Elizabeth Cary, Lady Falkland

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Elizabeth Cary, Lady Falkland
ElizabethCary.jpg
Drawing by Athow, from a painting by Paul Van Somer (1620), the original of which was among the Lenthall pictures
Born 1585
Burford Priory, Burford, Oxfordshire, England
Died 1639 (aged 53–54)
London, England
Occupation Poet, translator, dramatist
Nationality English
Period 1598–1639
Notable work(s) The Tragedy of Mariam

Elizabeth Cary (née Tanfield), Viscountess Falkland (1585–1639), was an English poet, translator and dramatist. Precocious and studious, she was known from a young age for her learning and knowledge of languages.

Early life[edit]

Cary was born in 1585 or 1586 to Laurence Tanfild and Elizabeth Symondes in Oxfordshire. Her father was a lawyer (eventually a judge and Lord Chief Baron). Her parents were very supportive of their only child's love for reading and learning, which was so great that her mother forbade the servants from giving Elizabeth candles to read by at night.

Elizabeth's parents employed a French instructor for Elizabeth when she was five years old. Five weeks later, she was speaking fluently. After excelling in French, she insisted on learning Spanish, Italian, Latin, Hebrew, and Transylvanian on her own, without an instructor. Later on at the age of ten, she also helped exonerate a woman accused of witchcraft after noticing that the accused woman was just answering “yes” to every question she was asked, without thinking about what she was admitting to.[1]

At the age of fifteen, her father arranged her marriage to Sir Henry Cary (sometimes Carey), later named the Viscount Falkland, who married her only because she was an heir. When she finally moved into her husbands home, her mother-in-law informed Elizabeth that she was forbidden to read, so Elizabeth instead chose to write poetry in her spare time.

It wasn't until seven years after they were first married that Henry and Elizabeth had children, totaling in eleven. Catherine (1609–25), Lucius (1610–43) (who would become (2nd Viscount Falkland), Lorenzo (1613–42), Anne (1614-?), Edward (1616–16), Elizabeth (1617–83), Lucy (1619–50), Victoria (1620–92), Mary (1621–93), Henry (1622–?), and Patrick Cary (1623–57).

At the age of twenty, Elizabeth began doubting her Protestant upbringing. Her husband's brother helped her find Catholicism by telling her stories of his travels and recommending books for her to read.

Five of her children (Anne, Elizabeth, Lucy, Mary, and Henry) joined the church in their lifetime.

Later years[edit]

By 1625 Elizabeth’s was disinherited by her father just before he passed away for using part of her jointure to meet expenses. The money that was initially meant for her had gone instead to her eldest son, Lucius, who was strapped with debt. The disinheritance came after she had tried to fiscally boost her husband, who had been struggling to pay for his lands in Ireland. This same year she returned from Ireland and entered London, applied to the Privy Council of England for support, and they directed her to live at her mother’s house, Coates in Oxfordshire, and directed her husband to annually allow her £500. She did not go to live at Coates and her husband never paid her. Rather, she moved into Ragman’s Cottage on the banks of the Thames River, which was paid for by one of her sons. It is thought that she may have used her location here to help smuggle her sons down the river to Deptford, but motivation for this is unclear. After leaving Ireland she faced a life of utter destitution, but one that was not meaningless.

Elizabeth publicly announced her conversion to Catholicism in 1626, which resulted in her husband’s attempted and unsuccessful divorce, although he did deny her access to their children. Despite several orders of the Privy Council, he refused her a maintenance in an apparent effort to force her to recant. She lived in abject circumstances, though she still managed to maintain connections with a constellation of politically prominent women, despite her conversion to Catholicism. Her motivations for conversion are not thought to have stemmed from proselytizers of the religion, but more from her own personal reflections and experiences. One can say that her process was very much organic and natural.

Her husband died in 1633, and she sought to regain custody of her children. She was questioned in the Star Chamber for kidnapping her sons (she had previously, and more easily, gained custody of her daughters), but although she was threatened with imprisonment there is no record of any punishment. Elizabeth was an avid and secretive reader from a young age, in part due to her attempt to understand the Protestantism that she was constantly surrounded by, but was never satisfied until she found solace in Catholicism. Part of her understanding of religious texts was directly influenced by her understanding of literature; if she had not been a natural close reader, she may not have realized the full potential of the Catholic religion and may never have converted. Once fully in-step with Catholicism, she dedicated herself to guiding her children towards the Roman Catholic Church by “opening channels for God and paths for her children, but making sure she didn’t block the road by loitering in the middle of it herself”.[2] Her eldest daughter, Catherine, reported an apparition of the Virgin Mary while on her deathbed. This apparent sighting deeply moved Elizabeth and only furthered her mission to convert all of her children, as Catherine had still been a Protestant at the time of her death.  By the end of Elizabeth’s life her mission had become partially successful; four of her daughters went on to become Benedictine nuns, and one of her sons joined the priesthood.

