In recent years, scholarly attention has increasingly focused on the relations between gender and rhetoric.1 One important strand of work by early modernists researching in this area has attended to women’s marginalisation from formal classical rhetorical traditions, with the obvious exception of a small handful of humanistically educated individuals, and has explored the diverse strategies women used to negotiate their silencing.2 Conventionally, rhetorical training has been viewed by both sixteenth-century educational theorists and modern-day scholars as a male preserve; women, it was thought, had no requirement for the kinds of persuasive linguistic skills that became the prerequisite for men destined for public office, since the locus of their activity was restricted to the household or domestic sphere. Indeed, Juan Luis Vives in his De institutione feminae Christianae (1523), which was penned for Catherine of Aragon as an educational guide for her daughter Princess Mary, intoned ‘As for eloquence, I have no great care, nor a women needeth it not, but she needeth goodness and wisdom’ (Watson 1912: 54). The general assumption that women were excluded from rhetoric has, however, received slight modification by Catherine Eskin in her survey of educational and rhetorical manuals, in which she observes the range of views of male writers on the advisability of teaching girls rhetoric (Eskin 1999: 100-32; cf. Donawerth 1995). Whilst conservative sixteenth-century texts by Giovanni Michele Bruto and Thomas Salter denied women access to rhetorical training, at the other end of the spectrum the educationalist Richard Mulcaster argued that girls should be endowed ‘with some Logicall helpe to chop, and some Rhetoricke to brave’ (Mulcaster 1581: 182; Bruto 1598; Salter 1579). Alternatively, other scholars have attempted to overcome the intractability of women’s exclusion from restrictive classical definitions of education by adopting a broader,

more flexible and inclusive definition of rhetoric, one that recognises a variety of female discourses, both spoken and written, as constituting forms of ‘rhetorical’ activity.3 Operating parallel to the democratisation of this approach, early modern social historians have highlighted the innate, yet untrained, rhetorical qualities contained within women’s oral testimony. Natalie Zemon Davis, for example, has examined the devices utilised in women’s pardon tales in sixteenthcentury France; Tim Stretton has studied the rhetorical nature of pleading strategies of women in the Elizabethan Court of Requests; and Laura Gowing has emphasised the degree of linguistic facility of ordinary female deponents brought before the London consistitory courts on charges of sexual slander, who manipulated language and narratives for political ends (Davis 1987: Chapter 3, Gowing 1996: 201, 235-9, Stretton 1998: Chapter 8). These different approaches work to expose the disjuncture between informal rhetorical practices and the kinds of classical rhetorical principles that were promulgated in England by sixteenth-century humanists, and raise thorny questions relating to the definitions and acquisition of women’s rhetorical skills.