Carla Spivack


This article presents the case history of Lady Anne Clifford, a seventeenth century Englishwoman who spent most of her adult life fighting to regain her ancestral estates, which she felt her father had unjustly left to her uncle instead of to her. Although, as the article explains, she had the better of the legal argument, that was no match for the combined forces of her two husbands and of King James I, who sought to deprive her of her land. Finally, however, because Clifford outlived her uncle's son, the last male heir, she did inherit the estates.

The article examines Clifford's struggles to illustrate how property ownership constitutes the self as a civic subject, one bearing rights and recognized as bearing those rights. It was through her battles and the ultimate recognition of her rights to her land that Clifford was able to assert her rights in relation to her gender: only after she became possessed of her estates, did she make claims that resonate as "feminist." What her story shows, I argue, is that property ownership leads to recognition as a full civic subject for women, and I conclude by suggesting that this lesson has relevance today.