Friday, 30 November 2007

Aspects of Chartism: Further thoughts on Women Chartists

The part women played in the Chartist movement involved, in the main, indirect supportive activities, but also some very direct and organised activities. The ways in which women participated appear to have been constrained to some extent by the domestic ideals of the time[1]. In the north, the principal Chartist leader was Feargus O’Connor who instigated and became proprietor of The Northern Star based in Leeds[2]. O’Connor attended mass meetings organised by Halifax Chartist leaders such as Ben Rushton. Many of the smaller meetings possibly excluded many women as the meetings tended to occur in alehouses where primarily working class men met. Queenshead was renowned for its beer shops which, though seen by local magistrates in 1836 as ‘strongholds of the devil’, did in fact provide meeting places for one the earliest radical groups[3].  However, women did attend mass meetings either with fellow male Chartists, or by themselves. One such meeting reported on by The Northern Star in 1847 records a meeting of 2,000 women Chartists at Oddfellows’ Hall, Halifax on August 9th.

In the late 1830s, women appeared to be primarily concerned with opposition to the New Poor Law legislation. In 1839, the Female Political Union in Nottingham, headed by Mary Savage, represented an elderly woman who had been sent to stone-breaking by the Poor Law authorities. They held protest meetings and provided financial help for her[4].  In February 1838, some members of the Elland female association took it upon themselves to roll in the snow a commissioner whose intention was to set up new procedures in Yorkshire for implementing the new Poor Law[5].  This association, led by Elizabeth Hanson preceded the Charter, but subsequently supported Chartism by donating funds to the first Chartist Convention. The Bradford Female Radical Association was formed in 1839 and comprised factory workers, woolcombers and weavers who were probably the wives and daughters of male Chartists. In fact, over 100 female radical associations were recorded in the first few years of the Chartist movement which suggests independent activities on the part of women at the beginning of the movement.

However, enfranchisement for women was not part of the Chartist agenda, even though the movement relied to a large extent on the activities of women, for example in exclusive dealing. Exclusive dealing was in effect the boycotting of tradesmen and shopkeepers who did not support the Charter. Women, who tended to do most of the shopping, were instrumental in maintaining pressure on these non-supporters. In August 1839, the Northern Star newspaper reported: ‘The female radicals of the Bradford district, amounting to upward of 600, walked in procession through the principal streets…at the head of the procession there was carried by a woman a large printed board with the words “exclusive dealing”.[6]

Some women did speak out about enfranchisement and in 1839, Elizabeth Neeson of the London Democratic Association, argued for women’s suffrage by pointing out that if a woman can be given the task of ruling a nation then why shouldn’t women be free to rule themselves?[7]  Though some Chartists advocated enfranchisement for all adults, the arguments put forward by men usually alluded to domestic ideals to which women were expected to aspire. Industrialisation was possibly seen as not only a threat to family life which had started to fragment as a result of labour moving from the home into the factories, but also a threat to male employment. J. R. Richardson’s paper, The Rights of Women, on the one hand, argues that women’s increasing contribution to the nation’s wealth through industry was a good enough reason for their having a right to parliamentary representation, yet on the other hand, refers to factories as ‘hideous dens’ and both female and child labour as ‘slavery’ from which they should be freed[8]. As if to underline the importance of women in domestic life Richardson argued that only widows and spinsters should be allowed enfranchisement implying that married women were be expected to agree with their husband’s political preferences.

The emphasis on the family by the Chartist movement is not surprising considering the economic climate of the late 18th century when, for the family to survive, most members had to work. Traditionally women’s work had always been low status and low paid[9].  However, the Chartist movement did not seek to improve women’s low wages even in the factories. In fact they sought to resolve this issue, in part, by supporting Richard’s Oastler’s movement for the Ten Hours Bill. This, it was thought, would not only reduce the misery of women and children who currently worked twelve or more hours a day, but would hopefully mean more men would be needed to take their places in the factories and mills.

In 1842, parliament rejected the second Chartist petition. In the same year, in a provocative article in The Halifax Guardian, Edward Akroyd, now one of the leading industrialists in Halifax, was quoted as saying that ‘machinery was a blessing’. These events galvanised local Chartists into supporting the strikes and plug riots that were spreading from Lancashire across the region. On August 15th a procession of several thousand strikers entered Halifax singing Chartist hymns. Women headed the procession, four abreast, and the strikers dispersed after being directed to local mills by a man on horseback. On the same day a larger procession arrived from Bradford[10].  Again the procession comprised a large proportion of women many of which were ‘poorly clad and walking barefoot’ who stood in front of the military and dared them to kill them if they liked. In fact women appear to have been subjected to the same violence as men in these demonstrations. Undisciplined Specials were reported to have ‘broken the heads’ of some women that day. That women who were prepared to fight and even go to prison is illustrated by the actions of Elizabeth Cresswell, a 43 year old framework knitter who was arrested in Mansfield during a demonstration in support of the National Holiday. She was found to be carrying a loaded revolver and spare ammunition. In 1839, a delegate reported to a meeting in Lancashire that the women he represented were ‘in a state of progress, and were purchasing pikes in large numbers’. 

Women also involved themselves through other more practical activities such as banner making, providing presents for visiting speakers at meetings, holding tea parties, teaching in local Chartist schools etc.[11]  For example a description of a soiree held in honour of Ernest Jones (the first Chartist candidate for the Halifax Borough) included the fact that the hall was decorated with banners that displayed slogans and portraits of radical leaders. The women who attended the soiree wore green ribbons and even green dresses[12]. Some male Chartists appear to have felt more comfortable with the domestic involvement of women within the movement rather than with those who directly took part in processions and demonstrations. Another example of this ambivalent attitude is an article in 1839 in the radical Scottish Patriot newspaper. On the one hand, the writer praised the formation of a new radical female group in Scotland, but on the other wished the Chartist movement did not have to rely on the political activity of women. These women could best serve the Chartist cause by remaining at home with their families. The writer further argued that Chartists should not drag women away from the family home like the aristocracy had done by forcing them into factory labour.  The idea that men should be allowed the dignity of being the family breadwinner prevailed, even though women had always contributed to the family income, either informally, e.g. through casual work such as back-street brewing, child-minding etc. or through home-based proto-industrial employment which usually required input from the whole family.

Women also appear to have been instrumental in facilitating the emergence of temperance within the Chartist movement. For example the Nottingham women’s friendly societies were very keen to move from their alehouse meeting place to other meeting rooms in the area unconnected with drinking alcohol[13].   Temperance meetings may possibly have been encouraged by the Chartist leaders as a means of adding respectability to Chartist meetings and also as a way of encouraging more family involvement. The growing emphasis on temperance may also have been a deliberate attempt to rally more middle class support by emphasising the domestic family unit as a Chartist’s ideal. One of the first temperance groups was formed at Queenshead, having also been the location of one of the first radical groups[14].

Women did not appear to thrive as leaders within the Chartist movement. This was possibly a result of domestic constraints in that they were unable to travel far and stay away from the family home overnight and their lack of skills in public speaking. Their lack of political ambition may also have resulted from the perceived notion that such ‘political’ women, especially single women, were considered too ‘bold and forward’. They therefore wanted to protect their jobs and their reputations as much as possible. In Bradford, in 1845, a Miss Ruthwell who was treasurer to the Power Loom Weavers Society gave a remarkable speech describing the victimisation of herself, her sister and father who were all sacked from their jobs for being active members of the Society. Some women were able to move beyond these constraints such as Anna Pepper, secretary to an association of women in Leeds, who spoke at various meetings in the West Riding and even in London[15].

Women clearly did not shy away from active participation in the Chartist movement, though the extent to which they took a lead in it was much less marked. At the beginning of the movement many working-class women were more focused on opposition to the New Poor Law and matters closer to the family and home. They appeared to organise more independently of men. This may have been because their initial concerns differed or it may have been that women were discouraged from meeting with their male peers because in the early years these revolved around beer shops. It appears to have been a natural step to take for early female radical associations to support the mainstream Chartist movement either financially or by giving support at mass demonstrations. Significantly the issues that affected women, such a low factory wages or even female enfranchisement were not of any serious concern to the mainstream Chartists. Even J.R. Richardson in his The Rights of Women seems to have failed to realise that if every working woman, married or not, was able to vote as well as every working man the political strength of the working class would be even greater. It seems that many of the women who were involved in the movement saw themselves as supporting their husbands, brothers and fathers in their struggle. Women were generally encouraged to believe that they should be spared the indignity of working in the factories and allowed to devote their time to their homes and families. However, many of the women who worked in the factories were single and possibly even pleased to gain some independence from their families. It appears that some women wanted to become more politically involved in the Chartist movement, and were well qualified to do so. However due to their domestic ties they were unable to participate to any great extent in the National Charter Association and this constrained promotion of their own ideas and needs.


[1] On the role played by women see the collection of papers edited by Kathryn Gleadle and Sarah Richardson Women in British Politics 1760-1860: The Power of the Petticoat, Macmillan, 2000 that places protest by women in a broader context. Helen Rogers Women and the People: Authority, Authorship and the Radical Tradition in Nineteenth-Century England, Ashgate, 2000 pages 80-123 is an excellent study of the role of women within the Chartist movement and is part of an extremely important study placing women within the radical tradition. Anna Clark The Struggle for the Breeches: Gender and the Making of the British Working Class, University of California Press, 1995 seeks to place the struggle of working class women within the broader struggles of the working class. On women and Chartism, there are two specific studies: David Jones ‘Women and Chartism’, History, volume 68, (1983) is less critical and Jutta Schwarzkopf Women in the Chartist Movement, Macmillan, 1991 is a more detailed, but not entirely satisfactory, study.

[2] G.R. Dalby ‘The Chartist Movement in Halifax and District’ Transactions of the Halifax Antiquarian Society, (1956), page 94.

[3] D. Thompson The Chartists. Popular politics in the Industrial Revolution, Wildwood, 1984, pages 244-245

[4] D. Thompson The Chartists. Popular politics in the Industrial Revolution, Wildwood, 1984, page 137.

[5] D. Thompson The Chartists. Popular politics in the Industrial Revolution, Wildwood, 1984, page 134.

[6] D. Thompson The Chartists. Popular politics in the Industrial Revolution, Wildwood, 1984, page 135.

