Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Nicole Jacobs: “Violence & Pulter’s Florinda”

Nicole A. Jacobs

Lady Hester Pulter’s The Unfortunate Florinda and the Conventions of Sexual Violence

1> In early modern English literature, the sexually threatened woman was often an emblem of the beleaguered political body ravaged by a corrupt leader.[1] By extension, her utility to the text was demonstrated by her virtuous reputation, her victimization, her relationship to the revengers, and ultimately her willingness to die for a crime she neither committed nor provoked.[2] This well-established trope was frequently invoked in the historical and literary heroines Philomela, Virginia, Lucrece, and Lavinia. In these foundational literary models, a woman’s death or transformation had the power to resuscitate her virtue, preserve her family’s honor, and end her own suffering. There was a thriving market on stage and in print for voyeuristic depictions of women’s suffering, especially in revenge narratives of the Jacobean to Restoration periods that gloried in severed body parts, cannibalism, and sacrifice of innocents.[3] In the mid-seventeenth century, however, at least one writer chose to experiment with the boundaries of the revenge narrative by preserving the lives of the heroine and her collaborators.

2> Lady Hester Pulter (1605-1678), whose writing career spans the Interregnum and Restoration periods, centers her prose romance The Unfortunate Florinda (c. late 1650s-1662) on politically resonant rape and revenge narratives.[4] Her text stands arguably as one of the most innovative yet understudied treatments of sexual violence and resistance in the period. The critical exigence for exploring its depictions of rape and revenge lies in increased awareness and accessibility to her manuscript, which contains over 100 political, occasional, and emblem poems in addition to the romance. Much of the newly emerging scholarship on Pulter, inaugurated with Mark Robson’s discovery of her manuscript in the Brotherton Collection at the University of Leeds Library in 1996, focuses on the erudition, devotion, and account of domestic life provided in her poetry.[5] Margaret J. M. Ezell and Peter C. Herman have similarly initiated scholarly interest in The Unfortunate Florinda, and this attention to the work is bound to flourish with the release of the first published edition of her complete manuscript this year.[6] This essay intervenes into the emerging body of scholarship on Pulter’s romance by attending to the literary and political contributions of The Unfortunate Florinda, demonstrating the centrality of sexually threatened heroines in eliminating tyranny and restoring the kingdom’s virtue.

3> Pulter’s romance focuses on the adventures of two female protagonists: Fidelia, who prevents her own rape by plotting with her brother and her lover to murder the African king Mully Hamet, and Florinda, who responds to her rape by the Spanish tyrant Roderigo by devising with her family a plan to raise a revolt. Pulter’s heroines challenge the conventions of sexual violence by engineering revenge plots that will ultimately allow them to survive their own shame and victimization. Indeed, her characters respond to the threat of rape not by dying as Lucrece, Lavinia, and Virginia had done, but rather by conspiring to commit tyrannicide. Pulter’s Fidelia and Florinda may be vulnerable to attack, but their access to kings and their connections with powerful men make them uniquely poised to rid their kingdoms of tyrants who had either gained or maintained their power illegitimately.

4> One of the greatest contributions of Pulter’s work lies in her inventive manipulation of genre: her representation of sexual violence bridges the generic divide between revenge tragedy and prose romance. The Unfortunate Florinda recovers its debased heroines by uniting the satisfaction and gore of revenge with the redemption of the romance plot. In the actions of her heroines, Pulter pairs the bloodshed of revenge with romance tales of devotion and sacrifice both for aesthetic and political purposes. On a generic level, it may seem that revenge tragedy’s finite and cathartic narrative structure is incompatible with literary romance’s interwoven circular narratives; after all, romance often fails to reach a conclusion (like Mary Wroth’s The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania, Pulter’s The Unfortunate Florinda ends mid-sentence). But even as the revenge plots in The Unfortunate Florinda allow the heroines to assert themselves, the structure of romance permits Pulter to ascribe greater moral fortitude to her female avengers than would be afforded in tragedy.[7] Based upon the generic expectations of romance, audiences intuitively align their sympathies with chaste lovers overcoming obstacles and vilify those who achieve or maintain their social standing by treachery. Whereas the readers and viewers of revenge tragedies must often question the ethics of the revenger, wondering whether he has been corrupted by his own bloodlust, readers of romance instead focus on the achievement of revenge as the removal of one of several obstacles placed in the way of lovers who long to reunite. The young lovers in The Unfortunate Florinda are not punished for conspiring to commit tyrannicide; in fact, in one case, the revengers are rewarded for their actions by securing happy marriages and control over most of Europe and Africa.

5> In effect, Pulter strives to mitigate violence by eliminating collateral death and destruction and allowing her heroines to emerge from their revenge virtuous and unsullied.[8] In The Unfortunate Florinda, only those responsible for rape and tyranny are punished, and all others are spared. Moreover, Pulter breaks with convention by representing her heroines’ redemption of virtue through the act of revenge. Unlike many revenge tragedies where the young rape victim often loses her value to her male kin and instead becomes a symbol for the corrupted nation, in Pulter’s romance the women are the masterminds behind the revenge plots. Marguerite A. Tassi has rightly begun to challenge the notion “that feminine revenge is aberrant, its function being merely to depict the savagery and moral depravity in vengeance itself, or the essential irrationality and spitefulness in women” (20). Far from depicting women’s malice, the romance actually signals the clear-minded resolve of Florinda and Fidelia, who appeal to the love and sense of honor felt by the men in their lives in order to protect themselves and other vulnerable women in the kingdom, from rulers whose abuse of power extends beyond their desire to rape their subjects.

6> In crafting this vision of romance heroines seeking revenge, Pulter’s attention to form also serves a royalist agenda that mirrors the politics of her poetry. Within the narrative of The Unfortunate Florinda, literary conventions and political allegory are mutually constitutive. To demonstrate how Pulter buttresses romance conventions with revenge narratives, I first discuss Pulter’s emphasis upon usurpation and the threat to the body politic in her romance and poetry, placing her work in conversation with the counter-resistance of the 1650s. Second, I examine Pulter’s two models for coping with the tyranny of rapists—rape prevention and retribution—exploring Pulter’s unique contribution among more popular depictions of sexual violence in punishing illegitimate kings. In this essay, I argue that the success of revenge and the restoration of a legitimate and virtuous monarchy pivots upon the heroines’ active role in guiding kin and allies to rise up against tyranny. In the process, I show how Pulter frames her women as essential figures of resistance who represent the communal obligation to overcome tyranny and reinstate a just hereditary monarchy.

Usurpation and the Body Politic

7> In Pulter’s poetry, she suggests that the healthy body politic represented in Charles I’s role as unitary monarch has been replaced by the more chaotic paradigm of the many-headed Hydra. In “The Invitation Into the Country … 1647 When His Sacred Majesty Was At Unhappy Hower,” she grieves the fact that “Hydras now Usurps his place / The Planes are over Grown with moss / With Shedding feares for England[’]s loss” (4v).[9] Within this poem, the bucolic English countryside is contaminated by the sounds of war, so that it is transformed into the marshes of Lerna, the site from classical literature terrorized by the Hydra until Hercules and Iolaus kill it. For Pulter, the imprisonment and execution of Charles I displaces the geographical and political identity of England, making it a place subject to monstrous tyranny and usurpation. The danger of the Hydra as a model of governance is that it is unpredictable and that it lacks a centralized locus of power. However, even when the government does have a single head, there is still potential for corruption and usurpation. Pulter’s depiction in The Unfortunate Florinda of illegitimate rulers and the urgency for overcoming them demonstrates her currency in political thought of the mid to late seventeenth century. Shifting from the image of the Hydra in her poetry to the resolution of tyranny within her romance, Pulter’s solution to usurpation involves the introduction of heroic female figures, Fidelia and Florinda, who convince their male kin to defend and avenge the violence perpetrated against them.

