Renaissance and Reformation Anne Clifford
Megan Matchinske, Katharine Landers
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 November 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0291


Lady Anne Clifford (b. 30 January 1590–d. 22 March 1676) spent a considerable portion of her life embroiled in lawsuits attempting to recover her father’s extensive land holdings after they had been transferred out of her hands and into the possession of his younger brother, Francis. With no living sons of his own, Clifford’s father had willed, wrongly it appears, the family properties to his titular heir apparent, the next earl in the Clifford line, and it would be a full thirty-eight years before Clifford would eventually regain her rights to her land, and only then because her male cousin Henry had died without male issue. During the whole of that process, Clifford wrote, recording not only her frustrations with the injustice of the actions against her but also of her observations more generally. These entries found their way into her Great Books of Record, meticulously kept genealogies of family history that she updated throughout her life. Deeply interested in historical recovery, not only of the retrieval of her namesake but also of her family’s place in the wider arena of England’s past, Clifford actively supported antiquarian research; hired men to comb England’s as-yet-unsifted archives; and worked assiduously herself to recover whatever she could of those earlier ancestors, recording dates, times, and events in an attempt to verify and authenticate her ancestral heritage. An early benefactor and patron, she held an abiding interest in the lands of her forebears and was a local advocate for the tenant farmers who worked her estates. She was a builder of almshouses, a restorer of castles, a commissioner of portraits, and a developer of public works. To this day she is still very much revered in her native Cumbria with something approximating celebrity status. Married twice, first to Richard Sackville, third earl of Dorset, and then to Philip Herbert, earl of Pembroke and Montgomery, Clifford struggled against, made use of, and eventually outlived both men in her bid to retain her rights to her lands, at one point even defying then King James I. She was also deeply close to her mother and would pass her legacy to her two daughters and their children. At the same time, she saw her patrimony as the most important testament she would leave to future generations. Accordingly it wasn’t finally or simply the titles she acquired by marriage that mattered, but rather those that she held in her own right, suo jure, as baroness and high sheriff, as daughter to a father who was, in turn, a son to a father before him that ultimately came to matter, and it was her willingness to fight for those titles and to insist that her daughters pass them forward eventually, hopefully, to sons who would ensure their longevity in a less tenuous or embattled state. Clifford is remembered across communities for her contributions to art, to architecture, to life writing, to antiquarianism, and to feminist scholarship. But it is Clifford’s penchant for personal recordkeeping that most directly cuts across these many and varied communities, bearing witness as well to another phenomenon of the Early Modern period, the construction of a written and introspective self. Lady Anne, fourteenth Baroness Clifford and hereditary high sheriff of Westmoreland, explores what it meant to be an Englishwoman of great standing, and she did so with wit, self-reflection, and candor.


The texts cited here provide readers with general historical and biographical background on Clifford. Notestein 1956 and Holmes 1975 are still worthy of note for a general readership, but each should be read with caution and in historical context. Holmes offers a particularly engaging account. Notestein, in turn, situates Clifford among a quartet of religious nonconformists. Spence 1997 and Williamson 1967 together offer the most informed and complete overview of Clifford’s life, though Williamson should be used in a supplementary fashion. Originally a regional historian, Williamson includes local images and arcana that scholars should find particularly compelling. Acheson 1995 offers a useful and abbreviated biographical account for undergraduate classroom contexts.

  • Acheson, Katherine Osler. “Lady Anne Clifford.” In British Prose Writers of the Early Seventeenth Century. Edited by Clayton D. Lein, 77–81. Detroit: Gale, 1995.

    Acheson provides a clear, focused, and succinct overview of Clifford’s life and writing in this short biographical entry. She discusses Clifford’s autobiographical records, historical background, status, and reading habits, among other things.

  • Holmes, Martin R. Proud Northern Lady, Lady Anne Clifford, 1590–1676. London: Phillimore, 1975.

    A surprisingly lively and vivid portrait of Clifford. Holmes laments the loss of Clifford’s daily records, finding her summaries dry and unfeeling. To make up for that loss, he attempts to imbue his own account with imagined details. A biography very much in the manner of its moment.

  • Notestein, Wallace. “Anne Clifford.” In Four Worthies: John Chamberlain, Anne Clifford, John Taylor, Oliver Heywood. By Wallace Notestein, 123–166. London: Jonathan Cape, 1956.

    Fulsome and somewhat overblown biography covering Clifford’s life from her mother’s marriage to her own death in 1676. Account interspersed with quotes from the chronicles and supplemented where necessary with more general historical records. Unfortunately includes no citational support to document its findings.

  • Spence, Robert T. Lady Anne Clifford, Countess of Pembroke, Dorset and Montgomery, 1590–1676. Stroud, UK: Sutton, 1997.

    From a critical standpoint, still the definitive Clifford biography. In addition, provides an excellent understanding of the legal background to Clifford’s various legal maneuvers as she tried to regain title to her lands.

  • Williamson, George Charles. Lady Anne Clifford, Countess of Dorset, Pembroke & Montgomery, 1590–1676: Her Life, Letters and Work. Wakefield, UK: S. R., 1967.

    Monumental biography of Clifford’s life. The best feature to this still-important study is its attention to documentary detail and its focus on local lore. Specific discussions of different memorials, buildings, and particular elements within the Great Books, etc. Originally published in 1922.

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