Wednesday, September 4, 2013

After private prayers

Margaret Hoby died all of 380 years ago today. She married three times, kept a rich household, and was a very religious person. There is nothing remarkable about her life except for the fact that she kept a diary, and that this is the oldest known extant diary - written over four centuries ago - by any English woman. Unfortunately, it is more a record of her private prayers than her private thoughts.

Margaret was born in 1571, the only child of a landed gentleman, Arthur Dakins of Linton, East Riding, and his wife Thomasine Gye. Margaret was educated at a school for young gentlewomen in a Puritan household. She married Walter Devereux, the younger son of Essex, and a court favorite of Queen Elizabeth I. The manor and parsonage of Hackness near Scarborough were purchased for the couple, and remained Margaret’s property after Devereux died at the siege of Rouen in 1591. She married Sir Thomas Sidney, but he died in 1595, and she then married Sir Thomas Posthumous Hoby, son of the translator and English ambassador to France, in 1596. They lived at Hackness, but had no children. Margaret spent much of her time tending the sick and infirm in her own community, as well as running her household. She died on 4 September 1633.

A little further biographical information about Hoby can be found at Wikipedia, in A Historical Dictionary of British Women by Cathy Hartley, or in Early Modern English Lives: Autobiography and Self-representation, 1500-1660 (several authors).

Between 1599 and 1603, Margaret kept a diary fairly regularly. According to Arthur Ponsonby, editor of More English Diaries (1927), ‘she was no doubt instructed to keep a diary for the sake of religious discipline.’ He continues: ‘Her piety is very pronounced. Not only does she go to church frequently and listen to many sermons, but she has private prayers, writes out sermons, writes notes in her Testament, sings psalms, listens to lectures and nurses the sick. [. . .] But the diary is not exclusively confined to her religious exercises. We learn much of her daily occupations. How she gathers “apples”, exercises her “body at bowles a while of which I found good”; is busy “preserving quinces” and damsons, busy in the kitchen, busy dyeing woold, “stilling”, “working some fringe”, “dressing sores”, taking “the aire in my cocsh”, out fishing or relining “a sute of blake satan for Mr. Hoby”.

Ponsonby concludes the chapter in his book on Hoby by explaining that her manuscript is in the British Museum (now the British Library), but that he was able to read a transcript with full notes in the possession of the Librarian of the House of Lords. He, Ponsonby, recommends the diary ‘should be published in full’. In fact, it was edited a few years later by Dorothy M. Meads and published as Diary of Lady Margaret Hoby 1599-1605 by George Routledge & Sons in 1930. Meads, however, can’t help but give vent to her own frustration that Hoby did not write more extensively on issues other than her religious devotions.

In her introduction Meads writes: ‘This daily record is of great value as a contemporary document, though it is not nearly so full as we would have it. The religious element is prominent, to the exclusion of much else, for the record seems to have been kept largely as a means of assisting in the religious exercise of self-examination, and only partly because it was useful in other ways. [. . .] Her daily personal record is very introspective, yet she shows no real capacity for self-knowledge or ability in self-analysis, for she sets down more or less conventional religious expressions of self-disparagement. A perusal of the contents of the diary gives one to think that she may have written with an eye on a possible reader, for we are rarely allowed a glimpse of the living woman. In spite of this barrier which she herself has raised, every detail of the record increases our acquaintance with her and our sympathy for her. She is interesting because she matters so much to herself.’

More recently, in 1998, Sutton Publishing brought out a new edition, The Private Life of an Elizabethan Lady: The Diary of Lady Margaret Hoby, 1599-1605 by Joanna Moody. The following extracts, though, come from Meads’ edition, which includes over 600 annotations (for 150 pages of diary text). In one of these notes - linked to the first extract below -  Meads cannot help but repeat the frustrations voiced in her introduction: ‘If only Lady Hoby had committed more of her feelings, impressions, and offences to paper, her diary would have increased greatly in interest’.

18 July 1600
‘After priuatt praers I went about the house and deliuered some directions to Iurden: after, I talked with my Cosine Isons and about his goinge to yorke, and then I went to diner: after, I was busie pouidinge some thinge to be carried to York: afte, I wrought and, lastly, I went to priuate examenation and praier: after, I went to supper, then I walked abroad: after, I Came in to publeck praers and, after, to priuate, wher I pleased the lord to touch my hart with such sorrow, for some offence Cometted, that I hope the lord, for his sonne sake, hath pardoned it accordinge to his promise, which is ever Iust: after, I reed apaper that wrought farther humiliation in me, I thanke god.’

17 October 1600
‘from thence I tooke my Iurnie to London wher, in the way, I was tould that order was giuen to fetch all the stuffe from york, and and to giue ouer house ther, vpon which and about we had laied forth 18li, which newes did much touch me, so that I procured Contrarie directions forth with: after I Came to london I praied, and was viseted with all my Cosines Cookes: then I praied after supper and went to bed, wher I was more meanly lodged, with so great Cost, then to my remembrance I was euer in my Life: and yet I was Glad of my brothers house’ [Meads believes this house was in The Strand or nearby].

5 May 1601
‘After praers I went to the church, wher I hard a sermon: after, I Came home and hard Mr Rhodes read: after diner I went abroad, and when I was come home I dressed some sore: after, I went to see a calfe at Munckmans, which had: 2: great heades, 4 eares, and had to ether head a throte pipe besides: the heades had long heares like brisels about the mouths, such as n’other Cowe hath: the hinder legges had no parting from the rumpe, but grewe backward, and were no longer but from the first Ioynte: also the backe bone was parted about the midest bicke, and a rowne howle was in the midest into the bodie of the Calfe: but one would haue thought that haue comed of strocke it might gett in the Cowes bely: after this I Came in to priuat medetation and praier.’

13 May 1603
‘his Majestie remoued from the Tower to Grennige’ [Greenwich]

7 June 1603
‘this day Mr Hoby and my selfe remoued from London in kent, to Mr Bettnames house, wher, I praise god, I had my health very well’ [those not with a need to remain at court had been ordered to leave London because of the plague, Meads explains, because James was alarmed at the multitudes besieging the court]

20 June 1603
‘this day we removed from thence towards Yorkshere, and the first night lay at Barnett’

21 June 1603
‘this day we lay at Noth hamton’

22 June 1603
‘at Ashbye, wher I kissed the Queens hand’

23 June 1603
‘we lay at Notingame’

24 June 1603
‘we lay at Dankester’

25 June 1600
‘at Yorke, wher we staied all the Lordes day’

27 June 1603
‘we lay at Linton wt my Cosine Dakins’

28 June 1603
‘we Came safe, I praise god, to Hacknis’

27 September 1603
‘thes day we hard from Hacknes that all there was well, But that the sicknes was freared to be at Roben Hood bay, not farr off: I Continewe my accostomed exercises but my increasinges in goodes waies is not as I thirst for’

The Diary Junction

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