Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Friday, March 31, 2023

Charlotte de La Trémoille: A Woman with a "stomach to digest cannon"

Charlotte de La Trémoille, countess of Derby, defender of Lathom House (died 31 March 1664)

Born in December 1599, Charlotte de La Trémoille was the daughter of Claude de La Trémoille, second  duke of Thouars, and Charlotte Brabantina of Nassau--who was herself the daughter of William I, prince of Orange, and his third wife, Charlotte of Bourbon.*

Charlotte de La Trémoille, 1641
Detail from painting by 
Anthony VanDyke
On 26 June 1626, the younger Charlotte was married to James Stanley, seventh earl of Derby, and the young couple fully enjoyed the gaieties of the Carolingian court, including taking part in masques written by the poet Ben Johnson. 

On 4 February 1629, Parliament passed an act "Naturalizing of the Right honourable the Lady Charlotte, Wife to the Right honourable James Lord Strange, Son and Heir apparent to Wm. Earl of Derby."

By 1635, however, Charlotte and her husband had retreated from court and its "gloomy politics," turning their attention to their growing family, which by this point included an heir, Charles, born in 1628, and two daughters, Henriette Marie (born in 1630) and Amelia Ann Sophia (born in 1633). 

In his extended history of the Stanley family, Peter Draper writes that the couple lived in "splendid privacy" in Lathom House (Lancashire) with James Stanley overseeing the family's properties in Lancashire and the Isle of Man. 

After the civil wars in England began in 1642, James Stanley "devoted himself to the king's cause." There were warnings about his loyalty to the king, however--among the reasons for suspicion was the upbringing of his wife, Charlotte, who had been brought up as a Huguenot and was said to have the "principles of the Dutch."

Although these suspicions kept King Charles from fully trusting him, "Stanley's loyalty rose above any consideration of revenging himself by going over to the enemy." After briefly resigning from his lieutenancy, Stanley was restored to his position and took up arms in defense of the king. When his father died on 29 September 1642, James Stanley became seventh earl of Derby. But by that time, he had already been impeached for treason by Parliament.  

But this is not the place to pursue the activities of James Stanley during the civil wars. In 1643, after her husband was ordered to the Isle of Man (he had been named lord of Man in 1627, a title his father had also held), Lathom House was left in the the hands of the earl's wife, Charlotte.

"Almost immediately" after Stanley left for the Isle of Man, the general in charge of parliamentary forces in the north, Lord Thomas Fairfax, expected that the countess of Derby would surrender the castle to him. (Stanley himself knew that was not the case: his wife was a "person of virtue and honour equal to her high birth and quality.")

A nineteenth-century engraving that "reconstructs"
Lathom House, at the time of the civil wars

Here is a contemporary description of the castle that the countess of Derby was called upon to defend:
Standing on a flat moorish, springy and spumous ground, was at the time of the siege encompassed with a strong wall, of two yards thick: upon the wall were nine towers, flanking each other, and in every tower were six pieces of ordnance that played three one way and three the other. Without the wall, was a moat eight yards wide, and two yards deep; upon the brink of the moat, between the wall and the graff, was a strong row of palisadoes, and to add to these securities, there was a high tower called the Eagle Tower, in the midst of the house, surrounding all the rest; and the gatehouse was also a strong and high building with a strong tower on each side of it; and in the entrance to the first court upon the tops of these towers were placed the best and choicest marksmen. Before the house, to the south and south-west, there is a rising ground so near as to overlook the top of it, which falls so quick that nothing planted against it on those sides can touch it, further than the front walls. And on the north and east sides there is another rising ground, even to the edge of the moat, and then falls away so quick that you can scarce, at the distance of a carbine shot, see the house over the height.
In 1644, Fairfax demanded that the countess surrender the castle to him, but she refused; "she would neither tamely give up her house, nor purchase her peace with the loss of her honour." She asked that she be allowed a "peaceable abode" in her own home, keeping only a few soldiers who would ensure her preservation from the "outrages" of "common soldiers." Her requests were denied. (A journal account of the events of the siege is included in Peter Draper's The House of Stanley.

There followed a "continued siege," the countess becoming "a prisoner in her own walls." In addition, she had to suffer the sermons of various "men of God" who inveighed against her as the "scarlet whore" and the "whore of Babylon."

