Although not always recognised as authors in their own right, women in the mid-17th century were certainly writing in a collaborative capacity. Before the English Civil War women might copy texts or translate works. There was perceived to be great virtue in the copying of sermons and other religious texts, such as the lives of the saints, in the early modern period, and it was considered to be an act of devotion to reproduce such texts in this way. The market for books by women grew from the latter part of the 16th century, and, although women’s writing may have initially been largely restricted to producing this type of work, they are also known to have written letters, poetry, plays and prose fiction.

During the early part of the 17th century a handful of female authors started appearing in print. During the English Civil War many more began to write, publish and sell their work. By the 1670s, women began to step out of the shadows and some even started to make a living at their writing, such as Aphra Behn, featured in this section.

The authors included here defied convention, not only by writing their own works, but by publishing them under their own names. Here are a few examples from our collections, of women who succeeded in writing, publishing and circulating their work.