8> Pulter’s credentials as a member of a politically invested family respected by both royalists and parliamentarians help to account for both the explicit and implicit support she demonstrates for the Stuarts and their followers in her body of work.[10] Pulter’s father, James Ley, was knighted by James I whom he served as Lord Chief Justice; he also acted as Treasurer to Charles I, who made him Earl of Marlborough. Ley was praised by John Milton in “Sonnet X: To the Lady Margaret Ley” (dedicated to Hester Pulter’s sister, a neighbor of Milton’s) for serving “England’s Council and her Treasury … unstained with gold or fee.” (Hughes 141). Hester Pulter’s husband Arthur was a justice of the peace, a militia captain, and a sheriff, who “thro’ the importunity of his Wife, began to build a very fair House of Brick” in Broadfield.[11] The Unfortunate Florinda is not a roman à clef in the style of Wroth’s Urania; rather her brazen tale of feminine intervention and assassination serves, at least in part, as a wish fulfillment fantasy for those who felt disempowered during and after the protracted conflict of the English Civil War.[12]

9> Pulter’s representations of tyranny, usurpation, and the metaphor of the Hydra are not unique to her work alone; rather, these depictions are in line with seventeenth-century political thought about the Interregnum regime. The anonymously printed treatise The Difference Between an Usurper and a Prince (1657), for instance, condemns opponents of hereditary succession. In the treatise the author insists that the ancestors of the English nation “preferred the worst of hereditary Princes, before the best new elected person” because all forms of government that deviate from hereditary succession “must be maintained with an oppressing force and many successive Quarrels” (Biiv). The treatise points to the “Magna Charta, and other excellent Laws” as the safeguards against Parliament “usurp[ing] a perpetual and unlimited power of a many-headed and immortal Tyrannie” (Bir-v). Like Pulter, who in her poetry draws parallels between Parliament and the Hydra, the author of the treatise also characterizes the usurper’s own ambition and desire to maintain dominance as a “many headed Monster with so sharp teeth” that will not yield except to “those who will make themselves subordinate beasts of prey” (Aiiiv). In fact, the author maligns the motivations of non-hereditary rulers, saying that even if “they intended a better form [of government, they] are still the worst of men” (Biiv). Like the author of this treatise, Pulter emphasizes the illegitimacy of usurpers. Moreover, her poetry shows her support for Charles I, Henrietta Maria, and prominent royalists like Sir Charles Lucas and Sir George Lisle.

10> Pulter reveals her vitriol for all who participated in the persecution of Charles I or who worked to prevent the restoration of Charles II. Her poem, “On that Unparralel’d Prince Charles the first his Horred murther” reveals a genuine fear that the Parliamentarian regime is tantamount to anarchy. In fact, she suggests that England cannot be governed until Charles II is reinstated to his rightful role as sovereign:

Soe since our kings’s aboue in glorys Crownd
Anarchicall confusion doth surround
This fatall Isle and Devils here will dwell
As Antiantly and turn this place to Hell
Unless our God doth a Second Charles illustrate
Which (oh denie not) all our hopes are frustrate. (16r)

11> In Pulter’s view, hereditary monarchy provides security for virtuous subjects, whereas the anarchy of the Protectorate regime creates a breeding ground for vice. It is significant that there is no specific agent in her poetry responsible for creating the “anarchicall confusion” in England. Rather than naming Cromwell or Parliament specifically as perpetrators of injustice, Pulter underscores the loss of Charles I. In addition, Pulter repeats her desire to restore Charles II to his birthright in another of her political poems. She concludes “On the Same,” a poem about the loss of Charles I and other prominent royalists, with the line “A second Charles shall all th[y] Joyes restore” (35r).

12> Whereas her verse assesses and laments the dire situation of the Stuart monarchy, often assuming an elegiac tone, the allegory of romance affords Pulter the opportunity to craft plots where the socially or politically disenfranchised may triumph over usurpation. The Unfortunate Florinda narrows its focus to kingdoms where the ruler does not assume power through hereditary succession, and in so doing, it aligns conceptually with one of the primary messages of The Difference Between an Usurper and a Prince. The treatise warns that a kingdom falls to anarchy without a legitimate hereditary sovereign. In fact, the author of this text contends that the responsibility for suppressing usurpation lies with all true subjects: “whosovever neglects a seasonable opposition of such … betrayers of their Countreyes trust, are accessaries to all its Bloud, Rapine, and Slavery” (Biiir). Considering the association of rapine as seizure of goods and people with rape as seizure and sexual violation, the messages of The Unfortunate Florinda and The Difference Between an Usurper and a Prince are also remarkably similar.[13]

13> For Pulter, all subjects have an obligation to resist their kingdom’s oppressors or otherwise risk enabling tyranny and, by extension, their own subordination. Her romance accordingly centers on a narrative where a blatant usurper of the crown is punished. The first part of the two-part romance opens with an explanation of how Prince Roderigo seized the throne of Spain:

When that voluptuous Prince Roderigo had driven his Infant Nephew and king (as innocent as unfortunate) whose Guardian he was (with his distressed Mother) into Africk to beg succor of the great Almanzar to rase Warr in Spain to recover his right, … [the] unfortunate Queen, with the unhappy Infant (with the alteration of the Climate) died at Tanger. (3v)

14> Although Roderigo was in the line of succession for the Spanish throne, he precipitates the death of the rightful heir. But as The Difference Between an Usurper and a Prince indicates, a usurper cannot maintain his ill-gotten authority by governing virtuously. The romance demonstrates a similar sentiment, as Roderigo, “Conscious of his own guilt … feared reveng from those that were loyall to his deceased Nephew,” so some who were faithful to the legitimate king he “displaced from their Governments, others he imprison’d, and many under coulour of Justice he executed, dismantling Towns [and] raising Castles” (3v). Moreover, in living up to the classic definition of a tyrant, Roderigo abuses his position, “inticing mens Wives and Daughters without any respect of quality or vertue” (3v). In fact, no respectable woman in Spain would marry him: “those who were Noble and vertuous fled his imbraces as loth to venture the loss of their Honors for the gaining of a kingdome” (4r). It is only by chance that a foreign princess is shipwrecked on his shores and feels compelled to marry him rather “then to bee taken by storm” (4r).

15> In framing Roderigo as an inherently corrupt and libidinous usurper and Florinda, his rape victim, as a virtuous revenger, Pulter deviates significantly from the historical record of King Roderick from eighth-century Spain. Accounts of his life and death differ, but in Thomas Beard and Thomas Taylor’s The Theatre of Gods Judgements (1642), he usurps the Spanish throne and rapes the daughter of an earl, “which cause[s] her father [to] br[ing] against him an Army of Sarasens and Moores, … [who] not onely slew him …, but also quite extinguished the Gothicke kingdom in Spain” (247).[14] In some versions of this story, which was popularly known in England during the seventeenth century, the daughter of the faithful Count Julian was called Florinda. Évariste Lévi-Provençal indicates that Florinda throughout history “had to bear the responsibility for all the evils that descended upon Spain from the day the country fell to the Moors. … They styled her by … the infamous nick-name of ‘Caba’ or ‘Cava’ (from the Arab word meaning ‘whore’)” (translated in Bamford 106). William Rowley based his play All’s Lost by Lust (1619-20) upon two conflicting accounts of King Roderick’s downfall. In Rowley’s version, Don Julian’s daughter (here named Jacinta) is, according to Karen Bamford, “part martyr, part fury … dangerous not only to Rodericke but to her community” because of her desire for vengeance (109). By contrast, Pulter shifts the blame from victim to perpetrator in The Unfortunate Florinda by emphasizing that Roderigo is a tyrant who is unfit to rule Spain. In addition, Pulter’s Florinda maintains the moral high ground in her plots of vengeance because she is a romance heroine; even the title of the text expresses sympathy for her predicament. Unfortunately, the Florinda revenge plot is one of the narrative threads that remains unresolved when the romance ends mid-sentence; however, it is clear from characters’ praise of the virtue and effectiveness of the African emperor Almanzar that Pulter does not intend to set out a simple religious allegory of the valor of the early Christians or the evil of the invading Moors. Almanzar represents the only living virtuous and hereditary monarch, and thus he is deemed worthy to conquer and rule Spain.

