augury doggerel

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Mare's Nest

And then there was the marvelous Mary Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, literary patron, translator and poet, Sir Philip Sidney's sister, mother of the "incomparable pair of brethren." She married at fifteen and was widowed at forty, and spent her last twenty years living vigorously.

In her twenty years as a widow she attempted to put down insurrections in Cardiff, administered her properties, continued writing and translating, built herself a magnificent country house, carried on a flirtation with her handsome and learned young doctor Sir Matthew Lister, and took the waters for her health in the fashionable Continental town of Spa. She died in 1621, and after a magnificent torchlight procession, was buried in Salisbury Cathedral.

Ben Jonson wrote this epitaph:

Underneath this sable herse
Lies the subject of all verse,
SIDNEY's sister, PEMBROKE's mother ;
Death! ere thou hast slain another,
Learn'd and fair, and good as she,
Time shall throw a dart at thee.

But let's not kill her off just yet. In one of his brief lives, Aubrey wrote: "In her time, Wilton House was like a College, there were so many learned and ingeniose persons. She was the greatest Patronesse of witt and learning of any Lady in her time." He also gossiped (speaking of horses) that:

She was very salacious, and she had a Contrivance that in the Spring of the yeare, when the Stallions were to leape the Mares, they were to be brought before such a part of the house, where she had a vidette (a hole to peepe out at) to looke on them and please herselfe with their Sport; and then she would act the like sport herselfe with her stallions.

A life lived well.


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