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John Aylmer, Bishop of London:

An Harborow for Faithful and True subjects, 1559

This is a response to John Knox: The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, 1558 [At SWRB] by the Bishop of London, a supporter of Elizabeth I.

Many daughters there be, that gather riches together: but thou goest above them all. As for favour it is deceitful, and beauty is a vain thing, but a woman that feareth the Lord: she is worthy to be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her own works praise her in the gate. Proverbs

Happening ... not long ago to read a little book strangely written by a stranger, to prove that the rule of women is out of rule, and not in a commonwealth tolerable: and weighing at the first what harm might come of it, and feeling at the last that it hath not a little wounded the conscience of some simple, and almost cracked the duty of true obedience: I thought it more than necessary to lay before men's eyes the untruth of the argument, the weakness of the proofs and the absurdity of the whole. In the sifting whereof I mind to use such modesty that it shall appear to all indifferent men that I seek to defend the cause and not to deface the man, seeing this error arose not of malice but of zeal.... Only in this was he not to be excused (unless he alleged ignorance) that he swerved from the particular question to the general, as though all the government of the whole sex were against reason, right and law; because that the present state then through the fault of the person and not of the sex, was unnatural, unreasonable, unjust and unlawful. If he had kept him in that particular person, he could have said nothing too much, nor in such wise as could have offended any indifferent man. And this again would have been considered; that if the question were to be handled, yet was it not meet to bring it into doubt at that time, when it could not, nor yet can be, redressed (were it never so evil), without manifest and violent wrong of them that be in place. For if it were unlawful (as he will have it) that the sex should govern, yet is it not unlawful that they should inherit, as hereafter we shall prove. And in this point their inheritance is so linked with the empire, that you cannot pluck from them the one, without robbing them of the other. This doubt might better have been moved when the sceptre was or shall be in the hand of the male. And so if it were found evil (as I am persuaded it shall never be), it might without the wronging of any be reformed. But now being established by law, confirmed by custom and ratified by common consent of all the orders in the realm: it can be no equity to take it from them, nor any colour of honesty or godliness to move any plea against them. If nature hath given it them by birth: how dare we pull it from them by violence? If God hath called them to it either to save or to spill, why should we repine at that which is God's will and order? Are we are wiser than he in bestowing it: or so bold to alter that he purpose should come of it? If he able women, shall we unable them? If he meant not they should minister, he could have provided other... Placeth he a woman weak in nature, feeble in body, soft in courage, unskilful in practice, not terrible to the enemy, no shield to the friend, well (saith he): my strength is most perfect when you be most weak [2 Cor. 12], if he join to his strength: she cannot be weak. If he put to his hand she cannot be feeble, if he be with her, who can stand against her? ... It is as easy for him to save by few than as by many, by weak as by strong, by a woman as by a man. Yea his most wonderful works are always wrought in our most weakness Jude 5], as infinite examples and testimonies do show. Yet mean I not to bar policy, when without breach of God's ordinance it may have place, for policy is God's gift either given, man immediately of God, or gotten by study, experience and practice, or won by quickness of wit. But when God chooseth himself by sending to a king, whose succession is ruled by inheritance and lineal descent, no heirs male: it is a plain argument that for some secret purpose he mindeth the female should reign and govern.


If it were unnatural for a woman to rule because she lacketh a man's strength, then old kings which be most meet to rule for wit and experience, because they lack strength, should be unmeet for the feebleness of the body. Yea, say you, God hath appointed her to be subject to her husband ... therefore she may not be the head. I grant that so far as pertaineth to the bands of marriage and the office of a wife, she must be a subject, but as a magistrate she may be her husband's head. For the scripture saith not thine eye must be to the man, but to thy husband. Neither oweth every woman obedience to every man, but to her own husband. Well, if she be her husband's subject, she can be no ruler. That followeth not, for the child is the father's subject and the father the child's ruler, and as Aristotle saith (whom you so much urge) his rule is kinglike over his child. But the husband's is civil, then if the child by nature a subject may be by law a head, yea the head of his father, and his father his subject, why may the woman not be the husband's inferior in matters of wedlock, and his head in the guiding of the commonwealth? ... If then they may govern men in the house by St Paul's commission, and an household is a little commonwealth, as Socrates in Xenophon saith, then I cannot see how you can debar them of all rule, or conclude that to be heads of men is against nature. Which if you grant, is enough to disprove of your minor. If you put to and say, in a commonwealth yet it will not serve, for the proof of that is because (say you) she is the man's subject. I have showed how, in that she is his wife, not in that she is a woman. For as you see, she may be some man's head, as in her household. But while you take this word nature too largely, you deceive yourself wittingly, thinking that because it is not so convenient, so profitable, or meet, therefore it is unnatural. But that is too large a scope, Wherefore that we may understand how far you stretch this word nature, I will ask you whether you take it as it is for the most part; or all together, that is universal. If you take it as it is in the order of nature, for the most part (as it is natural for an old man to have white hairs in his age, or for a woman to bring forth one child at a burden) and then reason it is against nature for an old man to have black hairs, or against nature for a woman to bring forth two children or three at a burden: no man would allow your reasoning. For though the one be according to nature as it is for the most part, yet is not the other, that happeneth sometime, utterly against nature. In like manner, though it be for the most part seen that men and not women do rule commonwealths, yet when it happeneth sometime by the ordinance of God and course of inheritance that they bear rule, it is not to be concluded that it repugneth against nature: no more than the old man's black hairs, or the woman's two twins. So that you see that in this deception of nature, their rule cannot be against nature. On the other side, if you take it in a generality, as whensoever the stone moveth upward, it is violent and against nature: or whensoever the fire consumeth not the matter that is put to it: then you are further wide. For it chanceth not seldom but oft not in one country, but in many, not among the barbarous, but in the chiefest empires and monarchies, and not only in them, but in the commonwealth of the Jews, more than once or twice, that women being inheritors, have ruled over their parents, wives after their husbands: and sisters after their brethren, as I shall at large declare. But before I come to that point I must wade a little further with him in his argument of nature. Wherefore I reason against him thus: whatsoever preserveth commonwealths and destroyeth them not is not against nature, but the rule of women hath preserved commonwealths, ergo it is not against nature.


This is taken, with some modernisation of orthography, directly from: the first edition - John Aylmer, excerpt from An harborow for faithful and true subjects, 1559, fols Blrff, C4r . For those interested the link is to a PDF of that first edition.

This text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use of the Sourcebook.

© Paul Halsall, July 2019


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