16> Pulter is careful to distinguish the assassination of illegitimate tyrants in her romance from the historical regicide of Charles I in January 1649. Mully Hamet and Roderigo, with their ill-gotten power, are meant to provide stark contrasts with Charles, whom Pulter describes in “Upon the Imprisonment of his Sacred Majesty That Unparallelled Prince King Charles the First” as “our Job like Saint” who is “for Piety and Patience so Renownd” (33r). To Pulter, Charles’s public imprisonment, trial, and execution at Whitehall are all indicators of the king’s martyrdom, as she addresses Charles in her poem “On the same” as “our Martyrd king” (35r). In particular, Charles’s manner of death provides to Pulter an indication that he deserves an unprecedented type of public and private mourning. In her “On the Horrid Murther of that incomparable Prince, King Charles the first,” she states, “W[h]en such a king in such a manner dies / Let us suspire our soules weep out o[u]r: eyes” (34r). In other words, the public execution of such a noble king heightens the tragedy of his death. By contrast, her tyrant Mully Hamet’s private assassination in the bed where he hopes to assault Fidelia underscores the vile nature of his corruption.

17> Although Mully Hamet assumes leadership of his kingdom legitimately, being appointed by his uncle and emperor the “great Almanzar,” he forfeits his right to rule with his deplorable behavior; Mully Hamet had previously promised Almanzar to “bee accountable to him for every misdemenour” in the kingdom (13r).[15] When the Moorish princess Zabra converts to Christianity in order to marry King Roderigo, the shock of the news instantly kills her father, Mahomet Adnehedin. Although Zabra is the heir to the throne, her religious conversion and distance from her homeland excludes her from her birthright. As a result, the nobles seek the protection of Emperor Almanzar, as he is “the indubiate Heir” (13r). Because Almanzar cannot leave his own court, he “appoint[s] the Nobel Vice Roy … his Nephew the Valiant Mully Hamet” (13r). From this description, audiences might expect Mully Hamet to be a virtuous and fair ruler, and yet his first concern as sovereign (he is referred to as a king throughout the text) is to fear that “Amandus[’] worth might eclips his” own (16r). After Amandus prevents a neighboring king from conquering their land and begs Mully Hamet to release this captive king, Mully Hamet sentences the king, queen, and royal child to be executed, demanding that “slaves” like Amandus “were not to treat with Princes” (16r). Mully Hamet’s behavior reveals his anxiety about his newly appointed position, but it does not suggest that he has yet become an unrepentant tyrant.

18> Eventually, Mully Hamet’s desire to display his power and satiate his lust leads to his ultimate corruption. Fidelia describes this transformation from the “Valiant” viceroy to the tyrant: “the new King being puft up with the comand of soe Rich a Kindome, began to scorn the old Nobility, soe that they were faine to fawn flatter, and make him Noble Treatments and balls” (13r, 17v). The African courtiers are all aware that Mully Hamet is “extream Licentious, glorying in nothing soe much as in Ruining the Honor of Virgins; and flattering of Ladyes from their loyalty to their Husbands” (17v). Although Fidelia’s father prudently hides her away from the king’s licentious glances, Mully Hamet eventually sees her and insists she marry him (17v). She refuses because she is already secretly engaged to Amandus, but when Almanzar commands Mully Hamet to marry his daughter Gloriana (the beloved of Fidelia’s brother Ithocles), the king’s desire for marriage and legitimate heirs turns to lust and a desire to assert his will. The king reveals his full transformation by spouting his absolutist agenda: “I am viceregent to the Immortall Gods, and to them, and them only I am to bee accountable” (19v). Furthermore, he will punish even the most dedicated servant for defying his desires, warning Fidelia and her father about his intentions:

[To] offer up your Reeking heart, a sacrifice to the Raidient Apollo, and hang your scorned Carcase upon the highes Pinacle of your own Pallace, to be a Terrour to all Resitors of their soveraigns pleasure, and as for you Lady, I culd in Reveng of your unheard of Scorn, find in my heart to prostitute your Pride to your fathers Hangman. (19v)

19> Such threats against loyal subjects of the kingdom demonstrate that Mully Hamet in his lust and his desire for power has lost sight of his duties. Far from reporting to Almanzar the least misdemeanor in the kingdom, Mully Hamet encapsulates the classic tyrant to the extent that after his death, there is “a huge hubbub in the Court” (21v). And yet, there is no description of public grief. In fact, Fidelia deems the assassination a “peece of Justice,” and the members of Mully Hamet’s own council “wer full of Compassion” for Fidelia’s father upon hearing about the tyrant’s intentions to rape the young noblewoman (21v).

20> In her representations of Mully Hamet and Roderigo, Pulter demonstrates that non-hereditary leaders are so easily seduced by their own power that they are incapable of ruling righteously. The reason for this corruption of power is suggested in The Difference Between An Usurper and a Prince from a royalist perspective, where the author argues,

if we consider the education of hereditary Princes, we shall find them put into the best Masters hands that can be found, to infuse Wisdome, Learning, Piety, and an high sence of honour into them with so great a care, that … a lawful Prince, who having a great reverence and power legally invested in him, hath more interest then any other person in the preservation of those mutual Laws between him and his people in a regulated and mixt government. (A4v-B1r)

21> Hereditary rulers such as Almanzar have been bred to maintain the laws and interests of their subjects in order to preserve the right to rule for their own heirs. By contrast, usurpers like Roderigo must maintain their power with those underhanded strategies they used to secure their position in the first place. And appointed vice regents like Mully Hamet may begin with the best of intentions, but can easily become blinded by the prospect of unlimited power and means. Indeed, similar arguments had been made about Cromwell’s corruption after being elected as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, a title and position that bore remarkable similarity to the monarchy that it replaced.[16] The appropriate response to such corruption, according to Pulter, is to restore the kingdom with a true heir. Pulter deviates from the historical record to craft a tale in which non-hereditary rulers are inherently corruptible and the women they desire—far from being blamed for men’s lechery—actively resist sin and tyranny.

Preventing and Avenging Rape

22> In The Unfortunate Florinda there are two prominent methods of coping with rape: prevention and retribution. The preventive example is illustrated through Fidelia, who thwarts her would-be rapist Mully Hamet by conspiring with Amandus and Ithocles to murder him before the promised rape can occur. This rape-prevention plot, though inventive in its execution, adheres to the contours of the romance narrative, which introduces challenges in the circuitous path toward eventual restoration and redemption. Notable romance heroines from Philip Sidney’s The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia to Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene are frequently threatened with rape; however, some form of intervention generally prevents a physical attack, or the violence directed at the heroine is largely metaphorical. Depictions of rape in romance more often occupy digressive narratives that provide a contrast to the preservation of the heroine’s virtue.

23> The second type of rape plot in The Unfortunate Florinda, the retributive paradigm, is commonly associated with revenge tragedy. A woman’s virginity or chastity bears value for her father or husband, respectively. In this economy of virtue, a woman’s rape represents not only an injury to the woman and her family, but also a pilfering of male rights and property that must be redressed. Although revenge tragedy often couples the satisfaction of revenge with the eventual corruption of the revenger, it also provides a direct path for answering insults to a family. This retributive example is represented by Florinda’s efforts to seek the assistance of kinsmen and friends to punish Roderigo after he has raped her. By providing these examples of punishing the intentions and crimes of tyrants, Pulter imagines at least two responses to violence inflicted upon a kingdom’s subjects.[17] The narrative possibilities of the preventative and retributive rape plots in Pulter’s prose fiction anticipate the significant trope of sexual violence on the late seventeenth-century stage. Moreover, these plots about rallying allies to a common goal for communal safety and respect would have resonated with a print readership as well.