On 28 February, Fairfax conveyed to her a parliamentary order to surrender to Lathom. In response, she asked for a week's delay. She had no second thoughts about her actions--according to the journal account of the siege, with her request for a delay, she sought to "gain time by demurs and protractions." She refused an offer to visit Fairfax at New Park, a house just about a quarter of a mile from Lathom; she reminded Fairfax of her husband's honor and "her own birth." Rather than her going to him, it was more "knightly" for Fairfax to come to her, and so she invited him to enter Lathom House as a guest, an invitation that was not quite accepted--on 2 March, Fairfax sent two colonels acting as his representatives with terms for her surrender.

On 4 Monday, the countess replied to Fairfax by sending him her own terms. She asked for a month's delay, offering to surrender the castle if Fairfax would allow her, her children, her soldiers, and her household to leave peacefully and asking for him to provide her safe transport to the Isle of Man. She further stipulated that no parliamentary soldiers were be quartered at Lathom after she left and that none of her neighbors or friends to suffer afterward for their connections to her.

Fairfax demanded, instead, that the countess surrender the castle by ten o'clock the next morning. She "refused all their articles" and was "truly happy" that Fairfax had refused her terms, "protesting that she had rather hazard her life, than offer the like again. THAT THROUGH A WOMAN AND A STRANGER, DIVORCED FROM HER FRIENDS, AND ROBBED OF HER ESTATE, she was ready to receive their utmost violence, trusting in God both for protection and deliverance."

Fairfax expected a "tame surrender," but he found that "her ladyship [was] fearless of . . . empty terrors." Facing "fixedness and resolution" in the countess, he offered her new terms a few days later. For her part, the countess replied that she would rather "preserve her liberty by arms, than to buy a peace with slavery."

Fairfax had some 2000 troops, the countess about 300. Under siege, the countess, her family, and her forces suffered bombardment and repeated charges from the parliamentary army. The siege continued through March and April--on 25 April she received yet another demand for submission. She replied to the messenger:
Thou art but a foolish instrument of a traitor's pride. Tell that insolent rebel he shall neither have persons, goods, nor house: when our strength and provisions is spent, we shall find a fire more merciful . . . and then if the providence of God prevent it not, my goods and house shall burn in his sight: myself, children, and soldiers, rather than fall into his hands, will seal our religion and loyalty in the same flame. We will die for his Majesty and your honour! God save the King.

Because the house was so "well fenced against the shot of cannon," Fairfax came to believe that the defenders would have to be starved out of Lathom. A month later, on 23 May, the countess was once again asked if she would surrender; "they should never have her, nor any of her friends alive" was her response.

On 25 May, Prince Rupert of the Rhine entered Lancashire with a royalist army, then met and defeated parliamentary forces; he "relieved and revenged the most noble lady, his cousin." On 27 May, the siege of Lathom House was lifted.

The countess of Derby, her children, and her household were able to leave Lathom House and join Stanley on the Isle of Man. 

A second siege of Lathom took place in 1645, when the castle fell to parliamentary forces. In 1649, after the execution of Charles I, James Stanley left the Isle of Man and joined the king's son, the future Charles II, taking part in his invasion of Lancashire in 1651. Stanley was with the king at the battle of Worcester, on 3 September, where royalist forces were defeated. Stanley was captured, tried for treason on 29 September, and condemned to death. He was executed on 15 October.

On the Isle of Man, meanwhile, the countess of Derby was making every effort to save her husband. By 25 October 1651, a parliamentary fleet descended on the island--the earl had written to advise his wife that she "should no longer resist" a "power so unequal," but she did  not receive these letters, nor did she know of her husband's death. The captain who was sent to treat with her referred cruelly to "the late Earl her husband" and informed her he would "take possession" of the island.

She and her children were thus "betrayed into the hands of their enemies" and "the grand object of the Parliamentarians was attained." She was taken prisoner and held at Rushen Castle, on the Isle of Man, for nine years. After the Restoration of Charles II, the countess of Derby was freed. She had her revenge, at least in part--she made sure the man who had assumed control on the Isle of Man during her imprisonment was tried and executed, and she (unsuccessfully) tried to have the men who had condemned her husband punished. 

She retired to the Stanley family's Knowsley House, where she died on 31 March 1664.

Charlotte, countess of Derby, was later memorialized as "the last person in the three kingdoms, and in all their dependent dominions, who submitted to the victorious Commonwealth." (I don't think this is correct--Google tells me that Galway was the last place to fall to the forces of Cromwell, in 1652--but I think it's worth preserving this recognition of Charlotte de La Trémoille.)