[7] D. Thompson The Chartists. Popular politics in the Industrial Revolution, Wildwood, 1984, page 120.

[8] D. Thompson The Early Chartists, Macmillan, 1972, pages 115-127.

[9] June Purvis Women’s History: Britain, 1850-1945, UCL Press, 1995, page 29.

[10] D.G. Wright The Chartist Risings in Bradford, Bradford Libraries and Information Service, 1987, page 30.

[11] Eileen Yeo ‘Some Practices and Problems of Chartist Democracy’, in J. Epstein and D. Thompson (eds.), The Chartist Experience: Studies in Working Class Radicalism and Culture 1830-60, Macmillan, 1982 page 350.

[12] D. Thompson The Chartists. Popular politics in the Industrial Revolution, Wildwood, 1984, page 141.

[13] Anna Clark ‘The Rhetoric of Chartist Domesticity: Gender, Language and Class in the 1830s and 1840s’, Journal of British Studies, volume 31, (1992), pages 62-88.

[14] D. Thompson The Chartists. Popular politics in the Industrial Revolution, Wildwood, 1984, pages 122-123.

[15] D. Thompson The Chartists. Popular politics in the Industrial Revolution, Wildwood, 1984, page 245.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Sources for Chartism: Chartist Women 5

Women in Public

For some women Chartists, the movement allowed them to develop from being supporters of the demand for universal male suffrage to the claim for a public political role for themselves. They too might stress their domestic role, but that role carried the potential for what Anna Clark has called ‘militant domesticity’. Their view of domesticity tended not to carry the often sentimental rhetoric of male Chartists. Some working women, like the Glasgow weaver who described herself in 1838 as “a plain working woman”, or the Ashton female Chartists, did demand the vote for themselves. A few outstanding Chartist women - and these tended to come from middle- or lower middle-class backgrounds - did write and lecture on a political role for women. Susannah Inge and Mary Ann Walker of the City of London Female Chartist Association were both accomplished speakers and defended their own right to participate in the movement. Addressing a mixed audience was still a novel undertaking.

Source 9: ‘Miss Mary Ann Walker on the People’s Charter, The Northern Star, 10th December 1842, page 7

A crowded and most respectably composed meeting, convened by public advertisement, was held last Monday evening, in the spacious and elegant hall of the National or Complete Suffrage Association, High Holborn, for the purpose of hearing Miss Mary Ann Walker deliver a lecture on the social evils which afflict the state and on the People’s Charter as the remedy, and the only remedy, for the removal of those evils, and restoration of the happiness and independence of Great Britain and her dependencies.

The meeting was convened for 8 o’clock, and soon after that hour the hall began to fill rapidly in all parts. The meeting at this time began to manifest impatience to hear Miss Walker, by loudly stamping on the floor, as a signal to have the chair taken. Among the mass of persons present, was a large proportion of very elegantly dressed ladies, many of whom were of the superior classes of society.

At about ten minutes past 8 o’clock, a simultaneous burst of applause from all parts of the meeting, announced the presence of Miss Walker. She was attended by numerous friends, amongst whom we were glad to see the encouraging and supporting presence of many ladies; and as she advanced up the body towards the platform, the applause consisting of cheering, clapping of hands, waving of handkerchiefs, mingled with the loud huzza, and other demonstrations of welcome, became marked and enthusiastic, almost beyond description. There were a few bad spirits in that part of the gallery to the right of the platform, but their dissentient voices, or rather, and the more to their disgrace, - hisses! - were overwhelmed in the reverberating din of acclamation. On reaching the platform, Miss Walker was again and again loudly cheered, a compliment which she acknowledged by inclining repeatedly to the audience. She was dressed in mourning, a habit which it is her calamity to wear for the death of her father, of whom she has not been very many months bereaved. The body of her dress was partially and becomingly low, displaying a very graceful bust, and tending to set off to greater interest a figure and form of interesting proportions. She appeared more than usually wan in countenance, the effect, doubtless, of her anxiety to do justice to her subject, and convey instruction and satisfaction to her audience. She wore a light sort of crepe scarf, or negligee, attached gracefully to, and hanging from her arms, the effect tending to set off her costume, enlivening and contrasting with the black material. A jet necklace, suspending a cross:

‘Which Jews might kiss and Infidels adore’ adorned her bosom, giving a finish to her contour.

The anxiety and excitement of the audience was now wound up to the highest pitch to have the proceedings commence; and, on the motion of Mr. Overton, seconded by Mr. Cuffay, Mr. Balls was unanimously called to the chair...

…It was her first time - he might almost say her first - of addressing a great public assembly, and he therefore hoped they would hear her without interruption. At the conclusion of the address, Miss Walker would answer any questions which might be put to her. He would not longer detain them than to express the very great pleasure he felt in introducing to their notice Miss Mary Ann Walker (loud and continued cheers), amidst which Miss Walker rose and said, she deeply felt the difficulty of her situation on that evening, but feeling, at the same time, most deeply on the subject of her great and lovely country's wrongs, and of her fellow countrymen and women’s sufferings, she had no apology to make for presenting herself before the meeting that evening. It was a bold thing, she admitted, for woman to step out of her retirement; and of course there would be always found persons who would put foul constructions on her motives in order to detain and throw her back (hear hear). And if there were any in that assembly who asked why she came out, to him she would answer, ‘she came there at her country’s call’. If the human misery which afflicted the people of this great country was beyond the power of man to control if it was the ordination of Providence, then would it be man’s duty to submit; but when such was not the case, it was time, she would say, that man aroused himself, and ought to resist its cause. (Hear hear and loud cheers). There never was a time when England possessed so much abundance as at present. (Hear). How was it then, she would ask, that two-thirds of the population were in the face of such a fact, without food? (Hear, hear, hear). How was it that they could not take up a paper, but they were shocked and startled to read some frightful and affecting suicide! (Hear hear). How was it that but a few days ago, a young girl of about fourteen years of age committed suicide! And, be it remembered, she was of a respectable family, but had disobliged her father. How? But because she could not get employment. How was it that the women of England were reduced to make shirts for one penny each and had to find thread out of that! (Indignant cries of 'shame' from all parts of the hall.) How was it that Mr. Comyn, a surgeon, for whose character she entertained the highest respect, had recently called a meeting on behalf of these poor shirt makers? How came he to know of their circumstances and most deplorable condition? Alas! through having been called in to one of them, who, to put an end to her miseries, had taken vitriol. (Deep sensation). That poor creature had worked for sixteen hours a day for sixpence. (Horror, accompanied by cries of ‘shame, shame!’ pervaded and ran through the meeting)....

.... She concluded by assuring the meeting that if she were satisfied that her coming out had the effect of alleviating the trouble of even one poor fellow creature, she would feel herself for life repaid, and would go on in that virtuous course, let the obloquy and the consequences that would attach to her be what they might. (Loud and enthusiastic cheers, amidst which Miss Walker resumed her seat.)

Source 10: Susanna Inge, ‘Address to the Women of England’, Northern Star, 2nd July 1842

Friends and Fellow Countrywomen - That point has now arrived, when man, aroused to a full sense of his misery and degradation, and having succeeded in groping his way from darkness to light, emerges from that ignorance in which superstition and fanaticism have hitherto fast bound his mind, and in exerting his powers of reason in order to obtain for himself those political rights which are now most unjustly denied him.

And that period has also arrived, when woman, awakening to a sense of the social miseries by which she is surrounded, and by which she is degraded and enslaved, by her desolate home and fireless hearth, by her starving children, and by her own hard toil and scanty fare, has taken her stand in the arena of politics, has raised her feeble voice in defence of her rights, and those of her injured country, and has embarked with her light bark upon the ocean of agitation, to assist in steering the shattered bark of liberty to a smooth and sheltered haven.

In consequence of physical superiority, man, while in a state of ignorance, always treats woman as an inferior creature, as one who was formed to be a slave to his pleasures and his well-being; and not as an equal and companion; for while in a state of ignorance, man being insensible to his own mental and intellectual qualities, it very naturally follows that he cannot appreciate those of women, and he therefore regards the kind offers, the fond attentions, and the tender endearments of women, not as things which it is his duty to repay with kindness and protection, but as things which she has a right to give, and he only sought to expect and demand.

As civilisation advances, man gradually becomes more inclined to place woman upon an equality with himself, and though excluded in every thing connected with public life, her condition is considerably improved; still she is regarded in an inferior light, her province being only to make a pudding, prepare a dinner, clean the house, tend to her children, if she have any, and such like. Now these are all necessary things, nay, essential, our comfort and wellbeing in society demand that they should be done.

But are we, because we are women, excluded from the more rational enjoyments of life? If so, why then was woman gifted with a mind to which in point of delicacy of taste, delicacy of feeling, and devoted affection, even proud man himself must bow. Why then, if we are thus gifted, are we to be thus treated? Shall we sit still and tamely submit to a slavery against which our cheeks glow with shame and our hearts burn with indignation? No! perish the thought in the bosom of its ignoble birth. Rouse yourself to a sense of your merits. Assist those who will, nay, who do, place women on an equality with themselves in gaining their rights, and yours will be gained also.

God is our guide in the great and glorious struggle in which we are engaged, and liberty is our birthright, which the Charter alone will give us. Join with us, then, for the Charter of our freedom. Come forward and unite with us in the great struggle for independence and for those rights which are ours by nature, but which a cruel, despotic and tyrannical government have deprived us of.

Do not say you have no business with politics, and that you leave such things for your husbands, fathers and brothers. You have an interest in politics, a deeper interest than you are aware of. If the country is misgoverned, and bad laws instituted, and good laws perverted, it is on you those laws fall heaviest; witness those which regulate the price of food and the monopolies. If the country is well governed, and good laws acted upon, does it not naturally follow that we shall also feel the benefit of them? Besides, if you have husbands, fathers, or brothers who are Chartists, your participating in that which interests them most will please and urge them to further exertions. If you have husbands, fathers, or brothers who are not Chartists, your example will influence them, and induce them to become such.

The principles of the Charter, if carried out, are such as will give man not only his political rights, but will enable him to get a more equitable remuneration for his labour, and that will enable you to live in more comfortable homes - to give your children as much food as they require, and to prevent your leading such wretched lives of poverty and unrequited toil.

