Beck Center English Dept. University Libraries Emory University
Emory Women Writers Resource Project Collections:
Emory Women Writers Resource Project

The Revelation of Jesus Christ by Anne Wentworth, an electronic edition. Edited with an introduction by Vickie Taft

by Anne Wentworth [Wentworth, Anne]

date: 1679
source publisher:
collection: Early Modern through the 18th Century

Table of Contents

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The (Un)Popularity of Seventeenth-Century Women Prophets. [Relating to Anne Wentworth's The Revelation of Jesus Christ.

Though women prophets were common in seventeenth-century England, their prophetic activities were often scorned because they challenged traditional gender hierarchies. As Christine Berg and Philippa Berry note in "'Spiritual Whoredom': An Essay on Female Prophets in the Seventeenth Century," women who prophesied, especially for the public, subverted the idea that men alone should control the logos:

...these women and their prophetic activity represented a significant site of resistance in the revolutionary period - resistance against the acceptance of sexual difference and all that implied in the seventeenth century, this refusal of gender hinged upon the vital contemporary question of the possession of meaning or the logos. This challenge had of course been posed before, by various women writers and poets, but the threat which it represented became much more acute when the contest was over not only the actual word of God but over the public (Berg & Berry 51-52).

Women prophets, then, doubly encroached on the patriarchal control of language by first positing themselves as meaning-bearers and then disseminating this meaning among the public. The subversiveness of this encroachment was heightened by the fact that women's speech in general, because it was associated with that of Eve, the witch, and the harlot, was considered to be dangerous to those who listened to it. The voice of the woman was thought to be damning, not divine, in the seventeenth-century (Mack 30-33).
According to Phyllis Mack in Visionary Women: Ecstatic Prophecy in Seventeenth-Century England, women prophets could only succeed in prophesying publicly if their activities were authorized and supervised by men:
Clearly women were dependent on men for patronage once they began to prophesy in public. Indeed, no woman presuming to address a mixed audience on political issues could have survived without male allies, either as editors, apologists, ministers, or, in a very few cases, lovers. Excepting Lady Eleanor [Davis], every important prophet belonged to a congregation that was supervised by male ministers, and most (again excepting Lady Eleanor) were dependent on male editors who bracketed their texts by salutations that affirmed their piety and respectability, inserted supporting biblical citations, and added substantive arguments (Mack 96-97-brackets added).

Wentworth, who disseminated her apocalyptic prophecies publicly by both publishing them and sending them to the King and the Lord Mayor of London, had no significant male patronage. Male members of the Anabaptist Church persecuted her rather than supported her as a prophet. Her texts were neither edited nor affirmed by men, though it is possible that men financed their publication. Wentworth's husband, moreover, proved to be the greatest hindrance of all to her prophetic career. Besides abusing and withdrawing financial support from her, he literally seized and probably destroyed a significant amount of her writing. Devoid of significant male support, Wentworth never became more than a minor Renaissance prophet.