The phrase "stomach to digest a cannon" comes from the journal written by one of the defenders of Lathom House, who noted that the "little ladies" inside the castle "had stomachs to digest the cannon."

I have focused here on the countess of Derby's brave resistance during the English civil wars--you may enjoy Mary C. Rowsell's 1905 biography, The Life-Story of Charlotte de La Trémoille, Countess of Derby (click here).

*William's son by his third wife was Frederick Henry, prince of Orange. Frederick Henry's grandson, William, would marry Mary Stuart--the couple would emerge as king and queen of England after the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when Mary's father, James II, was forced to give up the throne.

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Wait, What???? The Eyes of God Are Tracking Your Period (But Don't Say "Period") . . . And You're Still Not Getting Equal Pay For All the Work You Do

When Women Became No Longer Equal, Part 12: The New Republic of Gilead Wants to Track Your Period (But Don't Say "Period") . . . And Make Sure You Stay Poor

I'll give you the great news about keeping your poor first, since it's nothing new, and I've posted about it many times over the years. 

The Pew Research Center has just published new data in "The Enduring Grip of the Gender Wage Gap." If you've been living and working and thinking, this clearly comes as no surprise, but even though there is nothing new, this report is still dispiriting:
The gender pay gap—the difference between the earnings of men and women—has barely closed in the United States in the past two decades. In 2022, American women typically earned 82 cents for every dollar earned by men. That was about the same as in 2002, when they earned 80 cents to the dollar. The slow pace at which the gender pay gap has narrowed this century contrasts sharply with the progress in the preceding two decades: In 1982, women earned just 65 cents to each dollar earned by men.
From the Pew Research Center,
"The Enduring Grip of the Gender Pay Gap"

And, as the Pew Research Center reports, this gap grows over a woman's lifetime:
Women generally begin their careers closer to wage parity with men, but they lose ground as they age and progress through their work lives, a pattern that has remained consistent over time. The pay gap persists even though women today are more likely than men to have graduated from college. In fact, the pay gap between college-educated women and men is not any narrower than the one between women and men who do not have a college degree.
From the Pew Research Center,
"The Enduring Grip of the Gender Pay Gap"

The report is worth a read, of course, particularly for its updated information about the ways race and ethnicity impact pay equity issues for women and for the ways education, motherhood, and marriage, in addition to age, are reflected in the wage gap. But there is really nothing new here--at my age, I feel like I could write these reports without access to any current data at all, so little has changed. And there is nothing hopeful at all in the concluding section, "What's next for the gender pay gap?" (For previous posts on pay equity, click on the label, below.)

And why is the "what's next?" section so useless. Because, as the report makes clear, "There is no single explanation for why progress toward narrowing the pay gap has all but stalled in the 21st century." 

Well, you can continue to analyze data, educational trends, economic factors, the changing workplace, and even the "sticky floors" that are underneath the "glass ceilings," but it's clear by now that those factors don't account for the problem. 

No one seems willing to say what seems most obvious to me: women don't count. Regardless of their age, education, race, ethnicity, marital status, or job, they still are not recognized as full human beings, whose worth is equal to that of men.

Which brings me to my next grim milestone on the path to dehumanizing women. The Eyes of God are watching . . . 

I would like to say I was surprised to learn that the state of Florida was thinking about keeping track of women's menstrual cycles. But I couldn't muster up surprise, much less shock or outrage. After the Dobbs decision, why the hell not take away one more bit of privacy and autonomy. 

To be specific, the Florida High School Athletics Association mandated a requirement for all student athletes--let's be clear, all women athletes--to provide detailed information about their menstrual history:
  • “Have you ever had a menstrual period?”
  • “How old were you when you had your first menstrual period?”
  • “When was your most recent menstrual period?”
  • “How many periods have you had in the past 12 months?”
This information would no longer be submitted on a paper form, turned in to a coach, but would be submitted in a digital form and submitted to school administrators

Clearly this information isn't necessary for knowing whether a young woman is in any condition to kick a soccer ball. Rather, as Sophie Haissen notes, 
As president of the Palm Beach County Democratic Women’s Club, Joan Waitkevicz, told The Palm Beach Post, requiring students to provide records of their menstrual cycle to play sports is “anti-choice and anti-trans politics rolled into one.” Collecting information on student athlete menstruation may seem innocuous or even standard practice in the best interest of their health, but, in the hands of a state government that has made overt attempts to oppress both cis women and trans folks, this data could cost already marginalized people their lives and mental health.
And there is little hope for keeping such data, once submitted, secure. Haissen reminds us that "we’ve already seen in other states how digital data has played a role in criminalizing young people for getting abortions. . . . States including Texas, Oklahoma, and Idaho have abortion bans enforced by citizens. In the process individuals are allowed to access others’ personal data to help argue their case."

