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31 January 2021

Cross-dressing during the Reign of Charles Stuart (reigned 1625-1649) and the ensuing Civil War

James Stuart, king of Scotland 1567-1625, and of England 1603-25, is taken by many historians to be gay because of his interest in young men. Certainly his reign was one with very few prosecutions for sodomy. He wrote a book on demonology that is quoted in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and sponsored a translation of the Christian Bible that became canonical. He had no interest in gender variance despite it being a common trope in theatre, but in 1620 he commanded his clergy to preach,

"against the insolencie of our women, and their wearing of broad brimmed hats, pointed dublets, their hair cut short or shorn, and some of them stilettoes or poinards, and such other trinckets of like moment."

This was followed by two infamous pamphlets:

Hic Mulier: or, The Man-Woman: Being a Medicine to cure the Coltish Disease of the Staggers in the Masculine-Feminines of our Times. An anonymous pamphlet denouncing the very small increase in women wearing men’s clothing. The Latin uses the masculine form of the demonstrative pronoun jokingly applied to the feminine noun.

Haec Vir: Or, The Womanish-Man. A response to Hic Mulier. Censured men for their effeminate dress and behaviour, while defending women in men’s garb on the grounds of freedom. The Latin uses the feminine form of the demonstrative pronoun jokingly applied to the masculine noun.

1624

3 January. Katherine Jones appeared before the Bridewell governors, after being arrested in the street by the constable of Fleet Street, in men’s apparel. She insisted that ‘she did it in merryment“. The governors accepted it was simply a New Year frolic, and discharged her.

1625

Charles Stuart
James Stuart died and was replaced on the throne by his son Charles. A few weeks later Charles married the 15-year-old French princess, Henriette Marie Bourbon.

Henriette Marie Bourbon was Catholic and openly facilitated Catholic marriages despite it being against English law. She was also fond of theatricals, and in 1626 performed in the play Artenice staged at her London residence, Denmark House – this at a time when women actors were barred from the English stage – and a number of her female attendants played male roles and dressed appropriately. Popular disquiet was voiced. (Stoyle p11)






1627-9 The Anglo-French War

In 1625 Charles Stuart had signed a secret marriage treaty with the French king that he would relax religious restrictions against English Catholics (he did not). He also loaned seven English war ships to help repress the Protestant Huguenots at La Rochelle. Two years later he had changed sides, and sent his favourite, George Villiers to capture the Île de Ré in support of the Huguenots. This held for three months, until re-inforced French forces compelled the English to withdraw in defeat.

One of the soldiers in the expedition was the female-born, Thomas Hall, 25.

Hall afterwards temporarily returned to living as a female seamstress in Plymouth. This did not suit, and a few months later, becoming aware of a ship being made ready to sail to Chesapeake in the Virginia colony, Thomas sailed with it as a male indentured servant.

In addition, Walter Yonge of Colyton in Devon, a puritan Justice of the Peace, noted in his private journal that ‘there was a woman apprehended at Plymouth in the habit of a man, by the mayor of Plymouth, at the time the Lord Denbigh and Sir Henry Martin went to sea (that is sailed with troops to the Île de Ré), Some said that she was Martin’s mistress. (Stoyle p12)

1628

The controversial puritan William Prynne published an invective against women counterfeiting their sex: “these ...unnaturall and unmanly times; wherein ...sundry of our Impudent ...Female sexe, are Hermaphrodited and transformed men ...not onely in their immodest ...and audacious carriage in the ...odious, if not whorish, cutting of their haire.” He claimed England’s foreign policy reversals to be divine punishments for such transgressions. (Stoyle p12)

• William Prynne, The Unloveliness of Lovelockes. 1628.

1629

Thomas Hall, in the Virginia colony, temporarily switched back to female, and was said to have sex with men. There was a public obsession about his sex, and the Council and General Court of Virginia ruled that he was ‘a man and a woman’ and ordered that he wear male clothing but with a female apron and head covering.

1628-31 The Western Rising

As Charles Stuart was determined to rule without Parliament, he needed other sources of income. Royal lands and forests were enclosed and sold off, depriving local people of their use. Riots ensued, some of which featured cross-dressed men using the traditional name Lady Skimmington.

1631

Mervyn Tuchet, 2nd Earl of Castlehaven, was charged both with committing sodomy with a number of servants, and with encouraging a servant to rape Castlehaven's wife. While there is little doubt that he did both these things, it is also obvious that his Catholicism played a major role in ensuring that he was tried, and that the rape and the participation of servants were more important than the charge of sodomy. He was executed in 1631 and two of his servants were hanged the following year. He was attainted, that is his titles and property in England were Forfeit, but as the Buggery Law did not apply in Ireland, his son inherited his Irish titles and property.

1632

Henriette Marie Bourbon and her attendants transvested in another play, The Shepherds’ Paradise.

William Prynne again wrote an attack on women who had the audacity to adopt quasi-masculine styles – ‘our man-women English Gallants’, as he termed them – but had also castigated the ‘women-Actors’ of antiquity, all of whom, he thundered, ‘were ...notorious, impudent, prostituted strumpets. (Stoyle p13)

  • William Prynne. Histriomastix, 1632.

1633

Henriette Marie Bourbon and her attendants transvested in another play, The Shepherds’ Paradise on 9 January. the original performance lasted seven or eight hours. It required four months of rehearsal by its cast.

William Prynne
Prynne’s fulimations were taken as an aspersion on the queen; his passages attacking spectators and magistrates who failed to suppress them were seen as an attack on the king. 

