Lady Mary Wroth



Lady Mary Wroth, Poems A Modernized Edition, ed. R. E. Pritchard (Keele, 1996)

Roberts, Poems

The Poems of Lady Mary Wroth, ed. Josephine A. Roberts ([revised paperback edition], Baton Rouge and London, 1983)


Lady Mary Wroth (née Sidney) was born into a highly literary family, being the daughter of the poet Robert Sidney and niece of Sir Philip Sidney and his sister Mary, Countess of Pembroke. Lady Mary Wroth's mother, Barbara Sidney, née Gamage, was also a first cousin of Sir Walter Ralegh. Lady Mary's own literary circle included Ben Jonson, in certain of whose court masques she danced and who dedicated to her The Alchemist, and her cousin the poet William Herbert, third Earl of Pembroke, who was the father of the two children she bore following the death of her husband, Sir Robert Wroth, in 1614.

Literary Works

As an author, she has a claim to fame for writing the first known romance by an English woman. Inspired partly by her uncle's Arcadia, the first part of her Urania, although unfinished (ending in mid-sentence) was published in folio in 1621, and included, as an appendix, a sonnet sequence, Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, which is, again, the first of its genre to be written by an English woman. However, the hostile reaction her romance encountered, because it was seen to represent allegorically certain current aristocratic scandals, led to her trying to withdraw the book and to collect any exempla already sold. It also led to Wroth's witholding from the press the second part of Urania, which exists in her own autograph manuscript (*WrM 12) and which was not published until 1999.

Other notable works by Wroth were also confined to manuscript preservation. An earlier version of her sonnet sequence, Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, comprising 117 songs and sonnets instead of the 103 published in 1621, is preserved in her autograph manuscript (*WrM 1), and a play by her, Love's Victory, not published until 1988, is preserved in two autograph manuscripts (WrM 13-14). In addition, it is clear that some of the poems incorporated in Urania or in her sonnet sequence had a limited circulation in manuscripts, among her immediate family and social circle, though possibly a few copies extended more widely. A small number of extant individual texts recorded below may bear witness to this extended circulation.


Otherwise Wroth has left behind a number of extant letters, mostly in her own distinctive italic hand, fourteen of which can currently be recorded, as well as four letters to her by correspondents (WrM 15-35). Notable among these is the vitriolic epistolary exchange, preserved largely in contemporary copies which evidently had some degree of circulation, between Wroth and her most hostile critic, Edward Denny (1569-1637), Baron Denny of Waltham and first Earl of Norwich, who took great offence at what he perceived in Urania to be a representation of a sexual scandal in his own family. These letters supplement their equally heated verse exchange (WrM 4-5, WrM 36-37).

Annotated Exempla of Urania

Finally, three recorded printed exempla of The First Part of the Countess of Montgomery's Urania bear readers' emendations, including two attempts to complete and cap the final unfinished sentence (WrM 9-11). These are included in Josephine Roberts's list (on pp. 663-4 of her edition in 1995) of a total of 29 extant printed exempla of the work that she could find, some of them bearing other annotations and ownership inscriptions.

Peter Beal