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Case 8 - Writings by Mothers, Daughters, & Sisters

Just as the Sidney and Clifford families created literary circles, so did other families in England and France. Support from one’s family was especially important for women writers who were educated at home and often expected to fulfill household duties before intellectual pursuits. The Seymour sisters in England wrote verses in Latin on the death of Marguerite de Navarre, which were published in France. Two mother-daughter pairs, the Des Roches, and the Deshoulières, wrote poetry together, and the Des Roches hosted a literary circle in their Poitiers home. Later in the seventeenth century, the Mancini sisters each broke away from their husbands, traveled, and wrote memoirs of their colorful lives. They lived on the edge of scandal, pushing the boundaries of women beyond the home.

Hortense Mancini and her sister, Marie Mancini.

Les memoires de M.L.P. M.M. Colonne G connétable du royaume de Naples. Cologne, 1676

Anne Dudley. Le tombeau de Marguerite de Valois royne de Navarre. Paris, 1551

Madeleine des Roches. Les missiues de Mes-Dames Des Roches de Poitiers mere et fille. Paris, 1586.


Both Marie and Hortense Mancini led interesting lives, and both of them wrote memoirs detailing their adventures. Hortense Mancini fled from her husband, and she spent much of her married life traveling across Europe. Her sister Marie also fled from her husband, and for some time, the two traveled together. Hortense eventually settled in London where she became a patron of the arts and was supported by Charles II. Aphra Behn dedicated one of her plays to the duchess, and Susanna Centlivre’s play The Basset-table was inspired by Mancini’s gambling and literary salon. Because the rather scandalous lives of these sisters were so popular, other writers rushed fictional memoirs into print that were attributed to them. The book on display is one of those false memoirs of Marie Mancini using the same imprint as her sister’s book to make it look legitimate.


Less scandalous were the Seymour sisters, daughters of Edward Seymour, duke of Somerset, and lord protector for the young Edward VI. They received a full humanist education and went on to write a tour-de-force poem of 103 Latin couplets composed in memory of Marguerite de Navarre. Their French tutor took the manuscript to France where it was published with congratulatory poems by a number of male Humanists, including the poet Ronsard.


The mother-and-daughter pair, Madeleine and Catherine Des Roches, were learned women from Poitiers, France who held literary salons at their home and whose fame spread to Paris. Both wrote poetry, and Catherine’s works include a sonnet sequence and political poems. Their last publication, on display, contains ninety-six letters to friends and family, some of which extol female friendship and learning. It opens with an epistle from mother to daughter in which Madeleine credits her daughter’s encouragement with her own decision to “speak in public”; that is, allow her writings to be published along with those of her daughter. They both died of the plague the following year, 1587.

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