Unite with us, therefore, for in union only is strength. Let the Charter be the foundation stone on which to rest all your hopes; and remember, however much the name of Chartist may be now despised, and made the butt for every witless fool to fling his jests at - however much it may now be held up in ignominy and scorn, the time will come (and will come sooner, too, if you will come forward and assist us) when the poor, despised, and persecuted Chartist shall be honoured at the expense of his country.

Susanna Inge.

Member of the Female Charter Association of the City of London,

55 Old Bailey, June 27th.

Woman’s Rights and Chartism: a verdict in 1851

The number of women involved in Chartism after 1848 declined rapidly. Exceptionally, however, the Sheffield Female Radical Association, founded in 1839, remained in existence until 1851. Its members were approached in that year by Anne Knight, a Quaker activist in the antislavery movement who had, after watching events at the London World Convention of 1840, become committed to women’s suffrage. Anne Knight and the Sheffield women adopted a petition to be submitted to both houses of parliament for the enfranchisement of women, and published an address to the women of England which appeared in the Chartist periodical, the Northern Star. It was seen and welcomed by French women active in the revolution of 1848 in France. In 1852 they founded a National Woman’s Rights Association and attempted to build links with surviving associations elsewhere.

Source 11: Ernest Jones, Notes to the People, London: J. Pavey, 1852, reprinted London, Merlin Press, 1967, Volume II, page 709

WOMAN'S RIGHTS;

[Though we abstain from inserting anything eulogistic of our own writings, we think ourselves authorised to break through the rule in the case of our fair friends; but especially because the voice of woman is not sufficiently heard, and not sufficiently respected, in this country. The greatest test of enlightenment and civilisation among a people is the estimation in which women is held, and her influence in society. Woman has an important mission in this country and our fair friends in Sheffield shew themselves worthy of the task.]

Women’s Right’s Association,

84, Pond Street, Sheffield, Dec. 17, 1851.

Respected Sir, - A recent number of your Notes to the People was brought to our last meeting by one of our members. To consider that ably-written letter on “Raising the Charter from the Pot-House”, and it was unanimously carried that a vote of thanks be given to you, and reply sent to that effect, for your advocacy of woman’s influence; also to solicit your continued support; and in doing so, sir, we beg to state, or rather confirm your statements, that did our brothers but admit our rights to the enjoyment of those political privileges they are striving for, they would find an accession of advocates in the female sex, who would not only raise the Charter from those dens of infamy and vice from which so many of us have to suffer, but would with womanly pride strive to erase that stigma, which by the folly of our brothers has been cast on Chartism, not only by exercising their influence out of doors, but by teaching their children a good sound political education. This, sir, will never be done while men continue to advocate or meet in pot-houses, spending their money, and debarring us from a share in their political freedom.

Signed on behalf of the meeting,

ABIAH HIGGINBOTHAM, Cor. Sec.

Chartism mobilised men and women together as they sought to create a working-class consciousness. Yet although their political objective was universal male suffrage, their struggle has also to be related to the shifts in the world of work. The Chartist stress on the languages of family and domesticity reflected its appeal to artisans and to skilled working men. Such a message was difficult to combine with any recognition of equal political rights for women. Nevertheless for many of the women who took part in Chartism did appear to offer a way forward to a different prospect of society. But only for a few, and those few mainly the better educated, did it provide a base from which the different needs of women in an industrialising society could be explored. Radical movements of the 1850s and 1860s and campaigns for extension of the franchise in those years paid little attention to the possibility of the franchise for women. Nor did they encourage the active formation of women's associations as Chartism had done. The focus had shifted to patterns of organisation rooted in the workplace rather than the community. In spite of the strength and the radicalism of some women within the Owenite and Chartist movements, the first organised feminist activity came from other patterns of dissent.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Sources for Chartism: Chartist Women 4

The rights of women

Chartist leaders needed to appeal to women workers and gain their support, especially in northern industrial areas. At the same time, they were asking for the vote in order to protect women from the exploitation of employment in factories and mines, and to recover the domestic harmony of an imagined earlier world. Although sometimes male and female Chartists co-operated in strike action, Chartists were for the most part calling for the exclusion of women from the work force. The Chartist demand for citizenship was not based on the right of property or of heads of households; Chartists would not, for instance, exclude the rights of sons. It could be based on the natural rights argument. Women’s political enfranchisement was however a matter of some interest among Chartist leaders, and the issue had been raised when the Charter was first drafted. The view that this demand would be ridiculed and would delay male suffrage had prevailed. But Chartists could also recast the older arguments to claim the vote on the basis of property in the skill of the worker, and those who did so tended to assume that skill was a masculine monopoly. Nevertheless there was considerable support for women’s rights and some leaders, like R. J. Richardson and Ernest Jones continued to defend women’s suffrage throughout the 1840s and 1850s. However, they did not always find it easy to reconcile women’s suffrage with the language of domesticity. Women Chartists were never nominated for any local or national committees, and played no part in the direction of the movement.

Source 8: R. J. Richardson, The Rights of Woman, 1840, reprinted in Dorothy Thompson The Early Chartists, Macmillan, 1971, pages 115-119

Having occupied some time in shewing you the natural degree of woman, also her scriptural qualifications and her physical inequality, I shall now proceed to the main feature of the question, or rather to the question itself-"Ought Women to interfere in the political affairs of the country?" As I have before prepared you, by an abstract dissertation upon the natural rights of woman, I do most distinctly and unequivocally say-YES! And for the following reasons:

First, Because she has a natural right.

Second, Because she has a civil right.

Third, Because she has a political right.

Fourth, Because it is a duty imperative upon her.

Fifth, Because it is derogatory to the divine will to neglect so imperative a duty.

The first reason I hope I have sufficiently argued before and established its truth.

The second is, in a certain degree, answered by the establishment of the first reason; but is addition I may say, that it is nowhere written in the body of the civil law, that woman, by reason of her sex, is disqualified from the exercise of political right except by her own voluntary act. Grotius, Puffendorf, Montesquieu, Vattel, and other famous civilians, have nowhere consented to such an unjust exclusion; the only instance on record where we find this right disputed, is in the famous controversy between Philip of Valois, and Edward III, concerning the Salic law, by which females and their descendants are excluded from the monarchy of France, and from the inheritance of the allodial lands of the nobility, the latter part of the law has long become obsolete, and the former is nowhere acted upon except in France, proving that the doctrine of the exclusion of females from political power is not consonant with the law of nature and nations.

Again, civilians teach us the doctrine of community of persons and community of rights, as the best mode of establishing a pure commonwealth, in strict accordance with the genuine principles of liberty. Surely then it cannot be argued, that any inequality should prevail, or that any distinction should exist in a community, where all things are held in common, or in trust for the good of that community. Of course I now speak of society in its purest state, but it is a legitimate argument in favour of my position; for as all political law is based upon the civil law, so are those political institutions best that proximate nearest to the original standard of civil liberty.

Civilians tell us also, that for all the uses of society woman stands upon an equal footing with man; for all the purposes of civil government, woman is equally admissible to office; for the due promotion of the welfare of the state, woman is essentially necessary in conjunction with man. These three positions I shall mention when I advance my arguments in favour of Reason Third.

I ask upon what ground can this civil right be abridged diverted or abrogated? I ask those who tyrannically withhold from woman her political rights, on what assumption do they do so? I challenge them to sustain their opinions. I invite them to discussion, and will appear to maintain my proud position as the vindicator of the rights of woman against any one who may be so lost to a sense of shame as to oppose helpless woman in pursuit of her just rights.

The third reason I advance in justification of my emphatic approval of the question at issue is, because I conceive Woman has a political right to interfere in all matters concerning the state of which she is a member, more especially as applied to Great Britain, for the following reasons:

1st-Because, by the ancient laws of the English constitution, she is admissible to every executive office in the kingdom, from the monarch upon the throne to the parish Overseer, the village sexton , or the responsible office of post mistress, which is still common in small towns.

2nd-Because, by the present law of tenures, of powers, of contracts, of bargains and sale, of inheritance, of wills, and every other matter or thing touching the rights of property and transfer, woman (except in femme covert,) is qualified to be, and therefore, is admissible as a contracting party, save during her minority or a ward in chancery, then her affairs are managed by trust.

3rd-Because, woman is responsible in her own person for any breach of contract, for any offence against the peace and laws of the land. In the church, by the penalties of imprisonment, excommunication, and premunire; in the state, by fine, imprisonment, banishment, and death.

4th-Because she is taxed in the same degree with others for the maintenance of the state and its appendages under all circumstances.

5th-and lastly, because, she contributes directly and indirectly to the wealth and resources of the nation by her labour and skill.

On these five reasons I found my opinion upon the great question, "Ought woman to interfere in the affairs of the state?" and to that question I again I answer Yes! emphatically YES!

To the first of these reasons I will add, if a woman is of nullifying the powers of Parliament or the deliberate resolutions of the two estates of the realm, by parity of reason, a woman in a minor degree ought to have a voice in the election of the legislative authorities. If it be admissible that the queen, a woman, by the constitution of the country can command, can rule over a nation, (and I admit the justice of it,) then I say, woman in every instance ought not to be excluded from her share in the Executive and legislative power of the country.

To the second reason I will add further, if a woman can exercise the powers of a conductor, or vendor, or become heiress, testatrix, executrix or administratix, and act in such important capacities over matters and things daily arising out of transactions with real and personal property, I say that it perfectly justifies my opinion that woman is not only qualified, but ought by virtue of such qualification , to have a voice in the making those laws under which the above transactions take place.

The third reason I will illustrate by saying, that, if women be subject to pains and penalties, on account of the infringement of any law or laws,- even unto death,- in the name of common justice, she ought to have a voice in making the laws she is bound to obey.

The fourth reason is next in importance to the last, so long as the legislature claim and levy a portion of the worldly income of a woman for the support of the state, surely it is not presumption in woman to claim the right of electing that legislature who assume the right to tax her, and on refusal, punish her with pains and penalties; it is unjust to withhold from her her fair share of the elective power of the state, it is tyranny in the extreme, and ought to be properly resisted.

