Female and Male Voices in Early Modern England: An Anthology of Renaissance Writing

By Betty S. Travitsky; Anne Lake Prescott | Go to book overview

1
Margaret Lucas Cavendish,
duchess of Newcastle (1623–1673)
Richard Brathwait (1588?–1673)

Margaret Lucas Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle,
Looks Back on her Life

According to her own account, Margaret Lucas Cavendish (1623–1673) was raised rather indulgently by her widowed mother. Sent to attend the exiled queen, Henrietta Maria, she was courted by William Cavendish (later duke of Newcastle), descendant of the redoubtable Bess of Hardwick, and a widower whose daughters were Lucas's own age. Despite the disparity in their ages and their lack of children, the marriage in 1645 of the experienced courtier and the retiring maid-in-waiting proved a great love match. Supported unreservedly by her husband, the duchess became notorious for her eccentric dress and outspokenness in print. Though she was censured by even judicious contemporary readers such as Dorothy Osborne—who wrote that saner persons were to be found in Bedlam—many of the duchess's views would today be called protofeminist. She became one of the most prolific of seventeenth-century women writers after marrying into a family of literary patrons and writers: Milton's Comus was produced for a connection, the countess-dowager of Derby; her stepdaughters, Elizabeth Egerton and Jane Brackley, are among the earliest women dramatists in England (their “Concealed Fancies” pokes fun at the duchess, then their father's fiancée); and William Cavendish was later to write a treatise on horsemanship. Margaret Cavendish wrote plays, poems, short stories, essays, life writings, and works that elude traditional classification. We excerpt portions of her autobiography, originally appended to her Life of William Cavendish, from Nature's Pictures (1656).

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