24> Before discussing these specific models, it is important to understand the historical and cultural climate regarding sexual violence that would make these literary conventions strike such a chord with readers. Although the narratives of rape and revenge in The Unfortunate Florinda do not appear to reference recognizable events of the period, the legal and social risks faced by Pulter’s characters seem to reflect concerns about the safety of English subjects during a war in which opponents were at times indiscernible from allies. As early as the Statute of Westminster II (1285), rape was made a felony in England, punishable by “death by hanging or mutilation—which could be castration or blinding” (Sokol 108).[18] This mandate would be revisited in 1576 with a statute prohibiting the rape of women or the statutory rape of any girl under the age of ten to the extent that the rapist would be denied the benefit of clergy (Levine 223). Despite the fact that rape was already a capital offence, in the 1640s both Charles I and the Earl of Essex distributed regulations for the moral conduct of their soldiers that reinforced the serious nature of these crimes. Lawes and Ordinances of Warre, for the Better Government of His Majesties Army Royall (1643) dictates that “[a]ll wilfull murders, rapes, burning of houses, thefts, outrages, unnaturall abuses, with other notorious and abominable crimes, shall be punished with death” (5). Essex’s regulations, printed in the same year, similarly indicate, “Rapes, Ravishments, unnaturall abuses, shall be punished with death” (A4r).[19] These rules of conduct were instated to protect the integrity of each army’s cause, stipulating that soldiers are representatives of their leader’s virtue. Given the longstanding identification of rape as a capital offense, it is likely that Charles and Essex were perhaps more concerned with leading armies that were above the moral reproach of their opponents than they were with creating new laws for the safety of English citizens. Their orders tellingly fail to specify a standard of proof for convicting soldiers of rape. But even beyond the conditions of war, rape posed a significant threat to women.

25> The high standard for convicting a man of rape in seventeenth-century courts combined with the additional assault to the woman’s reputation often deterred many from reporting these crimes. Sir Matthew Hale, a judge under both Oliver and Richard Cromwell and then Charles II, treated rape charges with disbelief, indicating that the accuser’s testimony must be heard with a high level of suspicion.[20] Even Gerrard Winstanley, in his idealized view of Puritan society in The Law of Freedom in a Platform (1652), condemns the “ignorant and unrational practice” of rape but insists that the crime must “be proved by two Witnesses, or the mans confession” (24, 88). One account of rape, The Arraignment and Acquittal of Sr Edward Mosely, Baronet (1647), demonstrates the difficulty women faced when reporting acts of sexual violence, particularly if those acts were committed by a man of higher social ranking. In this record of the trial, Anne Swinnerton’s own husband questions her chastity after finding Sir Mosely fleeing from his bedroom where his wife had been beaten and bloodied. Anne Greenfield indicates that almost paradoxically audiences displayed a greater level of sympathy for rape victims in literature than in actual experience; while a raped woman in seventeenth-century England faced public scorn and impossibly high legal standards of proof, the violated character is “not to be heckled and dismissed as sexually corrupt” (66). Still, the difficult social and legal impediments to punishing or shaming rapists seem to contribute to Fidelia and Florinda’s ultimate rejection of the legal process as an adequate means of seeking justice. Significantly, the fact that both King Roderigo and Mully Hamet defile several maidens and courtiers’ wives early in the narrative solidifies the notion that female subjects, regardless of actual circumstances or literary conventions, have no enforceable recourse against rapists and tyrants.

26> Tyrranicide is the only method Fidelia and Florinda consider for punishing rapists. For Fidelia, the murder of her would-be rapist allows her to remain an unsullied virgin for her betrothed, Amandus. And though Florinda believes that her rape precludes marriage to her beloved, she is invigorated by a desire to prolong the torture of her rapist. Unlike Fidelia, who is satisfied in killing the tyrant quickly because she only seeks to prevent her rape, Florinda, in the aftermath of her assault, rehearses a catalogue of revenge tropes in order to select a method of punishment that will satisfy her desire for vengeance:

[I]f a single ruin w[oul]d satisfie the capaciousness of my soul I c[oul]d stab pistol or poison him that my soul loathes or with a little Aconite between my lips kill him with a kiss, but seeing it is not[,] oh that it were in my power to calcine this Orb to cinders that he might fry in that conflagration or to bring the universal deluge to cool his im-pure heat [… and] to make that horrid impious villain sink in a publick ruin. (35r)

27> Ezell has speculated that Florinda’s impulse “to calcine this Orb” indicates a desire to “annihilate the universe chemically” (345). Yet given the fact that the orb is also a symbol of monarchical regalia, Fidelia more likely wishes to direct her aim at the rapist himself “to cool his im-pure heat.” Calcine not only refers to burning but also to “purify[ing]…by consuming the grosser part.”[21] Florinda’s desire to punish her rapist can then be interpreted as an act of purification of a regime that has enacted violence upon the innocent subjects of the kingdom. Not only does Florinda fantasize about the various ways in which she might murder the king, but it is also important to her that the people discover his treachery. By seeking Roderigo’s “publick ruin,” she can actually protect the kingdom and other women while sending the message that predatory rulers will not be tolerated.

28> In highlighting the means available to women to prevent their own rapes, Pulter’s romance resonates with several notable literary precedents. For instance, Marguerite de Navarre’s Heptameron, or the History of the Fortunate Lovers (1654) emphasizes the limited recourse for women who rejected the advances of persistent men. The Heptameron had been translated into English by Robert Codrington in 1654, several years before Pulter’s manuscript was transcribed. Codrington’s edition follows nearly verbatim William Painter’s translation of the Florida and Amadour story in The Palace of Pleasure Beautified (1566). Significantly, both Painter and Codrington add an “n” to Florida to make the heroine’s name Florinda.[22] An audience familiar with the English translation of this famous tale might initially expect a parallel between Pulter’s Florinda and Marguerite’s, who ultimately maintains her chastity even if she loses her dignity and status. However, Pulter rewrites the “fortunate” Florida of the Heptameron as the “unfortunate” Florinda, who is unable to prevent her own rape and who subsequently seeks revenge against her rapist.

29> The one figure in The Unfortunate Florinda whose preventative measures do recall those of Marguerite’s Florida is Fidelia, and yet Pulter’s Fidelia takes a significantly more proactive stance in directing Amandus and Ithocles to kill her would-be rapist. Marguerite’s heroine is served by Amadour, a knight who attempts to rape her on two occasions. Prior to her second meeting with him, Florida injures herself to the point of deformity:

She determined that it was better to commit an injury upon her beauty, than by her means to suffer that the heart of so brave a Man should burn in so loose a fire: Wherefore she took a great stone which she found in the Chapel, and gave herself so great a blow on the face, that her mouth, her nose, and her eyes were all hurt and bruised with it. (83)

30> In this action, Marguerite’s Florida does violence to herself not only to preserve her own chastity, but also to protect the virtue and honor of Amadour. Pulter creates a less altruistic and more intellectual heroine in Fidelia. She is more concerned with her honor and her ability to marry her beloved than she is with protecting a man incapable of moderating his own desires.[23]

31> The story of Pulter’s Fidelia also revises another infamous example of female self-sacrifice. When he learns of Mully Hamet’s intention to rape his daughter, Fidelia’s father vows to sacrifice his child as Agamemnon planned to kill Iphigenia: “I will with this hand take away that being and willingly offer her up (Agamemnon like) a Virgin Victime to Diana” (19v). In Euripides’ Iphigenia at Aulis, the heroine’s life is only saved after she willingly submits to be sacrificed in recompense for Agamemnon’s insults against Artemis. Overwhelmingly, the burden of the literary tradition places the weight of death and sacrifice on the shoulders of blameless virgins, and yet Pulter defies this pattern by allowing Fidelia the opportunity to reverse the typical script of violence toward women.

