Saturday, October 05, 2013

Elizabethan Week, Day Six: Heroine of the Weekend

For our heroine this weekend, I had to look to the Elizabethan era, which is chock-full of strong, inspirational women!  I used many of them in my research and my Kate Haywood novels (trying to weave as many of them as possible into the stories), and one that I found really fascinating (and very elusive) was Emilia (or Amelia) Lanier (1569-1645).  Since Kate is a musician at the queen's court, I've been reading everything I can find about music in the Tudor period.  The Bassano family of Venice held high places in the queen's musical consort, and Emilia was one of them.  She was also (perhaps) the Dark Lady of Shakespeare's poems, and one of the first female professional poets in her own right.

Emilia was born the daughter of court musician Baptiste Bassano, baptized at the church of St. Botolph's, Bishopsgate, on January 27, 1569.  Her father died in 1576, and she was sent to be educated in the household of the Countess of Kent, where she learned Latin among other subjects.  Once launched into the world, she became the mistress of one of the most powerful men at court, the queen's cousin Henry Carey, Baron Hunsdon, a patron of the arts (he was the Lord Chamberlain in the Lord Chamberlain's Men, where Shakespeare got his start).  He was also 45 years older than her.  When she became pregnant in 1592, she was married off to her cousin, Alfonso Lanier, a musician at the royal court, who claimed her son Henry as his own (though the marriage was said to be unhappy in the long run!).  According to the diaries of astrologer Simon Forman (who may have made a pass at Emilia and was rejected, so his gossip should always be taken a bit doubtfully!), "...and a nobleman that is ded hath Loved her well & kept her and did maintain her longe but her husband hath delte hardly with her and spent and consumed her goods and she is debt."

She became one of the first Englishwomen to publish her own work in 1611, with her volume of poems Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, considered radically feminist for the era.  Her husband died in 1613, and little is known of her from 1619-35.  She sued her brother-in-law, and may have run a school.  She died in 1645.

For more about the Dark Lady controversy....
Was Shakespeare a Woman?

Some good sources for the history of Emilia and music in this era:
Kari Boyd McBride, Biography of Aemilia Lanier (2008)
David Lasocki, The Bassanos: Venetian Musicians and Instrument Makers in England, 1531-1685 (1995)

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