Regulating Women: The ‘Mass Media’ of Early Modern Society?

03 January 2014

People in early modern England went to great lengths in court to protect themselves from the wrath of the female tongue and crimes of speech increased fourfold in England between 1580 and 1680. This paper explores legal attempts to regulate and censor the speech of women. It examines the processes of cultural transmission in Cheshire as represented in petitions and court documents during the decade of 1660 to 1670 and charts the attempts of ruling bodies to regulate the behaviour of ‘unruly’ women to prevent them from informing the community at large through issuing prohibitive petitions and by publishing them. Evidence of censorship of the female voice is derived from hundreds of manuscripts from the Chester Consistory Courts and Quarter Sessions Courts. These archival sources have been closely read and organised and the readership is respectfully invited to enter the fascinating world of Nantwich townsfolk as they are brought to life - larger than life, on this historical canvas, as the intricacies of their lives and the attempts to censor female behaviour unfold during an investigation of their actions, language and private lives.