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Lady Anne Clifford, Diarist and Historian

Georgianna Ziegler on Lady Anne Clifford:


I was very excited a couple of years ago when a special copy of John Selden’s Titles of Honor came into the Folger collection.  We already had two copies, but what made this one so special was the fact that it had been owned by Lady Anne Clifford, one of the greatest women of her age.  There on the title page is her inscription saying that she read and “over looked” the book in the winter of 1638.  What does she mean by “over looked”?  Lady Anne was what we would call a multi-tasker – that is, she frequently had one of her secretaries read to her while she was doing something else.  This book is full of underlinings and marginal marks, probably made by her secretaries, but obviously at her command.  By “over looking” I think she meant that she went back over the book, perhaps as the chapters were read, and made sure the passages were marked that she wanted.  There are even a number of original paper bookmarks stuck in.


Lady Anne had a major collection of books, but she was especially interested in this volume because Selden wrote about lineage and how different titles and property pass in families through the male or female heirs.  When she was fifteen, Lady Anne’s father died, leaving his vast Yorkshire estates not to her – his heir – but to his brother.  Lady Anne spent most of the rest of her life trying to get back these estates.  The lawyer and antiquarian John Selden was a friend of hers, and it is possible that he was one of the experts whom she called upon over the years to help with the claims to her properties.  Certainly, his Titles of Honor was a book that she consumed with much interest because it traced the history and customs of titles from ancient times and as they came to be used in England.     


At first she was helped by her mother, but after Lady Margaret Clifford’s death, Anne had to go it alone.  Though both of her husbands -- first Richard Sackville, 3rd earl of Dorset and then Philip Herbert, 4th earl of Pembroke -- were powerful men, neither helped her bring about the settlement.  After their deaths, Anne continued to pursue her interests.  She hired antiquarians to search old records and translate them from Latin or French, and then had them bound into three large volumes.  She also wrote hundreds of pages of diaries which document her life while constantly relating it back to what had gone before, placing her in a historical continuum.  


Finally, in 1643, the last of the Clifford male heirs died, leaving Anne the sole inheritor of the estates at the age of 53.  She could now style herself Countess of Dorset, Pembroke, and Montgomery, “Barones Clifford Westmorland and Vescy; and High Shreives of that County and Lady of the Honor of Skipton in Craven.”† She had become the greatest female landowner in England.




† Quoted from one of her Great Books in Spence, p. 160.




Georiganna Ziegler has written on Lady Anne Clifford, Esther Inglis, and Elizabeth I, including the exhibition catalog, Elizabeth I: Then and Now.  She is Louis B. Thalheimer Head of Reference at the Folger Shakespeare Library, and is the curator of the exhibition Shakespeare's Sisters.




Case 2 -- Elizabeth Cary >>>

John Selden. Titles of Honor. London, 1631


Audio Stop: Georgianna Ziegler on Lady Anne Clifford

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