The Poems of Aemilia Lanyer

Place and Patronage in Country House Poems: The Political Appeal of Retreat College

“The private space, the dark cave or rural estate, the distance of isolation, these became the places of the poet, and, paradoxically, offered the readiest means for him to recreate a politically alert audience.” (Greg Walker)

The purpose of country house poetry is clear, in the context of directly seeking to flatter a patron, but the effect on a wider audience may be less certain. The classical appeal of the quiet countryside as an aesthetically superior retreat from civilisation is not as simple as its beauty, and the political implications of isolation as a positive attribute are unavoidable when gender is involved.

Æmilia Lanyer’s poem ‘The Description of Cookeham’, the first published country house poem in English, was dedicated to Margaret Clifford, Countess of Cumberland, and her daughter Lady Anne Clifford, and was a part of her 1611 collection Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum. There were ten other prefatory poems to different potential patrons, which may initially seem odd for a book published with a public audience in mind, but as Erin A. McCarthy proposes, the prefatory poems had a purpose beyond attempting to ‘solicit patronage’ or ‘authorize the book’s content’. She argues that Richard Bonian (Lanyan’s publisher)...

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