Sunday, March 22, 2009

An owl in the desert

Lady Anne Clifford died 333 years ago today. She was a formidable woman who struggled for many years to claim ownership of her family’s large estates in the north of England, but when she did finally inherit them, she did much to restore their buildings, especially the castles. She’s also considered a minor literary figure because of the quality of a diary she left behind. Coincidentally, this was first edited by Vita Sackville-West, a descendant of the brother of her first husband.

There is an excellent biography of Lady Clifford on the Encyclopedia of World Biography website, and there are short biographical summaries on the Wikipedia and Diary Junction websites. Born at Skipton Castle, she was the third and only surviving child of the Third Earl of Cumberland and his wife Margaret Russell. The Earl was away at sea most of the time, so she was brought up in a house dominated by women, though she did have a tutor, the poet Samuel Daniel. As a girl, she spent time at Queen Elizabeth’s court, and indeed was still at court in 1603 when Elizabeth died and James I ascended the throne.

When her father died, in 1605, the whole estate went to his brother not to her, and Anne then spent several decades in a battle (which went so far as to involve King James) to reclaim it. Her first husband, Richard Sackville, Earl of Dorset, with whom she had five children (three of whom died young), did not support her in these efforts. (The descendants of Richard’s brother, Edward, include the writer Vita Sackville-West who was born at Knole, the great Sackville stately home in Kent; and - coincidentally for this Blog - she married Harold Nicolson, the subject of the last Diary Review article.)

Clifford’s second husband, Philip Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, did support Lady Anne’s legal efforts. He employed Inigo Jones to restore the Pembroke family home, and Anne became enthusiastic about other building projects. She eventually inherited her father’s estate when the male line failed, and, with the Civil War raging, went north to live there. At the age of nearly 60, with Pembroke having died, Lady Anne spent the final years of her life helping to rebuild local churches and castles on the estate lands (including Skipton Castle). She died at Brougham Castle where her father had been born - 333 years ago today.

Only a small portion of Clifford’s diaries survive - a reminiscence written in 1603 and a regular diary for 1616, 1617 and 1619 - and these were first edited by Vita Sackville-West and published by Heinemann in 1923 as The Diary of Lady Anne Clifford. First editions can be bought secondhand at Abebooks for as little as £30 in the UK. More recently, there have been various new editions/reprints, including The Memoir of 1603 and The Diary of 1616-1619 edited by Katherine Acheson and published by Broadview Press in 2007. Some pages of this latter edition are viewable on Googlebooks.

Otherwise, there’s not much of Clifford’s diary on the internet, though a few extracts can be found on The Norton Anthology of English Literature website. Here are a couple of extracts, both of which refer to the dispute about her family estate. (‘My Lady’ refers to her mother; ‘my Lord’ to her husband; and the ‘agreements’ to the dispute over the family estate.)

February 1616
‘Upon the 17th being Saturday my Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, my Lord William Howard, my Lord Roos, my Cousin Russell, my brother Sackville, and a great company of men of note were all in the gallery at Dorset House where the Archbishop of Canterbury took me aside and talked with me privately one hour and a half, and persuaded me both by divine and human means to set my hand to these agreements, but my answer to his Lordship was that I would do nothing till my Lady and I had conferred together. Much persuasion was used by him and all the company, sometimes terrifying me and sometimes flattering me, but at length it was concluded that I should have leave to go to my Mother.’

May 1616
‘At this time my Lord was in London where he had infinite and great resort coming to him. He went much abroad to Cocking, to bowling alleys, to plays and horse races, and [was] commended by all the world. I stayed in the country, having many times a sorrowful and heavy heart, and being condemned by most folks because I would not consent to the agreements, so as I may truly say I am like an owl in the desert.’

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