Elizabeth Cary, Viscountess Falkland



Nadine N.W. Akkerman, ‘“Reader, stand still and look, lo here I am”: Elizabeth Cary's Funeral Elegy “On the Duke of Buckingham”’, in The Literary Career and Legacy of Elizabeth Cary, 1613-1680, ed. Heather Wolfe (New York and Basingstoke, 2007), 183-200.


Life and Letters / Elizabeth Cary, Lady Falkland, ed. Heather Wolfe (Cambridge, 2001)


Autograph and Principal Manuscripts

As an author Elizabeth Cary, Viscountess Falkland (née Tanfield), is best known today for her fine play The Tragedy of Mariam, written c.1604-8 and published in 1613. A reference to this play (as well as to another unidentified play by her) in Sir John Davies's The Muses Sacrifice suggests that it had a least a limited circulation in manuscript in or before 1612, although no manuscript of it is known today.

Of her other known writings, two formal manuscript copies, probably prepared for her, survive of variant versions of her notable historical narrative of the reign of Edward II (CaE 35-36). An autograph manuscript of her translation of the Mirroir du Monde of Abraham Ortelius is also preserved (*CaE 37). Another translation, however — of the Cardinal of Perron's Replique à la Response du Serenissime Roy de la Grand Bretagne — proved far too politically controvesial a tract in 1630 and Archbishop Abbot had all printed exempla coming into England from Douai seized and burnt. Several extant exempla which escaped the fire were evidently presented by Lady Falkland herself to various friends and contain what may be her neat autograph corrections and additions (CaE 38-42). They include generally two inserted leaves bearing autograph verses by her in praise of Cardinal du Perron and a dedicatory sonnet to Queen Henrietta Maria. STC 6385 cites further printed exempla of the work (not necessarily bearing manuscript additions) in the British Library (3851.e.1), Bodleian, Marsh's Library, Dublin, and Leeds University.


The verses associated with Lady Falkland most widely circulated in manuscript are a six-line epitaph on the assassination of the Duke of Buckingham in 1628, beginning ‘Reader stand still and see, loe, how I am’ (CaE 1-34), which is specifically attributed to her in two of the manuscript copies. The question of authorship is complicated, however, not only by the existence of occasional attributions to other writers, but also because in a number of copies the epitaph is followed by, or linked to, a 44-line elegy on Buckingham beginning ‘Yet were bidentalls sacred and the place’. This elegy was never specifically ascribed to her, but was clearly assumed by a number of copyists to be part of a single 50-line poem. A spirited argument for Lady Falkland's authorship is made by Akkerman. Given the variability of the manuscript evidence and of the nature of manuscript circulation, however, including the number of copies of the elegy as a separate poem (probably many more than are recorded here), the jury must remain out on this issue.

Her ‘Life’

Besides her own writing, Lady Falkland is also remembered especially for the major turning point in her life, which was her conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1626 — a decision which caused her considerable grief, including a spell in prison and alienation from her husband, Henry Cary, Viscount Falkland. It also led to her conversion of her six children, her four daughters all becoming Benedictine nuns at Cambrai in France. An important consequence of this was the production in the monastery, after Lady Falkland's death, of a Life of her, probably written principally by Lucy Cary (Dame Magdalena). The nuns' original manuscript of this work survives today (CaE 61), still in France, although in civil custody at Lille following confiscation during the French Revolution. It has been edited and printed several times since its rediscovery in the mid nineteenth century.

Lost Manuscripts

Among much other light on Lady Falkland shed by this Life, we also learn of the considerable corpus of other writings by her which were never published and manuscripts of which are no longer known to survive. Around 1605, for instance, ‘she writ many thinges for her private recreation, on severall subjects, and occasions, all in verse (out of wch she scarce euer writ any thinge that was not translations’ (Wolfe, p. 110). ‘Of all she then writ’, the Life continues, ‘that wch was sayd to be the best, was, the life of Tamberlaine in verse’ (Wolfe, p. 110). Also, about the time she wrote The Reply of the most Illustrious Cardinall of Perron (published 1630), ‘she writ the liues of St Mary Magdalene, St Agnes Martir, and St Elizabeth of Portingall in verse, and both before and after many verses of Our Blessed Lady...and of many other saints’ (Wolfe, p. 141). In addition, her husband's printed exemplum of The Reply ‘was found in his closet after his death [1633], all noted by him’ (Wolfe, p. 151).


Otherwise the greatest number of autograph manuscripts by Lady Falkland known to survive are fifteen letters in the National Archives, Kew (CaE 43-45, CaE 47-55, CaE 57-59). These can be supplemented by two petitions signed by her (*CaE 56 and *CaE 60) and by a copy of a sixteenth letter by her in her husband's hand (CaE 46). All these items are edited in Wolfe, as are nearly 120 other documents relating to Lady Falkland, including a number of letters by Lord Falkland.

Peter Beal