Rebecca Bullard writes:
Last week, I was delighted to give a public lecture at Chawton House Library in Alton, Hampshire. Chawton House is a grand, Elizabethan manor house that was once owned by Jane Austen’s brother, Edward. These days it hosts an internationally recognised research library dedicated to the study of eighteenth-century women’s writng.
My lecture was about women and secret history in this period. Secret histories claim to give their readers a privileged glimpse into the private lives of powerful people. They tell tales of sexual intrigue and political corruption, exposing affairs between monarchs, ministers, and their mistresses. Powerful women like Charles II’s mistress, the Duchess of Portsmouth and Queen Anne’s favourite, Sarah Churchill, were the subject of many secret histories, but women were also important as authors of these texts. Writers including Aphra Behn, Delarivier Manley, and Eliza Haywood used secret history to exercise political agency centuries before women had the vote. It was a real privilege to share my passion for women’s writing and eighteenth-century politics with a lively and welcoming audience in beautiful surroundings.