The experiences of war widows during and after the British civil wars, with particular reference to the Midlands
thesisposted on 30.07.2018, 13:07 by Stewart John Beale
The British civil wars of the mid-seventeenth century are collectively estimated to have been the bloodiest conflict in British history. More than three percent of the pre-war population in England and Wales perished during the wars, a figure proportionally higher than British losses in any other conflict. Despite this, historians have paid little attention to the experiences of the thousands of women whose husbands were slain during the fighting. This thesis seeks to address this oversight by examining petitions for relief submitted by female war victims to various national and provincial authorities. It assesses the ways in which the various regimes who governed England during this period sought to provide for war victims, the petitioning strategies utilised by widows in order to access relief, and the ways in which the petitioning activities of widows at Westminster and Whitehall compared to those of their counterparts in the provinces. Private correspondence and print material are also utilised in order to gauge contemporary attitudes towards war victims. In doing so, the thesis sheds much light on the hardships inflicted on women during and after the civil wars. Yet the petitions for relief submitted by war widows are as much records of female agency as they are of victimhood. Rather than suffer in silence, countless widows engaged with national and provincial authorities during the mid-seventeenth century in an attempt to improve their livelihoods. As such, the thesis provides further evidence of the ways in which early-modern women sought to shape their lives. The thesis further argues that political allegiance and social status were significant factors in shaping women’s experiences of widowhood. By examining the social welfare afforded to war victims, it also demonstrates how the study of war widows can help to bridge the divide between military and social historians.