Arabella Hunt and Amy Poulter
On 12th September 1680, in the parish of St-Martins-in-the-Fields, Amy Poulter, ‘representing herself to be a man’ named James Howard, was married to 18-year-old Arabella Hunt. Amy had courted Arabella in the guise of a ‘young heir, not yet of an age’. By day she went about disguised as a woman. When Arabella began to realise that her husband ‘went under the suspition of one of a double gender’, she immediately appealed for an annullment. The case came to court in 1682, and a jury of five midwives examined Amy Poulter and found her to be a ‘perfect woman in all her parts’. The marriage was annulled and both women were free to remarry. Arabella, who went on to become a famous lutenist and soprano at the court of Queen Mary II, insisted on her role as the innocent deceived, but it more probable that she was quite aware her husband was not a man.
Aphra Behn’s play of 1682, The False Count, may allude to Arabella and Amy. In the play, an elderly husband is troubled by his wife’s relationship with her sister and her maid: ‘I have known as much danger hid under a Petticoat, as a pair of Breeches. I have heard of two Women that married each other - oh abominable, as if there were so prodigious a scarcity of Christian Mans Flesh.’ While this remark suggests contemporaries may well have thought a shortage of men the reason for the marriage between Arabella and Amy, it is possible that Behn was using public discourse to air the possibility of lesbian marriage.