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

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

MARY WROTH
(ca. 1587-1653?)

Britain
Author and Poet

Lady Mary Sidney Wroth was born into a socially prominent English family well known for their literary accomplishments. Her uncle, Sir Philip Sidney, was a famous courtier during Elizabeth I's reign and the author of an extremely popular romance, The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia, and an important early piece of literary criticism, The Defense of Poetry (also called An Apology for Poetry). His collection of songs and sonnets, Astrophil to Stella (the star-lover to the star), inspired many imitations and created a vogue for Petrarchan love sonnets in late sixteenth-century England. Wroth's aunt was Mary Sidney Herbert, the Countess of Pembroke referred to in her brother's title, herself a poet, translator, and distinguished literary patron. Wroth's father, Robert Sidney, wrote verse, as did her cousin, Elizabeth. The Sidney legacy was important to Mary Wroth, for she continued to use her family's coat of arms after her marriage. Wroth's literary contributions to that legacy are similarly impressive: the first femaleauthored romance, pastoral comedy, and sonnet sequence in English.

Wroth was the oldest of eleven children. Her mother, Barbara Gamage Sidney, was a wealthy Welsh heiress and a first cousin of Sir Walter Raleigh. Her father, Sir Robert Sidney, assumed his older brother's position as Governor of Flushing after Philip's death in 1586 and remained in the Low Countries for roughly a decade. Mary made several long visits to the Continent with her mother and siblings to see her father, travel, and practice her French. Most of her childhood was spent at the family estate, Penshurst, the subject of the famous poem To Penshurst by Ben Jonson, a major English dramatist and poet during the reign of James I. On one occasion, young Mary had the honor of dancing before Queen Elizabeth during her stay with the family.

Mary was married in 1604 to Sir Robert Wroth, one of King James's favored hunting companions; the arranged marriage was not

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