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The bravery of women


The bravery of women begins when they are girls. Image from Share the Inheritance.

Faced with a gunman who was shooting and killing men, women and children all around her in a Phoenix parking lot last week, bystander Patricia Maisch had the nerve to snatch his loaded magazine when he stopped to reload. The gunman was then tackled by wounded 74-year-old retired colonel Bill Badger, and the killer was further subdued by Patricia and other bystanders.

The other day I saw an essay about women during the English Civil War. I knew next to nothing about them, and was impressed (but not surprised) by their energy and bravery.


Corfe Castle was held for six weeks by Lady Mary Bankes, assisted by her daughters, her serving women and no more than five soldiers. When she finally surrendered, Parliamentary troops wrecked the castle. Her home was in ruins, but that was not the end of the story for Lady Mary Bankes. Image: Wikimedia Commons

In Britain in the 17th century, Charles I declared that he ruled as he liked by divine right. Parliament defended the constitutional principle that the king could not govern without Parliament's consent. The argument turned into Civil War (1642-1651), involving thousands of men and women. The women fought for both sides - and for peace.

Like the men, the women were very brave -

. . .Numerous women, particularly in England, took active parts in the struggle. Queen Henrietta Maria was seen as the strong will behind the vacillating indecision of her husband, King Charles, and showed indomitable spirit in travelling abroad to raise money and supplies, which she brought back to Yorkshire in 1643 - landing at Bridlington under fire from Parliamentarian warships - after which she led an army for a while as a 'generalissima' (her own expression). At the other end of the social scale, during the siege of Worcester, 400 'ordinary sort of women out of every ward' worked daily, often during bombardments, on the defences, and suffered casualties accordingly. At Bristol, a woman [felicitously] named Dorothy Hazard and her friends won admiration for rushing to seal a breach in the wall with sandbags, and at the siege of Lyme, in Dorset, women acted as firefighters, guards, sappers, loaders and snipers.

In the last stages of the struggle, Jane Lane won lasting fame by helping Charles II escape after the Battle of Worcester" (Pitkin Civil War Guide).

A number of women -

"took command of garrisons and defended besieged fortresses. . .Lady Brilliana Harley successfully held off the Royalists for three months at Brampton Castle. . .The most notable of all such chatelaines was the Countess of Derby, who twice stood siege at Lathom House, Lancashire. These were struggles on an epic scale, in which both sides suffered dreadfully from artillery fire, hand-to-hand fighting, famine and disease - but the indomitable Countess held out to the end, and survived the war undefeated" (Pitkin)

Women for peace

In 1648, women protested the increasingly horrible Civil War and the taxes levied to pay for it. In one of the first peace protests in history, hundreds of women crowded into Westminster to present a petition to end the war. Katherine Chidley, a preacher, described how starving children hung upon their mothers, "crying out for bread" but their mothers had nothing to feed them. Parliamentary troopers rode the mothers down.

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Kingston Lacy House / Image: National Trust / Richard Pink

Kingston Lacy House, built after the restoration of Charles II in 1663-5, was a rather fine thank you gift to Mary Bankes for holding Corfe Castle.

Constitutional rule was also restored, and was reinforced in the Glorious Revolution a few decades later. One of the reasons the Revolution was called glorious was there was no bloodshed.

The brilliantly produced PITKIN Guides are published just up the road in Andover, Hampshire.

Comments (1)

I love stories like these. It gives me hope for humanity.

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