32> In Fidelia’s actions, Pulter focuses on the agency of the female revenger in preventing her own death and planning the assassination of a tyrant. Although Fidelia is initially resigned to her fate of dying at her father’s hands, she immediately reconsiders after hearing her lover, Amandus, and brother, Ithocles, quibbling over who has the greater right and duty to punish the king. This moment evokes Lucretius and Collatine’s argument over who suffers more for Lucrece’s death in Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece (1594). Although Brutus is initially considered a “silly jeering idiot” in this text, he reveals his wisdom when he criticizes Lucrece’s suicide and Collatine’s desire to die with his wife: “Such childish humor from weak mindes proceeds: / Thy wretched wife mistook the matter so, / To slay her self, that should have slain her foe” (69-70). In The Unfortunate Florinda, it is Fidelia who steps in as the Brutus-like voice of reason. Whereas Fidelia is initially inconsequential in the discussion between men about their course of action for punishing the tyrant, she ultimately convinces these men to the point where “[b]oth of them highly applauded my invention” (20v). Fidelia becomes the mastermind of the plot to assassinate the tyrant, saying, “My will is Elevated to a higher pitch then ever, let us delud this Tyrant with hope of enjoying his abhorrid desire, and one of you drest in my Aparell may send him to the place he deserves, and wee in disguise will shelter our selves until this Clowd shall be dispersed” (20v). In assigning this role to her heroine, Pulter underscores the fact that the sacrificed women of revenge narratives rarely have the opportunity to save their own lives. Although it is typical for tragic heroines to die by their own hands or their fathers’ after they are raped or threatened, Fidelia, as a romance heroine, refuses to participate in the legacy of women who die in the aftermath of sexual violence. Pulter’s Fidelia, then, overcomes tragedy and advances a new model of rape prevention—one in which the intended female victim becomes an agent of political change rather than a symbol of a crumbling regime’s corruption.

33> Despite overcoming the precedents of tragedy by refusing to die, Fidelia does learn from tragic heroines how to engage in female goading. According to Tassi, “feminine inciting—its social, ethical, and structural functions” encompasses not only “nagging and repeated verbal exhortation, but [also] … a ritualized calling to mind of wrongs and obligations, accomplished through lamentation, stylized language, psychologically potent insults, striking gestures, and memorial badges” (39-40). Fidelia need not insult Amandus and Ithocles to commit violence, however. Her use of apophasis—a rhetorical device whereby one emphasizes the exigence of an action through the denial of it—to reinforce the importance of revenge is significantly more subtle and effective. Fidelia initiates the discussion of revenge by asking Amandus and Ithocles to “preserve my Memory” by “not hazarding your Noble selves in Reveng of this unheard of Injury” (20r). Fidelia rallies her loved ones to protect herself and other virtuous women in the kingdom. Fidelia’s brother Ithocles vows to kill the king and then commit suicide on his sister’s tomb. Her betrothed Amandus responds, “give me leave to press before you in Revenging and preventing this unparaleld Barbarisme, for if I had as many Arms as Briarios, every one of them should have a stab at that inhumane villaines heart, and then, and not till then, I’le offer my self up a Hollocaust upon the Ashes of this Virgin Phoenix” (20r-v). However, the sacrifice of two innocent men cannot atone for the death of one guiltless woman, so Fidelia proposes “a virgins invention,” her plan to smuggle Amandus into Mully Hamet’s chamber in her clothing to kill him (20v). Like Hercules killing the Hydra, Fidelia cannot complete the assassination on her own, and thus she relies upon affective bonds to secure the assistance of the loyal men in her life.

34> Florinda must similarly rely upon the men in her family to assassinate Roderigo, and yet her narrative differs from Fidelia’s in offering a retributive paradigm for coping with sexual violence. Florinda’s call for vengeance begins during her rape and continues through the end of the unfinished manuscript. The narrator details Florinda’s response: “Notwithstanding all her prayers and tears and screaming and striveing being much stronger than her he violated the unfortunate Florinda who still Breathed out cases and deprecations ag[ain]st him and with floods of Tears implored Divine Vengeance” (34v). When Florinda realizes that “divine vengeance” cannot come soon enough, however, she ultimately devises her own ritualized method of female goading.

35> The story of Lucrece is one of the most influential retributive paradigms informing Pulter’s handling of revenge, and it provides an important exemplum for interpreting the political agency and personal revenge of Florinda. The parallels between Shakespeare’s Lucrece and Pulter’s Florinda help to emphasize the significance of a heroine’s meaningful intervention into the trajectory of revenge.[24] Directly following the rape, Roderigo vows to “fetch up the most deformed Negro slave in my black guard and make him deflower you and then run my sword thro’ you both … so shall you dye in horrid infamy” (34v). This statement closely follows Shakespeare’s Tarquin who threatens, “some worthless slave of thine I’ll slay / … / And in thy dead arms do I mean to place him, / Swearing I slew him seeing thee embrace him” (21). However, Roderigo’s threat exceeds Tarquin’s in his vow to force a second punitive rape upon Florinda by a slave. The timing of these statements also helps to distinguish their intent. Tarquin uses these lines prior to the rape to convince his victim not to resist, but Roderigo’s threat made after the rape intends to secure Florinda’s silence and to protect him from scandal. Florinda feigns consent to secrecy, but she, like Lucrece, sends a private message to recall her father from his political duties. And thus Florinda enacts a conventional model of politic resistance to a tyrant’s threats.

36> Moreover, Florinda’s more prominent role in the revenge plot allows her a greater contribution to its achievement; in other words, a heroine who dies cannot dictate whether the vengeance her kin seek is sufficient to the crime and her suffering. Shakespeare’s Lucrece counts upon the familial obligation as a spur to revenge, as she makes explicit to her husband Collatine and father Lucretius, “let the Traytor die; / For sparing Justice feeds iniquity” (64).[25] Lucrece’s vehemence in calling for Tarquin’s death derives from the intense physical and emotional trauma she experiences, the assault to her chastity and her reputation, and her as-yet-unexpressed determination to commit suicide to prove her virtue and clear the path for revenge. If the blameless must die, so must the perpetrator of the crime. And yet, the poem concludes with Tarquin’s “everlasting banishment” to which “the Romans plausibly did give consent” (71). Florinda, by contrast, is determined to see her vengeance to fruition. In surviving the rape and taking an active role in the revenge plot, she is not merely an emblem of the ravaged state, but rather is an agent of resistance to tyranny.

37> Florinda’s act of feminine incitement, aimed at a larger audience of allies than Lucrece’s, engages a macabre ritual of self-exsanguination in order to inspire her confederates to overcome the significant act of killing a king. Florinda will not be satisfied until the African Emperor Almanzar has overthrown Roderigo. Along with her parents, who host and direct the evening’s activities, Florinda invites her kin to a glorious feast with sumptuous food and music. At the height of the evening, the guests enter a room covered on all sides by black velvet to see Florinda, “her hair disshevell’d her Neck and arms naked in each arm a vein pricked, her father and Mother in mourning stood on each side of her with ther fingers on the orifices to stay the Blood, their other hands held two thorny stilletto’s the Tears not trickling but flowing down all their cheeks” (36v). At this point, Florinda’s father, Don Julian, tells his kinsmen that he, his daughter, and his wife all plan to die together in the face of the shame committed against them:

[Florinda’s parents] removed their fingers from the incision, the blood of their unfortunate child spinning into two huge golden bowls set underneath to receive it, her sad Parents preparing to give a period to their lives, when all the Company full of Rage and Reveng drew out their swords and laid them at the feet of the yet bleeding Florinda crying out [‘]let that wronged Lady live to see a Noble revenge of her dishonour,[’] then staying her blood and binding up her arms Count Julian and his Lady took those two bowls in which the blood of Florinda was, and filling them full of sparkling wine begun this horrid health or rather imprecation, so let all their enemyes quest their blood that refuse to revenge this Dishonour. This bloody health or rather cup of Confusion went round [to] all. (36v)[26]

38> In this graphic scene, Pulter heightens the sense of moral outrage for the rape. Contrary to their loved ones’ perceptions, Florinda and her parents do not intend to die. They use the threat of death in order to elicit the desired response from their allies. In performing self-exsanguination, Florinda intends to render the bloody and penetrative violence of her rape outwardly legible to her male family members, who may have otherwise voiced concerns about the ramifications of committing tyrannicide. The strategy is a success, as the kin “vo[w] never to sheath their swords till they had fully revenged this dishonor, which as they said reflected on them all” (36v).

