Female captivity and the rhetoric of supplication: the cases of Lady Mary Grey and Lady Arabella Stuart

Alison Thorne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article examines the epistolary production of two high-ranking women, Lady
Mary Grey and Lady Arbella Stuart, who experienced various forms of captivity. It argues that they inhabited a carceral milieu where both men and women were exposed to the possibility of periodic imprisonment. Both Grey and Stuart were obsessed with the notion of liberty and its obverse, the ever present threat of captivity or execution that overshadowed their lives. Male and female prisoners sought to improve their lot by securing an intercessor to plead on their behalf, thereby manipulating the patronage system to their advantage. Pressures on these women drove them to retreat into a fantasy world. Attention is also paid to the rhetorical strategies used in their letter-writing, including an appeal to ethos (good character) and pathos (emotions) that were privileged at the expense of logos (reason). The article focuses on comparative analysis of the different rhetorical styles deployed by Grey and Stuart, and charts how Stuart’s linguistic usage varied according to changes in her personal circumstances.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)152-171
Number of pages20
JournalLives and Letters
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • captivity
  • liberty
  • patronage system
  • rhetorical strategies
  • pleading

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