The fifth Reason is equal in importance to the last, and in support of which, I shall extend my arguments. It is a most incontrovertible fact, that woman contribute to the wealth and resources of the kingdom. The population in Great Britain in 1831 consisted of 16,255,605, which may be classified under the head of agriculture, mining, and manufacturing; from these three sources the wealth of a country is raised. Now let us begin with agriculture, and see what share the women take of the labour necessary to produce the food of the people, the rent of the landlord, and the taxes of the state. In the first place, the dairy is managed almost exclusively by woman and girls; the small live stock, such as poultry, &c., wholly so. Look to the cheese counties of Gloucester and Chester, where the female population is almost wholly employed in the dairy. Look to the milk and butter counties around the large towns, and see the number of females who are employed in milking and making butter, and bringing them to market. In a farmyard the smallest child performs some labour or other, feeding poultry, driving cows, &c. In the fields, again, we find women performing every kind of labour except draining, hedging, ditching, fencing, ploughing, and mowing. We find them driving, sowing, setting, harrowing, drilling, manuring, weeding, hoeing, picking stones, gathering potatoes, turnips, pulling carrots, mangelwurzel, shearing, binding, gathering, hay-making, &c. &c. The boys and girls too, are employed in picking stones, driving, scare-crowing, tending sheep, gathering roots, &c. In the barn, with the exception of thrashing and handicraft work, women perform every other occupation. There is no country in Europe where the women are such slaves upon the soil as they are in Scotland. I have many times counted twenty or thirty woman in one field to about four or five men and boys. It is quite common to see women in the same unequal proportion to men labouring in the fields at every kind of predial labour; and many times I have been tempted too exclaim, Surely the curse of God is not upon the woman instead of the man! For in the language of holy writ, he declared to Adam, “in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread.” And many times I have in my heart blamed men for allowing their women to be such slaves, to perform such labour that nature never intended them to do, nor befitted them for the task. Inured to such toils and hardships, she becomes masculine; and the force of all those tender passions implanted by God in the breast if woman to temper the ruggedness of man, become weakened, her real virtues forgotten, and her proper usefulness destroyed. To the men of Scotland, I say, Shame! To the women I say, endeavour to throw off the degradation of predial slavery, return to your domestic circles and cultivate your finger feelings for the benefit of your off-spring. How can you expect men, who seek only “to command and overbear” others, to look to other than their own selfish interests? Rouse you, and let future historians record your zeal in the cause of human redemption, and you will confer a perpetual obligation on posterity. Debased is the man who would say women have no right to interfere in politics, when it is evident, that they have as much right as “sordid man”. None but a tyrant, or some cringing, crawling, hireling scribe, succumbing to the footstool of power, would dare to say so.

The Normans in Southern Italy: A Holy War?

The evidence clearly indicates that the Normans who made their careers in the central Mediterranean, especially Duke Robert Guiscard of Apulia and his brother Count Roger I of Sicily, fostered their image as proto-crusaders throughout their campaigns against the Sicilian Muslims and the Byzantines. They also, as described above, took on the chivalric role of protectors of the Papacy, and as such safeguarded Papal elections and defended Pope Gregory VII against King Henry IV of Germany, who attempted to depose him and appoint a new Pope. But it is difficult to conclude that the Normans were deeply moved by the prospect of being ‘soldiers of Christ’, for in order to do so one must reconcile their chivalric Christian warrior image with their reputation for brigandage and piracy.

The reason for the arrival of the Normans in Italy is unclear, but various traditions relate that the local population asked for their assistance while the Normans were passing through on pilgrimage. Amatus of Monte Cassino claims that a group of Normans stopped in Salerno on their way back from visiting the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, and that during their sojourn a group of Saracen raiders arrived and demanded tribute from the Salernitans. “And the Norman pilgrims saw this, they could not stand such injustice of the lordship of the Saracens, nor that the Christians were subjected to the Saracens.”[1]  The Normans then drove off the Saracens, and the overjoyed Salernitans invited them to stay and help protect them against future raids by the heathen. The pilgrims, however, preferred to return home, but they promised to pass the word in Normandy that there were many opportunities for employment in Italy available to brave Norman knights.

This incident may well have taken place, but the Normans’ primary reason for going to Italy was probably not to save the Christian population from the Muslim menace. The fact that a new feudal aristocracy was on the rise in Normandy in the early eleventh century, resulting in the uprooting of many families from their land, more plausibly explains the Normans’ southward migration. Because Italy was war-torn and practically in a state of anarchy, it was a good place for the displaced knights to profit from their famed warrior skills and acquire estates of their own. David C. Douglas assesses the situation convincingly: “Whatever truth may lurk behind the belief that these men were pilgrims who performed prodigies of valour against the pagans, the fact remains that the Normans who first came to Italy are better to be regarded as armed adventurers seeking their fortunes in a distracted land and living by violence and pillage.”[2]

As such, they were very successful, winning victory after victory, initially for their employers but eventually for themselves and in accumulating wealth and land. They were ruthless in their tactics and, as their power increased, so did their notoriety. They incurred the loathing of the Italians, to the point that Pope Leo IX, in response to the pleas of the Lombards who were most often the victims of Norman rapine, took it upon himself to protect his flock and rid the world of the Norman menace. He dubbed the Normans enemies of Christendom and declared a genuine Holy War against them. He gained the support of the Holy Roman Emperor, the Byzantine Emperor, and various other nobles by emphasising the sanctity of the mission. To those whom he recruited for the mission he provided a spiritual incentive: Amatus claims. “And he promised to give absolution for their sins.”[3] Before setting out for the battle from Benevento, Leo dramatically stressed to the German and Lombard soldiers (the Greeks had not arrived yet) their divine purpose: "And the Pope with the bishops climbed up onto the walls of the City, and looked at the multitude of his knights to absolve them of sin, and gave pardon for the penance they had to do for their sins."[4]  He is even said to have promised that anyone who died in battle with the Normans would become a martyr and go directly to heaven. Leo offered absolution in exchange for military assistance, just as Pope Urban II would do for the First Crusaders at the Council of Clermont in 1095. Civitate is the first example of the Pope directly declaring Holy War: but this time it was against fellow Christians, and it occurred 42 years before Urban called for the First Crusade to recapture the Holy Land from the Muslims.[5]

The Normans defeated Leo, however, so it is a bit surprising that subsequent Popes continued to declare wars for the salvation of Christendom or that the Normans themselves would often be at the forefront of these Holy Wars. The synod of Melfi in 1059 shows that the Papacy had not at all given up on the idea of the Holy War; Pope Nicholas II seems simply to have realised that future Crusades would be more appropriately fought against non-Christians, and that the Papacy needed to be more selective when conscripting ‘soldiers of Christ’ before it declared any more Crusades. Facing troubles in Rome and lacking the support of the Eastern and Western Emperors, Nicholas decided that it was in the Apostolic See’s best interests to have the fierce Norman warriors on its side.  The synod made the Normans the official feudal protectors of the Papacy. They were henceforth responsible not only for safeguarding the material possessions of the Pope (his lands and revenues) but they were also charged with making sure nothing prevented the cardinal bishops from conducting canonical Papal elections. This facet of the Papacy’s alliance with the Normans continued the tradition established by Leo IX whereby the Pope, as the Vicar of Christ and His representative on Earth, could call for military support in order to enforce ecclesiastical policy and direct armies in order to secure the best interests of Christendom. The fact that the specific ecclesiastical policy that the Papacy needed the Normans to enforce was the Papal election decree, which aimed to separate the Church from the influence of laymen, is indeed ironic; but the Normans did proceed in the following years to support canonically elected Popes against usurpers, and they never tried to install their own friends as popes after the fashion of the German Emperors.

The Normans carried out their job as Papal protectors with fervor. This went along with the doctrine of fighting under the Pope’s, and by extension God’s command, spread quickly to their other campaigns. In his oath to Pope Nicholas II, Robert Guiscard calls himself “by the grace of God and St. Peter duke of Apulia and Calabria and, with the help of both, future duke of Sicily.”[6] Such ambitious wording in the context of an oath of vassalage to the Papacy obviously implies that the Papacy was ready to back a Norman attempt at conquering the island, from which Muslim pirates had been conducting devastating raids against the mainland for over two centuries. The cause was quite worthy of blessing, for it meant the subjugation of dangerous and aggressive infidels and the reunification of the Greek Christians of Sicily with the rest of the Christian world or at least with the Latin Christian world over which the Pope exercised his authority.

Thus Pope Alexander II blessed Robert and sent him off with a Papal banner in 1061.[7] The contemporary sources indicate that Robert himself adopted some of this enthusiasm for the divine cause. Amatus (who, admittedly, sought to glorify Robert Guiscard and Richard of Capua) claims that reports of the Saracens oppressing the Christians in Sicily stirred Robert. Inspired to cross the straits of Messina and liberate his Christian brothers, he cried out to his knights:  “I would like to deliver the Christians and the Catholics, who are constrained by the servitude of the Saracens, and I desire greatly to break them of their servitude, and avenge the injury to God.”[8]  He then gathered an army, and according to Geoffrey Malaterra, a monk of Sant’ Agatha in Catania (Sicily) who chronicled the Normans’ exploits at the request of Count Roger I, Robert called on his followers before they left the mainland to confess their sins and place their trust in Spiritus Sanctus cooperator, “the Holy Spirit our ally,” and Deum ordinatorem et fortiorem gubernatorem, “God our commander and steadfast guide.”[9] The Norman leaders thus used the pretext of fighting, with God’s assistance, for fellow Christians against enemies of Christendom in order to boost the morale of their expeditionary force. The Norman knights were presumably inspired by their sanctified cause, and motivated to put forth their best effort in the upcoming campaign.

The Normans could also hope to utilise the ‘Holy War’ mentality in order to gain the support of the Greek Christian population of Sicily. The Muslim emirs who had ruled the island since the ninth century, however, had not oppressed the Greek Sicilians. The Saracens were tolerant of their religion, and they did not exclude the Greeks from the prosperity they had brought to Sicily, which was at the center of the Muslim Mediterranean world and thus a thriving centre for trade. But the Greeks must have been attracted by the prospect of being reunited with Christendom, and the Normans did what they could to cultivate this attraction and inspire the Greeks with the spirit of liberation from the clutches of the infidels. As soon as the Normans took possession of Messina in 1061 and sent the Saracen population of the city fleeing inland, Robert Guiscard organised a thanksgiving ceremony with the Greek population in their church in order to emphasise the spirit of deliverance.[10] From Messina the Normans advanced inland through the Val Demone, where the Greek Christians did indeed view them as liberators: they greeted them enthusiastically, running out to meet them and bringing them gifts.[11] The Norman ‘crusaders’ thus succeeded in convincing their new Greek subjects to offer their loyalty.

