By Retha M. Warnicke
Quidditas: Journal of the Rocky Mountain Medieval and Renaissance Association, Vol. 20 (1999)
Introduction: In Tudor histories, perhaps more than in other histories, writers have failed to distinguish, as Judith Shapiro has pointed out with reference to anthropological literature, “consistently between the sex bias emanating from the observer and the sex bias characteristic of the community under study.” The sex and gender bias of early modern society was, of course, pervasive and ubiquitous. Prescriptive works instructed women to confine their activities to domestic and family matters. Even as litigators in the courts of law, they were disadvantaged. Generally defining women as the inferior sex, their male contemporaries judged women’s worth by their chastity, silence, piety, obedience, and household efficiency and accused them of being garrulous, materialistic, and driven by lustful intentions.
While neglecting to allow for gender bias in the archives, many scholars have also credited the biased observations of early modern authors who wrote their accounts long after the women were dead. This largely uncorroborated evidence functions as a second layer of gender bias, serving to confirm the original biased documentation. Finally, Tudor scholars have too often ignored the role of their own biases in their interpretations, adding yet another layer of gender bias to studies of Tudor women. In this essay, an analysis of the contemporary and subsequent treatment of Alice More, Anne Boleyn, and Anne Stanhope will demonstrate the existence of this triple bias in Tudor historiography.
In order to uncover these layers, I shall first present the mostly inadequate evidence that is available about these women, which will be, as much as is possible, shorn of biased facts. Next, I shall examine the writings left by their acquaintances that have shaped the narratives of their lives. Then, after discussing later secondhand accounts, I shall demonstrate how present-minded historians added their biased opinions to this accumulation of distorted information and misinformation, thereby reinforcing the invention of these Tudor women as wicked.