Lloyd Bowen on genre, authorship and authenticity in petitions

We recently published The Power of Petitioning in Early Modern Britain, an open access collection of essays available to read for free from UCL Press. One of the contributors is Lloyd Bowen, Reader in Early Modern and Welsh History at Cardiff University. We asked him about his chapter on ‘Genre, authorship and authenticity in the petitions of Civil War veterans and widows from north Wales and the Marches’ and its place in his wider research.

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How did you get interested in early modern petitioning?

I became interested in early modern petitioning after sifting through the records of local quarter sessions and assize courts from the seventeenth century looking for forms of political engagement – such as prosecutions for seditious speech. I became used to wading through large number of petitions and wondered about what they could tell us about the lives and contexts of those in whose names they were presented. I later became involved with a project that was considering petitions from the veterans and widows of the British Civil Wars to reveal something of contemporaries’ experiences and understandings of those conflicts.

What is the most interesting petition or petitioner that you came across while researching this chapter?

Perhaps the most interesting petition I discuss is that of the parliamentarian trooper John Edwards of Ruthin in north Wales. His petition from 1650 asks for assistance due to his being disabled at the siege of Denbigh, but he requests that the justices adjudicating on his case do not consider his ‘weak & ymbecyle parts’ as they currently appeared before them, but that they rather think of him as the vigorous parliamentarian he once was ‘according to which his desires have exprest & his hands acted’. I found his awareness of the gap between his present maimed body and his previously active soldierly one to be both moving and informative.

The petition of John Edwards
The petition of John Edwards of Ruthin, 1650, on Civil War Petitions

What do you hope readers will take away from reading your chapter?

I hope that readers of my chapter will see that ‘authoring’ a petition was often quite a complicated business but that, nevertheless, when used carefully, we can still recover important elements from our subjects’ histories by using these petitions.

How does your work on this chapter fit into your current and future research?

This chapter fits into current research I am undertaking on petitions from the civil wars – I am involved in editing those from Wales and the Marches which will appear in a physical volume in the next few years. I have also become interested in a husband and wife team of inveterate petitioners from the Elizabethan and Jacobean period and am pursuing their fascinating life stories partly thought their voluminous archive of petitions.