Mary Chudleigh, Lady Chudleigh (August 1656 – 1710) was an English poet who was part of an intellectual circle which included Mary Astell, Elizabeth Thomas, Judith Drake, Elizabeth Elstob, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, and John Norris. In her later years she published a volume of poetry and two volumes of essays, all dealing with feminist themes. Two of her books were published in four editions during the last ten years of her life. Her poetry on the theme of human relationships and human reactions has appeared in several anthologies and her feminist essays are still in print.
Mary Lee was born in Winslade, Devon, in August 1656, the daughter of Richard Lee and Mary Sydenham of Westminster. She was baptized in Cyst St. George, Devon parish on 19 August 1656. She was the oldest of three siblings. Her mother's family was the distinguished Sydenham family of Wynfold Eagle, Dorset. Lady Mary's uncle Colonel William Sydenham served on fought in the English Civil War on the side of Parliament; her other uncle, Dr. Thomas Sydenham was well known for his study of epidemic diseases and doctor to Anne Finch, Vicountess Conway. Her father was a man of property and included "esq" after his name.
She married Sir George Chudleigh, 3rd Baronet (died 1718) of Ashton, Devon on 25 March 1674. Her biographers argue as to whether their marriage was happy; her references to marriage as a trap that was psychologically stifling for women suggest that she may have had personal experience with an overbearing husband, but on the other hand, he did allow her to publish several feminist works during his lifetime, and her previously unpublished work was saved carefully by the family after her death. They had at least six children, including:
- Sir George Chudleigh, 4th Baronet (died 1738), eldest son and heir. He married Frances Davie (1697–1748), a daughter and co-heiress of Sir William Davie, 4th Baronet (1662–1707) of Creedy House, Devon, by whom he had four daughters and co-heiresses.
- Col. Thomas Chudleigh, 2nd son, of Chelsea,. whose son was Sir Thomas Chudleigh, 5th Baronet (died 1741) and whose daughter Elizabeth Chudleigh was wife of Augustus John Hervey, 3rd Earl of Bristol (1724–1779) and bigamous wife of Evelyn Pierrepont, 2nd Duke of Kingston-upon-Hull (1771–1773), who built "Chudleigh House" for her.
- Eliza Maria Chudleigh.
Like most women of her time, she received little in the way of formal education, but read widely  and educated herself in theology, science, and philosophy. Little else is known about her life except that one of her daughters must have died young, as her grief is mentioned in her letters and some poetry. Mary Chudleigh died on 15 December 1710 from severe rheumatism.
Literary works and critical reception
|Library resources about |
|By Mary Chudleigh|
Critics have tended to read Chudleigh's work biographically; however that began to change by the 1990s as new evidence about her life was uncovered. In her early career she could be described as a Restoration poet of lyrics and satires while in her later career she became a philosophical essayist.
Heavily influenced by Mary Astell, Lady Mary Chudleigh was one of the first English women to recognize that as a social group, women faced unique challenges. She wrote overtly feminist works and argued strongly for marriage reform and women's education, believing that women should cultivate reason, virtue and stoic integrity despite living in a world full of misogyny. She also wrote significant poems in the retirement tradition combining Platonic and Christian contemplation as a retreat from the vanities of life.
Chudleigh is no longer thought to have written the prose work The Female Advocate (1700), but expressed in her poetry praise for the "ingenious Pen" of the unknown, pseudonymous Eugenia who wrote it.
The Ladies' Defence, Or, The Bride-Woman's Counsellor Answer'd : A Poem in a Dialogue Between Sir John Brute, Sir William Loveall, Melissa, and a Parson (London, 1701)
This work analyzes marriage from a woman's point of view. Chudleigh, not counting on men to give up their privilege, urges women to avoid marriage and to realize their own self-worth.
Poems on Several Occasions (London, 1703)
By dedicating this work to Queen Anne, Chudleigh was seeking her protection from potential backlash.
Essays Upon Several Subjects (London, 1710)
Chudleigh urges women not to be concerned with wealth, status, interest or ambition in this collection.
- The Poems and Prose of Mary, Lady Chudleigh, ed. Margaret J.M. Ezell (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993).
