Jane Cheyne and Elizabeth Egerton


Travitsky, Subordination

Betty Travitsky, Subordination and Authorship in Early Modern England: The Case of Elizabeth Cavendish Egerton and Her ‘Loose Papers’ (Tempe, AZ, 1999)


The two sisters Lady Jane Cheyne (née Cavendish) and Elizabeth Egerton (née Cavendish), Countess of Bridgewater, shared not only a common disposition towards piety and towards adoration of their father, William Cavendish (1593-1676), Duke of Newcastle, but also towards literary activities, including poetry and drama — productions which were themselves largely designed for presentation to him, as their literary mentor, and for their immediate family. Although the authorship of some of their writings can be clearly distinguished, others may well have been collaborative, or anthologised without distinction. For this reason it seems best to treat them as a pair and to record their extant manuscripts accordingly.


These include a substantial anthology of poems, written in a somewhat idealistic vein, largely on family matters and occasionally echoing phrases familiar in other poets of the period. Given the number of poems among them addressed to ‘my sweete Sister Brackley’ (i.e. to Elizabeth, who married in 1641 John Egerton, who was then styled Viscount Brackley, becoming Earl of Bridgewater in 1649), it seems likely that the great majority of these poems were by Jane, with just a few additions by Elizabeth. It is more than likely, however, that they collaborated over one or possibly both of two dramatic works, A Pastorall (C&E 194-195) and The concealed Fansyes (C&E 193), the latter having particular interest because of its poking fun at Margaret Lucas, who would become their decidedly unwelcome mother-in-law, Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle. The anthology containing these poems and dramatic entertainments exists in two formal copies, both prepared by the Duke's own secretary (Bodleian, MS Rawl.poet. 16 and Yale, Osborn MS b 233), the latter being the less complete and probably earlier of the two.

Besides an extant account book of Lady Jane's (C&E 196), the other notable manuscripts that survive are of two sets of meditations by Elizabeth. Though not entirely distinct, one comprises devotional prose meditations and prayers, many relating to her pregnancies and children, as well as on theological subjects, the initial ‘Confession of Faith’ dated 1 June 1648 (C&E 190-192). The other is a series of prose meditations on books of the Old and New Testaments and the Apocrypha (C&E 188-189). It is possible that one of these sets of ‘Loose Papers and Meditations’, is autograph. The three recorded manuscripts of the first sequence, however, are formal copies of a compilation made by Elizabeth's devoted husband from the ‘loose papers’ she left on her death in 1663. With certain of the copies still containing his handwriting, the extent to which Bridgewater may have subtly doctored and added to these texts, however benign his intentions, has been the subject of more than one modern published discussion.

No comprehensive edition of the extant writings of the two sisters has yet been produced.

Peter Beal