Friday, September 16, 2011

'Behind every Man there is a Good Woman'
Jane and Mary-Ann Carlile

Richard Carlile was one of the leading lights of the reform movement of the early 1800's. He was a tinsmith turned journalist, a man born in humble circumstances in 1790. In 1813 he married Jane but by 1816 they were in financial difficulties because of reduced work hours in smithing. Carlile turned to journalism and in 1817 went in to publishing with a partner, William Sherwin. They published Sherwin's Political Register, advocating reform, freedom of the press, and sexuality equality, and they printed pamphlets by men such as Thomas Paine and Henry Hunt.
Richard Carlile

By 1819, Carlile was prominent enough to be one of the speakers at the great rally at St. Peter's Field, Manchester. Jane Carlile had given birth to several children--there were ultimately to be five, but only three survived. She was, by some accounts, the business head of the family, believing that propagandism on the scale her husband promoted required good business to support it.
Peterloo Massacre

Carlile published firsthand accounts of the Peterloo Massacre, and the authorities took umbrage. They shut down the Political Register and Carlile responded by renaming it The Republican. In October 1819 he was sent to Dorchester Gaol for three years for blasphemy and seditious libel--The Society for the Suppression of Vice had a hand in his conviction. (Vice to them was any idea outside the status quo.)

Jane Carlile now came into her own. We cannot know what her thoughts on reform were, or how political were her beliefs. Certainly, there were women marching at the St. Peter's Field rally in support of women's emancipation. Whether Jane supported their views, we don't know. But she took over publication of The Republican in her husband's absence, and the journal from those days bear her name as publisher. She was from modest origins in Devon; Richard himself had only six years of schooling. How much, I wonder, did she have? Nevertheless she defended her husband's agitation for freedom of the press, and continued his work.

In 1821, she was herself charged with seditious libel. At that time, she pleaded that she had taken on the role of publisher only out of 'conjugal duty'. Did she, or was she a reformer, convinced of the rightness of their cause by the poor working conditions and worse situation of many of her contemporaries? Whatever the truth of her convictions, she was sentenced to two years in Dorchester Gaol, and shared a cell with her husband. (Their marriage, already in difficulty, was not enhanced by this enforced cohabitation.)

At this point, Carlile's sister, Mary-Anne stepped into the role as publisher for The Republican. It is difficult to imagine that duty alone led her to risk imprisonment. Was she also a woman of strong belief in the reform movement? Did she fight for women's equality and subscribe to the principles of republicanism? Whether she did or did not, she too was sentenced to gaol, for six months, in 1821. In 1823, she petitioned the House of Commons for her release as she was still being held because she could not pay the fines levied on her.

The Republican continued to be published despite the difficulties of its publishers. Richard Carlile, when he left prison, went on to agitate for change, becoming more and more radical, alienating supporters and eventually advocating free love, and something he called 'moral divorce' and subsequently 'moral marriage'.
But for the footer in extant issues of The Republican, Jane Carlile disappears from the historical record shortly thereafter. Her marriage was over, her husband involved with another woman. She appears to have remained in publishing to some extent as late as 1834 or 1838. Mary-Anne Carlile likewise is not mentioned again in contemporary literature. It bothers me that this should be so, but it proves the need for women's equality for which females were struggling as early as 1815.

Here's to you, Jane and Mary-Anne. I hope your lives proved fulfilling and successful.

'Til next time,


The following publications are available in their entirety at Google Books--
"Suppressed Defence: The Defence of Mary-Anne Carlile to the Vice Society's Indictment..."
"The Debate in the House of Commons...Mary-Ann Carlile..."
"The Trials with the Defences at Large...for Selling the Publications of Richard Carlile..."

"The Republican, Volume I"
"The Republican, Volume III"
"The Republican, Volume IV"

The trials of Jane Carlile are not available although there are a variety of listings. A search on 'Jane Carlile' will show what is available.

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