Renaissance and Reformation Lucy Hutchinson
David Norbrook
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 October 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0335


Lucy Hutchinson (b. 1620–d. 1681) is best known as the author of Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson, a classic biography that sets the momentous life of her husband, a committed Puritan, republican, and regicide, against the wider backdrop of the English Civil War and Restoration. The work has been more or less continually in print since it was first published from manuscript in 1806. Only recently, however, has the scale and range of her interests been recognized: like her contemporary—and political rival—Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, Hutchinson aspired to the new European model of the woman intellectual. She engaged with her times in fascinatingly contradictory ways: a pioneering woman author who held with tenacity to the Pauline doctrine of female subordination, a strong opponent of the emergent skeptical biblical criticism who had herself brought into English the most passionate atheistic text of antiquity, and a fierce opponent of idolatry who was nonetheless deeply attracted to the world of visual images as well as to the poetic imagination. The climax of her literary career was Order and Disorder, a major biblical poem on a parallel subject to Milton’s Paradise Lost. Perhaps merely by circumstance but with a remarkable consistency, she chose to write on topics that were almost guaranteed to make problematic the literary fame to which she at least partly aspired: atheism under the Puritan Revolution, subversive Protestant radicalism under the Restoration. Her writings remained in manuscript or, in the case of Order and Disorder, in print but anonymous, and much remains to be done in recovering her life and a full understanding of her works. Hutchinson tended to address areas conventionally gendered as masculine, from theology to political history to atheistic classical verse, which has meant that she has often been passed over in surveys of women’s writing; however, more and more criticism is currently emerging.

General Overviews

The steady expansion of Hutchinson’s canon has meant that successive overviews have proved premature. However, Keeble 1990, based on the Memoirs alone, remains a classic exploration of her profile as a writer, while Mayer 2007 gives a wide-ranging survey.

  • Keeble, N. H. “‘But the Colonel’s Shadow’: Lucy Hutchinson, Women’s Writing, and the Civil War.” In Literature and the English Civil War. Edited by Thomas Healy and Jonathan Sawday, 227–247. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

    A milestone in the study of Lucy Hutchinson, for the first time highlighting the author’s own role in the Memoirs: “There are, then, two Lucy Hutchinsons in the Memoirs: the obedient wife, her husband’s shadow, who has no voice, and the creatively independent, defiant and opinionated narrator who speaks for the former” (p. 254). Keeble relates this double identity to the situation of women in the 17th century. Reprinted in Ashgate Critical Essays on Women Writers in England, 1550–1770, Vol. 5, Anne Clifford and Lucy Hutchinson, edited by Mihoko Suzuki, 241–261 (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2009) (see also pp. 377–430).

  • Mayer, Robert. “Lucy Hutchinson: A Life of Writing.” The Seventeenth Century 22.2 (2007): 305–335.

    The first article to give serious consideration to the full range of Hutchinson’s surviving works. Mayer argues that even if she was initially addressing a small family audience, Hutchinson’s range and ambition suggest that she had a larger long-term public in mind. Reprinted in Ashgate Critical Essays on Women Writers in England, 1550–1770, Vol. 5, Anne Clifford and Lucy Hutchinson, edited by Mihoko Suzuki, 469–499 (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2009).

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