Philippa Gregory, one of our greatest historical storytellers, is speaking at Bridport Electric Palace as part of Bridport Literary Festival this weekend.

She'll be talking about her new book, Normal Women: 900 Years of Making History, in which she attempts to answer the question 'have ordinary women been pixelated out of the past?'

Did women really do nothing to shape England’s culture and traditions in nine centuries of turmoil, plague, famine, religious reform and the rise of empire and industry?

Gregory answers this question with accounts of female soldiers, guild widows, highwaywomen, pirates, miners and ship owners, international traders, theatre impresarios, runaway enslaved women, ‘female husbands’, social campaigners and rebels.

These individuals, and the prejudice they faced, built our society to be as diverse and varied as the women themselves. This is not another book about three or four well-known heroines; it is a book about millions of women: those who left records and those who were ‘hidden from history.’

In Lyme Regis, for example, women defended the port from a Royalist siege in April 1644. Prince Maurice of the Rhine brought his army of 6,000 men against the town’s militia of 4,000 – which included Lyme Regis’s women, who dressed as soldiers in hats and jackets to fool the besieging force into thinking that there were more men under arms.

Mary, a ‘Black moore servant to Captain Sallanova of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis’, was caught at Dorchester after running away from her owner. She was sent back to him in 1633.

Women were the greatest presence in the markets, putting pressure on food retailers, food producers, middlemen and farmers to keep prices down and to keep foodstuffs local.

Through the 1600s, women continued to participate and sometimes lead so-called ‘riots’ in defence of traditional rights, and they policed prices and practices of local markets, especially food markets. Southampton women boarded a grain ship before it could sail for London and demanded the stores that it carried in 1608. Dorchester women rioted in 1630 and 1631 over food supplies.

A group of women rioted at Lyme in 1678, protesting against the import of linen and canvas. Many of the rioting women were from families who would later join the Duke of Monmouth’s rebellion against the tyranny and Roman Catholicism of James II – part of a tradition of public protest and political radicalism in the prosperous Dorset town. 

Philippa Gregory wrote her first novel, Wideacre, when she was completing her PhD in 18th century literature and it sold worldwide, heralding a new era for historical fiction.

Her flair for blending history and imagination developed into a signature style and Philippa went on to write many bestselling novels, including The Other Boleyn Girl and The White Queen

You can see Philippa Gregory at Bridport Electric Palace as part of Bridport Literary Festival this Sunday, 5 November at 2.30pm.

For tickets visit Bridport Tourist Information Centre or phone 01308 424901 or go online