Extraordinary Women of the Medieval and Renaissance World: A Biographical Dictionary

By Carole Levin; Debra Barrett-Graves et al. | Go to book overview

THE COOKE SISTERS
Mildred (1526-1589), Anne (1528-1610), Elizabeth (1528-1609), Katherine (d. 1583), Margaret (d. 1558)

Britain
Writers

Anthony Cooke, former tutor to Edward VI and a member of Parliament under Queen Elizabeth I, and his wife Ann Fitzwilliam had five daughters at a time when girls were more of a financial curse than a familial blessing. During the early sixteenth century, humanists encouraged female education, and Cooke had his daughters Mildred, Anne, Elizabeth, Katherine, and Margaret study Greek, Hebrew, Italian, and Latin. Their father, a devout Protestant, insisted their education also have a religious focus. Margaret died young, and her writings did not survive her; the other sisters were all known for their education and as translators of religious works. Such translations, as opposed to original works, were more acceptable for women scholars of the period.

Mildred Cooke, the oldest of Anthony's daughters, was tutored by Giles Lawrence, a prominent Greek professor. Although Roger Ascham, Elizabeth I's tutor, claimed that Mildred and Lady Jane Grey, Elizabeth I's cousin, were the two most learned women in England, we have only Mildred's contemporaries to rely upon regarding her reputation as an exemplary author, as her work has not survived. None of her works ever saw publication even though she was probably the most famous of the Cooke women, possibly due to her marriage to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, principal secretary to Queen Elizabeth I. Credited with being a devout reader, Mildred translated the work of Chrysostom, a Greek author and early church father. Her translation, which most likely received a wide circulation, was considered by her contemporaries as an impressive accomplishment. In addition to her writing, Mildred also cared for her own children and her husband's many wards.

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