The theme of the ‘Holy War’ pervaded the entire venture to subdue the Muslims of Sicily. In 1063, when the Normans were outnumbered at the battle of Cerami and pondering retreat, Malaterra says that Roger encouraged them with these words: Arrigite animos vestros, o fortissimi christianae militiae tyrones. Omnes Christi titulo insigniti sumus. “Harden your spirits, most courageous recruits of the Christian knights. We are all inscribed with the sign of Christ.” While the Great Count was speaking, apparuit quidam eques, splendidus in armis, equo albo insidens album vexillum in summitate hastilis alligatum ferens et desuper splendidam crucem. “A certain knight appeared, shining in arms, sitting on a white horse, carrying a white standard on the top of his lance and a shining cross from above.” This was none other than St. George, who rallied the Normans and led them to victory over the superior Saracen force.[12]  When the crusaders finally made their way to Palermo and defeated the Muslim garrison, their first act was to reconsecrate the Church of St. Mary, which the Muslims had used as a mosque for over two hundred and forty years, and hold mass there with the city’s Greek Archbishop. This was a very momentous occasion, for the Normans had restored to Christian hands one of the most populous, prosperous, and culturally rich cities in the Mediterranean.[13] Amatus reports that yet another apparition graced the thanksgiving mass: a choir of angels sang in the church, and a heavenly light illuminated the mass.[14]

There are several reasons for questioning whether or not the Norman conquerors of Sicily were indeed as motivated by piety as Amatus and Malaterra claim. For one thing, the Normans by no means unequivocally hated the Muslims. They gained their first foothold on the island by allying with one Sicilian emir, Ibn at-Timnah, to fight against another Sicilian emir, Ibn al-Hawas.[15] They never tried to force the Sicilian Muslims to convert to Christianity; such a policy would never have succeeded, and it certainly would have made the task of governing the island impossible. The Normans could not risk provoking the Muslims into declaring a jihad in retaliation for the Christian holy war. Both Robert Guiscard and Roger went on to employ Saracen mercenaries in their later campaigns. Moreover, these accounts come from authors who intended to eulogise the Normans, for they wrote for Norman audiences and were employed by Norman patrons. Thus the authors were significantly biased in the way they projected heroic and chivalric ideals upon their Norman protagonists. But they also must have been writing exactly what the Normans wanted to believe about themselves, and what the Normans wanted the Pope and all other Christians to believe about them. Hence we can conclude that the Normans revered and actively cultivated their ‘crusader’ image. This form of propaganda must have stirred genuine religious feelings in the Norman knights and boosted their morale. The Normans’ crusader image elevated their status and made their campaigns seem like just wars and their victories like triumphs for Latin Christendom, not just successful acts of piracy and brigandage.

The same zeal pervaded the Normans’ adventures in the Balkans in 1081. Now they were fighting not against Muslims but Christians, although the Latins perceived the Greeks as heretics as a result of the schism of 1054. This time Pope Gregory VII himself declared his Norman vassals to be soldiers of Christ and sent them off with his benediction.[16] Anna Comnena, the Emperor Alexius I Comnenus’s daughter, includes a description of the Normans in her history of her father’s reign, the Alexiad, which she wrote around 1148. Anna makes them out to be just as pious and reverent as they are in Amatus’s and Malaterra’s descriptions. The night before they went to battle with Alexius at Dyrrachium, she writes that Robert led his soldiers to pray: “With all his forces he arrived at the sanctuary built long ago by the sea in honour of the martyr Theodorus. All that night the Normans, in an attempt to propitiate the Deity, were partaking of the holy and divine mysteries.”[17] Anna truly hated the Normans for the destruction they inflicted upon her father’s Empire, so it is certain that she did not give this account in order to glorify the Normans for their faith. She may, however, be foreshadowing the First Crusade that Pope Urban II called fourteen years later and in which Norman warriors played a prominent part. Her testimony thus confirms that the Normans were motivated not by the desire for conquest alone, but also by a sincere belief that they were on God’s side.


[1] Aime, Moine du Mont-Cassin, L’Ystoire de li Normant, ed. M. Champollion-Figeac, Paris: Societe de l’Histoire de France, 1835, 1.17.

[2] David C. Douglas, The Norman Achievement, 1050-1100, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1969, page 39.

[3] Aime, Moine du Mont-Cassin, L’Ystoire de li Normant, ed. M. Champollion-Figeac, Paris: Societe de l’Histoire de France, 1835, 3.23.

[4] Aime, Moine du Mont-Cassin, L’Ystoire de li Normant, ed. M. Champollion-Figeac, Paris: Societe de l’Histoire de France, 1835, 3.37.

[5] David C. Douglas, The Norman Achievement, 1050-1100, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1969, pages 99-100. Jonathan Riley-Smith, (ed.) The Oxford Illustrated History of the Crusades, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997, page 78. Steven Runciman, The First Crusade, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992, page 42f.

[6] Oath of Robert Guiscard to Pope Nicholas II: translated in Brian Tierney, The Crisis of Church and State: 1050-1300, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988, page 44.

[7] David C. Douglas, The Norman Achievement, 1050-1100, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1969, page 102.

[8] Aime, Moine du Mont-Cassin, L’Ystoire de li Normant, ed. M. Champollion-Figeac, Paris: Societe de l’Histoire de France, 1835, 5.12.

[9] Gaufredus Malaterra, De Rebus Gestis Rogerii Calabriae et Siciliae Comitis et Roberti Guiscardi Ducis Fratris Eius, Bologna: Nicola Zanichelli, 1928, 2.9.

[10] John Julius Norwich, The Normans in Sicily, Penguin Books, 1992, page 141.

[11] Gaufredus Malaterra, De Rebus Gestis Rogerii Calabriae et Siciliae Comitis et Roberti Guiscardi Ducis Fratris Eius, Bologna: Nicola Zanichelli, 1928, 2.14.

[12] Gaufredus Malaterra, De Rebus Gestis Rogerii Calabriae et Siciliae Comitis et Roberti Guiscardi Ducis Fratris Eius, Bologna: Nicola Zanichelli, 1928, 2.33.

[13] John Julius Norwich, The Normans in Sicily, Penguin Books, 1992, pages 176f, 183.

[14] Aime, Moine du Mont-Cassin, L’Ystoire de li Normant, ed. M. Champollion-Figeac, Paris: Societe de l’Histoire de France, 1835, 6.20.

[15] John Julius Norwich, The Normans in Sicily, Penguin Books, 1992, page 135.

[16] David C. Douglas, The Norman Achievement, 1050-1100, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1969, page 102.

[17] Anna Comnena, The Alexiad, translated E. R. A. Sewter, Penguin, 1969, page 146.

Monday, 26 November 2007

The Normans in Southern Italy: A Christian mission?

The Normans, who were Latin Christians, found that the peoples of Sicily and Southern Italy were just as divided religiously as they were politically. Sizable Jewish communities were scattered throughout the region.[1] The Sicilian emirates, especially the thriving metropolis of Palermo, were located at the centre of the vast Muslim community that dominated the Mediterranean from Spain to the Levant. The Muslim inhabitants of the island were thus tightly linked to the vast world of Islam. Even though their overlords were Muslims, the Greeks in Sicily were not forced to convert and instead managed to maintain their religious identity.[2] The Greek Christians in Sicily and on the mainland adhered to the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Constantinople and so practiced their religion according to the Greek tradition.[3] The Lombards on the mainland followed the rites as they were practiced in Latin Christendom and looked to the Popes of Rome for ecclesiastical guidance. Affirming the primacy of the See of St. Peter, the Popes dreamed of forcing the Greek Christians of Sicily and Southern Italy to acknowledge their hegemony and conform to the standards of Latin Christianity.[4]

The Normans would take advantage of this situation, since their conquest of the region could appear along the lines of a war fought on behalf of the Papacy in order to restore Muslim Sicily to the Christian world, and to compel the Greek Christians to recognise the supremacy of the Roman Pontiff[5]. This holy war was completed between 1059 and 1091. Roger II subsequently merged the Norman principalities into the Kingdom of Sicily in 1130.  In each case the Norman rulers had to receive the titles of legitimate prince, duke, count, or king by Papal investiture, obtained through vassalage to the Papacy that gave the Normans credibility in the eyes of their Norman followers, their subjects and their opponents. This would also, however, invoke the resentment of the Eastern and Western Emperors, both of whom claimed to be the true lords of Sicily and Southern Italy. This benefited the Popes because the Normans became their protectors at a time when the Papacy was on increasingly unpleasant terms with their traditional guardians, the ‘Roman’ emperors. The Holy Roman Emperors in Germany wanted to appoint Popes rather than allow canonical Papal elections and the Byzantines refused to recognise the primacy of the Roman Pontiff over the Patriarchs of Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem. The Normans, meanwhile, were happy to take on the attractive and intensely chivalric image of warriors charged with defending the Vicar of St. Peter. In addition, the Normans would be able to spread their influence throughout the region by taking charge of the process of reforming the Greek churches along the lines of Latin Christendom and according to the directions of the Papacy. They had a justification for appointing their allies as bishops and abbots of the sees and monasteries which held lands and commanded authority there.