39> The communal consumption of a visceral sangria cocktail—the rape victim’s blood mixed with sparkling wine—also offers a figurative rendering of Christ’s Last Supper: “This is my blood of the new Testament, which is shed for manie” (Mark 14:23-25, Geneva Translation). Beyond the sign of the covenant for the forgiveness of sins, Christ’s blood both promises and anticipates the new kingdom of God. By contrast, the act of consuming the rape victim’s blood in The Unfortunate Florinda inverts this model: on the one hand, it signals the potential for a new kingdom after the death of Roderigo; on the other hand, it turns away from forgiveness and marks a refusal to absolve the sins of the rapist. In place of the universal image of self-sacrifice for humanity, Pulter represents a communal vow to overthrow and kill an earthly king rather than a heavenly one.

40> The Unfortunate Florinda advances Pulter’s project of infusing conventional romance with revenge narratives in order to forge new ground for the action committed by once-disenfranchised characters who are absolved of blame and who prevent their own deaths. Pulter rewards readers familiar with these literary and historical precedents by providing structural and nominal resonances within the text.[27] Pulter challenges the typical script of women’s sacrifice and emphasizes men’s duty to defend the women they love. In the process, her work suggests that the commitment to protecting subjects and maintaining the virtue of a kingdom remains a mutual obligation.

41> One of the clearest manifestations of this investment in the mutuality of safeguarding the innocent and avenging the wicked is evident in Pulter’s manipulation of a notorious character in John Ford’s The Broken Heart (1633). She evokes the name of an evil brother of revenge tragedy to highlight the virtues of a romance brother who acts only in his sister’s best interests. In Ford’s play, a brother named Ithocles separates his sister Penthea from her original intended, Orgilius, forcing her to marry a more influential man. Penthea thereafter describes herself as “a miserable creature led to ruin / by an unnatural brother” (3.2.51-2). Ford’s Ithocles later repents his cruelty to his sister:

We had one father, in one womb took life,
Were brought up twins together, yet have liv’d
At distance like two strangers. I could wish
That the first pillow whereon I was cradl’d
Had prov’d to me a grave. (3.2.34-8)

42> Despite his repentance, Ford’s Ithocles cannot reunite Penthea with Orgilius; the brother is thus subject to fatal revenge at the hands of Penthea’s spurned beloved. Pulter’s Ithocles briefly conjures the image of his Fordian namesake, but then confounds the comparison with a self-interested brother. After hearing of Mully Hamet’s ultimatum to Fidelia, Pulter’s Ithocles encounters his sister crying and asks, “what is the fair Fidelia weeping, and soe near being a Queen, fie wipe those Tears (for they are ominous) till your Weding Day[?]” (19r). His initial statement seemingly confirms that his character has been modeled on Ford’s Ithocles. However, Pulter’s Ithocles follows the last statement with one of brotherly affection, indicating that his former assessment is a meager attempt to interject levity into a tense scenario: “Sister pardon this sarcosme, for I will die a Thousan[d] Deaths Before I will see soe lovely a Virgin prostrate to the lust of a Tyrant” (19r). Pulter nods to the treachery of Ford’s Ithocles while representing her own Ithocles as a protective brother whose concern for his sister’s happiness takes precedence over his own personal ambition.[28] Pulter’s Ithocles, then, atones for a literary legacy of male family members who consign their daughters and sisters to miserable marriages, sexual violence, and premature deaths in order to solidify their alliances with powerful men.[29]

43> Pulter’s use of Ford’s The Broken Heart demonstrates her larger authorial strategy of manipulating gendered expectations of revenge motifs in literature. More specifically, the Fidelia plot of The Unfortunate Florinda establishes a consistent model of feminine revenge, posing a significant departure from the conventions of early modern English tragedies. In Titus Andronicus (1594), for instance, Titus initially fashions himself as a feminine avenger, as he bakes Tamora’s sons into pastries and says “worse than Progne I will be revenged” (5.2.194). However, the image of the feminine avenger gives way, in the next scene, to the masculine code that underpins and legitimates his actions in Roman culture. Titus asks Saturninus, “Was it well done of rash Virginius / To slay his daughter with his own right hand [?]” (5.3.36-7). Saturninus’s response emphasizes the father’s grief and the woman’s lack of intrinsic value following the rape: “the girl should not survive her shame, / And by her presence still renew his sorrows” (5.3.40-1). Lavinia is merely a prop in Titus’s revenge plot.[30] She serves two functions, propping the bowl for Demetrius and Chiron’s blood between her stumps and being unveiled and killed on cue to appease Titus’s histrionic sensibilities in his staged revenge. The father denies his daughter the choice of life and death, and after he kills her, he again compares himself to his earlier Roman model: “I am as woeful as Virginius was, / And have a thousand times more cause than he / To do this outrage” (5.3.49-51). Indeed her death is anticipated from the time Marcus presents the raped and mutilated Lavinia to her father: “This was thy daughter” (3.1.63, emphasis added). Fidelia’s reaction to the threat of rape, however, renders Titus’s question about the justice of murdering a raped woman irrelevant. Her statement about the party who deserves to die following a rape is imperative rather than interrogative: “send [the tyrant] to the place he deserves” (20v). Fidelia speaks her mind about impending rape, and like Titus, instructs her family members in how to proceed in their revenge. In this role as female revenger, Fidelia evokes Shakespeare’s Tamora, who encourages her sons Chiron and Demetrius to rape Lavinia, saying “the worse to her, the better loved of me” (2.2.167). However, unlike Tamora, whose vengeance transforms her from a sympathetic mother to a revenger corrupted and finally destroyed by her own designs, Fidelia remains free from the tragic repercussions of revenge. The difference between the representation of gendered revenge in Titus Andronicus and The Unfortunate Florinda, then, is that Pulter avoids sacrificing the female target of sexual violence and establishes a positive model for resisting tyranny.

44> Beyond the literary conventions at stake in Pulter’s manipulation of romance and revenge, her fiction in The Unfortunate Florinda also resonates with the contemporary political and social issues English subjects faced within the mid to late seventeenth century. In crafting narratives where women respond to sexual threats by plotting to kill tyrants, Pulter signals the power women have in defending themselves and their kingdoms. By the 1660s, women’s intervention in contemporary politics had been well recognized. Mihoko Suzuki has examined the contributions of women to political discourse in the seventeenth century, tracing the shift from active petitioning of Parliament in the 1640s to more subtle forms of expression (like embroidery) during the Civil War.[31] In comparison to women’s relatively limited participation in politics in mid-seventeenth-century England, the actions of Pulter’s heroines are revolutionary. The solutions to sexual violence in The Unfortunate Florinda provide a potent fiction of women’s essential role in preserving the virtue of the kingdom. And yet this dream of eliminating tyranny is inscribed in a larger patriarchal discourse, as it is contingent upon the actions of willing and capable men. In Pulter’s fiction, then, men and women must unite their resources in order to prevent tyranny.

