Mystical experience and the Fifth Monarchy women : Anna Trapnel, Sarah Wight, Elizabeth Avery, and Mary Cary
This thesis focuses on mystical experience and the writings of Anna Trapnel and other women associated with the Fifth Monarchy movement, Sarah Wight, Mary Cary, and Elizabeth Avery. Female visionary experience is particularly associated with the High to Late Middle Ages, yet there is a recurrence of it in the mid-seventeenth century, exemplified by the Fifth Monarchy women. One of the aims of this thesis is to determine how far the mystical discourse of medieval writers such as Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich, and St. Bridget, penetrates the writing of women associated with the Fifth Monarchists. To this end it participates in the critical debate surrounding the possibility of a tradition of female prophecy. A general residue of medieval mystical texts in England in the seventeenth century suggests cross-cultural influences, yet the recurrence of medieval aspects of mysticism in the writing of women visionaries has been seen as little more than coincidence. In order to develop the idea that there are more deliberate reasons for this recurrence, I will examine the ideological beliefs of the Fifth Monarchy movement, analysing in particular the ways in which these beliefs were expressed, as well as considering the impact of seventeenth-century editions of medieval mystical texts on the visionary writers of this movement. In pointing to a tradition of women's self-expression through mystical experience, this thesis also offers an analysis of Luce Irigaray's essay 'La Mysterique'. Emphasising the notion, that for women, the body is a signifier of mystical experience, Irigaray provides us with the means to gain a greater understanding of women's viSionary writing, while at the same time enabling us to gauge its significance in relation to the systems of social order prevalent during the period in which they wrote. The combination of historical and theoretical analysis is necessary for a full assessment of the implications of a consciousness of a feminised tradition of mysticism for the Fifth Monarchy movement as a whole, exemplified in the work of one of its leaders, John Rogers, but particularly its women members.