The Normans pleased the Papacy by making wise appointments and expanding the limits of Papal jurisdiction by extending the borders of Latin Christendom. In the Normans, the Popes gained powerful allies against the Germans. They needed the protection of the Normans, who promised to secure Papal elections and prevent the German Emperors from installing their own appointees to the See of St. Peter.[6] The Normans throughout all their adventures in the eleventh century proved to be very successful in forging an alliance with the Papacy that was beneficial to both sides.  Church approval made the Norman conquests of Sicily and Southern Italy legitimate. Even before Roger II created the Norman Kingdom of Sicily in 1130, Norman leaders in the South made use of ecclesiastical support. Once the adventurers started in the eleventh century to carve out smaller lordships for themselves in the region, they inevitably sought to affirm their power over their territory and its inhabitants by winning approval and legitimate titles of office from the Church. Without this legitimisation, the Normans would have seemed on a par with barbarian invaders, such as their Viking ancestors who raided northern France before King Charles the Simple enfeoffed Rollo with the Duchy of Normandy in 911.[7]

Approval of Norman expeditions in Italy and Sicily was all the more potent because it most often came directly from the Pope himself. This had to do not only with the Papal territories’ geographic proximity to the Normans’ conquests, but also with the fact that the Normans were perceived by the Pope as reclaiming for Latin Christendom lands held previously by the Greek Church and the Muslims. The Pope thus had a vested interest in the Normans’ expansion: when the Normans, who were Latin Christians, stretched their influence over Sicily and Southern Italy, the area over which the Pope and the Western Christian Church could hope to command authority over religious affairs increased.  Furthermore, the Papacy in these years was trying to break free from the control of the German Emperors, who wanted to keep their customary right to appoint Popes; they did not want to comply with the Papal Election Decree issued by the reforming Pope Nicholas II in 1059, which stated that the Cardinal Bishops ought to elect each new Pope.[8] The Popes needed political and military protection from the Western Emperors, and they saw that their best hope lay with the fearsome Normans who had by the mid-eleventh century become the most dominant force in Southern Italy.

It took a long time for the Normans to transform themselves into papally approved rulers from the professional mercenaries and pirates they were upon their arrival in Italy at the beginning of the eleventh century. The bandits committed many a sacrilege, for not even pilgrims traveling through the peninsula on their way to the Holy Land or the shrine of St. Michael at Monte Gargano were safe. According to Ordericus Vitalis, an English monk who lived in the abbey of St. Evroul in Normandy, the sons of Tancred de Hauteville, who became the most famous of the Normans in the South, at first used to surreptitiously disguise themselves as pilgrims to avoid capture.[9] In fact, the Normans became so hated by the inhabitants of Italy for the way they ruthlessly plundered and pillaged throughout the country that they induced the retaliation of the Pope himself.[10] Leo IX could no longer tolerate their violence against his flock and their encroachment on Papal lands, and so he organised and led an army against them. At the battle of Civitate on 23rd June 1053, Leo’s troops, who came from the Holy Roman Empire and the Lombard principalities (even the Byzantine Emperor had promised his assistance, but the Greek army did not arrive in time for the fight), confronted the Norman warriors Humphrey de Hauteville, his younger brother Robert Guiscard, and their brother-in-law Richard of Aversa. The expedition failed, however. The Normans defeated Leo and held him in honorable captivity in Benevento until his death on 19th April 1054.[11] This episode indicates that the Normans’ desire for conquest seems to have outweighed their inclination to defer to the Papacy with regard to secular concerns. That the Normans did not back down from a declaration of Holy War upon them by the Vicar of Saint Peter shows the extent of their ambition, audacity, and unwillingness to yield to the Papacy control over the way they handled their temporal affairs.[12]

The Normans were not entirely irreverent of the Pope. They had tried to avoid fighting with the Vicar of Christ and they begged his forgiveness after they defeated his army. According to Amatus of Montecassino, a monk who between 1075 and 1080 provides a contemporary account of the Norman conquests in his L’Ystoire de li Normant, the Normans treated the vanquished Pontiff with humility and respect: “The Pope was afraid and the clerics trembled. And the victorious Normans gave him hope, and offered the Pope safe conduct, and they took him and all his people to Benevento, and they continually gave him bread and wine and everything necessary.”[13]  Six years later, they again showed that they could indeed respect the Papacy’s spiritual authority demonstrating that their ambitions could also have a religious side. At a synod held at Melfi in 1059, Pope Nicholas II sought the Normans as allies. He was a reformer and needed help in defending his claim to the Papal tiara from the antipope Benedict X, who represented the old-guard of the Roman aristocratic families. Emperor Henry III had recently passed away, leaving the throne to his son Henry IV. The new German King (he could only become the actual Holy Roman Emperor by receiving consecration at the hands of the Pope) was only five years old at the time, so Nicholas could not look for help from him.[14] The Papacy had bitterly resented the Byzantine Emperor ever since he had failed to help them at Civitate; moreover, the Eastern and Western Churches had been in an official state of schism since 1054.[15]

Because Nicholas could not look to either Emperor for help in securing his election, and also because he recognised that the Papacy could no longer afford to have the Normans as enemies, he sought an alliance with them. This alliance was embodied in Richard of Aversa’s and Robert Guiscard’s submission to the Pope and agreement to become his vassals. Once they had proven themselves to be the most powerful military force in Italy, the Normans realised that they could make the fruits of their conquests permanent and legitimate by yielding to the Pope’s sovereignty. Robert promised, “I will support the Holy Roman Church in holding and acquiring the temporalities and possessions of St. Peter everywhere and against all men, and I will help you hold the Roman papacy securely and honorably.”[16] Robert swore, moreover, to safeguard Papal elections and make sure that no one challenged the properly elected Pope. This facet of the agreement shows that the Papacy wanted to use the Normans to gain a measure of independence from the German Emperors. The paradox is obvious. The reform Papacy wanted freedom from lay intervention in ecclesiastical matters but it needed lay protection from the Normans in order to preserve this freedom. Nicholas did not want the Emperors to be able to appoint Popes, and instead he wanted the terms of his decree on canonical Papal elections to be enforced. This decree, which Nicholas also issued in 1059, stated that only the consent of “the cardinal bishops…the other cardinal clergy, and then the rest of the clergy and the people” could determine who would become Pope.[17] The Normans assumed the grave responsibility of protecting the sanctity of Papal elections, and, as a result they became champions of the reform movement which aimed to free the Church from the control of laymen.  In exchange for this support, Nicholas proclaimed Richard Prince of Capua and Robert “Duke of Apulia and Calabria by the grace of God and of St. Peter; and, with their help in the future, Duke of Sicily.”[18] The Normans were no longer brigands, pirates, and mercenaries, but instead they were established European rulers, “by the grace of God and of St. Peter.” Beyond this, even, they had entered into an agreement with Nicholas similar to the one between Popes Zachary and Stephen II and the Frankish King Pepin the Short in 754, and the one between Pepin’s son Charlemagne and Pope Leo III in 800.[19] Now it was the Normans who had become guardians of the Papacy and they subsumed the role of the Frankish Kings and Holy Roman Emperors.

In practical terms, Richard and Robert held secular power over the Pope, since he was compelled to look to them for protection. But the agreement also implies that the Normans had a practical need to be Nicholas’ vassals. It was essential for the Normans that he confers these titles upon them in order to carry out their political ambitions, tighten their claims to power and provides them with prestige and recognition. They acknowledged that Nicholas held spiritual authority over them, since he was the source of their legitimacy. At this time, ecclesiastical reformers such as Nicholas were asserting more and more the principle of divine hierarchy: it was God’s will that spiritual authority be superior to secular authority. In order to be legitimate, secular authority needed to conform to this divinely ordained hierarchical ordering of Christian society, and so secular authority needed the approval and mediation of spiritual authority.[20] The Normans were willing to subscribe to this philosophy of Papal theocracy in exchange for the elevated status the Papacy could offer. They saw, as had Pepin the Short, Charlemagne, and their successors, that the promise of service and obedience was a fair trade for Papal endorsement, which could guarantee they would not have to resort to incessant warfare in order to stabilise their reign and keep their subjects obedient.

Richard upheld his obligations by making sure that Nicholas’ elected successor, Alexander II, was firmly established at Rome in 1061. William de Montreuil, another knight who traveled from Normandy to make his career in Italy, fought in Campania on behalf of Alexander.[21] Consequently, Alexander was very supportive of the Normans throughout his reign. He blessed Robert Guiscard and his younger brother Roger and gave them a Papal banner for their campaign against the Muslims of Sicily in 1061-2.[22] Most famously, he responded to William the Conqueror’s appeal for Papal endorsement of his invasion of England by sending him, as William of Poitiers says, “the gift of a banner as a pledge of the support of St. Peter whereby he might the more confidently and safely attack his enemy.”[23] The Normans had become legitimate rulers, protectors of the Papacy and holy warriors fighting under the aegis of St. Peter.

It is clear, however, that Robert Guiscard did not believe that the provisions of his oath to Nicholas II meant that he had to heed to the Papacy in every matter. He did not relinquish his Viking heritage when he became Duke of Apulia. In subsequent years, he showed very little regard for the wishes of the Pope. Despite two sentences of excommunication from Pope Gregory VII between 1074 and 1080, he went ahead and conquered the Pope’s allies, Amalfi in 1073 and Salerno in 1077, and in 1078 he besieged Benevento, which was technically the property of the Papacy. Gregory eventually came to realise that there was no use in opposing such a powerful individual and that the Papacy could have much more to gain from an alliance with him. Moreover, King Henry IV of Germany, Gregory’s opponent in the famous controversy over lay investiture, was threatening to invade Rome, depose Gregory, and appoint his own Pope. Gregory was in dire need of military protection, and so in 1080 he reaffirmed the pact Robert had made with Nicholas II in 1059. Robert again swore to be “the vassal [fidelis] of the Holy Roman Church and of the Apostolic See and of you, my lord Gregory, universal pope.” He promised to pay tribute and protect Papal elections, revenues, and property. He also promised to hand over to Rome the government of all churches and church possessions within his territory, and he promised to stop raiding and pillaging Papal lands. In return he received Gregory’s formal investiture “with the lands granted to you by my predecessors of blessed memory, Nicholas [II] and Alexander [II],” as well as his acquiescence on the issue of Robert’s possession of Salerno and Amalfi.[24] Shortly thereafter, Gregory also blessed Robert’s invasion of the Byzantine Empire.[25]

Gregory would make use of this agreement in 1082, when Henry IV attacked and occupied part of Rome, forcing the Pope to barricade himself behind the walls of his fortress, Castel Sant’ Angelo. Gregory appealed to Robert Guiscard for help, who was at the time on the other side of the Adriatic, marching steadily through the Balkans on his way to Constantinople. Robert had returned to Apulia and was in the process of organising his army to come to Gregory’s rescue, when the Romans surrendered to and allied themselves with Henry in 1084. After this occurred, Henry had just enough time for his anti-Pope, Clement III, to crown him Holy Roman Emperor before Robert at last began approaching with his forces. Clement and Henry with his army fled north before Robert arrived, but the Romans remained true to their agreement with the Germans and held out against the Normans. When the Guiscard finally forced his entry past the city walls, he plundered and burned the Holy City and enslaved many of its citizens. In his and Gregory’s eyes, the Romans were not entitled to any clemency for betraying the Pope; but such a ruination of the Eternal City and the See of St. Peter is difficult to justify. The savagery of Pope Gregory’s Norman vassals, which recalled the sack of Rome by the barbarian Visigoths in 410 and the Arabs in 846 (Robert in fact employed Arabs in his army), earned them and Gregory himself the hatred of the Romans. Robert decided to withdraw and escort Gregory under his protection to Benevento, where the exiled Pope died a year later.[26]

