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Elizabeth Isham's Autobiographical Writings

Introduction to the online edition

‘[E]xamine my life’: writing the self in the early seventeenth century

Elizabeth Clarke and Erica Longfellow


In 1638, as the anniversary of her only sister’s death approached, Elizabeth Isham undertook an unprecedented literary project: ‘and now of late \at last/’, she noted, ‘[I] was imboldened by the sight of S[aint] Au[gu]sti[ne’s] con[fessions] and afore by Mr King lectur remember the lord and give him thankes. lect 28 and by the cure of cares to examine my life’.[1] Troubled by thoughts of suicide and confusion about whether, as a Christian, she should want to live or die, Elizabeth Isham began to write out her life story, in a chronological narrative that would eventually employ more than 50,000 words (Princeton, 33r-v).

From a twenty-first century perspective, it does not seem at all unusual that an individual, and perhaps particularly a woman, would turn to autobiographical writing in a time of suffering and mental distress. Elspeth Graham is only one of many critics who have argued that ‘ psychically and formally linked to the very possibility of the self in autobiography.’[2] But in 1638, when Elizabeth Isham noted that she began her ‘confessions’, as she called her life narrative, the idea of turning to writing as a way of recording suffering and the self was highly unusual. There were only a handful of autobiographical narratives in English, none of them in print. They took a wide variety of forms, from sparse, unemotional diary entries to long rambling narratives. The latter is exemplified in a manuscript by the musician Thomas Whythorne (1528-96), who wrote one of the few autobiographical narratives to begin at the beginning and continue to the author’s present. In his manuscript Whythorne interspersed anecdotes of his education, love life and musical career with song lyrics and discourses on religious and musical subjects, in a way that seems strikingly modern in its explicit self-promotion.[3] By contrast, a typical passage from Lady Margaret Hoby’s (1571-1633) diary reads:

After priuat praier I wrett notes in my testament and then eate my breakfast: after, I praied and then dined: after that I did sundrie beusenesses, and then I took a Lector and, after that, praied and examened myselfe : after that to supper, then so to the Lector, and so to bed: (November 23, 1599 [Friday])[.][4]

A generation later Nehemiah Wallington (1598-1658) combined dated accounts of his own experiences with sermon notes, copies of letters, scriptural texts, lists of religious duties, and news of notable events and records of deaths from plague.[5] In this period Puritan clergymen such as Richard Rogers (1551-1618) began to keep spiritual journals that charted their religious development; Lady Anne Clifford (1590-1676) kept a sparse, and partly retrospective, diary of significant events; and Lady Grace Mildmay (c.1552-1620) wrote a short account in which she considered events of her life, not in chronological order, but as they related to her spiritual development.[6] Very few of these writers appear to have been known to each other, and only Rogers’s journal is known to have circulated beyond his family and friends. Each of them, in other words, was inventing the genre anew, and the way their manuscripts juxtapose genres, sometimes even on a single page, conveys a tangible sense of grappling with the form, struggling to find ways of structuring and containing their experiences in writing.[7]

Elizabeth Isham’s decision to examine her life in 1638 was a significant moment in the emergence of this new form. Her ‘Booke of Rememberance’ is arguably the first text in English that is recognisably autobiography in the modern sense: a retrospective, chronological narrative that appears to describe the development of a unified self.[8] Isham begins at the beginning and continues until her own present, in the process writing more than fifty thousand words of narrative and marginal commentary, all for the purposes of documenting her own self. She covers topics rarely discussed by her contemporaries, including the details of her childhood, her own emotional development and the complex relationships of her family members. She seems quite unaware of the commonplace restrictions on women’s speech and intellectual engagement. To a twenty-first-century reader, this seemingly ordinary woman appears to embody the modern self so many scholars have searched for, and failed to discover, in the early modern period.[9] Kimberly Anne Coles has recently argued that the reformation polemicists of the sixteenth century utilised images and narratives of religious women as ‘ideal figures of political and religious disruption’ in a way that ‘opened space for the empowerment of women within the written culture of the Reformation.’[10] Elizabeth Isham is one of the heirs of this cultural transformation, empowered to read, reason and write without the expected constraints of gender. Puritanism provided both the ingredients and the impetus for Isham’s generic inspiration, so that her life and writing stand as evidence of the scope and range of intellectual engagement among puritan laity, both male and female.

