Renaissance and Reformation Bathsua Makin
Fran Teague
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 February 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0461


Bathsua Makin (b. 1600–d. 1681?) was a child prodigy, writer, and noted educator. Her father Henry Reginald was a schoolmaster. Her first book, Musa Virginea, appeared when she was 16; a second published work on shorthand is undated, but appeared before 1619. She followed her father into education, working as tutor for the Princess Elizabeth, daughter of Charles I, and later for the Countess of Huntingdon and her children. Makin’s specialty was languages, so she taught Princess Elizabeth Latin, Hebrew, Greek, French, and Italian by the time the child was nine, and she taught Latin, Greek, and Hebrew to the Huntingdon family. Finally, An Essay to Revive the Antient Education of Gentlewomen (Essay) is attributed to Makin by many scholars. The Essay says Makin planned to open a school in 1673, though nothing further is heard of the school. It also provides information about education, catalogues learned women, and offers a spirited defense of women’s abilities, as well as an attack on misogyny. Makin’s importance lies in the way she exemplifies the problems of research on early modern women writers, her work as a Latin poet, her essay on education, as well as her reception. Her brother-in-law John Pell once remarked that “she is a woman of great acquaintance.” Pell was one of Samuel Hartlib’s correspondence circle, and Hartlib mentions both Makin and her father in his papers. Surviving letters and the Hartlib papers link her to notable men: Sir Symonds D’Ewes, Carew Ralegh, Robert Boyle, and several prominent London physicians. Around 1640, Anna Maria van Schurman wrote Makin, and they continued corresponding until at least 1645 and possibly until 1648. Makin almost certainly knew other learned Englishwomen, including Rachel Speght, Anne Halkett, Dorothy Moore Dury, and Katherine Jones, Lady Ranelagh, though none of these is listed in her catalogues of learned ladies, perhaps because they demurred. Her influence on later women is less clear. The Countess of Huntingdon’s granddaughter, Lady Elizabeth Hastings, was Mary Astell’s sponsor; another was Lady Catherine Jones, daughter of Katherine Jones, Lady Ranelagh. This article does not include the many anthologies that include passages from the Essay speaking to such concerns as politics, women’s lives, conduct books, religion, classical studies, and so forth. Simply using a search engine like Google to find the search terms “Bathsua Makin” and “anthology” will yield around 9,000 results, and the range of topics is broad and varied.

General Overview

The only book-length biography to date is Bathsua Makin, Woman of Learning (Teague 1998, updated in Educating English Daughters: Late Seventeenth-Century Debates [Teague and Ezell 2016]). A collection of articles on Makin and her Essay is gathered in Volume 137 of the series Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800 (Trudeau and Schoenberg 2007). For an overview and translations of Makin’s early verse, see Saunders 2002. Finally, good discussions of background—about women’s education, the intellectual milieu in which a learned lady operated, gender and anonymity, and how women’s writing circulated in manuscript and in print—are provided, respectively, in Wiesner-Hanks 2019, Norbrook 2004, North 2003, and Stevenson 2000, although these works may have little mention of Makin. See also the separate Oxford Bibliographies in Renaissance and Reformation article “Women and Learning.”

  • Teague, Frances, and Margaret J. M. Ezell, eds. Educating English Daughters: Late Seventeenth-Century Debates. The Other Voice in Early Modern Europe 44. Toronto: Iter Press, 2016.

    After a chapter that considers what education was available to early modern English women and how that system operated, separate sections cover two learned women, Bathsua Makin and Mary More. Updates Teague 1998 biography and edition.

  • Norbrook, David. “Women, the Republic of Letters, and the Public Sphere in the Mid-seventeenth Century.” Criticism 46.2 (2004): 223–240.

    Norbrook critiques Habermas’s ideas about the Protestant Reformation by examining women’s writing about religion and politics. His central argument compares the Duchess of Newcastle and Anna Maria van Schurman, but Makin comes in for consideration as well. The essay provides an intellectual context for Makin’s essay. Available online by subscription.

  • North, Marcy L. The Anonymous Renaissance: Cultures of Discretion in Tudor-Stuart England. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

    The Essay is anonymous, but it has been linked to Makin since the 19th century (see Watson 1895, cited under Education). While one can argue that either she did or did not write it, North’s book reveals that anonymous texts may be complex. Her discussion of anonymity and gender is nuanced and serves as a useful reminder of different cultural assumptions in the 17th and 21st centuries.

  • Saunders, Anne Leslie. “Bathsua Reginald Makin (1600–1675?).” In Early Modern Women Writing Latin. Edited by Laurie J. Churchill, Phyllis R. Brown, and Jane E. Jeffrey, 247–269. Women Writing Latin: From Roman Antiquity to Early Modern Europe 3. London: Routledge, 2002.

    Saunders provides translations and annotations for the poetry in Musa Virginea. A generous introductory essay describes the context and evaluates the poetry of Musa Virginea.

  • Stevenson, Jane. “Women, Writing and Scribal Publication in the Sixteenth Century.” In English Manuscript Studies, 1100–1700. Vol. 9, Writings by Early Modern Women. Edited by Peter Beal and Margaret J. M. Ezell, 1–32. London: British Library, 2000.

    General essay about early modern Englishwomen’s scribal publication, i.e., publication of a handwritten text for a limited audience, with some attention to Musa Virginea.

  • Teague, Frances. Bathsua Makin, Woman of Learning. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1998.

    The volume begins with a biography of Makin and analysis of what her life and work suggest about learned women in the Early Modern period. It also includes a modern edition of An Essay on the Antient Education of Gentlewomen.

  • Trudeau, Lawrence J., and Thomas J. Schoenberg. “Bathsua Makin, 1600–1675?” In Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800. Vol. 137. Edited by Lawrence J. Trudeau and Thomas J. Schoenberg, 199–255. Detroit: Cengage Learning, 2007.

    Includes selected essays about Makin written from the 1980s until 2000, including Barbour 1980 (cited under Manuscripts and Editions), Brink 1980, Helm 1993, Gim 1999, Hamilton 2001 (all cited under Catalogues, Networks, Reception), Myers 1985 (cited under Life and Research Issues), Teague 1998, and Saunders 2002.

  • Wiesner-Hanks, Merry. Woman and Gender in Early Modern Europe. 4th ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2019.

    Chapter 4 of this well-known title covers the history of women’s education in England during the Early Modern period and the online resources the publisher makes available offer an excellent list of further reading.

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