Blogging from A-Z April 2018 Challenge

W is for Lady Mary Wroth

Lady Mary Wroth (18 October 1587 – approximately 1640) was the eldest daughter of Barbara Gamage, a Welsh heiress, and Robert Sidney, Earl of Leicester, the younger brother of Sir Philip Sidney and Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke. Lady Mary spent much of her childhood at the ancestral home of the Sidneys, Penshurst Place, one of the great country houses in the Elizabethan period. It was a center of literary activity and its gracious hospitality is praised in Ben Jonson’s famous poem To Penshurst. Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger included Lady Mary in a group portrait of Lady Sidney and her children in 1596, which is now on display at Penshurst.

During a time when few women were educated, Lady Mary had the privilege of a formal education, which was obtained from household tutors under the guidance of her mother. With her family connections, a career at court was all but inevitable. In 1604, Lady Mary married Sir Robert Wroth and became part of Queen Anne’s intimate circle of friends, actively participating in masques and entertainments. Her poetry was circulated in manuscript and garnered much praise. Ben Jonson dedicated The Alchemist to her and praised her as “a Sydney” who incorporated the virtues of all the goddesses.

Sir Robert Wroth appears to have been a gambler, philanderer, and drunkard. Ben Jonson adds more evidence of an unhappy union, by noting that ‘my Lady Wroth is unworthily married on a Jealous husband.’ Various letters from Lady Mary to Queen Anne also refer to the financial losses her husband had sustained during their time together. Sir Robert died in 1614, leaving Lady Mary with an infant son and a debt of £23,000. She endeavored to pay off the debt herself, and suffered financial difficulties for the rest of her life.  Never remarrying, Lady Mary bore two illegitimate children by her cousin, WIlliam Herbert, third Earl of Pembroke.

Lady Mary is best known for The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania (1621), an intricate prose romance patterned on Philip Sidney’s Arcadia. Lady Mary also appended 19 songs and 83 sonnets to the text, entitled Pamphilia to Amphilantus (the latter name translates to Lover-of-two) portraying Pamphilia constant in her love for the faithless Amphilanthus. Lady Mary’s poems are in the Elizabethan style of her father’s Rosis and Lysa, and her uncle’s Astrophil and Stella. The work caused a scandal, since it was rumored to satirize court intrigues. Lady Mary apologized and withdrew the book from sale. A second half of The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania remained in manuscript until it was published for the first time in 1999.

After the publication issues surrounding The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania, Wroth left King James’s court and was later abandoned by William Herbert. There is little known about Lady Mary’s later years but it is known that she continued to face major financial difficulties. Lady Mary is commemorated in Loughton by the naming of a footpath adjacent to Loughton Hall as Lady Mary’s Path.

Wroth, Mary, Lady, approximately 1586-approximately 1640. The first part of The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania. Edited by Josephine A. Roberts. Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, State University of New York at Binghamton,1995.

Wroth, Mary, Lady, approximately 1586-approximately 1640. The second part of the Countess of Montgomery’s Urania. Edited by Josephine A. Roberts ; completed by Suzanne Gossett and Janel Mueller. Renaissance English Text Society in conjunction with Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies,1999.

Wroth, Mary, Lady, approximately 1586-approximately 1640. The poems of Lady Mary Wroth. Edited, with introduction and notes, by Josephine A. Roberts. Louisiana State University Press, 1983.

Wroth, Mary, circa 1586-circa 1640. Pamphilia to Amphilanthus in manuscript and print. Edited by Ilona Bell ; texts by Steven W. May and Ilona Bell. Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 2017.

Blogging from A-Z April 2018 Challenge

R is for Margaret Roper

Margaret Roper (née More) (1505–1544) was an English writer and translator, as well as one of the most learned women of sixteenth-century England. She was the daughter of Sir Thomas More and Jane Colt. Margaret, or “Meg” as her father called her, was a frequent visitor during More’s imprisonment in the Tower of London.

Margaret married William Roper in 1521 and had five children: Elizabeth (1523–60), Margaret (1526–88), Thomas (1533–98), Mary (d. 1572), and Anthony (1544–1597).

Margaret’s father, Thomas More, was Chancellor of England for Henry VIII. A devout Roman Catholic, More refused to accept Henry VIII as head of the English Church, and would not sign the Act of Supremacy and the Act of Succession (1534). For his refusal, More was beheaded and his head was displayed on a pike at London Bridge for a month. Afterwards, Margaret bribed the man who was charged to take the head down and throw it in the Thames, to give it to her instead. She preserved it by pickling it in spices until her own death at the age of 39 in 1544. After her death, her husband, William Roper took charge of the head, and it is buried with him.

William Roper produced the first biography of his father-in-law, but his homage is not remembered as well as his wife’s efforts. Alfred, Lord Tennyson invoked Margaret Roper, “who clasped in her last trance/ Her murdered father’s head” in his Dream of Fair Women as a paragon of loyalty and familial love.

Roper was the first non-royal woman to publish a book she had translated into English, Precatio Dominica by Erasmus, as A Devout Treatise upon the Paternoster. In a letter Roper mentions her poems, but none are extant.

Erasmus, Desiderius, died 1536. A devout treatise upon the pater noster made fyrst in latyn by the moost famous doctour mayster Erasmus Roterdamus and tourned into englishhe by a yong vertuous and well lerned gentylwoman of xix yere of age. Copied by L. W. Longstaff from a copy made by Mr. T. Raworth in 1949 from the British Museum copy.


Blogging from A-Z April 2018 Challenge

M is for Bathsua Makin

Bathsua Reginald Makin (c. 1600 – c. 1675) was a proto-feminist, middle-class Englishwoman who contributed to the emerging criticism of woman’s position in the domestic and public spheres in 17th-century England. Makin was referred to as “England’s most learned lady,” due to her knowledge of Greek, Latin, Hebrew, German, Spanish, French and Italian. Makin argued primarily for the right of women and girls to obtain an education in an age that questioned the ability of women to be educated. She is best known for her polemical treatise entitled An Essay To Revive the Antient Education of Gentlewomen, in Religion, Manners, Arts & Tongues, with an Answer to the Objections against this Way of Education (1673).
I was unable to find a modern edition of Bathsua Makin’s works, however, the following title has included selections of her works.
First Feminists: British Women Writers, 1578–1799. Edited by Moira Ferguson. Indiana University Press, 1985.

Blogging from A-Z April 2018 Challenge

L is for Louise Labé

Louise Labé, (c. 1524, Lyons – 25 April 1566, Parcieux), a French Renaissance poet, was also identified as La Belle Cordière (The Beautiful Ropemaker) because she was the daughter of wealthy ropemaker Pierre Charly and his second wife, Etiennette Roybet. Labé’s Œuvres include two prose works: a feminist preface urging women to write, dedicated to a young noblewoman of Lyons, Clémence de Bourges; and a dramatic allegory in prose entitled Débat de Folie et d’Amour, which belongs to a long debate tradition that had recently seen renewed interest due to Erasmus’ Praise of Folly,  a controversial satire. The Débat, her most admired work in the sixteenth century, was used as the source for one of Jean de la Fontaine’s fables, and was translated into English by Robert Greene in 1584.

Labé, Louise. Complete Poetry and Prose: A Bilingual Edition. Translated by Deborah Lesko Baker and Annie Finch. University of Chicago Press, 2006.