A Discovery of Six Women Preachers

In Middlesex, Kent, Cambridge and Salisbury. I’m not sure how this picture illustrates the stories in this booklet published in 1641, but the clothes look right for the period. At least two tabbed waistcoats and one untabbed, some smartly trimmed collars and three of those weird pointed or horned coifs, one of which sold at auction in Carlisle in December last year. I’d love to know why they’ve stripped the poor girl in the middle. It looks like this is possibly a reused block as they are cutting her hair off, something which doesn’t relate to the story at all! To add some context, I have since found the original image which I have blogged here.

6 Responses to “A Discovery of Six Women Preachers”

  1. I think that they are “taping” her hair. Since they did not have bobby pins and such. hair was dressed with ribbon or yarn woven into the braid and then the ribbons were tied to secure the style. So perhaps this is an illustration regarding fashion or illustrating a satire on vanity.

  2. I think the original can be found on the title page of The Sisters of the Scabards Holiday. At least, this is printed in the same year as A Discovery, and I think the content is better matched to the former than the latter. The Sisters is a dialogue between two brothel-keepers and so it seems plausible that the older women dancing around are pimps, and the woman in the centre is a prostitute. And perhaps the man approaching is a client. Whereas having to label the image suggests readers need at least a little help to reinterpret it in a new context.

    As to why this is re-used, despite not in some respects matching the topic of six women preachers, in 1641 there is a big market for short quartos about religious extremists. These are usually illustrated, and usually involve some element of scandal – particularly nudity. For example A Nest of Serpents, from the same year, involved a picture of a man with an erection as well as various other naked people. I blogged about that particular woodcut a few years ago:


    So what I think is happening is booksellers are seeing that there is a market for this type of material, and quickly putting pamphlets together. It’s not really clear who commissioned woodcuts – author, printer or bookseller – but I suspect in these cases it’s a scenario involving printers or booksellers getting hold of text, deciding they’ve got a woodcut block lying around that will more or less fit, and then using it. There is some evidence from the period that illustrated pamphlets were attractive even if the illustration didn’t really match the text: just having an image is a novelty for some readers, and I’m sure that many readers didn’t view images in the way we do today. So too, perhaps, for stationers they helped books stand out when customers were browsing. As I say, there are lots of quarto pamphlets that re-use blocks in this way in 1641 which suggests both demand and conscious tactics by suppliers to meet that demand.

    What’s interesting is a lot of the 1641 woodcuts about Brownists, Anabaptists and the like (themselves often re-used) are then re-used in 1649 when there is a sudden publishing craze about Ranters. Some of them seem to have hung around with stationers for a very long time – which suggests a certain amount of investment was needed to commission a woodcut. By re-using it, you potentially increase your market while decreasing your production costs.

    Great blog, by the way!

  3. By way of postscript, at least one modern historian has thought (I think erroneously, given what I’ve set out above) the woodcut in its Six Preachers context was original, and represents the Baptist ceremony of laying on of hands – so there if there is room for scholars today to take different interpretations, there must have been room for contemporary readers to do so too!


  4. Thanks Nick for your explanation of this image and the context. I’d like to hear your opinion on the white patch below the central figure’s left arm. It looks to me like something has been excised from the block and also features in the Sisters of the Scaberd too. I wonder if neither of the two is actually the first use as the “Sisters” version is also missing details and looks to me like text may have been removed from above the group before printing.


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