INTRODUCTION 

1. In a recent review of Elizabeth Jane Weston’s Collected Writings edited by Cheney and Hosington, I was obliged to correct one statement made by the editors in their Introduction: NOTE 1

It must be emphasized that Weston’s achievement was unusual for the times in which she lived. Her poetry is impressive, and not only because it was written by a woman. As many a contemporary poet observed, it was learned and inspired, written in the best tradition of Neo-Latin verse. What is surprising, however, is that it was published [authors’ italics]. There is no other substantial body of extant Neo-Latin poetry by a woman.

This statement is simply not true. While it is accurate to state that Weston’s publication of Latin verse may be unusual, it would be wrong to call it unique. In the review, in fact, I pointed out that her published volume — there were actually two, but the second was essentially an expanded version of its predecessor — was assiduously modeled after Olympia Fulvia Morata’s Dialogi, Epistolae, Carmina, tam Latina quam Graeca (Basel, 1562, a digitized photographic reproduction of which may be downloaded here). Then too, there was Bathsua Makin’s Musa Virginea GraecoLatinoGallica…anno aetatis suae decimo sexto edita (London, 1616) NOTE 2, the poetry included in Anna Maria van Schuurman’s highly remarkable Opuscula Hebraea, Graeca, Latina, Gallica, Prosaica et Metrica (Utrecht, 1652, which may be downloaded here), and, although I was not aware of it in time to mention it in the review, the oldest of them all, Faltonia Proba’s Probe Valerie prestantis ingenii femine preclarissimum centonum opus veteris pariter ac novi testamenti (Paris, 1509, which may be downloaded here). No guarantee can be issued to the reader that this list, together with the item presented here, is a complete roster of such volumes. Since it was becoming fashionable to give Humanistic educations to aristocratic girls (Elizabeth had Roger Ascham for a tutor and Mary Queen of Scots had George Buchanan, and this no doubt encouraged the trend), and since Latin verse composition was part of the standard routine of such an education, it is after all not surprising that talented female poets would occasionally emerge, whose work was worthy of seeing the light of day. Nor (subject to certain qualifications, the object of the discussion below) does there seem to have been any especial objection to the publication of Latin poetry by women.
2. Annae, Margaritae, Ianae, sororum virginum heroidum Anglarum, in mortem divae Margaritae Valesiae…Hecatodistichon was printed at Paris in 1550, and a French translation appeared in 1551. Despite the title, this volume contains 104 elegiac distichs written on the death of Marguerite (or Margaret) of Angoulême, Queen of Navarre, in 1549. It was written by Anne, Margaret and Jane Seymour, daughters of Edward Seymour, first Duke of Somerset. The publication of such a memorial volume written by women was obviously appropriate, both because of the high degree of its authors (they were nieces of a former Queen of England, as Denisot is not behindhand in advising the reader in his introductory epistle, and their father, Protector of the Realm during the minority of Edward VI, was the most powerful man in England until his downfall and execution in 1552), and because Margaret herself was a notable poetess, playwright, and author of the prose Heptameron. She was also a patroness of letters, and her brilliant court was frequented by literary men, among them Dolet, Marot, and Rabelais.
3. Little enough seems known about the authors. NOTE 4 Anne was Somerset’s eldest daughter, and in later life was married to John Dudley, son of the Earl of Warwick, and than again to the diplomatist Sir Henry Unton. She died in 1588. Margaret was sought in marriage by Lord Strange, son of the Earl of Derby, but the marriage did not come off and she died soon after her father’s disgrace. Jane was an important cause of his downfall, because of rumors that in his high-flying ambition he was aiming at a marriage between her and the young King. She survived the family catastrophe and was a maid-of-honor to Queen Elizabeth, dying in 1560. Her tomb is in the Abbey. The present volume is prefaced by an epistle from the Franch Humanist Nicolas Denisot
[1515 - 1559], from which we learn they had been his pupils. He also also mentions another tutor, Johannes Crannus, possibly to be Englished as John Crane. Are we to suppose that their father, a man with a long history of French associations, sent them there to put the summa manus on their education? A slightly fanciful (and not entirely accurate) memorial to them may be read here. They had three sisters, Elizabeth, Mary and Catharine, who evidently did not share their literary bent.
4. The Seymours’ epigrams are creditable enough, although for the most part their contents are rather routine Christian piety. Considerably more interesting, however, is their volume regarded as a cultural artifact. Elizabeth Jane Weston’s volume was edited by the Silesian nobleman Georg Martinus von Baldhoven, who encouraged her talent and appointed himself as a kind of impresario to present her to the world. A remarkable feature of her poetry volumes, in both their editions, NOTE 5 is that her own verse provides a minority of the contents in them, the remainder being occupied by a large amount of verses by male poets and a good deal of material by written by Baldhoven himself. In my review I pointed out that Baldhoven appears to have designed these volumes in deliberate imitation of that containing the poetry of Olympia Fulvia Morata, in which Morata’s own work is equally overbalanced by the addition of male poets and where the whole thing was assembled by an equally impresario-like editor
, the Humanist Celio Secondo Curione [1503 - 1569].
5. The present volume it is cut to very much the same pattern, sufficiently so that we are entitled to wonder whether it provided the model for both the Morata and the Weston volumes. Their verses preceded by an epistle by tutor Denisot which begins:

Nescio quo pacto fit, illustrissimae heroinae, ut non minor amor sit apud homines avorum in nepotes quam parentum ipsorum erga filios. Id nunc per me doctus ita esse, re ipsa comperi. Quum enim audissem et vos Navarransis reginae recentem obitum non solum lachyrmis sed etiam centum alternis distichis prosecutas esse, nihil mihi prius fït quam ut illos versus primum crebris literis flagitarem; deinde acceptos, charissimorum nepotulorum loco haberem. Sic enim eos proprio iure vendico, ut meos appellem.