The Restoration of the Body Politic

45> In revenge tragedy, part of the familial drive for vengeance derives from a sense of culpability in failing to prevent the crime. As John Kerrigan observes, “until revenge is exacted, those close to an injured or murdered person feel the guilt or shame of betrayal. Why were the victims not protected by their loved ones? Was the ‘neglect’ which allowed the attack even a form of complicity?” (7). This concept, I would argue, translates to the situation of Stuart loyalists during the mid to late seventeenth century. In addition to coping with their own powerlessness during the Interregnum, royalists, even after Charles II claimed his throne, had to process their collective sense of guilt or inadequacy for failing to protect their king and the very nature of hereditary monarchy in their kingdom. The countless tributes to Charles I printed in 1660 and beyond speak to this drive. Pulter had already addressed her grief and loss for Charles I in her poetry. Indeed, Sarah Ross suggests that Pulter’s elegiac poems “constitute a peculiarly female political act” (1). Nevertheless, the allegory of romance frees Pulter from the elegiac mode and allows her to experiment with the form of prose fiction.

46> In revenge tragedy, when loved ones retaliate against the perpetrator, they are generally corrupted in the process of seeking vengeance; they fail to maintain the moral high ground, and thus they are punished in the end. Of course, one could question the ethics of Fidelia, Ithocles, and Amandus’s pre-emptive strike against Mully Hamet. Would the king have actually carried out the promised rape? And had he done so, would regicide have been a justified response? Yet the narrative does not dwell on these ethical quandaries but rather seems to advocate active resistance to tyranny. Fidelia is arrested and interrogated by the king’s council, but she testifies, “if it were to doe againe I would doe it, rather than loose my honor, for I thought I might Answer it both to Gods and men” (22r). Fidelia’s plan signals a moral imperative for subjects to rid their kingdom of tyrants by any means necessary. Her rationale for defying the tyrant recalls sixteenth-century resistance theory, in which subjects were obligated to follow God’s mandates over those of the monarch to the extent that if the monarch persisted in violating God’s will, they had the right to commit tyrannicide.[32] Significantly, during the Civil War, opponents of the crown used such arguments to invigorate animus among English subjects against Charles I. However, Pulter’s heroines reclaim this posture of resistance in order to show that only divinely appointed kings will maintain their thrones. In response to Mully Hamet’s threat to torture those he calls “[r]esistors of their soveraigns pleasure,” Fidelia’s actions implicitly issue an alternate warning: tyrants will be killed for abusing their power and influence. After Fidelia’s escape from her kingdom, no one else in the narrative questions the ethics of killing Mully Hamet, primarily because romance aligns with lovers over tyrants. In fact, these characters are eventually rewarded for their actions: Fidelia and Amandus marry and become Queen and King of France and Italy and Ithocles marries his beloved Gloriana—whose Spenserian name promises a return to the security of Elizabethan England—and becomes heir to the Empire of Africa. For the avengers, then, revenge solidifies their affection and guides their way to political dominance.

47> The actions of Pulter’s heroines in guiding the revenge plots extend the conventional role of the sacrificial woman in literary history while representing the subjects of violence as an untapped resource in defending their kingdoms from tyranny. The use of this resource is demonstrated by the proactive work of her two heroines: Fidelia’s successful assassination of Mully Hamet provides a glimpse at where Florinda’s revenge plot is headed—toward justice and restoration. In her final depiction of Florinda and her parents, Pulter emphasizes the virtue of toppling a tyrant. By negotiating with the emperor of Africa, they focus on the desire of the people to live under a legitimate hereditary monarchy, telling Almanzar “this Usurper Roderigo was hated of his subjects and how glad they w[oul]d be to live under the command of so Mighty a Monarch assuring him they w[oul]d on the landing of his army rise all and join with him and so the conquest w[oul]d be most facile” (36v). Almanzar gives the order to deploy troops to Spain, and the willingness of the Spanish people to be ruled by this great king prevents the atrocities of full-scale war that England had just experienced.

48> For Pulter, the solution to tyranny in The Unfortunate Florinda lies in the installation of the virtuous Emperor Almanzar on the Spanish throne. In most early modern English texts, the introduction of a Moorish Emperor who intends to kill and succeed a Christian king would be interpreted as the hostile and menacing act of an infidel. Strikingly, Almanzar’s siege of Spain is represented, from the first page of the romance, as a just and long-sought resolution to the tyranny of the usurper Roderigo. Even before Florinda’s family solicits his aid, the rightful heir of Spain has already done so. To compound the family’s grief, Roderigo commits the rape when Fidelia’s father Don Julian is on an ambassadorial mission to convince Almanzar not to attack Spain for ejecting its true king. It is clear that more than a religious or geographical “other,” Almanzar actually signifies the constructive potential of a king traveling from abroad in order to reinstate monarchical order and justice rather than a representation of the “stagnant archaism” often associated with early modern Moors (Robinson 9). In this vein, Almanzar marks a progressive renewal of the ancient form of government—a legitimate hereditary monarchy supported by the people who seek protection from tyranny. Pulter does not figure Almanzar as Charles II even though he is depicted as “virtuous” and “mighty,” attributes Pulter implicitly assigned to Charles II in her poetry (36v). Yet in the allegory of illegitimate versus legitimate monarchs, Almanzar represents the figure who would garner the sympathies of an English audience seeking resolution.

49> By the time the manuscript of The Unfortunate Florinda was transcribed, the Stuart monarchy had been restored, and yet subjects, regardless of their political leanings, now struggled to find their place in a newly reinstated kingdom.[33] Implicit in Pulter’s romance plots is the notion that mutual obligation between men and women (or perhaps by extension political opponents) leads the way to a productive future. And her heroines—who take an active role in seizing justice and who are assisted rather than hampered by the men in their lives—demonstrate the rewards of preventing and resisting future threats to the monarchy in England and the social order it represented and supported.


[1] As Linda Woodbridge notes in Shakespeare’s The Rape of Lucrece and Titus Andronicus, “rape lead[s] to the downfall of a tyrannical government and to Rome’s political salvation” (“Palisading” 291).

[2] As Anne Greenfield notes in her discussion of rape on the Restoration stage, the obsession with detailing the heroine’s innocence and virtue prevents the “audience from discrediting the rape victim in any way” (65).

[3] For a discussion of she-tragedies of the Restoration, see Marsden.

[4] It is probable that The Unfortunate Florinda was transcribed in MS Lt q 32 between March 1661 and December 1662, but the composition date is uncertain. To grasp the complexities of dating the transcription, it is important to understand the unique aspects of the manuscript: the poems are written from 1r to 130v in the same orientation (in relation to the spine at the left hand side of the volume), and the romance is written on the reverse. Technically the romance would be paginated 131r-167r if oriented with the rest of the manuscript, but it is actually paginated 1r-27v because the reader must flip the book over with the spine placed on the left in order to read it. Because some accounts about payments to servants paid in March 1661 are oriented with the main portion of the romance and other accounts for payments made in December are oriented in the reverse (like the romance), the Perdita Project editors conclude that the romance was transcribed between those dates. However, what they transcribe as “DEC 6th 1661,” I clearly read as “DEC 6th 1662,” meaning that the exact transcription period may be less specific than has been thought. Alice Eardley suggests that the romance was composed between 1656 and 1660 (Encyclopedia 804).

[5] On evidence of Pulter’s familiarity with Marvell, Shakespeare, Ptolemy, and Copernicus in her poetry, see Davidson, Robson, and Archer. On the intersections of memory, pastoral, and elegy in Pulter’s poetry, see Chedgzoy. Eardley traces Pulter’s appropriation of the predominately male tradition of the melancholic genius in her poetry (“Saturn”). Catherine Coussens discusses the emerging power of women and femininity in the royalist cultural revolution, and, in particular, Pulter’s role as a representative woman writer gaining poetic authority during the Commonwealth.

[6] Ezell treats Pulter’s manuscript as a case study to encourage a scholarly renewal of archival research methods as a means of gaining a better understanding of women’s contribution to early modern book history.

