This paper derives from my doctoral research, which examines the documents of the Elizabethan court of Star Chamber. The doctorate focuses on women litigants who made use of this equity court, coming to Star Chamber because of its repute as an efficient and clement court which advocated for the ‘poorer sort’. This paper is concerned with the small majority of richly-detailed cases brought by women concerning the abduction of (mostly) teenaged girls. They all appeal to legislation against the ‘conveying awaye of maidens’ re-stated under Philip and Mary, or Queen Elizabeth, but the victims’ stories and circumstances vary hugely.
Work by Caroline Dunn and Deborah Youngs has enriched our understanding of wife-stealing and kidnapping in the Medieval British Isles. Here, I hope to extend treatment of the phenomenon to sixteenth-century England. Along the way we see some ‘how’s as well as ‘why’s of Elizabethan women’s litigation, complementing work on sole female plaintiffs and female defendants in Chancery and Requests. Meanwhile, omissions and inconsistencies between testimonies engage us with the question of whether we read Star Chamber violence as a subject or fantasy of legal process.
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