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Women's Work and the English Civil War

Anne Laurence considers how the conflict between King and Parliament altered the occupations and preoccupations of England's women.

Brilliana, Lady Harley of Brampton Bryan, is one of the best known amongst several valiant women famous for defending their husbands' castles during the English Civil War. It is known that women petitioned Parliament and took part in other forms of demonstration, often to try to stop the war, to secure pensions as war widows, or for the release of their husbands from gaol. It is known that in areas where the armies passed through the birth-rate often rose subsequently. Something is known, too, of the secondary effects of the Revolution upon women's lives: how they played an important part in the radical religious congregations of the 1640s and 1650s. What is written about women following the armies of both sides, dressing as men and serving as soldiers, and running farms and businesses while their husbands and fathers were absent during the war, however, is largely speculative. But there is some evidence for the ways in which the war affected women's work, and this is of particular interest because it relates to the lives of women of the lower orders.

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