Women's Writing Before Woolf: A Social Reference/Mary Rich, countess of Warwick (1624–1678)

Mary Rich, countess of Warwick (1624–1678) edit

Mary Rich, Countess of Warwick (8 November 1625 – 12 April 1678) was an Irish-born writer and member of the peerage of the United Kingdom. Her personal writings capture the period of the Stuart Restoration, and she was ‘in familiar intercourse with the most active characters of the time, pro and con’.[1]

Biography edit

Mary was born Margaret Boyle[2], the seventh daughter and thirteenth child of Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork and Lord Treasurer of Ireland, and his second wife, Catherine Fenton. She was born in 1625 at the College House in Youghal, County Cork. Her mother died in Dublin in 1630.[3] Sometime later, Boyle sent Mary to live with the Claytons in Mallow, Munster until Mary was eleven[4]. Lord Boyle then moved the family to Stalbridge in Dorset, England.[5]

Boyle arranged a marriage between Mary and James Hamilton, son of Viscount Claneboye. They met in 1638 when Mary was thirteen and James twenty. By Mary’s account, Hamilton professed a great passion for her, but Mary maintained an inexplicable repulsion for him. She withstood the pressure to marry and finally her father called off the betrothal[6]. When Mary’s brother Francis married Elizabeth Killigrew, Mary and Elizabeth became great friends. Elizabeth introduced Mary to seeing and reading plays and romances, and to other members of the court, such as Charles Rich, younger son to the Earl of Warwick.

After visiting Mary through a bout of measles, Rich proposed marriage to Mary, and she agreed. Her father protested and sent Mary to Hampton Court, where Rich continued to visit her (almost daily) for ten weeks; Mary wrote he was her only visitor[7]. Finally Lord Boyle agreed to the marriage and began to prepare a public wedding in London. Mary and Charles, however, eloped to Shepperton near Hampton Court and wed privately at St Nicholas Church on 21 July 1641[8]. Mary moved to Leez Priory in Essex, the home of the Earls of Warwick. She and Charles had two children: Elizabeth, born in 1641, who died before her second birthday, and Charles, born in 1643.

Also in 1643, Mary’s father Lord Boyle died. After losing her father and daughter, and after her son’s serious illness, Mary began to discover her religious faith[9]. During this time, Leez Priory became a refuge and hiding place for Puritan ministers; the Warwicks also hid armaments from Royalist soldiers during the siege of Colchester.[10] In the 1640s, in fact, Leez Priory was the “topographical and moral centre” of opposition to King Charles I,[11] though Mary later thought the king innocent and enjoyed a friendly relationship with Charles II and his court following the Restoration.[12] In 1648, Mary became ill with smallpox; she was ill again near to death sometime in the next few years. Her recoveries strengthened her faith. In 1657, her husband’s nephew Robert died; her father-in-law and brother-in-law soon followed in 1658 and 1659, leaving Charles and Mary to care for their three nieces Anne, Mary and Essex, as well as take on the responsibilities of Earl and Countess of Warwick.

On 2 September 1662, Mary’s son Charles married Anne Cavendish. The younger Charles fell ill with smallpox on 8 May 1664; he died eight days later. Though Mary and her husband tried to conceive more children, they were unable. In 1673, after twenty years of suffering with gout, the elder Charles died. He named Mary heir to his estate; she ensured the marriages of her nieces and settled her husband’s debts and sales. Thereafter, she devoted herself to charity[13] and religion[14], until her death, on 12 April 1678.

Works edit

Autobiography of Mary Countess of Warwick edit

Also titled Some Specialities in the life of M. Warwick. Mary Rich wrote her own autobiography during her later years, roughly 1671 to 1674. Thomas Crofton Croker, who edited the work in 1848 when it was published by the Percy Society, noted only a selection of her work had been published, as her manuscripts had been separated, some kept and some sold, after her death[15]. The is a candid account of Mary’s early life, which she notes in her diary she felt was quite sinful. It outlines her relationships with her family, friends, and the Rich family; it also describes her religious journey, from uncaring to devout.

The Diary of Mary Rich (Abridged) edit

Mary Rich maintained a near-daily dairy from 25 July 1666 to 12 April 1972, and likely beyond. Its main theme is her religious devotion, meditations, and sermons she heard. She also chronicled her daily activities and concerns, her husband’s gout and temper, the deaths and sicknesses that surrounded her, and her correspondences and dinners with notable figures. She writes of visiting the king and queen[16], the lord chamberlain[17], the lord chancellor[18], the duke and duchess of York[19] and more, and mentions events such as the Second Anglo-Dutch War[20], the Great Fire of London[21], and frequent deaths resulting from plague, smallpox and other afflictions. The 1847 published version of her diary by the Religious Tract Society is an abridged version that indicates at least some of the missing sections; it also mentions that a second diary was written in the years 1672 - 1678, but it has since been lost.

