Elizabeth Cary

Biography

Elizabeth Cary

Elizabeth Cary, born at Burford Priory in Oxfordshire, was the first female writer to publish work under her own name and thought to be the first femal playwright to write in English. A poet, dramatist, and translator Elizabeth was known for her fluency in multiple languages, such as French and Hebrew. Born to Sir Lawrence Tanfield and Elizabeth Symonds, and though they supported her passion for learning, are said to have refused her a candle for reading at night so she would rest from her studies. At fifteen she wed Sir Henry Cary by arranged marriage and lived with him in Ireland. Together, they became Viscount and Viscountess Falkland and had eleven children.

Elizabeth converted to Catholicism during the Protestant reign in England in 1626.  Consequently, Sir Henry Cary tried to divorce her and took custody of their children until he died in 1633, at which time she regained custody. He also refused her any financial assistance. Her father had since disinherited her and Elizabeth was forced to rely on close friends for security. In spite of the alienation from her husband, Elizabeth made it her mission to convert her children and was partially successful; four of her daughters became Benedict nuns and one son joined the Priesthood. Elizabeth died in 1639, poor, but among loyal friends in London. She is buried in Henrietta Maria's Chapel in Somerset House.

Her most well-known play, The Tragedy of Mariam, was written between 1602 and 1604 and published in 1613. Elizabeth wrote in iambic pentameter and was fond of the poetic form. The play focuses on themes of marriage and divorce. Elizabeth Cary remained largely unknown until the 1970s feminist movement discovered her literary significance. Despite Lady Falkland’s remarkable life and work, much of her work, including her poetry, have been lost.

Her Works