In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Mary Wroth

  • Introduction
  • Historical Background and Life Writing
  • Critical Collections and Annotated Bibliographies
  • Editorial Scholarship
  • Unpublished Foundational Work
  • Investigations of Genre
  • Literary, Rhetorical, and Theoretical Analysis
  • Race, Gender, and Intellectual History
  • Politics

Renaissance and Reformation Mary Wroth
Sheila T. Cavanagh
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 April 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 November 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0282


Lady Mary Sidney Wroth (b. 1587–d. 1631/3) belonged to the Sidney family, a prominent literary dynasty in early modern England. Her substantial creative output remained largely unknown until the late 20th century, however, when a number of renowned scholars revived academic interest in 16th- and 17th-century women writers. Josephine Roberts, Margaret Hannay, and Barbara Lewalski, among others, brought Wroth into these critical discussions. This scholarly attention led to new editions of Wroth’s works, including the first publication of the second part of The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania, which previously existed solely in a holograph copy held by the Newberry Library in Chicago (Case MA fy 1656 w 95, vol. 2). Over the succeeding decades, Wroth scholars have produced a significant body of historical and literary analysis devoted to this pioneering female author, who crafted the first known prose romance, sonnet sequence, and play written by a woman in English; namely, The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania, Pamphilia to Amphilanthus, and Love’s Victory.

Historical Background and Life Writing

Wroth’s life has been the subject of considerable discussion due to her position in the Sidney family and her apparent intimate relationship with her cousin, William Herbert. Herbert is generally believed to have fathered Wroth’s two children, who were born after the death of her husband. Josephine Roberts’ pioneering edition of the Urania contains substantial material about Wroth’s life. Hannay 2010 advances scholarly knowledge of Wroth’s life considerably. This volume is likely to remain the authoritative source for information about Wroth and her family for the foreseeable future. Wroth’s family and personal history provide significant contextualization for her fictional creations. Roberts 1982 and Salzman 1978 provide some of the earliest accounts of the intersection between Wroth’s life and her literary creations. Both texts remain valuable contributions to the growing historical record concerning Wroth, while Wynne-Davies 2000 and Lamb 2001 demonstrate how each succeeding biographical discovery deepens the kind of literary analysis possible for Wroth’s writing. Waller 1993, moreover, illustrates how biographical and psychological criticism can mutually illuminate Wroth’s writing and her familial background. These texts concurrently enhance the abilities of readers to understand the close interconnections between Wroth’s personal history and her literary creations. Hannay 2004 provides new material about Wroth’s life that is later expanded upon in her biography of Wroth. Frye 2010 demonstrates the significance of linking material history with personal information when approaching Wroth’s writing. Each of these works enhances readers’ understanding of Wroth’s complicated literary, familial, and social position.

  • Frye, Susan. Pens and Needles: Women’s Textualities in Early Modern England. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010.

    This elegantly written volume incorporates material history and literary analysis, providing a complex analysis of Wroth’s family, cultural position, and literary creation.

  • Hannay, Margaret. “‘My Daughter Wroth’: Lady Mary Wroth in the Correspondence of Robert Sidney, Earl of Leicester.” Sidney Journal 22.1–2 (2004): 47–72.

    An example of Hannay’s scrupulous research into the life of Mary Sidney Wroth, this essay focuses on Wroth’s appearance in her father’s correspondence.

  • Hannay, Margaret. Mary Sidney, Lady Wroth. Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2010.

    This erudite volume offers an extensively researched account of Wroth’s life and includes historic and genealogical information not previously known. It builds and expands upon Hannay’s previous scholarship about Wroth and other members of the Sidney family.

  • Lamb, Mary Ellen. “The Biopolitics of Romance in Mary Wroth’s The Countess of Montgomery’s Urania.” English Literary Renaissance 31.1 (Winter 2001): 107–130.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-6757.2001.tb01184.x

    Lamb astutely combines literary and historical analysis in this consideration of the role of biographical information in the complex narrative patterns comprising the Urania.

  • Lewalski, Barbara. Writing Women in Jacobean England. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998.

    Lewalski offers groundbreaking work on a number of early modern female writers, including Wroth, whom she reads beside a range of both canonical and less acclaimed authors.

  • Roberts, Josephine A. “The Biographical Problem of Pamphilia to Amphilanthus.” Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature 1.1 (1982): 43–53.

    DOI: 10.2307/464091

    Appearing in the inaugural issue of Tulsa Studies in Women’s Literature, this article connects Wroth’s poetry to what was then known about her life. This essay models the way an archival scholar builds an historical record and expands critical understanding of relatively unknown material.

  • Salzman, Paul. “Contemporary References in Wroth’s Urania.” Review of English Studies. New Series 29.114 (1978): 178–181.

    DOI: 10.1093/res/XXIX.114.178

    Salzman focuses on the apparent appearance of Sir Edward Denny’s family history in the Urania, based on historical and literary evidence.

  • Waller, Gary. The Sidney Family Romance: Mary Wroth, William Herbert, and the Early Modern Construction of Gender. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1993.

    Waller interweaves historical and literary interpretation with psychoanalytic theory in this thoughtful account of the influence of Wroth’s personal history on her literary creation.

  • Wynne-Davies, Marion. “‘So Much Worth’: Autobiographical Narratives in the Work of Lady Mary Wroth.” In Betraying Our Selves: Forms of Self-Representation in Early Modern English Texts. Edited and introduced by Henk Dragstra, Sheila Ottway, and Helen Wilcox, 76–93. New York: St. Martin’s, 2000.

    Wynne-Davies presents a textured analysis of Wroth’s numerous introductions of personal history into her literary works.

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