From this point on, Norman protection of the Papacy, and even Papal dependence on the Normans, was an established fact. In 1086, Prince Richard of Capua’s son and successor, Jordan, installed the canonically elected Pope Victor III at Rome, in the face of opposition from Henry IV’s anti-Pope, Clement III. Robert Guiscard’s sons Roger Borsa (who succeeded him as Duke of Apulia) and Bohemund did the same for Pope Urban II in 1087.[27] The alliance between the Normans and the Papacy seems to have been strongest at this point, when a legacy of Papal service and vassalage had been established. Having quelled opposition in Southern Italy, the Normans were happy to undertake the duty of defending the Supreme Pontiff, probably because of the distinction and heroic image such a responsibility conveyed. Both the Normans and the Papacy enjoyed mutual benefits from this alliance, since it furnished the Papacy with security and the Normans with the same prestige the Holy Roman Emperors had enjoyed when they had been the official Papal protectors. Indeed, it was an alliance the Papacy could not do without, since the Normans’ military protection had become such an indispensable asset against the German King’s aggression; the Normans, meanwhile, gained respectability and unquestioned authority to supplement their military strength.

The Papacy was in very many ways just like any other player in the secular politics of Medieval Europe: it had its own territory to look after and independence to protect. Evidence of this is apparent in the Papacy’s relationship with the Normans. Neither the Papacy nor the Norman leaders shied away from making war on each other, and the Papacy repeatedly found itself in the position of granting concessions to the Normans in order to protect its own safety; moreover, the Popes had clearly political motives for forging an alliance with the Normans, since they wanted to ward off Henry IV’s attempts at ousting them from the Papal throne. It is tempting, then, to liken this relationship to those between all the other Medieval European feudal powers.  But the fact that the Normans so consistently sought out and made use of pretentious Papal blessings and confirmations of their political rights shows that they, their subjects and their competitors placed great value in Papal support. The way the Normans treated Popes as secular rulers was separate from the way they treated Popes as religious authorities. The Normans proved by their actions that they were in persistent need of protection from the Papacy as a religious institution, even though they had no trouble in subjugating their enemies and subjecting other secular magnates to their authority. In this period, it is impossible to underestimate the importance of religion. Rulers yearned to number the support of the Church among their resources as much as they yearned for a strong military and rich treasury. Medieval European society was marked by almost perpetual warfare, and rulers’ authority was constantly challenged from every angle; thus it was natural for them to solicit whatever aid holy men could offer, and to employ non-military means of maintaining their subjects’ obedience and loyalty whenever possible. The Normans were no exception; and since even the Papacy was vulnerable to challenges and attacks (not least from the Normans themselves), it was natural for it to look to strong secular rulers like the Normans for political and military aid.


[1] Donald Matthew, The Norman Kingdom of Sicily, Cambridge University Press, 1992, pages 92f.

[2] Aziz Ahmad, A History of Islamic Sicily, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1975, page 22.

[3] Donald Matthew, The Norman Kingdom of Sicily, Cambridge University Press, 1992, pages 93-97.

[4] Donald Matthew, The Norman Kingdom of Sicily, Cambridge University Press, 1992, page 13f.

[5] This was certainly the view of contemporaries like Geoffrey Malaterra in his biography of Roger I of Sicily.

[6] David C. Douglas, The Norman Achievement, 1050-1100, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1969, pages 53-56.

[7] Dudo of St. Quentin 2.25.165-2.29.169: translated E. Christiansen pages 46-50.

[8] Decree on papal election (April 1059), ed. E. Friedburg, Corpus Iuris Canonici, volume I, Leipzig, 1879, columns 77-79: translated in Tierney pages 42f.

[9] Ordericus Vitalis, The Ecclesiastical History of England and Normandy, translated in four volumes by Thomas Forester, New York: AMS Press, 1968, 3.5 (volume 1, page 437 of the translation).

[10] John Julius Norwich, The Normans in Sicily, Penguin Books, 1992, pages 81f.

[11] David C. Douglas, The Norman Achievement, 1050-1100, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1969, pages 99f. John Julius Norwich, The Normans in Sicily, Penguin Books, 1992, page 95.

[12] John Julius Norwich, The Normans in Sicily, Penguin Books, 1992, page 7.

[13] Aime, Moine du Mont-Cassin, L’Ystoire de li Normant, ed. M. Champollion-Figeac, Paris: Societe de l’Histoire de France, 1835, 3.38. John Julius Norwich, The Normans in Sicily, Penguin Books, 1992, pages 91-94.

[14] John Julius Norwich, The Normans in Sicily, Penguin Books, 1992, page 120.

[15] George Ostrogorsky, History of the Byzantine State, translated Joan Hussey, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1995, pages 334-337. In that year, Cardinal Humbert of Silva Candida, Leo IX’s papal legate, and Michael Cerularius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, had met in Constantinople to discuss various issues, especially that of Papal primacy over the four other Patriarchal Sees, upon which the Latin Christians and the Greek Christians disagreed. The meeting ended in disaster as Humbert and Michael each threw excommunications at the other.

[16] Oath of Robert Guiscard to Pope Nicholas II (August 1059): P Fabre and L. Duchesne (eds.), Le Liber Censuum de l’eglise romaine, Paris, 1910, page 422: translated in B. Tierney The Crisis of Church and State: 1050-1300, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988, page 44.

[17] Decree on papal election (April 1059): translated in B. Tierney  The Crisis of Church and State: 1050-1300, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988, page 42f.

[18] Oath of Robert Guiscard to Pope Nicholas II (August 1059): translated in B. Tierney The Crisis of Church and State: 1050-1300, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988, page 44.

[19] B. Tierney, The Crisis of Church and State: 1050-1300, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988, pages 16-23. When barbarian invasions pushed the authority of the Eastern Roman Empire out of Italy, and the Greeks’ heresy of Iconoclasm alienated Eastern Christians from Western Christians, the Papacy looked to the Franks for protection. Zachary authorised the coronation of Pepin, who then donated the cities he conquered from the Lombards and the Greeks in Italy to Stephen. Charlemagne went to Rome to protect Pope Leo from the attacks of a dissident faction, and Leo subsequently crowned him Holy Roman Emperor.

[20] Humbert on priesthood and kingship, Libri II Adversus Simoniacos (1054-1058), F. Thaner, (ed.), Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Libelli de Lite, volume I, Hanover, 1891, page 225: translated in B. Tierney The Crisis of Church and State: 1050-1300, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988, page 41f. Also see The Dictatus Papae (March 1075), translated S. Z. Ehler and J. B. Morrall Church and State Through the Centuries, London, 1954, pages 43f, reprinted in Tierney, pages 49f.

[21] Ordericus Vitalis 3.3, translated Forester volume 1, page 413.

[22] David C. Douglas, The Norman Achievement, 1050-1100, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1969, pages 102, 133.

[23] William of Poitiers, The Deeds of William, Duke of the Normans and King of the English (c. 1071), translated David C. Douglas and George W. Greenaway, English Historical Documents II, 1042-1189, New York: Oxford University Press, 1981, page 233.

[24] Letters 8.1(a), (b), and (c) in The Correspondence of Pope Gregory VII: Selected Letters from the Registrum, translated Ephraim Emerton, New York: Columbia University Press, 1990.

[25] David C. Douglas, The Norman Achievement, 1050-1100, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1969, page 102.

[26] John Julius Norwich, The Normans in Sicily, Penguin Books, 1992, pages 234-243.

[27] David C. Douglas, The Norman Achievement, 1050-1100, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1969, page 135.

Sources for Chartism: Chartist Women 3

Chartism and temperance

Source 7: ‘Address of the East London Female Total Abstinence Association’, The Northern Star, 30th January 1842, page 1

Sisters and Countrywomen,

The age in which we live is perhaps the most remarkable and important page in the world’s history. We see multitudes anxiously searching for the fountain of knowledge. The light of the glorious sun of truth is dispelling the clouds of superstition and the mists of error, from the human mind. Almost incredible improvements are making in the arts and sciences: the bountiful Author of all good showers down his blessing, and causes the earth to bring forth abundantly; yet, strange to relate, amidst all this prosperity, at no period of time was society in a more unhappy and miserable condition. Starving people and plenteous harvests; the markets glutted with provisions, warehouses with clothing; with an industrious, hungry and naked working population. The principal causes which have produced this sad state are three in number - namely, selfishness, competition and ignorance. Our rulers have legislated, and still continue to legislate, unjustly. They derive the principal of their revenue from the necessaries of life, and the vices of the people. Parliamentary documents will prove, that the duty on malt, spirits, wine and tobacco, comprise the greater portion of this revenue. Add to this the taxes on food, &c, and it will be found that three fourths of the revenue is derived from these two sources. Our clergy preach contentment and passive obedience to the toiling and care worn hungry mechanics and labourers while a numerous standing army of red and blue-coated soldiers are ready, at the bidding of their officers, to enforce submission to arbitrary laws, with the bayonet and truncheon. The only practicable means to remedy the evil under which we labour, and renovate society, is to abandon the use of all intoxicating drinks, to become a thinking and strictly moral people, and acquire sound political knowledge. It is necessary to abstain from all strong drinks -

1st. Because the most valuable medical testimony, and individual experience, prove them to be highly injurious to health; and their certain effects are likewise to demoralise and destroy the power and energies of the mind.

2nd. It is necessary to abstain as an example to our husbands and children; for how can we expect our offspring to be sober, virtuous, and dutiful, if we do not influence them by our good conduct. Dear sisters, remember it is at the fire side, on the domestic hearth, in the social circle, at home, when the first relish for these insidious drinks is imbibed. It is the first treacherous glass of friendship, the sip from the mother’s hand that sows the seed of future drunkenness.

