The First Part of the Countess of Montgomery's Urania

The First Part of the Countess of Montgomery's Urania

The First Part of the Countess of Montgomery's Urania

The First Part of the Countess of Montgomery's Urania


Lady Mary Wroth composed her prose romance Urania at the height of the Jacobean debates concerning the nature and status of women. The following letter by John Chamberlain conveys a glimpse of the debate as it raged in the court and streets of London in the 1620s:

Our pulpits ring continually of the insolence and impudence of
women: and to helpe the matter forward the players have like
wise taken them to taske, and so to the ballades and ballad-sing
ers, so that they can come no where but theyre eares tingle: and
yf all this will not serve the King threatens to fall upon theyre
husbands, parents, or frends that have or shold have powre over
them and make them pay for yt.

Chamberlain is alluding in part to James I's order to the Bishop of London that the clergy should “inveigh vehemently and bitterly in theyre sermons against the insolencie of our women” and condemn from the pulpits the practice of cross-dressing (2:286). Sharing many of the king's attitudes toward women, Chamberlain vividly records the intensity and virulence of the antifeminist reaction.

It is no surprise that he identifies the king so closely as a spokesman for misogyny. James' surviving writings, including “A Satire against Woemen,” reveal a scarcely veiled contempt. Chamberlain had earlier observed that “the King is in a great vaine of taking down highhanded women” (2:216). The French ambassador Beaumont offered a similar view:

He piques himself on great contempt for women. They are
obliged to kneel before him when they are presented, he exorts
them openly to virtue, and scoffs with great levity at men who
pay them honour. You may easily conceive that the English

The Letters of John Chamberlain, ed. Norman E. McClure, 2 vols. (Philadelphia:
American Philosophical Society, 1939), 2:289 (Feb. 12, 1620). All dates are new style.

For James' verse satire, see Allan F. Westcott, New Poems by James I of England
(New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1911), 19–21. On James' attitude toward women,
see Maurice Lee, Jr., Great Britain's Solomon: James VI and I in His Three Kingdoms
(Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1990), 142–43.

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