Women’s legal testimony

This project explores women’s published life writing, law and subjectivity in the long eighteenth century.

In the mid-eighteenth century, women quickly seized upon the newly emerging genre of the published memoir to publicise their experiences of the law and justice system.

This project draws on legal archives and published memoirs to explore women’s perspectives on law and justice, the implications of legal experience for the development of the genre, and the relationship between legal and textual subjectivities in the eighteenth century.

Eliza Frances Robertson

Eliza Frances Robertson was imprisoned for debt in the Fleet Prison in the earlier nineteenth century, accused of swindling several tradesmen who contributed goods and labour to the renovation of a house in Blackheath where she intended to establish a school with her partner, Charlotte Sharpe. While imprisoned in the Fleet Robertson published three memoirs, Who are the Swindlers? (1801), Dividends of Immense Value (1801) and The Life and Memoirs (1802), and one autobiographical novel, Destiny (1804).

My research on Robertson was published as ‘Law, Gender and Print Culture in the Life Writing of Eliza Frances Robertson’, The Unsociable Sociability of Women’s Life Writing, ed. Anne Collett and Louise D’Arcens (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).

Anne Bailey

Anne Bailey was a lone mother living on the social fringe, in and out of magistrates courts and bridewells, in 1760s London. Her short published memoir, Memoirs the Mrs Anne Bailey, was published in 1771. Bailey’s memoirs shed new light on the everyday experience of justice in the mid-eighteenth century metropolis, as well as how published memoirs can expose relationships between legal and textual subjectivities during the era.

Sarah Ailwood, ‘The true state of my case’ : The Memoirs of Mrs Anne Bailey, 1771, Law Crime and History 6(1) (2016)

My next projects explore the life writing and legal archives of Mary Bowes-Lyon and Elizabeth Sarah Gooch.