Godly Women in Early Modern England: Puritanism and Gender

Diane Willen

This paper argues that Puritanism and gender interacted in dialectic fashion in seventeenth-century England and changed one another significantly as a result of that interaction.1 Such Puritan strategies as reliance on the experience of the individual, extensive use of literacy, and infusion of spiritual issues into all activities deeply affected women's spirituality and their conventional roles in the community. At the same time, changes in the traditional practices of gender altered the Puritan experience. Gender gave new reality to the Puritan emphasis on spiritual egalitarianism, the Puritan practice of godly communion and counsel, and the development of lay–clerical relationships. From the interaction between Puritanism and gender, new forms of reciprocity and alternative sources of authority emerged among the godly.