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Henry Howard and the lawful regiment of women

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The publication of John Knox's First Blast of the Trumpet in 1558 had engendered a radical debate about the public role of women and the nature of female authority and obedience. Howard was not the only author who attempted to refute Knox's tract. The Marian exile and future Bishop of London, John Aylmer, the Catholic Bishop of Ross, John Leslie, and the Catholic, Scottish lawyer, David Chambers, all published books disproving Knox's allegations about women's unfitness for rule. Richard Bertie, husband of Catherine, Duchess of Suffolk, also prepared a manuscript refutation which was never published. The published works are moderately well known, and have been discussed elsewhere.

This article concentrates on Howard's unpublished contribution to the Knox debate. The tract is important because of its length and detail, its conclusions regarding the potential role of aristocratic women, and because of Howard's personal reputation and aristocratic connections. The ‘Defense’ was both eloquent and persuasive, analysing women's legal, historical and theological status within early modern society. Howard presented alternative interpretations of female stereotypes found in sermons and polemical writings. His commentaries on Genesis, Athalia, Jezebel and Deborah show how traditional biblical stories could be interpreted in radically differing ways, with profound implications for contemporary women. Because of the length of Howard's tract, this article can present only a summary of his main conclusions. His interpretation of the first three chapters of Genesis will be presented in rather more detail as an indication of the complexity of the early modern debate about women, and the dangers of trying to attach simplistic labels to individual attitudes.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 1991-04-01

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