Academic journal article Women and Language

"Sharp Necessities." (Elizabeth Cary, Wife of Henry Cary Lord Viscount Falkland)

Academic journal article Women and Language

"Sharp Necessities." (Elizabeth Cary, Wife of Henry Cary Lord Viscount Falkland)

Article excerpt

March 24, 1627

My Lord, I received yesterday from your Lordship . . . an expression of his Majesty's pleasure. . . It is to command me to my mother's in the nature of a prisoner . . . I have committed no fault that I know of, and though I had, sure I believe the King would take some other way of punishment, than so unusual a one as to starve me to death . . . I, therefore, desire that . . . your Lordship will be pleased, in compassion of a woman distressed without just cause, to move his Majesty for me: and if it may please him to have me removed from London, it is my most earnest desire, if my Lord will give me necessary means to feed and clothe me, for nothing keeps me here but sharp necessity.(1) (The Lady Falkland, Her Life 144)

In the fall of 1991, having received my initial assignment in my first seminar in the Ph.D. program at the University of Kansas, I enter the Spencer Research Library. This will be the first of many steps in my subsequent search for information regarding Elizabeth Cary. At that moment, I know her only as the mysterious "E.F.," sometime-author of an obscure history of Edward II written during the Renaissance.

"I'm looking," I tell the librarian, "for a book written in seventeenth-century England, probably by a woman named Elizabeth Cary." Glancing at the note I clutch in my hand, I add, "That could be spelled C-a-r-y or C-a-r-e-y or C-a-r-e-w."

When his eyebrows ascend one notch, I rush to continue, "But it could be listed under her husband's name, Henry Falkland." I hand him my scribbling and point out a set of initials, "E.F." "My professor says these are all that appear on the book by way of an author's name. He thinks the book is here in the Rare Books Collection."

He considers, then leads me first to the card catalog. When we discover nothing listed under the various spellings of "Cary" that matches my notes, we consult The National Union Catalog, again striking out. Next we try The Short Title Catalog.

"The History of King Edward II," he reads from the index. "No Elizabeth Cary/Carey/Carew listed here, nor," he pauses to consult my note again, "any Elizabeth Falkland. But there are a few gentlemen's names. Let's see. Yes, Falkland, Henry Cary, first Viscount." Armed with this new information, we find the card catalog to be more accommodating. We discover the Viscount Falkland's name on a card listing the history in question: Item E129.

Moments later, I stare briefly at the cover of E129 before opening what will be my private Pandora's box for the remainder of my student career. I read: The History of the Life, Reign, and Death of Edward II, King of England, and Lord of Ireland. With the Rise and Fall of his great Favourites, Gaveston and the Spencers. Written by E.F. in the year 1627. And Printed verbatim from the original. My gaze falls to a hand-written note on the inside page of the book that reads:

By Henry Cary Lord Viscount Falkland who died 1633. He was father of Lucius Cary Viscount Falkland who was killed Sept 1643 at the battle of Newberg fighting for Charles 1st. This book was found amongst the papers of Henry Cary Lord Falkland after his death and was published as his in 1680 when it was the fashion to say anything that could be said against the government of Charles II. Anthony Wood (signature)

I sit back to consider. No wife, no Elizabeth, mentioned. My eyes return to the notation, "written by E.F." Surely these initials stand for Elizabeth Falkland. I read on, next digesting the author's direct address to his/her reader.

20 Feb. 1627:

To out-run those weary hours of a deep and sad Passion, my melancholy Pen fell accidentally on the Historical Relation; which speaks a King, our own though one of the most Unfortunate, and shews the Pride and Fall of his inglorious Minions. I have herein followed the dull Character of our Historians, nor amplified more than they infer, by Circumstance. I strive to please the Truth, not Time, nor fear I Censure, since at the worst, 'twas but one month mis-spended; which cannot promise ought in right Perfection. …

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