In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Elizabeth Cary

  • Introduction
  • Anthologies
  • Collections of Scholarship and Essays
  • Literary History
  • Women’s Literary History
  • Religion and the Anglo-Catholic Tradition
  • Contemporary and Global Approaches

Renaissance and Reformation Elizabeth Cary
Jesse Swan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 June 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0292


Elizabeth Cary, Viscountess Falkland, was born in 1585 or 1586 to Elizabeth (née Symondes) and Lawrence Tanfield in Burford close to Woodstock, where the Lady Tanfield’s relations were prominent, notably Queen Elizabeth’s Champion, Sir Henry Lee. The Lord Tanfield was an upwardly mobile lawyer of the Inner Temple, eventually becoming Lord Chief Justice of the Exchequer and extensive landlord in and around Burford, including famously, because of his grandson, Lucius Cary, the second Viscount Falkland, owning the estate known as Great Tew. Cary was an only child and was married into the Cary family, notable for its close kinship relations to Queen Elizabeth. Eventually having eleven children, with one dying in infancy, Cary is remarkable in Catholic history as a powerful and effective champion of Catholicism in the Caroline court and for bringing six of her children into the Catholic Church, while she is remarkable in English literary history for authoring the first original play in English by a woman to be published in print (the play is The Tragedy of Mariam, the Fair Queen of Jewry) and being the first woman to author a modern-style history in English (that of the reign of Edward II). Exactly who and what kind of person Elizabeth Tanfield Cary, Viscountess Falkland, could be or should be has been and continues to be the most characteristic feature of the contemplations of Cary, from the time of her life to the present. Cary herself wondered who she could and should be as did many of the people of her life, including the daughter who was her first biographer, and the speculations and consideration of various possibilities continued, through the 19th century, when Cary was made into a champion of Anglo-Catholics, both masculine and feminine, and the 20th century, when Cary drew the interest of literary historians concerned with the development of modern biography and drama and then feminists concerned to correct masculinist literary history by reviving knowledge of the many quelled women writers. She should be gaining further interest as the centrality of translation in the early modern period is better integrated into emergent literary historiography. Some interest more recently has been expressed in departing from thinking about Cary as an individual and in various biographical ways in favor of using her works as touchstones for other matter, especially social and cultural, yet there continues to be interest in Cary as a woman and in her works as the expressions of a woman when modernity was still inchoate.


Cary, especially as represented by her play, is included in numerous anthologies. Those listed here provide complete texts of her major works: her play, her story of Edward II and Isabel, and her mature translation. Her writing can also be found in the sections below treating her individual works.

  • Dolan, Frances E. “Introduction.” In Recusant Translators: Elizabeth Cary, Alexia Grey. Edited by Betty S. Travitsky and Patrick Cullen. The Early Modern Englishwoman: A Facsimile Library of Essential Works. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2000.

    Facsimile printing of Cary’s translation of Cardinal Du Perron’s reply to James I on the matter of loyalty oaths to monarchs by subjects of different churches. Good introductory remarks.

  • Ferguson, Margaret W. Introduction to Works by and Attributed to Elizabeth Cary. The Early Modern Englishwoman: A Facsimile Library of Essential Works 1, part 1, vol. 2. Edited by Betty S. Travitsky and Patrick Cullen. Aldershot, UK: Scolar Press, 1996.

    Facsimile printings of original print publications of the play on Mariam and the history of Edward II and Isabel, complemented by a brief yet helpful introduction on Cary and the printed works.

  • Purkiss, Diane, ed. “Introduction.” In Renaissance Women: The Plays of Elizabeth Cary, The Poems of Aemilia Lanyer. Edited by Diane Purkiss, vii–xxx. London: William Pickering, 1994.

    Clear reading text of the play on Mariam and the longer version of the story of Edward II and Isabel, the collection is valuable and recommended for its alert and engaging introduction, suggestive select bibliography, helpful glossary, and convenient presentation of the two most important works by Cary.

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