"She had a Bok to Print, and it was her own Case": Elizabeth Cellier's Malice Defeated as a Critical Contribution to 17th-Century Political Discourse and Postwar Pamphlet Culture
Date of Award
Honors Thesis (Open Access)
Colby College. English Dept.
Born in London, England during the 1640s-- the peak of the English Civil War-- Elizabeth Cellier was no stranger to political and religious conflict. Rumors flooded the seventeenth-century newsstands: not only was King Charles II a Catholic-apologist who favored the tiny "Jesuitical" faction over the Protestant majority, but he refused to allow Parliament to check his monarchical power. By 1680, the legislature was actively attempting to disrupt his line of succession by preventing the heir presumptive, the Duke of York, from ascending the throne. Ignited by this Exclusion Crisis, several known Protestant "tricksters"--Thomas Dangerfield, William Bedloe, and Israel Tonge, and Titus Oates-- began accusing innocent Catholics of plotting to murder the King in order to install his brother (the Duke) instead. One "Papist" caught up in the conflict was Cellier, an openly-Catholic midwife living on Arundel Street in London. Put on trial for supposed treason, she was sent to Newgate Prison for thirty-two weeks-- all the while questioned by a panel of mysogenistic chancellors, judges, and prosecutors over her supposed participation in the plot. Though most defendants in her position would not have possessed the legal acuity (nor guile) to outsmart their seasoned opponents in court, Cellier was different. Defying heteronormative expectations, she quoted from the legal treatises of Sir Edward Coke, discredited the Prosecution's star witnesses, and outmaneuvered nearly every "Trepanning" question delivered to her on the stand. Against all odds, she had won her case-- proving that women could challenge the tyrannical state and live to tell the tale.
This thesis is a deep analytical study of a pamphlet she published following her trial, entitled Malice Defeated. Switching seamlessly between forms and rhetorical styles, the thirty-two page document is a multifaceted defense-- simultaneously an archive of facts from her case, a petition to end the mistreatment of inmates at Newgate Prison, a justification of her conversion to Catholicism, and a dramatic retelling of her testimony in court. While Cellier's non-heteronormativity makes the pamphlet a unique springboard for gender analysis, it is equally-important to recognize the work as a critical contribution to pamphleteering in a broader sense. The midwife's animadversive and bibliographic choices demonstrate a desire to 1) participate in the greater political discourse, and 2) add to a growing corpus of ephemera being produced during the aftermath of the Civil War. This thesis contextualizes Malice Defeated within the literary conversation, and analyzes the way in which its physical format (ex: font choices, margin size, paper quality, etc.) allow Cellier to guide readers' interpretation of the words on the page.
Elizabeth Cellier, Pamphlet, 1680, Popish Plot, Meal-Tub Plot, Thomas Dangerfield
Recommended CitationDesai, Serena, ""She had a Bok to Print, and it was her own Case": Elizabeth Cellier's Malice Defeated as a Critical Contribution to 17th-Century Political Discourse and Postwar Pamphlet Culture" (2022). Honors Theses. Paper 1386.