Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Aemilia Lanyer: A Woman of Words, Part 2

Miniature portrait from
1593 that may depict
Aemilia Lanyer
Aemilia Lanyer: A Woman of Words, Part 1

Aemilia soon moved on to the court of Elizabeth I and the bed of Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon. At age 23, she became pregnant and lost her "favoured" status as mistress to the 68-year-old nobleman. Like any good employee, she walked away with a pension (he bought her off). Propriety demanded that her child have a legitimate birth, and she married Alphonso Lanyer.

Coincidentally, her new husband was a musician. He was also something of a businessman, having been granted a monopoly in the London hay and straw weighing market. In theory, two creative people united under the umbrella of a secure income should have been happy together. However, certain details have suggested that their marriage was not without problems.

After the birth of Lord Hunsdon's son, Henry, all but one of Aemilia's pregnancies ended in miscarriage. If Alphonso had any difficulty in accepting another man's son as his own then he must have been disappointed at siring a girl who died in infancy. One account has suggested that Alphonso was an abuser and a wastrel, depleting Aemilia's "severance" in his lifetime.

Aemilia may have felt trapped in her marriage and deprived of the luxuries to which she had become so accustomed at Lord Hunsdon's side. Being the Lord Chamberlain's mistress was more impressive than being a court musician's wife. She seemed bent on reclimbing the social ladder, either through her husband's promotion or her own publication.

Notably, much of what is known of the early years of Aemilia's marriage is attributed to a questionable source.

Her astrologer, Simon Forman, kept a journal on all his clientele. Her visits began on 17 May 1597 and continued for a few years. Forman considered himself something of a ladies' man. Although she may have entertained him in her home, Aemilia apparently refused his advances. His journals "are peppered with accounts of his sexual encounters, about which he is quite explicit [but] he records about Lanyer only his hope and disappointment" (Woods xxiv). He wrote from rejection and frustration when he characterized her as a whore and an incuba (Rowse 13).

IN THE NEXT INSTALLMENT: Shakespeare's Dark Lady?

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