Women's petitionary letters and early seventeenth-century treason trials

Alison Thorne

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This article focuses on a particular subgenre of the petitionary letter: the supplicatory appeals made by women to the monarch or leading officers of state, imploring them either to intercede on behalf of their disgraced kinsmen, who were facing execution or long-term imprisonment as a consequence of their alleged treasonable activities, or to assist the women in their own suits as they attempted to salvage some portion of their husbands' confiscated estates. Using the letters composed by women whose male relatives were implicated in the Essex debacle (1601) or the Main Plot (1603) as a case study, it offers a close analysis of the rhetorical strategies they deployed and assesses the contribution such devices made to the moral and affective cogency of their suits. Specifically, it aims to show how the discursive performance of feminine weakness which characterizes the appeals of these female suitors may paradoxically have enhanced their "symbolic capital".
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-37
Number of pages16
JournalWomen's Writing
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2006


  • subgenre of the petitionary letter
  • women to the monarch
  • treasonable activities
  • feminine weakness


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