Women's Writing Before Woolf: A Social Reference/Anne Dowriche (f. 1589)
Anne Dowriche (c. 1550 - 1638) was an English poet, historian and advocate, acclaimed for her 16th Century publication of literary verses imbued with Puritan rhetoric and valuable insights into the prominent national, social and political issues of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods.
In particular, Dowriche’s most renowned work, The French Historie, is a 2,400-line poem which eloquently dramatizes the persecution of Protestants and the political struggles against tyrannical monarchs that consumed the French Wars of Religion. Although also credited with writing many more poetic pieces, many of which have since been lost to antiquity, Dowriche utilised her humanist publications and feminine authorship to subvert dominant patriarchal discourses about the place of women’s work in both domestic and public spheres. As such, her writing has not only profoundly contributed to Tudor historiography, but also illuminated the challenges of navigating and writing contentious history, as well as those surrounding the patronage and publication of female literary voices.
As the daughter of Sir Richard Edgecombe and Elizabeth Tregian Edgecombe, Anne Edgecombe (later Dowriche) was born into privilege as a part of the English gentry of Cornwell in around 1550. A foundational indictor of such privilege is that she was afforded the opportunity to participate in a traditional education underpinned by religion, language and literature: an upbringing most notably influenced by her father Richard, a fellow writer, who is said to have cultivated Dowriche’s passion for writing from a young age.
Similarly guided by her familial background, Dowriche was raised as an avid follower of the Protestant religion and although such ideologies were controversial and marginalised throughout England during this period, she utilised her writing as a medium through which to communicate her Puritan faith and affirm the Protestant Reformation. The association between Dowriche’s literary work and Protestant sentiments is especially evident by her dedication of The French Histories to her older brother, Pearse Edgecombe – the Sheriff of Devon – who held Crown appointments and preeminent Puritan convictions.
Marriage and Literary CareerEdit
On 29th November 1580, Anne Edgecombe married Hugh Dowriche, a local and notable reverend from Devon, who similarly upheld Protestant principles and actively advocated for the Puritanism movement of the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Although very little is known about their intimate lives, it is known that the couple had six children together between 1581 and 1594.
The intertextual nature of Dowriche’s writing is exemplified by her synthesis of biblical, historical, humanist and political analogues throughout her work, which collectively present a multidimensional narrative of martyrdom, retaliation and the revival of the Protestant faith from those within this devout religious community of followers.
The French HistorieEdit
Dowriche’s impression of Puritan ideals and justification for Huguenot retribution against the Catholics is especially epitomised throughout her renowned poem, The French Historie (1589), which chronicles the tyrannical authority of Catholicism alongside the persecution of the French Protestants in the years preceding the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre of 1572. Through allusions to both biblical and contemporary texts, Dowriche profoundly parallels the Old Testament narratives of Israelite suffering with her poetic portrayal of the diaspora of Protestant refugees from conflict and their pursuit for asylum in England. The poetic dramatization of plight of the Huguenots – which culminated in the assassination of their leader, Gaspard de Coligny – affords Dowriche an opportunity to not only impress her purist philosophies on the monarchy and secularism, but also transcribe a persuasive, “female-authored” history that memorialises her political and religious ‘truth’.
Furthermore, Dowriche’s deconstruction and Machiavellian characterisation of Catherine de Medici is instrumental in cultivating a subversive narrative of the Queen of France as a ruthless, decisive and prominent figure that incited the historic massacre of St Bartholomew’s Day: a direct juxtaposition to the traditionally-rigid, passive and subordinate expectations imposed upon women by patriarchal civilisation.
o The French Historie (1589)
o To the Right Worshipful her Loving Brother Master Pearse Edgecombe (1589)
o To the Reader (1589)
o To the Reader that is Friendly to Poetry (1589)
o Pearse Edgecombe (1589)
Reputation and LegacyEdit
The enduring legacy of Anne Dowriche is encapsulated by the manner in which her literature incited substantial public discourse and draw considerable attention to women writers and the publication of their work, particularly those in the poetic form which sought to express their unique political, cultural and social understandings through literature. In this manner, Dowriche utilised feminine characterisation and the physicality of her work to present herself as a profound opposition to the patriarchal discourses of Elizabethan society, particularly those concerned with the subjugation and confinement of women to subservience and domesticity. In particular, the fashion in which Queen Elizabeth I is explicitly confronted, by Dowriche, in The French Historie to safeguard her Protestant subjects – coupled with the ruthless, intellectual and formidable characterisation of Catherine de Medici – has proved instrumental in illuminating the historical need for greater prevalence and space for women’s intellectual and public pursuits, as they too have the capacity to be headstrong, rational, authoritative and leading presences within society.
