statement, but a sad truth. It is despairing that the people who held us close to them at birth often look at their creations in terror.

We will put the grand sentiment of emotive sentences aside.  We can add statistics that show such fears are justified.  1 in 4 women suffer domestic abuse in the UK from a male partner (W-Fowler, 2020).  This is a tragedy and greatly unsettling. We understand why such a figure is horrifying, but when we consider such crimes, it would also be unfair to define domestic violence as a crime which is exclusively perpetrated by males.  According to Stonewall, 1 in 4 women who are in a lesbian partnership are also victims of domestic abuse (Stonewall, 2020). This, of course, does not detract from men being instigators of domestic violence, but it does challenge the dominant societal and academic impression of male masculinity being the sole driver of such horrors.

We will not, however, suggest that just because women can also be abusers that this justifies the initial bold statement in this piece. Let's also put the positive case forward for men.  It is an emotive case, based on the claim that we are not all hard, violent and stone-hearted people: we can show love.  A highly subjective word, love is hard to define, but is also a word which is used confidently here. Love comes in different forms - friendship, romance, familiarity - that cannot be represented in statistics. It is emanated by a father holding his child's hand on the way to school, the man waiting for a friend in the rain after class, or that surprise loving gesture offered by a male partner.  In the face of a tornado American NBC correspondent Brian Williams demonstrated how love could compel a man into acts of heroism (Stevens, 2020). This is not to glorify ‘sacrifice’ or the notion of ‘saving’ women, but it is testimony of how much we care.

We would ask those who are in academia to just step back and count their positive experience of men in the workplace, and gamble on the fact that are many instances of male colleagues offering genuine support, guidance and collegiality. This is not a gambit, or an attack on equality and women's rights. It does not diminish the fact that there are men who are guilty of terrible abuses, nor the fact that there are real structural problems in society posing distinct obstacles for women.  It does however ask women to revaluate their fear of men.

The words of Toni Morrison come to mind: ‘the enemy is not men’ but ‘the concept of patriarchy’ (Morrison and Denard, 2008, p. 35).  Yes engrained patriarchy is a difficulty women face, but I will also admit a blasphemous ‘worriesium’, wondering if patriarchy in itself is solely responsible for the atrocity of domestic violence.  If so, why are women equally as liable to hurt their female partners as males are in heterosexual relationships?  Is this a male problem, is masculinity to blame?  Or, is there a darker force at work that transcends gender?  This is a call to open-up a new frontier: one which starts to look at the struggle faced by women beyond the constraints of gender.

We ask women-kind to look on your children more kindly: you brought us into the world and we haven't stopped loving you.

With love

Author’s Note:  the writing style has been made erratic on purpose and any feedback on how effective it is in engaging you, the reader, would be greatly appreciated. The lack of the trappings of professionalism found in academic writing is also purposely done as a means of testing how best knowledge can be conveyed to you. Any thoughts would be appreciated. I will apologise to the continued challenge to academia:  this is after all merely an attempt at healthy use of falsification principle (Naraniecki, 2010). I hope you will respond. 


Morrison, T. and Denard, C. (2008). Toni Morrison: conversations. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi.

Naraniecki, A. (2010). Neo-Positivist or Neo-Kantian? Karl Popper and the Vienna Circle. Philosophy, 85(4), pp.511-530.

Stevens, J. (2020). 'He's my hero': Wife reveals moment husband gave his life to save her during tornado. [online] Mail Online. Available at: [Accessed 2 Feb. 2020].

Stonewall. (2020). Domestic violence. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Feb. 2020].

W-Fowler, A. (2020). Domestic Abuse Statistics | [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Feb. 2020].