In 1639, Elizabeth Cary died in London, poor, but rich in her generosity, talent and strength. She is buried in Henrietta Maria's Chapel in Somerset House.[3]

Writing[edit]

Elizabeth was very much in love with poetry and according to the biography written by her daughter she believed that poetry was the highest literary form. Many of her poems have been lost over time but her dedication to poetry is evident throughout her plays . Her first play the Tragedy of Mariam, the Fair Queen of Jewry (1613) was written in iambic pentameter with the use of couplets throughout as well as the use of irony. The change in pattern and rhyme scheme show multiple sonnets throughout the play, and the irony is a traditional element of the sonnet. The Tragedy of Mariam was progressive for its time because it was the first English play to be written by a woman.[4] Her social commentary discussed divorce and female agency, which was innovative for the time. The play discusses revenge, scheming, and plotting as core elements which all aid in Cary’s critique about patriarchal tyranny. Cary then wrote The History of the Life, Reign, and Death of Edward II (1626/1627) which was a political fable based on historic events.[5] The History was not published until 1680, but Cary had written it much earlier. The text is centered around King Charles attempting to break apart parliament so he would not have to impeach George Villiers, The duke of Buckingham. Cary not only wrote about this but she had a part in the actual political controversy surrounding the duke. She was in constant contact with Buckingham and his family and writing The History was her way to cope with having to constantly rely on Buckingham and his family. Cary focuses on the idea of favoritism much throughout the piece and how favoritism can lead to disastrous outcomes. Other than the Tragedy of Mariam and the History many of Cary’s original work has been lost, including most, if not all of her poetry.[6]

Works[edit]

  • The mirror of the world, a translation of Abraham Ortelius's Le mirroir du monde (1598)
  • The Tragedy of Mariam, the Fair Queen of Jewry (pub. 1613)
  • Reply of the most Illustrious Cardinal of Perron (1630)
  • The History of the Life, Reign and Death of Edward II, or The History of the most Unfortunate Prince, King Edward II (pub. 1680)

References[edit]

  1. ^ Cary, Elizabeth, Barry Weller, and Margaret W. Ferguson. The Tragedy of Mariam, the Fair Queen of Jewry / Her Life / by One of Her Daughters; Edited by Barry Weller and Margaret W. Ferguson. Berkeley: University of California, 1994. Print.
  2. ^ Freeman, Peter. "The Unhidden Faith of Lady Falkland." Crisis Magazine, a Voice for the Faithful Catholic Laity. Crisis Magazine, 23 Jun 2011. Web.
  3. ^ "Elizabeth Cary, Viscountess Falkland, Writer, Translator & Catholic Recusant." The Twickenham Museum, the history centre for Twickenham Whitton, Teddington, and the Hamptons. The Twickenham Museum , n.d. Web. 12 Mar 2014.
  4. ^ Hodgson-Wright, Stephanie. “Cary, Elizabeth, Viscountess Falkland (1585–1639).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. 15 Nov. 2006.
  5. ^ Hodgson-Wright, Stephanie. “Cary, Elizabeth, Viscountess Falkland (1585–1639).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. 15 Nov. 2006.
  6. ^ Hodgson-Wright, Stephanie. “Cary, Elizabeth, Viscountess Falkland (1585–1639).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. 15 Nov. 2006.
  • Blain, Virginia, et al., eds. "Cary, Anne (c.1615-71) or Mary (c.1622-93)"; "Falkland, Elizabeth Cary." The Feminist Companion to Literature in English. New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1990. 186, 354.
  • Buck, Claire, ed. "Cary, Elizabeth Tanfield, Lady Falkland." The Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature. Prentice Hall, 1992; p. 397.
  • Greer, Germaine, et al., eds. "Elizabeth Cary, Viscountess Falkland." Kissing the Rod: An Anthology of Seventeenth-Century Women's Verse. Farrar Straus Giroux, 1988; pp. 54–55.
  • Hodgson-Wright, Stephanie. “Cary, Elizabeth, Viscountess Falkland (1585–1639).” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. 15 Nov. 2006.
  • Shapiro, Arlene Iris, "Elizabeth Cary: Her Life, Letters, And Art, Dissertation (Ph.D.)-State University of New York at Stony Brook, 1984.
  • Verzella, Massimo, “Hid as worthless rite”. Scrittura femminile nell’Inghilterra di re Giacomo: Elizabeth Cary e Mary Wroth, Roma, Aracne, 2007.
  • Verzella, Massimo, “The Renaissance Englishwoman’s Entry into Print: Authorizing Strategies”, The Atlantic Critical Review, III, 3 (July–September 2004), pp. 1–19;
  • Cary, Elizabeth, Barry Weller, and Margaret W. Ferguson. The Tragedy of Mariam, the Fair Queen of Jewry / Her Life / by One of Her Daughters; Edited by Barry Weller and Margaret W. Ferguson. Berkeley: University of California, 1994. Print.
  • "Elizabeth Cary, Viscountess Falkland, Writer, Translator & Catholic Recusant." The Twickenham Museum, the history centre for Twickenham Whitton, Teddington, and the Hamptons. The Twickenham Museum , n.d. Web. 12 Mar 2014.
  • F., E., Henry Cary, and Edward Fannant. The History of the Life, Reign, and Death of Edward II., King of England, with the Rise and Fall of His Great Favourites, Gaveston and the Spencers. Written by E.F. in the Year 1627, Etc. London: J.C. for Charles Harper, 1680. Print.
  • Freeman, Peter. "The Unhidden Faith of Lady Falkland." Crisis Magazine, a Voice for the Faithful Catholic Laity. Crisis Magazine, 23 Jun 2011. Web. 12 Mar 2014
  • Wolfe, Heather. The Literary Career and Legacy of Elizabeth Cary, 1613-1680. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. Ebook.