Hedgerows and Petticoats: Sartorial Subversion and Anti-enclosure Protest in Seventeenth-century England
The struggle to determine ownership of property, gender identity, and social status engaged through cross-dressing --- particularly as a skimmington -- challenged and shaped seventeenth century notions of property and ownership. The debated possession of one’s land, class, and gender played out in anti-enclosure protests and in theatre, including the plays The Late Lancashire Witches, The Tamer Tamed and The Roaring Girl. Drawing on the traditional use of a skimmington to redress communal injustice, several men dressed in women’s clothing adopted the title Lady Skimmington to protest enclosures of communally accessed forests during the Western Rising, 1626-1632. Similarly, women cross-dressed and adopted male titles, such as captain, to protest enclosure. Since women did not have an acceptable sphere for cross-dressing, such as in a skimmington, cross-dressing women were more deeply threatening to the state than men cross-dressing as Lady Skimmington. Theatrical, cross-dressing, female characters provide insight in the motivations for female cross-dressing. Cross-dressing characters in the field or on the stage provided a battleground for communities and the state to contest ownership of land, class mobility, and gendered identity.
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