Rules for A Holy Life, Occasional Meditations Upon Sundry Subjects and Pious Reflections on Several Scriptures edit

As part of the funeral sermon Dr. Anthony Walker wrote for Mary, he shared additional material he had collected from her writings. This includes a letter from Mary Rich to George, 1st Earl of Berkeley. The letter opens with an assertion that the Earl asked Mary to write him ‘rules for holy living’; the letter is comprised of advice, meditations and reflections on scripture. Other writings Dr. Walker published included a book of thirteen ‘meditations,’ comprising religious prayers and reflections sparked by domestic things such as witnessing silkworms spin, drawing curtains, and asking help from friends; and a book of twelve reflections with prayers linked to specific verses from the Bible. Some of the reflections are upon parts of scripture that perhaps nobody in print had reflected on before, such as John 4: 28, “The woman then left her water-pot.”

Reputation and Legacy edit

After Mary’s death, the man she credits with her religious conversion, Dr. Anthony Walker, published a lengthy memoir dedicated to her, with selections from her writings. He wrote of Mary as a pious noblewoman during a time of hedonism in the royal court[22]. Later compilers of her writings among the Percy Society and the Religious Tract Society call Mary’s catalogue of manuscripts historically significant; “although perhaps as a whole, not worth publication, [they] well merit preservation in the British Museum, for reference to by historical students”.[23]

Her surviving manuscripts have been preserved accordingly in the British Museum and indexed in the Perdita database as a five-volume set of diaries, her Occasional Meditations, her autobiography titled Some Specialities in the life of M. Warwick, and a series titled Collections out of my Lady Warwick’s papers, compiled by another of her religious mentors, Thomas Woodroffe.[24]

References edit

Adamson, John. The Noble Revolt. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007.

Dorset Guide. “Stalbridge.” Accessed 6 May 2021. https://www.dorsets.co.uk/stalbridge

Heffernan, David. “Reconstructing the estate of Richard Boyle, first earl of Cork, c. 1602–43”, History Ireland. Accessed 27 April 2021. https://www.historyireland.com/early-modern-history-1500-1700/reconstructing-the-estate-of-richard-boyle-first-earl-of-cork-c-1602-43/

Perdita. “Perdita woman: Mary Rich, Lady Warwick”. Accessed 18 May 2021. https://web.warwick.ac.uk/english/perdita/html/pw_RICH02.htm

Mayer, Malinda. “Rich, Mary”, Encyclopedia.com. Accessed 26 April 2021. https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rich-mary-1625-1678

Walker, Anthony. Memoir of Lady Warwick: Also, Her Diary, from A.D. 1666 to 1672, now first published : to which are added, extracts from her other writings. London: Religious Tract Society, 1847.

Warwick, Mary. Autobiography of Lady Warwick. Croker, Thomas Crofton (ed.). London: Percy Society, 1848.

WikiTree. “Margaret Boyle”. Accessed 4 May 2021. https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Boyle-1655

Further Reading edit

Walker, Anthony. Memoir of Lady Warwick: Also, Her Diary, from A.D. 1666 to 1672, now first published : to which are added, extracts from her other writings. London: Religious Tract Society, 1847.

Warwick, Mary. Autobiography of Lady Warwick. Edited by Thomas Crofton Croker. London: Percy Society, 1848.

  1. Mary Warwick, “Autobiography of Lady Warwick”, edited by Thomas Crofton Croker, London: Percy Society, 1848, xi
  2. “Margaret Boyle”, WikiTree, https://www.wikitree.com/wiki/Boyle-1655, accessed 4 May 2021
  3. Heffernan, David. “Reconstructing the estate of Richard Boyle, first earl of Cork, c. 1602–43”, History Ireland,  https://www.historyireland.com/early-modern-history-1500-1700/reconstructing-the-estate-of-richard-boyle-first-earl-of-cork-c-1602-43/, accessed 27 April 2021.
  4. Warwick, “Autobiography”, 2
  5. “Stalbridge”, Dorset Guide, https://www.dorsets.co.uk/stalbridge, accessed 6 May 2021.
  6. Warwick, “Autobiography”, 2
  7. Warwick, “Autobiography”, 14
  8. Warwick, “Autobiography”, 45
  9. Warwick, “Autobiography”, 24
  10. Mayer, Malinda. “Rich, Mary”, Encyclopedia.com, https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/rich-mary-1625-1678, accessed 26 April 2021
  11. Adamson, John. The Noble Revolt, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007, 25–26
  12. Walker, Anthony. Memoir of Lady Warwick: Also, Her Diary, from A. D. 1666 to 1672, now first published : to which are added, extracts from her other writings. London: Religious Tract Society, 1847, 145
  13. Mayer, “Rich, Mary”, para. 4
  14. Walker, “Memoir”, 55
  15. Warwick, “Autobiography”, viii – ix
  16. Walker, “Memoir”, 104-105
  17. Walker, “Memoir”, 108
  18. Walker, “Memoir”, 109
  19. Walker, “Memoir”, 110
  20. Walker, “Memoir”, 72
  21. Walker, “Memoir”, 79
  22. Walker, “Memoir”, 22
  23. Warwick, “Autobiography”, xii
  24. “Perdita woman: Mary Rich, Lady Warwick”. https://web.warwick.ac.uk/english/perdita/html/pw_RICH02.htm, accessed 18 May 2021.