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Sunday, April 22, 2018

Women cross-dressed to fight in the English Civil War

Por Jade

Women who dressed as men to fight in the English Civil War (1642-1651). And not one, not two. They were many and divided on both sides, between the troops of King Charles I and those of Parliament. Some seem to be motivated by the desire to fight for the cause along with the rest of the soldiers, while others did not want to leave their husbands and wore men's clothes to travel incognito.

This is revealed by a study by professor of modern history Mark Stoyle, from the University of Southampton, published in the Journal of the Historical Association. "Historians often claim that it was common for women to get involved during the war, but in fact we know very little about this. Now I have unearthed some strong evidence that allows us to explore the practice and what people thought about it at that time," says the researcher.

During his research, Stoyle analyzed hundreds of original manuscripts and printed works but could only reveal a handful of fascinating cases. The male troops of Carlos I, for example, were accompanied by a group of female followers formed by wives, unmarried couples (roughly called "whores") and prostitutes, some of whom disguised themselves as men to be sexually attractive.

"The oldest case is mentioned in an anonymous letter written in the camp of Charles I in July 1642. It was later published in a news brochure of the royalists. The text describes a woman named Nan Ball who was 'caught wearing men's clothes while waiting for her beloved lieutenant' while the king's army was near York. A high-level investigation was launched, the lieutenant was removed from the command and it was suggested that the woman was 'embarrassed' through lashes or the pillory (column where the prisoners were exposed)," explains the study.

Finally, Nan Ball was not physically punished and was simply expelled from the camp after a letter from the king's young son, the future Charles II, begged for her pardon. Mark Stoyle points out that, at that time, the conduct of the royalist army "was governed by formal 'war ordinances' that established that 'suspicious and common women' should be rejected and any officer of their company should be relieved of their position.”

A year later, in 1643, a draft proclamation was drawn up that established the norms of behavior required for the army of Charles I. It included a memorandum written by hand by the king himself in the margin that said "do not let any woman pretend to falsify her sexuality wearing men's clothes under threat of the most severe punishment." The investigation indicates that this warning "suggests that the king believed that female transvestism was widespread in his army and showed his willingness to take a much firmer stance, particularly in relation to prostitutes. Interestingly, when the proclamation was finally published, it contained no reference to cross-dressing."

Another example presented in the study reveals a meeting between parliamentary leader Oliver Cromwell and the mistress of the captured monarchist Lord Henry Percy, who wore men's clothes to hide her identity. Cromwell seemed amused by this fact, causing the woman to sing to test his suspicions that the aspiring man was a 'damsel'. "Despite Cromwell's attitude, many members of the parliamentary camp would probably have considered the discovery as proof of the immoral and non-military conduct of the royalists," explains the professor at the University of Southampton.

The most detailed account of female transvestism during the Civil War was found, however, in a pamphlet of 1645 detailing the case of a young infantryman who spent a year in the Gloucester parliamentary garrison. Finally, it was discovered that she was a woman when she visited a tailor and asked her to make a petticoat (a piece of female underwear) and a vest for a supposed sister. The tailor suspected that the young soldier was not a man and informed the military authorities, that they discovered that this "woman-soldier" had originally disguised to escape the royalists and ended up joining the fight of the parliamentary side.