Emilia Lanier

Ivor Griffiths, Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer

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Emilia Lanier, also spelled Aemilia Lanyer, (1569-1645) was the first Englishwoman to assert herself as a professional poet through her single volume of poems, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (1611).[1] Born Aemilia Bassano and part of the Lanier family tree, she was a member of the minor gentry through her father's appointment as a royal musician, and was apparently educated in the household by Susan Bertie, the dowager Countess of Kent. She was for several years the mistress of Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon, first cousin of Elizabeth I of England. She was married to court musician Alfonso Lanier in 1592 when she became pregnant, and the marriage was reportedly unhappy.


  • 1 Poetry
  • 2 Shakespeare's "Dark Lady"?
  • 3 References
  • 4 See also
  • 5 External links


Lanier's volume Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum centres on the title poem, a long narrative work of over 200 stanzas. It tells the story of Christ's passion almost entirely from the point of view of the women who surround him. The main poem is prefaced by ten shorter dedicatory works, all to aristocratic women, beginning with the queen. There is also a prose preface addressed to the reader, comprising a vindication of "virtuous women" against detractors of the sex. After the central poem there is a verse "Description of Cookham," dedicated to Margaret, Countess of Cumberland and her daughter Lady Anne Clifford. This last is the first published country house poem in English (Ben Jonson's more famous "To Penshurst" may have been written earlier but was first published in 1616).

Shakespeare's "Dark Lady"?

After Emilia was no longer at court, Lord Hunsdon became the patron of William Shakespeare's theatre company and some have speculated that Lanier, an apparently striking woman, was Shakespeare's "Dark Lady". This identification was first proposed by A. L. Rowse and has been repeated by several authors since, notably David Lasocki in his 1995 book The Bassanos. Though the colour of her hair is not known, records exist of her cousins having dark hair, and her skills as a musician fit the picture of the Lady in the sonnets.

  1. ^ Isabella Whitney, a half century before, had been the first Englishwoman known to have published non-religious poetry.

See also

  • Lanier family tree
  • Discussion of the identification of Lanier as the Dark Lady
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