[7] For discussions of gender politics within early modern English romances, see Newcomb and Hackett. For analysis of the popularity and politics of English Renaissance romances, see Zurcher, Mentz, and Salzman. For larger structural and genre concerns in romance, see Frye and Fuchs.

[8] Ovid’s Philomela provides the most evocative example of a rape victim wresting control of the revenge plot to ensure that the punishment is commensurate with the crime. In Book VI of the Metamorphoses, after Tereus rapes his sister-in-law Philomela, one of the last statements she utters before he cuts out her tongue is “sure the day / Will come that for this wickednesse full dearly thou shalt pay” (692-3). Nevertheless, these two revengers are corrupted by their own revenge, as they kill an innocent child.

[9] All references to Pulter’s The Unfortunate Florinda and her poetry will be cited parenthetically in the text; they come from the manuscript Poems Breathed Forth by the Nobel Hadassass, and The Unfortunate Florinda in the Brotherton Collection at the University of Leeds Library, MS Lt q 32; reproduced with permission of Leeds University Library. I would also like to thank Chris Sheppard and Richard High for their assistance at the Brotherton Collection of the University of Leeds Library while I transcribed Pulter’s manuscript.

[10] There has been much debate over the year of Pulter’s birth based upon inconsistent findings in the historical record and references in her manuscript. I am compelled by the case made by Eardley for 1605 as Pulter’s date of birth (“Date of Birth”). For Pulter’s royalist and parliamentarian connections, see Eardley, Poems 13-21.

[11] A drawing of the Pulter estate is printed in Chauncy between pages 72 and 73, and there is a Pulter family tree on page 73.

[12] The lack of specific topical references in the romance is one of the ways in which Pulter distinguishes her romance from those of her contemporaries; many Protectorate romances—Cloria and Narcissus (1653), Theophania (1655), and Panthalia: Or the Royal Romance (1659)—demonstrated several clear correspondences between fictional characters and prominent figures of Civil War England.

[13] According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word rapine derives from the Latin rapīna, meaning “forcible carrying off of property, plunder, carrying off of a person, especially a woman,” and it is associated with rape v.2, which means “to abduct a woman, usually for the purpose of sexual violation.”

[14] Scholars refer to the Chronicle of 754 written at Toledo for evidence that Roderic or Roderigo died in battle after Don Julian, his vassal, assisted his enemies in building forces against him out of anger after he discovered that Roderic had impregnated his daughter. James Howell’s A New English Grammar, which was roughly contemporaneous with Pulter’s romance, mentions a less favorable account of Don Julian, who “brought in the Moores who lorded in Spain 700 yeers, and so he became a Traytor to his own Country” (45). Herman identifies The Life and Death of Mahomet, The Conquest of Spain Together with the Rysing and Ruine of the Sarazen (1637), erroneously attributed to Sir Walter Ralegh on the title page, as the most direct English source text for the Spanish story (1216-17). For additional discussion of Don Julian, see Douglass and Lope de Vega.

[15] Herman suggests that the licentious African king is an unnamed despot who usurps the place of “the valiant Mully Hamet,” but although an unnamed prince does attempt to assume control of Mahomet Abnehedin’s lands after his death, he is conquered by Amandus and taken captive (1227). The new prince who Almanzar sends is, in fact, his nephew Mully Hamet, as evidenced by the fact that Almanzar commands Mully Hamet to marry his daughter Gloriana to solidify their bond. Pulter may have gotten the name from Rowley’s All’s Lost by Lust or John Smith’s The True Travels, Adventures, and Observations of Captaine John Smith (London, 1630), where he calls Mulai Ahmad IV by the name of Mully Hamet, a mulatto King of Barbary with a reputation for integrity (Kupperman 60). However, Mully had also become a common name for a Moor. Jonathan Bate suggests that Aaron’s designation of “Muliteus my Countriman” in the First Folio of Titus Andronicus is the fault of a “blundering transcriber,” suggesting that the line actually reads, “Not far one Muly lives, my countryman: / His wife but yesternight was brought to bed” (228, nt. 154). Also, Muly Mahomet was the name of Peele’s villain in Battle of Alcazar.

[16] For a discussion of the public perception of Cromwell, see Knoppers.

[17] Pulter offers another paradigm through a Spanish maiden, Castabella, who suggests that Florinda turn to her conscience and virtue to persevere over her troubles and her rapist. As Herman notes, there are Augustinian roots in this response to rape; nevertheless, Florinda and her family immediately reject this option.

[18] Although the statute allowed for it, mutilation was a less common form of punishment for rapists (Sokol 108).

[19] For a discussion of the King’s and Essex’s regulations for soldiers, see Donagan.

[20] Hale discusses this concept in his unfinished Historia Placitorum Coronae, which was not printed until 1736; however, Hale’s influential theory was known before the publication of this text. For a discussion of rape and witchcraft in Historia Placitorum Coronae, see Geis.

[21] “Calcine,” def 1c., OED, 1989, 2nd ed.

[22] Florinda is also the name of the woman beloved by Doricles and Filander in the English translation of Lope de Vega’s The Pilgrime of Casteele (London, 1623).

[23] Fidelia’s story also parallels another classical tale of rape prevention: the Appius and Virginia tale, which was popularized in England in Painter’s Palace of Pleasure Beautified and Webster’s Appius and Virginia: A Tragedy.

[24] In addition to the direct parallels with moments in Shakespeare’s Lucrece, Pulter’s text also bears resonances with John Quarles’ Tarquin Banished: Or the Reward of Lust, a poem written by the royalist to be annexed to the 1655 edition of Shakespeare’s poem.

[25] This account varies from Livy’s The History of Rome, where Lucretia asks simply for revenge, but her loved ones demand Tarquin’s death.

[26] Florinda’s self-exsanguination scene also bears resonances with Orgilius’s death at the end of John Ford’s The Broken Heart.

[27] On meaningful patterns in revenge narratives, see Tassi 99.

[28] Much of Pulter’s poetry, especially including the emblem poems, is instructional for her children.

[29] In Titus Andronicus, Titus attempts to marry his daughter Lavinia off to the emperor Saturninus instead of her original betrothed, Bassianus. Although Lavinia’s brothers defend her right to marry her beloved, Titus’ actions in response to their defiance sets in motion a cycle of violence and vengeance within the play.

[30] Tassi takes an alternative view of Lavinia’s agency, seeing her as “psychologically and emotionally thirsty for ‘guilty blood,’” 99.

[31] See especially Suzuki, 145-6 and 165-202.

[32] As Linda Woodbridge indicates, during the Interregnum “Ousted royalists, now in opposition, took up resistance writing” (English Revenge Drama 189). Among these works of sixteenth-century resistance theory, the most prominent include Ponet, Goodman, and Buchanan.

[33] Herman’s article on The Unfortunate Florinda makes convincing claims about the ways in which Pulter breaks with common representations of race and religion; that being said, it also misplaces the political leanings of her fiction. He does not provide sufficient evidence to defend his claim that the composition of The Unfortunate Florinda marks a stark shift in Pulter’s politics from the entrenched royalism of her poetry in the 1640s and 1650s to a potentially republican reaction against the reign of Charles II in the 1660s. It seems unlikely that Pulter would lament the death of the “Martyrd” Charles I and anticipate the reinstatement of “a Second Charles” in her poetry and then support the overthrow or execution of Charles II simply because members of his court would later be involved in sexual scandals (35r). Reading Pulter’s rapists as figures for Charles II potentially limits our interpretation of how political resistance functions within the romance.

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Nicole A. Jacobs teaches in English and Women’s and Gender Studies at California Polytechnic, San Luis Obispo. Her research has appeared or is scheduled to appear in Criticism, Studies in Philology, The Shakespearean International Yearbook, and The Blackwell Encyclopedia of English Renaissance Literature. Her current book project examines the role of the romance heroine in seventeenth-century literature.

Studies in Renaissance / Early Modern Literature & Culture,
Volume Seven (2014): Genres & Cultures

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