[“I do not know how it comes about, most illustrious Ladies, that there is no less love of grandparents for their grandchildren than of parents themselves towards their sons. Now I have learned this by my own example, I have found it out in very fact. For when I heard that you have observed the recent death of the Queen of Navarre not only with your tears but also with a hundred alternating distichs, nothing was more important to me than to insist on getting them with my frequent letters. Then, when I got them, I regarded them as my dearest grandchildren. Thus I claim them as mine by my own right, so I may call them my own.”]

6. Denisot’s epistle is followed by the Seymours’ poems themselves. Then comes a very lengthy epistle to them by another French Humanist who signs himself with the Latinized name “Petrus Mirarius” and appears to be a close associate of Denisot. This in turn is followed by a number of Latin and Greek poems on the death of Queen Margaret, all written by men (including Denisot and Jean Dorat). The result is the same as in the Weston and Morata volumes: the Seymours’ contribution is sandwiched between epistles written by men, and occupies less than fifty percent of a volume ostensibly dedicated to the publication of their work. From a couple of manuscript poems we happen to know that Weston deeply resented this handling and looked forward (in vain, as it turned out) for the time that she could publish her verse in an unencumbered form. The Morata volume only appeared after the death of its author. One can only guess how the Seymours felt about this mode of presentation.
7. The Seymour, Morata and Weston volumes, taken together, constitute an interesting cultural phenomenon. I do not think that their male editors were employing them as vehicles for their own self-promotion, or exhibiting the work of woman poets as one would dancing bears or similar freak novelties. Rather, it would seem that they were placing themselves in the position of mediators between the woman writer and the male reader in the interest of making women’s poetry more acceptable. By serving, as I say, as a kind of introducer or impresario, and by combining the woman’s poetry with plenty of similar stuff contributed by men, the editor appears to be concerned with issues of legitimization. The idea may be that res
publica literarum was a by nature a fraternity, to which a woman could belong only if she had male sponsorship.
8. Elsewhere I have written about the special problems involved in rendering a very different kind of educated woman acceptable to educated males, Queen Elizabeth. NOTE 6 The object, in essence, was to make the rule of a woman acceptable to England’s educated classes, and inducing them to grant active support to a reign they might otherwise disdain as petticoat government. This was a particularly sensitive issue because Elizabeth’s government depended on the loyal cooperation of the educated classes for its effective operation. The issue here was that in England’s schools and Universities Latin functioned as an important medium of male bonding that gave members of the educated classes a sense of coherence and unity (the distinctive feature of this class being its bilingualism, together with the shared experience of reading the Classics). The propagandistic emphasis (or, more honestly, the gross exaggeration) NOTE 7 of her prowess as a Latinist was designed to make it seem to the educated males of England as if she were one of themselves, or at least as if she had shared their common educational experiences to the point she could understand and sympathize with them because, quite literally, she could speak their language. Highly instrumental for this effort the willingness of a male Humanist to vouch for her credentials: in this sense, on a vastly larger scale Roger Ascham performed much the same legitimizing service for Elizabeth as Denisot did for the Seymour girls and Baldhoven did for Elizabeth Jane Weston.
9. Annae, Margaritae, Ianae, sororum virginum heroidum Anglarum, in mortem divae Margaritae Valesiae…hecatodistichon was published by Reginald and Claudius Calderius at Paris in 1550. It is not registered in the Short Title Catalogue or its electronic equivalent,
nor is it included in the Early English Books microfilm series (one could speak with some asperity about the failure of both these sources to include works by English authors published on the Continent, which has the effect of rendering them all but invisible to modern scholarship). A digitized photographic reproduction of the copy owned by the Bibliothéque Nationale, Paris, can be downloaded here. An expanded Franch translation was published by Michel Fezandat and Robert Granlon under the title Le tombeau de Marguerite de Valois royne de Navarre: faict premierement en disticques latins par les trois sours princesses en Angleterre, with additional poems by Baif, Ronsard and others, at Paris in 1551. This is registered in the electronic equalivent of the Short Title Catalogue as item ESTCS 125774, but is also absent from the printed S. T. C. and the Early English Books microfilms series. A copy is owned by the the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

 

Notes

NOTE 1 Review of Elizabeth Jane Weston: Collected Writings, edited and translated by Donald Cheney and Brenda M. Hosington with the assistance of D. K. Money (Toronto, 2000), in Neulateinisches Jahrbuch 3 (2001), 246 - 248.

NOTE 2 See D. K. Money, The English Horace; Anthony Alsop and the tradition of British Latin Verse (Oxford, 1998) 18 - 21 and (for her vernacular writing) Francis Teague, “Bathsua Makin: Woman of Learning,” in Katharina M. Wilson and Frank Warnke (edd.), Women Writers of the Seventeenth Century (Athens Ga., 1989) 285 - 304.

NOTE 3 One thinks, for example, of William Cecil, Lord Burghley, who had his three daughters taught both Latin and Greek.

NOTE 4 This is particularly so because the Seymour family biographer supplies little information about them: William Seymour, Ordeal by Ambition: An English family in the shadow of the Tudors (New York - London, 1972).

NOTE 5 Poemata (Prague, 1602), Parthenica (Prague, 1609); a digitized photographic reproduction of the latter is available here.

NOTE 6 “The Queen’s Latin,” Neulateinisches Jahrbuch 2 (2000) 233 - 240.

 NOTE 7 For Elizabeth’s limited accomplishments as a Latinist cf. T. W. Baldwin, William Shakespere’s Small Latine & Lesse Greek (Urbana, 1944) I.256 - 284.