This volume challenges the view that women have not contributed to the historical development of political ideas, and highlights the depth and complexity of women’s political thought in the centuries prior to the French Revolution.
From the late medieval period to the enlightenment, a significant number of European women wrote works dealing with themes of political significance. The essays in this collection examine their writings with particular reference to the ideas of virtue, liberty, and toleration. The figures discussed include Christine de Pizan, Catherine d’Amboise, Isabella d’Este, Elizabeth I, Katherine Chidley, Elizabeth Poole, Margaret Cavendish, Damaris Masham, Mary Astell, Elizabeth Carter, Catharine Macaulay, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Cornélie Wouters. These women actively contributed to the political practice and discourse of their times. Some of the women question their exclusion from political power and argue in favour of women’s virtue, prudence, and capacity to govern. Others aim to demonstrate women’s spiritual equality with men, to defend liberty of conscience, and to highlight the importance of education as a means to moral development.