Died At Age: 76
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Also Known As: Aemilia Bassano
Born Country: England
Born in: Bishopsgate, London, England
Famous as: Poet
Spouse/Ex-: Alfonso Lanier (m. 1592–1613)
father: Baptiste Bassano
mother: Margret Johnson
Died on: March 31, 1645
place of death: London, United Kingdom
City: London, England
Cause of Death: Natural Causes
Emilia Lanier was an English poet and the first English woman to publish a separate book of poems. She belonged to the early modern era. Born to a royal musician, she was raised in the house of Countess of Kent, Susan Bertie. She lost her father when she was just seven years old, following which she began living with Susan. It was in the house of Susan that Emilia received her primary education and became well-versed in Latin. After her mother passed away, she caught the attention of Henry Carey, the first Lord Hunsdon, who was also Queen Elizabeth’s lord chamberlain. He appointed Emilia as his mistress and she stayed his mistress for many years. She began writing poems in her adulthood and at the age of 42 she published her first poetry collection, ‘Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum.’ It was rare among English women in that time to publish poems at professional level. Several of her poems carried feminist themes.
Childhood & Early Life
Emilia Lanier was born Aemilia Bassano, in Bishopsgate, London, in January 1569, to Baptiste Bassano and Margret Johnson. Her father was appointed as a royal musician and hence, she was a member of the minor gentry.
Her father did not live very long after her birth and died when she was seven. However, despite her father’s demise, she still lived very close to the royal court, in the house of Susan Bertie, the Countess of Kent. However, it was never confirmed whether she served Susan or was a foster child to her, but Susan made sure that she received the best quality education.
She learned Latin, astronomy, geometry, and politics as a young girl. She was interested in poetry ever since she was very young, and took inspiration from greats such as Samuel Daniel and Edmund Spenser.
Her father had left her a significant amount of 100 pounds upon his demise, which was to be given to her when she turned 21, or at the time of her wedding, but the money never quite reached her.
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Her mother died when Emilia was 18. Emilia had turned into a beautiful young woman by then. She caught the attention of Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon, the lord chamberlain of Queen Elizabeth. He took her in as his mistress and she lived with him for many years to come.
The huge age gap of 45 years between the two somehow became a matter of controversy and it was assumed by some that it was a forceful relationship. It was, however, later confirmed that she was in-fact very fond of him.
She was so much in love with Henry that she rejected several marriage offers. Her cousin Alfonso, a court musician like her father, also proposed her for marriage, but she did not accept his proposal.
Most of the information about her comes from an astrologer named Simon Foreman, who wrote that she was an attractive woman and that they both shared a great bond as friends. In the early 1590s, Emilia got pregnant with Carey’s child but he did not want to take the responsibility of the baby and paid her off.
Later in October 1592, she married her cousin Alfonso, who she had rejected earlier. The marriage ceremony took place at St. Botolph’s Church, in Aldgate. Despite the fact that she married the person of her choice, Emilia was not very happy with the marriage; she was happier as Henry Carey’s mistress.
Alfonso did not have sufficient resources but he still spent money on material things, throwing the family in the heap of debts. She had also suffered several miscarriages. She gave birth to a daughter with Alfonso, Odillya, in 1598, but she passed away 10 months later.
Many historians claim that slept with many men. It was understood by Foreman’s writings where he mentioned that he and Emilia always had a sexual-chemistry between them but they never quite had sex. It is also mentioned that while she was in the Royal Court, she presumably had slept with many men.
Emilia Lanier had learned to read and write Latin early in her life. She had an artistic inclination right from her early years, but it was not common for women in that time to publish their writings. She wrote all her life and only published her works in 1611, when she was 42.
She published only one poetry collection, ‘Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum.’ It happened to be the first book of poetry written by an Englishwoman at a professional level. The book contained many small poems, which were dedicated to different women that she had received inspiration and influences from all her life. Through her book, she asserted the greatness of those women.
The title poem is the longest of all the poems in her book. Focusing on the highly controversial event of ‘Crucifixion of Jesus Christ,’ the poem established the role women played in that event. The poem saw the entire event from a women’s point of view, which was the first of its kind, hence it was seen as a revolutionary work.
She also narrated the tale of Adam and Eve. She argued through her poems why was Eve blamed for eating the forbidden fruit, while Adam was considered stronger and hence, he should have refrained from eating the fruit.
The book also gained popularity because no women before her had written about religious themes. Hence, her poetry collection was deemed to be ground-breaking in the history of theological poetry and English literature as a whole.
However, during her lifetime, her works did not receive enough recognition. She attempted getting a patron for her work but she failed. While poems on romance and love were the mainstream successes those days, her work was seen as experimental and hence, it received underwhelming response.
Later Life & Death
Her husband, Alfonso, died in 1613 and following his death, Emilia Lanier began running a school in order to support herself. She rented a house for her students, but was jailed a few times between 1617 and 1619 due to property disputes. When the news of her arrest became spread, her school shut down, as people became vary of sending their children to her school.
She led last few years of her life in obscurity and financial problems. In 1635, she sued her husband’s brother, Clement, for money that she owed from the proceeds of her husband’s patents. The case ran for a few years and the judgement came in her favour.
During the final years of her life, she was on a pension.
She died in 1645 and was buried on April 3, 1645, at the age of 76.