Mary Sidney, Lady Wroth

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  • Margaret P. Hannay, Siena College, USA
  • Despite her fascinating life and her importance as a writer, until now Lady Mary Wroth has never been the subject of a full-length biography. Margaret Hannay's reliance on primary sources results in some corrections, as well as additions, to our knowledge of Wroth's life, including Hannay's discovery of the career of her son William, the marriages of her daughter Katherine, her grandchildren, her last years, the date of her death, and the subsequent history of her manuscripts.

    This biography situates Lady Mary Wroth in her family and court context, emphasizing the growth of the writer's mind in the sections on her childhood and youth, with particular attention to her learned aunt, Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, as literary mentor, and to her Continental connections, notably Louise de Coligny, Princess of Orange, and her stepson Prince Maurice.

    Subsequent chapters of the biography treat her experience at the court of Queen Anne, her relationships with parents and siblings, her love for her cousin William Herbert, her marriage to Robert Wroth, the birth and early death of her only legitimate child, her finances and properties, her natural children, her grandchildren, and her last years in the midst of England's civil wars. Throughout the biography attention is paid to the complex connections between Wroth's life and work.

    The narrative is enhanced with a chronology; family trees for the Sidneys and Wroths; a map of Essex, showing where Wroth lived; a chart of family alliances; portraits; and illustrations from her manuscripts.
  • Contents: Preface; Prologue: the Sidney porcupine and the Gamage griffin; 'Little Mall' (1587–94); 'A fit maid for the Queen' (1595–1603); 'Lady Worth' (1604); 'So brave a mind' (1605–13); 'Nature's index' (1614–20); 'Art's sweet lover' (1621–30); 'The honourable Lady Wroth' (1630–1651); Epilogue; Bibliography; Index.
  • About the Author: Margaret P. Hannay, Professor of English at Siena College, is the author of Mary Sidney, Lady Wroth and Philip's Phoenix: Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke, editor of Silent but for the Word: Tudor Women as Patrons, Translators, and Writers of Religious Works, and editor, with Susanne Woods, of Teaching Tudor and Stuart Women Writers. With Noel J. Kinnamon and Michael G. Brennan, she has edited The Collected Works of Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke; Selected Works of Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke; Domestic Politics and Family Absence: The Correspondence (1588-1621) of Robert Sidney, First Earl of Leicester, and Barbara Gamage Sidney, Countess of Leicester; and The Correspondence of Dorothy Percy Sidney, Countess of Leicester.
  • Reviews: Prize: Winner of the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women Book Award, 2011

    Classified as 'Basic Essential' by Baker & Taylor YBP Library Services.

    'Margaret Hannay’s Mary Sidney, Lady Wroth is a deeply impressive work of scholarship, notable for its remarkable scope and meticulous detail. The book brims with valuable information and astute observations about Wroth’s literary career, marriage, children, and social life, and corrects the record on a number of key points with new archival evidence. Hannay richly describes Wroth’s world and offers a thoroughly engaging portrait of the brilliant Mary Wroth herself.'
    Elaine V. Beilin, Framingham State College, USA

    'This first full-length biography of Lady Mary Wroth offers an exciting and authoritative new contribution to Renaissance studies. Scrupulously researched and compulsively readable, Margaret Hannay's narrative vividly conveys the personal life, court career and prolific literary productivity of this remarkably talented and creative member of the Sidney family.'
    Michael G. Brennan, University of Leeds, UK

    ‘This is a fascinating study of one of the most interesting and provocative writers of the English Renaissance. Summing Up: Highly recommended.’ Choice

    ‘This definitve biography is especially welcome as its author is Margaret P. Hannay, the biographer and editor of Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, Wroth's aunt (and William Herbert's mother)…Hannay's meticulous research has unearthed significant findings about her subject's later life, and about the illegitimate twins she bore to William Herbert.’ Times Literary Supplement

    'This biography will not only provide new and fascinating information for scholars already familiar with Wroth's work, it is also a fine introduction for those less familiar with her life and extensive oeuvre. Ashgate has provided Hannay with excellent production values and the book is well illustrated…' Parergon

    'This is the first full-length biography of Wroth, and it is a remarkable achievement: masterful in scope, meticulous in detail, and elegant in execution… Itself a testament to the artful integration of biographical fact and creative vision, Mary Sidney, Lady Wroth stands as a fitting tribute to an innovative storyteller.' Journal of Northern Renaissance

    '… scholars and critics owe Margaret Hannay a great debt. Her encyclopedic knowledge of Wroth's life and works, combined with her generosity in citing and summarizing all prior Wroth scholarship, will make this book required reading for anyone writing about Mary Wroth.' Journal of British Studies

    'Shedding light on previously-covered territory and breaking new ground, Hannay's research incited her compelling argument that Wroth quite likely composed Love's Victory for her sister's 1619 wedding, and uncovers the existence of Wroth's two grandchildren… In this riveting book, Hannay capitalizes on the unusual abundance of primary source material regarding her subject's upbringing, movements, alliances, and indiscretions. One of the greatest strengths of her study of Wroth is her nuanced reading of the political allusions and tropes of infidelity and forced marriage in Wroth's writing, noting disjunctions between life and fiction… Meticulously researched and an invaluable resource, Mary Sidney, Lady Wroth will be of particular interest to early modernists because it contributes to the delicate project of reconstructing childhood as well as female authorship in Elizabethan and Jacobean England.' Pennsylvania Literary Journal

    'In Mary Sidney, Lady Wroth, Margaret Hannay has given us another exquisitely researched biography of another Sidney women. Like the life of Pembroke, Sidney's sister, this biography of Wroth breaks an immense amount of new ground while covering history we thought we knew well… One of the most interesting effects of reading the biography is how much it feels like a reading of Wroth's Urania, close-packed as it is with incident, travel, family relations, deaths, births, court appearances, visits, poetry, and parties.' Renaissance Quarterly

    'This volume achieves precisely what one has come to expect from the scholarly endeavors undertaken by Margaret Hannay: meticulous, encyclopedic research intertwined with sparkling readings of relevant literary texts further interspersed with references to seemingly every academic study of Wroth and the Sidney family. […] Hannay’s biography, with its careful, thorough, extensive evaluation of Wroth’s life, offers a foundation for scholarly discourse for years to come.' Early Modern Women Journal

    'I came to this book with high expectations, knowing the quality of Margaret Hannay’s other work on early modern women. Even so, while reading I was continually - and delightedly - struck by the scope of accomplishment in this biography. Impeccably researched and beautifully written, Mary Sidney, Lady Wroth is a must-read, not just for Wroth scholars, researchers in early modern women, or those interested in the Sidney family circle, but also for anyone who wants an inside view of the lives of the aristocracy in late sixteenth - and early seventeenth-century England.' Sixteenth Century Journal

    'Hannay’s biography is useful not only to Wroth scholars, but also to those interested in how early modern daily life affected authorial processes and production. Hannay has unearthed archival evidence that provides a far more complete picture of Wroth’s life that we have previously had, rectifies several mistaken assumptions, and offers some corrective interpretations.' SHARP News