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Writing the Way Out

Inheritance and Appropriation in Aemilia Lanyer, Isabella Whitney, Mary (Sidney) Herbert and Mary Wroth

Ann Margaret Lange

In the early modern period, there have been a vigorous debate in the public arena on the nature of women and their place in society. For instance, most women had been excluded from inheritance.
The author of this work is shedding light on how the notion of inheritance intrudes into the literature produced by women of the period.
She analyses the tropes of inheritance and appropriation as they are evidenced in the works of women from the upper strata of society – women such as Mary (Sidney) Herbert, the Countess of Pembroke, and Lady Mary Wroth, both scions of the renowned Sidney family – and also those produced by those from lower down in the social spectrum, such as Aemilia Lanyer and Isabella Whitney.


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CHAPTER 1 – Aemilia Lanyer 19


CHAPTER 1 Aemilia Lanyer Aemilia Bassano (Lanyer) was baptised in 1569, 11 years into the reign of Elizabeth I, and was buried in 1645, having lived through the whole reign of James 1 (1603–1625) and most of that of Charles I (1625–1649). She outlived her husband (Alphonso) and both her children (Henry and Odillya), her whole life being played out in the environs of the city of London. She was born the daughter of an Italian (and possibly Jewish) court musician and his common law wife, and grew up in court circles. She apparently (from the evidence of her poetry) spent a part of her childhood in the household of a youthful Susan Bertie, dowager Count- ess of Kent and possibly received some education there. It would seem that she was physically attractive; certainly she was sufficiently beautiful to attract the attention of Henry Carey (1525–1596)1, Baron Hunsdon, Lord Chamberlain to Elizabeth I and patron of Shakespeare, and a pow- erful courtier, whose mistress she became when she was around 18 years old. Five years later (in late 1592), when pregnant, she was married to Alphonso Lanyer (a court musician, like her father); her son Henry (pre- sumably named after his actual father, the Lord Chamberlain) was born early the next year. She was to bear only one other live child: a daughter (Odillya, 1598), who survived a bare 9 months2. In the final years of the sixteenth century, Lanyer consulted repeatedly with a fashionable as-...

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