William Noy, the attorney-general took proceedings against Prynne in the Star-chamber. After a year's imprisonment in the Tower of London, he was sentenced on 17 February 1634 to life imprisonment, a fine of £5,000 (over £1 million today), expulsion from being a lawyer, deprival of his University degree, and amputation of both his ears in the pillory where he was held on 7–10 May. Noy died later that year, which Prynne took as God’s punishment. He was released by Parliament in 1640, and his degree and membership of the bar restored.

1634

The Irish cleric, John Atherton, in that the Buggery Act applied only to England, pushed for the enactment of "An Act for the Punishment for the Vice Of Buggery" to be applicable in Ireland.

1630-42

Alexander Gough, actor, specialized in female roles. He continued acting until the theatres were banned, after which he acted in clandestine private productions.

1640

The trial and execution of John Atherton, Bishop of Waterford and his steward. They were charged under the law that Atherton himself had helped to extend to Ireland. The charge was probably proceeded with in that Atherton had become alienated from the large Irish landowners by trying to extend the lands owned by the protestant Church of Ireland.

Henriette Marie Bourbon and also Charles Stuart performed in another play, Salmacida Spolia. Henriette and her ladies appeared dressed in “Amazonian habits”.

1642-1651 Revolution and Civil War
Illustration from the ballad
Valiant Virgin

1642

The theatres were banned.

An anonymous letter written from the Royalist camp in July 1642, and later published in a pro-royalist news pamphlet, describes a woman called Nan Ball who was ‘taken in mans cloathes, waiting upon her beloved Lieutenant’ while in the king’s army near York. A top level-investigation was launched, the lieutenant was sacked from his command and it was suggested that the woman should be shamed by whipping or pillory, although she was merely expelled. (Stoyle p14)

1643

A draft proclamation was drawn up, setting out required standards of behaviour for the royalist army. It included a hand-written memo in the margin from the king himself stating ‘lett no woman presume to counterfeit her sex by wearing mans apparall under payne of the severest punishment’. However the memo was not included in the published version. (Stoyle p18-20)

1644

2 July: The Battle of Marston Moor, is said to have included Jane Ingleby in the Royalist cavalry. (Fraser p221)

1645

March: Oliver Cromwell, in charge of Henry Percy and other Royalist prisoners, noticed one of “so faire a countenance” and asked him to sing, thereby revealing that the person was a damsel. (Stoyle p23)

December: Evesham, Worcestershire: A captain of Horse having served a year, and having obtained leave to visit family in Shropshire, went to a tailor and ordered female clothing supposedly for a sister of the same stature as himself. The tailor was suspicious, and told the Governour, which led to examination where the captain admitted that he was female, and spoke of three others from Shropshire who had taken male disguise to ‘serve in the Warre for the Cause of God’. (Story in The Scottish Dove, London, 3 Dec 1645; Stoyle p 24)

1649

Charles Stuart was indicted, accused of treason. The charge was that he "for accomplishment of such his designs, and for the protecting of himself and his adherents in his and their wicked practices, to the same ends hath traitorously and maliciously levied war against the present Parliament, and the people therein represented", and that the "wicked designs, wars, and evil practices of him, the said Charles Stuart, have been, and are carried on for the advancement and upholding of a personal interest of will, power, and pretended prerogative to himself and his family, against the public interest, common right, liberty, justice, and peace of the people of this nation."

He was beheaded in a formal execution 30 January 1649. Henriette Marie Bourbon returned to France.

1657

Stephen Evison, a soldier was discovered to be female during the Parliamentary occupation of Scotland, and was identified as Anne Dymoke, from a distinguished family in Lincolnshire. She and her lover, John Evison, having no means of support, had entered service as two brothers. They then took a sea voyage during which John was drowned. Knowing not what else to do, Stephen then enlisted giving his name as John. (Frazer p225)

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The following were consulted;

• Antonia Fraser. The Weaker Vessel: Woman’s Lot in Seventeenth-Century England. Methuen, 1985: 220-6.

• Mark Stoyle. “ ‘Give mee a Souldier’s Coat’: Female Cross-Dressing during the English Civil War”. History, The Journal of the Historical Association, 103, 2018

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It is Henriette Marie Bourbon for whom the Maryland colony was named.

The Wikipedia page on her says nothing at all about her thespian inclinations.

We should remember that many of the women camp followers of both armies in the Civil War had to survive. Ankle-length skirts In muddy fields are quite problematic, and the adoption of breeches was, as Fraser says, “more from convenience than from caprice”.

On why Charles Stuart’s addition to the 1643 declaration did not make it to the published version, Stoyle writes:

“Why should the king have decided to dispense with the strictures against cross-dressed female camp-followers which he had been so keen to insert into the original text? Three possible answers present themselves. First, the king’s military commanders may have informed him that the habit of donning masculine attire was so commonplace among the women who accompanied his army and so important to those women in terms of their day-to-day mobility – not only while on the march, but also while undertaking the foraging trips which helped to keep the royal army supplied with provisions – that it was simply not practicable to outlaw the practice. Second, Charles’s advisers may have pointed out to their royal master that for him to admit – in a formal proclamation – that some of the women who accompanied his soldiers were accustomed to cross-dress would only be to invite the derision of enemy propagandists, who had already demonstrated on numerous occasions – in the partisan pamphlets that spewed from the London presses each week – that they were only too ready to highlight and denounce any hint of ‘gender confusion’ in their opponents’ ranks. Third – and closely related to this latter point – Charles may have had second thoughts about incorporating a stern condemnation of female cross-dressing into his proclamation when he recalled that, just three years earlier, his own queen, Henrietta Maria, together with her ‘martiall ladies’, had appeared on stage dressed in ‘Amazonian habits’ in the court masque Salmacida Spolia.” (Stoyle p18-20)

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