Lexico-Grammatical Portraits of Vulnerable Women in War: The 1641 Depositions

Nicci MacLeod, Barbara A. Fennell

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7 Citations (Scopus)


The collection of documents that has come to be known as the 1641 Depositions are testimonies collected from (mainly Protestant) witnesses documenting their experiences of the Irish uprising that began in October 1641. As news spread across Protestant Europe of the events unfolding in Ireland, reports and images of violence against women in particular became central to the ideological construction of the barbarism of the Catholic rebels (McAreavey, 2010). Against a backdrop of women’s subordination and firmly defined gender roles (Fletcher, 1995), this article investigates the discursive representation of women in the Depositions, creating what we have termed lexical portraits of particular categories of woman. Distinctions of particular interest are those made on the basis of religion and/or ethnicity, marital status, and the extent to which an individual or group can be viewed as vulnerable. As a corollary to this, the article also investigates the ways in which the representation of women’s involvement in reported events contrasts with that of men. In line with other research dealing with discursive constructions in 17th century texts (e.g., Prentice & Hardie, 2009), a corpus-assisted discourse analytical approach is taken. Adopting the assumptions of Critical Discourse Analysis as outlined by van Dijk (1991; 1996) and Fairclough (1992), and drawing on van Leeuwen’s (1996) framework for analysing the representation of social actors, the lexical patterning of selected terms relating to women and their role in events is scrutinised using a corpus-based methodology. The discussion is extended to what the findings tell us about representations of the roles women in the reported events specifically, and in atrocity propaganda more generally.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)259-290
Number of pages32
JournalJournal of Historical Pragmatics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012


  • 1641 depositions
  • critical discourse analysis
  • corpus
  • lexico-grammatical portraits
  • representation
  • women


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