For additional information on Anne Dowriche and her work, it is encouraged to engage with her publications directly, most acclaimed being The French Historie, which is readily available online at ProQuest: https://www.proquest.com/publication/2066923?parentSessionId=v%2Fdwp11I36TzJIPsi1i3oK50yJDMgX1i8CPNcg7E4gA%3D&accountid=10499.
Furthermore, the scholarly publications of current academics may offer valuable insights into the contextual background and personal history of Anne Dowriche, as a foundational pioneer in the composition and publication of literature composed by early women writers, as well as a remarkable activist for the poetic form as an authentic medium through which individuals, regardless of gender, may voice their political, social and religious sentiments. In particular, Dr Julie Sampson and Associate Professor Micheline White disclose very multifaceted interpretations into the utilisation of notable cultural developments as literary subjects for early female writers, and in turn, position Dowriche’s writing as a reflection of her historical context of authorship and patronage that profoundly informed the literary spheres of the 16th Century. Their most accessible and informative articles are as followed:
Sampson, Julie. “Anne Edgcumb/Dowriche and The French Historie.” The Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art, vol. 141, no. 6, 2009, pp. 93-152. https://devonassoc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Dowriche-French-Historie-Sampson-TDA-2009.pdf White, Micheline. “Women Writers and Literary‐Religious Circles in the Elizabethan West Country: Anne Dowriche, Anne Lock Prowse, Anne Lock Moyle, Ursula Fulford, and Elizabeth Rous.” Modern Philology, vol. 103, no. 2, 2005, pp. 187–214. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.1086/506535
Finally, to acquire further contextual knowledge of the historic Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, especially the religious traditions, cultural movements and social developments detailed in Dowriche’s work, it may be beneficial to explore The Routledge Companion to the Tudor Age available at https://www.proquest.com/docview/2134695170/DC380B8A22784C9APQ/1?accountid=10499.
Bawcutt, N. W. “The ‘Myth of Gentillet’ Reconsidered: An Aspect of Elizabethan Machiavellianism.” The Modern Language Review, vol. 99, no. 4, 2004, pp. 863–74. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/3738500. Accessed 20 Oct. 2022. https://www.jstor.org/stable/3738500
Beilin, Elaine V. "Writing Public Poetry Humanism and the Woman Writer." Modern Language Quarterly (Seattle), vol. 51, no. 2, 1990, pp. 249-272. https://read-dukeupress-edu.ezproxy.newcastle.edu.au/modern-language-quarterly/article/51/2/249/18787/Writing-Public-Poetry-Humanism-and-the-Woman
Dowriche, Anne. THE FRENCH Historie. London, 1589. ProQuest, http://ezproxy.newcastle.edu.au/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/books/french-historie/docview/2148010160/se-2
Martin, Randall. "Anne Dowriche's The French History, Christopher Marlowe, and Machiavellian Agency." SEL Studies in English Literature 1500-1900, vol. 39 no. 1, 1999, p. 69-87. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/sel.1999.0005.
Matchinske, Megan. "Moral, Method, and History in Anne Dowriche's the French Historie." English Literary Renaissance, vol. 34, no. 2, 2004, pp. 176-200.
O'Day, Rosemary. The Routledge Companion to the Tudor Age. Taylor & Francis Group, 2010. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://www.proquest.com/legacydocview/EBC/988019?accountid=10499.
Sampson, Julie. “Anne Edgcumb/Dowriche and The French Historie.” The Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art, vol. 141, no. 6, 2009, pp. 93-152. https://devonassoc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Dowriche-French-Historie-Sampson-TDA-2009.pdf
White, Micheline. “Women Writers and Literary‐Religious Circles in the Elizabethan West Country: Anne Dowriche, Anne Lock Prowse, Anne Lock Moyle, Ursula Fulford, and Elizabeth Rous.” Modern Philology, vol. 103, no. 2, 2005, pp. 187–214. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.1086/506535
 Beilin 250
 Dowriche 37
 Beilin 258
 White 8
 Bawcutt 11
 White 18
 Sampson 96
 Sampson 99-101
 Martin 70
 Matchinske 178
 Matchinske 178
 Martin 71-72