3rd. It is necessary to abstain, because that portion of hard-earned wages which is now squandered away at the pot house and gin palace would enable us to secure a sound and proper education for our children, in accordance with our views and feelings. We should no longer submit to our children wearing the garb of charity, and the degrading policy number badge of slavery. Only think of the working man's sons and daughters being ticketed, like prize sheep! Depend upon this fact, the charity and policy badge of national schools, is the remnant of the ancient Saxon serf’s collar. Why should our feelings be wounded by seeing the finger of scorn pointed at our children, and the sad appellation of ‘charity brat’ applied to them? A well-regulated mind disdains servility and cringing. Let us reject their Church and State offers of education for our children, which is only calculated to debase the mind, and render it subservient to class interest; let us teach our offspring to do unto others as they would others should do unto them.

4th. We can abstain from all intoxicating drinks with safety and benefit, even at those critical times when they have hitherto been considered most needful and indispensably necessary. Some of us have proved it by practical experience, therefore you may safely rely upon our testimony.

Sisters, we have hitherto been considered inferior to men in powers of intellect, and truly the want of proper education has made us appear so; but we much doubt whether this would have been the case had we possessed the same opportunities of acquiring a proper education which the other sex has enjoyed. Let us endeavour to remove this reproach, by embracing every opportunity of cultivating and improving our minds. We earnestly entreat you to this, that you might be able to impart a sound education to your offspring, and train their tender minds in the way of truth and virtue.

Be not discouraged at your want of ability and knowledge; close application and perseverance will achieve wonders. The one half of mankind acquires their knowledge under difficulties. Perhaps at a former period of time has the female character exhibited so much zeal, or displayed so much brilliancy of talent, as in the present day. The press teems with valuable writings the production of women. Remember, if we bestir ourselves in these matters, our husbands cannot keep behind for very shame; pride will stimulate them to excel us. Then how delightful will it be to see a generous strife between husband and wife, trying to excel each other in knowledge and morality.

Come then, sisters and countrywomen, unite with us in making a grand effort to ameliorate our condition and remove the plague spots - partial legislation and intemperance - from society. Unite with us to obtain the People’s Charter; let us form Total Abstinence Chartist Associations, without delay, in every town and village throughout the United Kingdom; nor cease agitating until our exertions are crowned with success. Let us never forget, that more than four hundred brave and honest men have been imprisoned by those very men who live on our hard earnings; and shall we still kiss the hand that is raised to destroy us? Never let it be said that we, who are the advocates of equal laws, are so dead to our own interest as to lead us to partake of those things that debase the mind and give strength to the enemy.

In conclusion, we implore you to remember the concluding words of the noble-minded Vincent’s Address on Total Abstinence, namely – ‘that no Government can long withstand the just claims of a people who have had the courage to conquer their own vices.’

We remain,

Sisters and Countrywomen,

Yours in the Cause of Universal Redemption,

THE MEMBERS OF THE EAST LONDON FEMALE TOTAL ABSTINENCE CHARTIST ASSOCIATION
Association Rooms, 166, Brick Lane

Spitalfields, London, January 25th 1841.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Sources for Chartism: Women Chartists 2

Women and the family

Many of women’s activities within Chartism reflected their family roles. When they raised money for the cause, it was often for the families of imprisoned men. Many Chartist children were named for Chartist leaders: for lists see Chartist Ancestors. A tactic in which it was assumed that women had a special advantage was that of exclusive dealing. Some Female Chartist Associations pledged themselves to purchase only from shopkeepers with sympathy for their cause. Women also participated in the Chartist Land Plan, which aimed to ensure a plot of land for as many of its members as possible, appealing to the rural population as well as those in industrial areas. Over 1,800 women were listed as subscribers in their own right, though this was only around 4% of the whole. Many of these may have been acting on behalf of their families, hoping for a small plot of land to help the family economy, and many more would have participated through their husbands. 

Source 4: The Northern Star, 13th March, 1841

Mr Webb: What is the child to be called?

Mrs King: James Feargus O’Connor King.

Mr Webb: Is your husband a Chartist?

Mrs King: I don’t know, but his wife is.

Mr Webb: Are you the child’s mother?

Mrs King: Yes.

Mr Webb: You had better go home and consider it again; for if the person that you are naming your child after and was to commit high treason and get hanged, what a thing it would be.

Mrs King: If that should be the case, I should then consider it an honour to have my child called after him, so that I shall never have him out of my memory so long as the child lives; for I think Feargus O’Connor a great deal honester man than those who are punishing him.

Mr Webb: Well, if you are determined to have it named after him, I must name it; but I never met such an obstinate lady as you before.

Mr Webb then registered the child by the above name.

Women and education

Chartist leaders saw women as above all the educators of their children. The commitment of mothers to the cause was essential for the creation of a changed world. It was their task to shape the character of the next generation. It could also mean of course a greater awareness of the importance of women’s own education, given their part as both mothers and as teachers in the upbringing of the young. Some Chartist men, like William Lovett, might believe that they themselves should act as the instructors of their wives, partly because of a sense that their wives were not their equals either in education or political commitment. Many leading women Chartists took up and developed this stress on education and were especially active in the organisation of Chartist cultural and social life. They founded and taught in Sunday Schools, actively backed Chartist Churches, and helped to develop temperance and teetotal Chartism. Some, like the woman who wrote in Chartist periodicals as Sophia, pointed out the conflict of interests which could arise if women pursued their own educational interests.

Source 5: W. E. Adams, Memoirs of a Social Atom, London: Hutchinson and Co., 1903, pages 163-164

Few men now living, I fancy, had an earlier introduction to Chartism than I had. My people, though there wasn't a man among them, were all Chartists, or at least all interested in the Chartist movement. If they did not keep the ‘sacred month’, it was because they thought the suspension of labour on the part of a few poor washerwomen would have no effect on the policy of the country. But they did for a time abstain from the use of excisable commodities. There were other indications of their tendencies. We had a dog called Rodney. My grandmother disliked that name because she had a curious sort of notion that Admiral Rodney, having been elevated to the peerage, had been hostile to the people. The old lady, too, was careful to explain to me that Cobbet and Cobden were two different persons - that Cobbet was the hero, and that Cobden was just a middle-class advocate. One of the pictures that I longest remember - it stood alongside samplers and stencilled drawings, and not far from a china statuette of George Washington - was a portrait of John Frost. A line at the top of the picture indicated that it belonged to a series called the Portrait Gallery of People’s Friends. Above the head was a laurel wreath, while below was a representation of Mr. Frost appealing to Justice on behalf of a group of ragged and wretched outcasts. I have been familiar with the picture since childhood, and cherish it as a memento of stirring times.

Source 6: Letter from ‘M’, English Chartist Circular, 1, number 25, 1841, page 102

It is a great truth that women hold in their hands the character, and consequently, the destiny of a nation. What they are themselves, such are their children. The influences which surround the first six years of the child determine its character for life. Interest or habit may afterwards induce an individual to act differently, but such actions will not be natural: the first six years has given the bias, and be it for good or evil, it is never eradicated. How culpable then are those who neglect the education of our first teachers. No nation ever appreciated the influence of the mother so much as did the Romans in the days of their greatness. We are told by Quintillian that as “soon as the child was born, he was not given in charge to an hired nurse, to live with her in some pitiful hole, that served her for lodgings, but was brought up in the lap and bosom of the mother who reckoned it among her chief commendations to keep the house, and attend on the children. Some ancient matron was pitched on out of the neighbours whose life and manners rendered her worthy of that office to whose care the children of every family were committed; before whom it was reckoned the most heinous thing in the world to speak an ill word, or do an ill action. Nor had she an eye only to their instruction and the business that they were to follow, but with an equal modesty and gravity, she regulated their divertissements and recreations. Thus Cornelia, Aurelia, and Attica, mothers to the Gracchi, Julius Caesar, and Augustus, are represented to have undertaken the offices of governess, and to have employed themselves in the education of noblemen’s children. The strictness and severity of such an institution had this very good design - that the mind, by being thus preserved in its premature innocence and integrity, and not debauched by ill custom, or ill example, might apply itself with the greatest willingness to liberal arts, and embrace them with all its powers and faculties” that, whether it was particularly inclined either to the profession of arms, or to the understanding of the law, or to the practice of eloquence, it might make that its only business, and greedily drink in the whole knowledge of the favourite study. “Now if the women of England had the knowledge the Roman matrons possessed, they might, if they came forward, win the charter sooner than the men” but have they? Is it not notorious that the wives of the working classes, take them as a body, are with the finest capacities, lost in ignorance. If the great body of the men are not much better in this particular, what is to be expected of the women who have fewer opportunities of improving themselves? What follows from this? Why that before they can come forward to aid us in a great political struggle, they must first be taught what they are to struggle for, and what kind of assistance is expected from them. This brings me to the plan I wish to propose: The wives and daughters of the Chartists must be made to understand their political and social rights; they must be made chartists of if we would have those over whom they have had an influence true and strong in the cause they have adopted. Now what method would be best of imparting to them the requisite instruction? Few, very few, venture to our rooms to hear us lecture, and unless; we have opportunities of instructing them they can never become intelligent converts to our cause. What then is to be done? I propose that the leader, the lecturer, or the council of every town in which there is a chartist branch, to select from the ladies who take an interest in the cause, a certain number who they may deem the most capable of imparting instruction, and after examining these ladies as to their capacity to teach, and knowledge of the principles they solicit them to go in their name to the wives, sisters and daughters, of chartists in given districts, with political pamphlets, chartist tracts and ENGLISH CHARTIST CIRCULARS; these publications to be lent to those who can read, and read and explained to those who cannot read. Their first object must be to gain their affections; next, to rouse their self esteem or sense of moral dignity; and lastly, by arguments, illustrations and catechisms, familiarly to inculcate the principles. I have always observed that women make the best preparatory teachers. This may be one reason why the Methodists and other religious bodies, sanction their enthusiastic female members in visiting the houses of their poorer brethren for the purpose of giving religious instruction. Be this as it may, the idea is excellent, and the practice is crowned with success. What has been turned to so good an account in the religious world may be equally capable in the political, if judiciously managed. I therefore throw the suggestion out to those who have it in their power to test its utility.

Bath, June 23, 1841. M. M - n.