Now the state of Florida's move was not a complete surprise--women had been warned that this was coming after the Dobbs decision, and American women were advised by many pro-choice groups to delete their period-tracking apps. Even the White House told women to be cautious about storing this information on their electronic devices, warning them that such data could be used against them. In fact, after the June decision, the Organization for the Review of Care and Health Apps reviewed the privacy policies of period trackers and found that 24 of the 25 apps examined shared data:
84% of the [24]  apps allowed the sharing of personal and sensitive health data beyond the developer’s system, with third parties. At 68%, the majority did so for marketing, 40% for research and 40% for improving developer services of the app itself.
So I breathed a sigh of relief when I read that the FHSAA voted to remove the questions about a female athlete's medical forms--and then I nearly choked, because the association decided to require students to provide the biological sex they were assigned at birth, replacing the earlier question simply asking the athlete's sex. Because, you know, Florida. 

Now, not to be outdone, Virginia decided to get in on the act. In February 2023, Virginia State Senator Barbara Favola introduced Senate Bill 852; if enacted the law would have ensured women's privacy and bodily autonomy, shielding their stored menstrual date from law enforcement search warrants. 

These guys won't be satisfied until
we're all in Gilead
Photo: Calla Kessler for The Washington Post, via Artsy

It should come as no surprise that Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin (R) opposed the bill and helped to defeat it. Senate Bill 852 passed in the Senate by a bipartisan vote of 31-9. Half of the Senate's 18 Republican senators supported the bill. But once it reached the Virginia House, dominated by Republicans, a subcommittee voted 5 to 3 to table the bill. For many in Virginia, this is a "harbinger of plans to prosecute" those who seek abortions.

And let me remind you: in 2019, before the Dobbs decision, Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, testified that his office, using state medical records, had created a spreadsheet tracking the periods of women who visited Planned Parenthood. 

And while the Trump Administration couldn't manage to keep track of the migrant children separated from their parents, they were quite focused on tracking the menstrual cycles of migrant girls who were in custody, carefully preserving all the details of their periods.

So, with four years of history, these precedents, and courts packed with Federalist Society judges, a single one of whom can make yet another decision to deny all women the ability to control their own bodies, what's next

Update, just hours after posting: Looks like I was right about what's next. In his speech to CPAC, Trump promises that, if he is re-elected, "We will support baby bonuses, for a new baby boom! Oh, you men out there are so lucky. You are so lucky, men." This is some real Handmaid shit. Keep them struggling for fair pay, track their periods, deny them control of their reproductive systems, and "boom"! Life will be good, guys--handmaids everywhere! 

If you've got the stomach for it, you can listen to it here.

Update, 28 March 2023: The Idaho state legislature is on the bring of a draconian new abortion bill. A few days ago, the Idaho House of Representatives passed House Bill 242, "amend[ing] and add[ing] to existing law to provide for the crime of abortion trafficking." Now it doesn't seem to me as if the bill "provides for" traveling out of the state for an abortion, as in funding it or making it possible. Rather, it is all about making sure a girl cannot be helped if she seeks reproductive care."

According to the bill,  "An adult who, with the intent to conceal an abortion from the parents or guardian of a pregnant, unemancipated minor, either procures an abortion, as described in section 18-604, 18 Idaho Code, or obtains an abortion-inducing drug for the pregnant minor to use for an abortion by recruiting, harboring, or transporting the pregnant minor within this state commits the crime of abortion trafficking."

This law makes "abortion trafficking" a felony, punishable by two to five years in prison. The bill's sponsor, State Representative Barbara Ehardt (R, of course) notes that abortion is already illegal in Idaho, so the bill isn't about abortion--the intent is to limit the a minor's travel outside the state. And for now, it's just to limit her travel "without the permission of the parent."

The Idaho Senate received the bill from the Senate State Affairs Committee and stands ready to pass it.

Erhardt claims this is all about parental rights, insisting that "A parent absolutely still has the right to take their child across the border and get an abortion. . . . The parent still has the right to cede that power and authority to someone else, such as a grandparent or an aunt, to take that child, should they be pregnant, across the border and get an abortion.”

Yeah, right. Wonder how long before they just go ahead and limit the ability of any female of any age whatsoever to leave the state at all . . .

