A Medley of Christian Religious Poetry
The religious underpinnings of early modern English life occasioned the bulk of the period's writing. Despite the efforts of successive English monarchs to enforce the religious settlement initiated by Henry VIII, the break with Rome left some subjects part of an embattled Catholic minority and others divided in belief among proliferating Protestant sects. These divisions eventually led to a self-imposed exile by many recusants (as Catholics came to be called) and to an acrimony among the sects that fed the growth of British colonies and erupted in civil war in the mid-seventeenth century. Women were active players in the Protestant camp and an important glue in the recusant community. We print here poems by two Protestant women: Anne Collins, who remained in Britain, and Anne Bradstreet, who emigrated, and two recusants: Gertrude Aston Thimelby, who spent her married life in England and then professed abroad, and Gertrude More, who in 1623 cofounded and entered a Benedictine convent at Cambrai, now part of northern France but then Flemish. To these we add poems by two Protestant men, Henry Coleman and John Collop, and the recusant Henry Constable.
Occasional self-references in Divine Songs and Meditations Composed by An[ne] Collins (1653), a slender volume of deeply religious verses that survives in only one exemplar, provide our few bits of information about Anne Collins (fl. 1653): she suffered chronic illness, was childless, had experienced despair, and was past her youth when the volume appeared. She was undoubtedly opposed to strife. Critics have placed her quite variously in the religious grid of mid-seventeenth-century England—as Puritan, as