That Isham chose to examine her life in writing, rather than simply in prayer, places her as part of a growing number of Puritans adapting the well-established practice of spiritual self-examination, which Thomas Wilson defined as ‘A diligent and narrow search and tryall of a mans selfe, whether he be in Christ, and with what imperfections and wants hee holdes the graces of Christ’.[11] Puritan guides to devotion—including several owned by Isham—encouraged believers to practice frequent self-examination in order that they might be both conscious of their sins—‘imperfections and wants’, in Wilson’s words—and assured of their election ‘in Christ’. Curiously, however, until the late 1640s, when Puritan self-writing was already becoming common, few of those texts advised believers to write down their experiences.[12] As a nascent genre, Puritan self-writing seems to have grown organically, as believers discovered that it stimulated memory and encouraged faith in God’s providence.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Elizabeth Isham records that she was inspired to write by texts that were not the conventional guides to self-examination. Augustine’s Confessions was newly available in a Protestant English translation in 1631 and was not as widely read as his later anti-Pelagian writings.[13] Augustine provided Isham with the framework of a narrative that is addressed to God, begins with birth and proceeds to the author’s present. Isham also borrowed specific elements of Augustine’s life story, including a well-known episode of youthful transgression in which the author steals pears. The other two sources Isham names, John King’s Lectures upon Jonas (1597) and Henry Mason’s The Cure of Cares, offered advice to Christians about how to cope in times of suffering and distress, although neither focussed on self-examination or advocated autobiographical writing as a solution.[14] In choosing to write a narrative of her life in response to her own distress, Elizabeth Isham seems to have had several forms of inspiration but no exact model other than her mother’s writings, a precedent we will return to in a moment.

Around the time that she finished her confessions, Isham began a new manuscript in note form, recording events from each year of her life in consecutive squares on each side of a sheet of paper slightly larger than A4, continuing through the end of the civil wars in 1648.[15] In this manuscript Isham includes brief reflections on events from the earlier years of her life and also introduces earlier events with phrases such as ‘as I take it’, ‘as I remember’, ‘in these yeares’, ‘in this year and the next’ and ‘from this time forward’, indicating that these events happened at least a year before she wrote them down in this manuscript. The last such reference is, curiously, ‘I began my confessions which was my Chiefest worke for this yere \and almost the next/’, written in the square for 1638, when she was 29.[16] The fact that events after 1638 seem to be recorded closer to when they happened, rather than remembered more than a year later, strongly suggests that Isham began this highly unusual manuscript as she was writing her ‘confessions’ or shortly after she finished them.


Elizabeth Isham and the Isham Family

In both manuscripts, Isham records for herself and her family all of the details of her life: her childhood and education, her needlework, lacemaking, beekeeping and medical practice, journeys to see family and friends and their return visits to her family home, her experience of her mother’s and sister’s illnesses and deaths, her father’s attempts to match her with a suitable husband and her own reluctance to marry, and above all her reading, study and prayer. In many ways, these are typical activities for a woman of Elizabeth Isham’s gender and station, but her writings and the family archive also reveal ways in which Isham chose an unusual path for herself.

Elizabeth Isham was born on 27 January 1638/9 to Sir John Isham (1582-1651), first baronet, of Lamport Hall, Northamptonshire and his wife Judith Lewyn (1590-1625), daughter of William Lewyn, a prosperous lawyer originally from Kent. The Ishams were typical of the upwardly-mobile families of the period who established themselves as country gentry by carefully and ruthlessly investing fortunes made as London merchants. Elizabeth Isham’s great-grandfather, another John Isham (1525-95), was born in Northamptonshire, had a successful career as a mercer in London, and eventually returned to the county of his birth, buying the manor of Lamport and securing the family fortune through enclosure and the purchase of vacant livings.[17] The Ishams maintained unusually detailed records of their correspondence and papers relating to the estate (now in the Northamptonshire Record Office), so that we have a strong sense of the aspirations to gentility that formed Elizabeth Isham, and of the family writing culture that shaped her literary efforts.

Elizabeth and her siblings were the generation destined to benefit from their ancestors’ foresight and investment. Elizabeth and her sister Judith (1609-1636) received a very thorough education at home, and at the age of eighteen Elizabeth was sent to stay with relatives in London, the Pagets, where she learnt to sing, dance, play on the virginals, and the rudiments of Latin (Princeton, 20v).[18] Despite such opportunities to develop fashionable pursuits and ornamental accomplishments, Elizabeth Isham’s own interests were always more intellectual and pious. She received a firm grounding in faith from her mother and grandmother and was strongly influenced in her religious education by John Dod (1550-1645), an elder statesman of the more extreme Puritan clergy who had been ejected from the Church in 1606 and existed on the goodwill of the Northamptonshire gentry ever since. Dod ministered to Elizabeth Isham’s mother when she suffered from religious melancholy (Princeton 11v). In her confessions Isham repeatedly describes herself as preferring ‘the Sweetnesse of a privat liffe’, by which she means the company of her family and freedom from distraction so that she might be more focussed in her devotion (21r).[19]

