“Remembering Cynthia: The Legacy of Elizabeth I in the Poetry of Aemilia Lanyer and Diana Primrose”
Medieval and Early Modern English Studies, Volume 15 No. 1 (2007)
Elizabeth I greatly influenced later women writers by setting an example as a female author and intellectual in addition to playing the unprecedented role of a female ruler. The present paper examines the queen’s influence on Aemilia Lanyer’s dedicatory poems to her Passion poem, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (1611), and Diana Primrose’ “A Chaine of Pearle” (1630). The two poets present the queen as a woman with intellectual and religious authority and, unlike most contemporary male authors, view her possession of both “female” and “male” qualities positively, praising the monarch’s nearly masculine strength. These works also show the influence of Elizabeth I’s rhetorical strategies such as the use of the humilitas topos, sometimes echoing the queen herself. The poets consistently persuade readers to follow the erudite, virtuous queen’s example by reading and thus emphasize the value of their own books and a female readership.
Because of disparities in their social, historical situations, however, Lanyer and Primrose differ to some extent in their access to and presentation of Elizabeth I’s life. As a middle-class woman poet, Lanyer was truly dependent on the authority of her patrons in the Jacobean court and society. Consequently, she remembers the late queen mostly as a symbol of a nostalgic past who serves as the origin of the community of virtuous females found in the Biblical past and the poet’s own society. Primrose, whose Protestant leanings conflicted with Caroline politics such as Charles I’s pacifism and his French, Catholic consort, much more directly praises Elizabeth I, expressing nostalgia for the queen’s Protestantism and successful relationship with her subjects.