Aemilia Lanyer Biography

Emilia Lanier, also spelled Lanyer, (1569–1645) was the first Englishwoman to assert herself as a professional poet through her single volume of poems, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (1611).[2] Born Aemilia Bassano and part of the Lanier family tree, she was a member of the minor gentry through her father's appointment as a royal musician, and was apparently educated in the household by Susan Bertie, Countess of Kent. She was for several years the mistress of Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon, first cousin of Elizabeth I of England. She was married to court musician Alfonso Lanier in 1592 when she became pregnant by Hunsdon, and the marriage was reportedly unhappy.

As the author of the collection of poetry known as "Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum" (1611) Emelia was the first woman in England to publish a book of original poetry. Her volume centres on the title poem, a long narrative work of over 200 stanzas. It tells the story of Christ's passion satirically and almost entirely from the point of view of the women who surround him. The main poem is prefaced by ten shorter dedicatory works, all to aristocratic women, beginning with the queen. There is also a prose preface addressed to the reader, comprising a vindication of "virtuous women" against detractors of the sex. After the central poem there is a verse "Description of Cookham," dedicated to Margaret, Countess of Cumberland and her daughter Lady Anne Clifford. This last is the first published country house poem in English (Ben Jonson's more famous "To Penshurst" may have been written earlier but was first published in 1616). Her inspiration came from a visit to Cookham Dean, where Margaret Clifford, Countess of Cumberland, and her daughter Lady Anne Clifford lived. While visiting the residence she says to have received a spiritual awakening, inspired by the piety of Margaret. At the age of 42, in 1611, she published Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (Hail, God, King of the Jews). At the time that she published her book, it was extremely unusual for an Englishwoman to publish work and to do so as a means of making a living was even more unusual. The book was radical for its time, although the topics of virtue and religion were considered to be suitable themes for women. It was viewed as radical because it addressed topics such as the maltreatment of women. Layner defends Eve, and womankind in general, arguing that Eve has been wrongly blamed for the original sin of eating the forbidden fruit, while no blame has been pointed at Adam. She argues that Adam shares most of the guilt by concluding that Adam was stronger than Eve, and thus, he should have been able to resist the temptation. She also defends women by pointing out the dedication of the female followers of Christ who stayed with Him throughout the Passion, and looked for him first after the burial and resurrection. She also draws attention to Pilate’s wife who attempted to intervene and prevent the unjust trial and crucifixion of Christ. Layner reproaches mankind by accusing them of crucifying Christ. She also notes the male apostles that forsook and even denied Christ during His crucifixion and Passion.

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