- Elizabeth Thomas, Pylades and Corinna (London, 1731).
- The Poetical Works of Philip Late Duke of Wharton (London, 1731).
- British Library MSS Stowe 223, f. 398.
- British Library MSS Stowe 224, f. 1.
- George Ballard, Memoirs of Several Ladies of Great Britain who have been Celebrated for their Writings or Skill in the Learned Languages, Arts and Sciences, ed. Ruth Perry (Detroit: Wayne State Univ. Press, 1985).
- Norton Anthology of Literature by Women: The Traditions in English, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, eds.
- The First Feminists: British Women Writers, Moira Fergusson, ed., (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985).
- Eighteenth-Century Women Poets: An Oxford Anthology, Roger Lonsdale, ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989).
- British Literature: An Anthology, Robert DeMaria, Jr., ed. (London: Blackwell, 1996).
- "Mary Astell (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)". Plato.stanford.edu. Retrieved 2016-01-21.
- Gilbert, Sandra M. and Susan Gubar. "Lady Mary Chudleigh." The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women: The Traditions in English. New York: W. W. Norton, 1996. 161.
- Vivian, Lt.Col. J.L., (Ed.) The Visitations of the County of Devon: Comprising the Heralds' Visitations of 1531, 1564 & 1620, Exeter, 1895, p. 190, pedigree of Chudleigh
- Ezell, Margaret, ed. (1993). The Poems and Prose of Lady Mary Chudleigh. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. xviii–xvii.
- Gilbert, Sandra M. and Susan Gubar. "Lady Mary Chudleigh." The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women: The Traditions in English. New York: W. W. Norton, 1996, p. 161.
- "Lady Mary Chudleigh Biography." Famous Poets and Poems. 16 December 2006.
- Dathe of birth per: Vivian, Lt.Col. J. L., (Ed.) The Visitations of the County of Devon: Comprising the Heralds' Visitations of 1531, 1564 & 1620, Exeter, 1895, p. 270, pedigree of Davie; date of death per: Risdon, Tristram (d. 1640), Survey of Devon, 1811 edition, London, 1811, with 1810 additions, p. 397
- Vivian, p. 190, pedigree of Chudleigh
- Humphreys, Jennett (1887). "Chudleigh, Mary". In Stephen, Leslie. Dictionary of National Biography. 10. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
- Colman, G. and B. Thornton. Poems by the Most Eminent Ladies of Great Britain and Ireland Archived 2007-05-25 at the Wayback Machine.. London, T. Becket and T. Evans, 1773, pp. 180–181. 2003.
- https://web.archive.org/web/20070525154222/http://www.nku.edu/~issues/eminent_ladies/vol1/master_file_vol_1.html. Archived from the original on 25 May 2007. Retrieved 16 June 2007. Missing or empty
- "Lady Mary Chudleigh Biography". Famouspoetsandpoems.com. Retrieved 2016-01-21.
- Ezell, Margaret, ed. (1993). The Poems and Prose of Lady Mary Chudleigh. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. xxi.
- Ezell, Margaret, ed. (1990). The Poems and Prose of Lady, Mary Chudleigh. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. xxii–xxiii. ISBN 0-19-508360-1.
- Williamson, Marilyn (1990). Raising Their Voices British Women Writers. 1650-1750. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. pp. 90–93. ISBN 0-8143-2209-3.
- Margaret J. M. Ezell: Introduction to The Poems and Prose of Mary, Lady Chudleigh (1993), p. xxix Retrieved 25 May 2018.
- Williamson, Marilyn (1990). Raising Their Voices. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. p. 95. ISBN 0-8143-2209-3.
- Williamson, Marilyn (1990). Raising Their Voices: British Women Writers 1650-1750. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. p. 90. ISBN 0-8143-2209-3.
- Williamson, Marilyn (1990). Raising Their Voices: British Women Writers, 1650-1750. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. p. 95. ISBN 0-8143-2209-3.
- "Chudleigh Bibliography (Ezell)". Andromeda.rutgers.edu. 1999-07-09. Retrieved 2016-01-21.