"Are you pregnant, Grace? Step out of the vehicle." For a prescient video, published by Meidas Touch back in June, click here.

Update, 5 April 2023: The Idaho Senate passed the "abortion trafficking" bill on 30 March 2023, and the Republican governor signed it into law today. (Just the day before, he signed a bill banning gender-affirming care for trans youth and making it a felony "for doctors to provide such care to minors.")

The governor says it’s all about how much Idaho wants to "protect" children. In 2023, Idaho "ranks 36 [of the 50 states in the U.S.] in terms of education. Idaho is 34 in educational attainment and 32 in quality of education." Idaho's child poverty rate is 14.4%. In Idaho, 1 of every 8 children doesn't have enough to eat (in some parts of the state, it's 1 of every 5).  Idaho's maternal mortality rate ranks 36 out of 50 U.S. States, its infant mortality rate ranks 34th. Idaho ranks 21 [of 50] for child and teen death rate ("child and teen death rate reflects a broad array of factors: physical and mental health; access to health care; community factors; use of safety practices and the level of adult supervision"). Idaho earns a grade of F for gun safety--ranked 48th of 50 for the strength of its gun laws and 25th for its gun death rate. And, hey: "Guns are the 2nd-leading cause of death among children and teens in Idaho. In Idaho, an average of 21 children and teens die by guns every year, of which 84% of these deaths are suicides and 10% are homicides.”

I can think of lots of legislative action Idaho could take to better "protect" its children. Making up weird new crimes ("abortion trafficking") and criminalizing the actions of those who aid young women in times of personal crisis aren't on my list. Try feeding those hungry kids for starters . . . 

Update, 7 April 2023: And here we go--a single nut job judge, appointed in 2019, has now decided what women--half of the U.S. population--can and cannot do with their own bodies. One guy has all this power over all women . . . Think about it. But he's just protecting you, little ladies: he's done it so "that women and girls are protected from unnecessary harm.” Because, obviously, you're just too stupid to be able to make such decisions yourselves.

Update, 12 April 2023: You just can't make this stuff up. Republicans in Florida want to track girls' periods, but for god's sake, DON'T TALK ABOUT MENSTRUATION! A new bill (House Bill 1069) was passed by the state house late in March and is now in the hands of the lawmakers in the Florida Senate: "The bill proposes banning any form of health education until sixth grade and would prohibit students from asking questions about menstruation, including about their own first periods, which frequently occur before the sixth grade. If passed by Florida's Senate and signed into law by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, the ban will be effective July 1." (For one of just a number of news stories on this, click here.) In other words, "Don't say period, people!" 

Here's the bill, [Florida] House Bill 1069.

Update, 13 April 2023: Oh, and while they're at it, they need you to have more white babies--and Nebraska Senator Steve Erdman isn't afraid to say it out loud. During debate over a new forced-birth law in Nebraska, he "argued that abortion had caused slow population growth in the state over the last half-century—and argued that it had hurt Nebraska economically":
Our state population has not grown except by those foreigners who have moved here or refugees who have been placed here. Why is that? It’s because we’ve killed 200,000 people. These are people we’ve killed.”

If women had been forced to give birth, as he was now proposing, then everything would be great, and there would be more people "working and filling some of those positions that we have vacancies.”

To read Cameron Joseph's report on Vice--and, even better, watch Erdman delivering this oration in all its dumbassery, click here.

Update, 31 October 2023: Welp, that didn't take long. The state of Idaho's "abortion trafficking" law (see above, the 28 March update) went into effect in May of this year--and the first arrests for "abortion trafficking" have now been made. As Jessica Valenti reports, 
an Idaho teenager and his mother were arrested for bringing the teen’s girlfriend out-of-state for an abortion. The pair were charged with multiple felonies, including second degree kidnapping, for taking a minor under 16 years-old “with the intent to keep or conceal [her] from her custodial transporting the child out of the state for the purpose of obtaining an abortion.”

But, hmmmm, the arrests weren't made under the draconian, Gilead-ish law, which is under appeal. Again, quoting Valenti: "instead of citing the trafficking statute, prosecutors used the exact language of the trafficking law in the kidnapping charge."

These assholes are sooo slick, huh? Like we wouldn't notice . . . 

It's a terrible story all around--nobody comes out looking good, but no official seems to have cared about any of the many problems manifested in this case (drugs, coercive control, abuse, totally fucked up families) until a fifteen-year-old traveled to Oregon to have a medical abortion.