Women’s Unruly Speech in Early Modern Europe


To what Extent can Women’s Unruly Speech be seen as Quasi-Public Power?

Women’s unruly speech can take a variety of different forms: gossip, slander or treason, to name a few. The term ‘quasi-public power’ is seemingly, partly or almost public power, as women did not have obvious public power; their only weapon was their speech. The key themes in this question are the ways in which women were targeted over treason, monarchs being victims of gossip, gossip in writing, cases and statistics, comparisons of male and female speech, as well as the connections between gossip and witchcraft. This essay will argue that women’s unruly speech was largely considered to be quasi-public power because attention was drawn towards it by the fact that the male population was threatened by it. There were repeated attacks on gossiping which showed a widespread concern that ‘unsupervised female solidarity posed a threat to the order and values of a patriarchal society’.[1] Hence, groups of gossiping women were seen as a threat to male order. However, there are a few historical problems in this area. Women’s speech is recorded a lot less than men’s unless it gets to court, so we have a lot more records of male speech than female. Also, women’s speech only became powerful when men gave it credence, so we cannot see evidence of it unless men gave it credit.

Ducking Stool
Ducking Stool

Simply the fact that many women went to court over cases of scandalous, slanderous or treasonous speech gives them quasi-public power, as courts more often than not made the cases public. Treason cases particularly were always very high-profile and, if it was a case of female treasonous speech, this brought women’s unruly speech to the attention of the population. Continue reading “Women’s Unruly Speech in Early Modern Europe”

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