One of the key distractions she declares that she sought to avoid was marriage. A married woman of Elizabeth Isham’s station was expected to entertain neighbours and relatives, visit the poor of the parish, oversee the care of her children, manage household resources and educate and discipline her servants. Elizabeth writes that from the age of eighteen she began to wish that she would not have to marry and take on those responsibilities (Princeton, 20v). Her father had other ideas, setting aside a lavish marriage portion and making several attempts to find her a suitable husband. The most effort was expended on negotiations, brokered by John Dod and other family associates, for a match with John Dryden (an uncle of the poet) from Canons Ashby on the opposite side of Northampton, and numerous letters survive in Northamptonshire Record Office that testify to the complexity of the negotiations, which dragged on for more than a year. Although the couple were fond of one another, in the end John Dryden’s grandfather Sir Erasmus Dryden, in debt and with other dependents to provide for, was unable to meet Sir John Isham’s demands for maintenance and jointure to match his daughter’s portion.[20] After the Dryden match collapsed Elizabeth was able, with some difficulty, to keep her resolution to reject future suitors. The ‘Remembrances’ becomes a testimony to her desire to be single, and in fact she may feel that this is the transgression she is ‘confessing’ and explaining to her family. The document reveals a remarkable consistency of purpose although it is difficult to know exactly how true this later writing is to her state of mind in her early years. She remained as mistress of her father’s house, where her sister Judith, lame and sickly from a young age, was her constant companion until Judith’s death in 1636.

Unlike his reserved sisters, Elizabeth Isham’s brother Justinian (1611-75) was groomed to be a gentleman of leisure, and he pursued interests in science, literature, and theology, and to this day is known for his wide correspondence and his part in the foundation of the Royal Society.[21] He made upwardly mobile matches, in 1634 marrying Jane, the daughter of Sir John Garrard, Baronet of Lamer, Hertfordshire, and with her portion extended the family holdings to the estate of Shangton, Leicestershire, about fourteen miles from Lamport. Jane bore Jane (1635), twins Elizabeth and Judith (1636), and Susanna (1637) and died within a week of premature son John in 1638 (Princeton 34v).[22] Justinian was firmly royalist in spite of being surrounded by Parliamentarian neighbours. In 1642 he joined the king at Oxford and in the late 1640s was fined £1100, one-tenth the value of the Shangton estate, for delinquency. For much of the decade he was away from the family home, and was unable to consider remarriage until the early 1650s, when he pursued several matches, including persistent attempts to persuade Dorothy Osborne (1627-95) to be his bride. Elizabeth Isham may have been involved in these negotiations; in a draft letter to Seth Ward concerning the affair, Justinian conveys his sister’s opinion about disagreements over jointure, suggesting that she was a trusted advisor in worldly affairs as well as spiritual matters.[23] Dorothy Osborne’s assessment of ‘the Emperour’, as she called him, hints that Justinian’s aspirations were not universally attractive. She tells her future husband William Temple she

was mightily pleased to think, I had met with one at last that had witt enough for himself and mee too. But shall I tell you what I thought when I knew him, (you will say nothing on't) 'twas the vainest, Impertinent, self conceated, Learned, Coxcombe, that ever yet I saw; to say more were to spoyle his marriage, which I hear hee is towards with a daughter of my Lord of Coleraines, but for his sake I shall take heed of a fine Gentleman as long as I live.[24]

Dorothy Osborne successfully resisted this ‘fine Gentleman’, and in 1653 Vere, daughter of Thomas, Lord Leigh of Stoneleigh, became Justinian’s second wife.

The evidence of IL3365 and the family archive enable us to have a sense of how Elizabeth Isham’s life progressed after she finished her ‘Remembrances’ in 1639. Elizabeth cared for her nieces immediately after her sister-in-law’s death, and notes when she taught Jane and Susanna to read and do needlework in the early 1640s. She does not mention the twins, Elizabeth and Judith, who appear to have lived with Sir John’s sister Elizabeth Denton (D’Ewes) at Stowlangtoft, Suffolk, where they were joined by their sisters towards the end of the decade.[25] Elizabeth Isham’s interests were not solely domestic; the turbulence of the civil wars meant that the quiet life she preferred was frequently disrupted, and her unusual blend of Puritan devotion, a quasi-Laudian respect for ceremonies which she discusses in her ‘Remembrances’, and political royalism meant that religious allies became political enemies, and vice versa. The Isham family suffered some hardship for their loyalty; the staunchly Puritan Northamptonshire Country Committee exerted Parliamentarian pressure, and rogue soldiers from the Parliamentary army repeatedly invaded the house at Lamport in the 1640s, enraged by Justinian’s decision to join the King at Oxford.[26] One of Elizabeth Isham’s chief pursuits at the time seems to have been medicine, in keeping with the needs of a violent time; she left behind several manuscripts of detailed medical notes from this period.[27] She also responded to the upheaval of the civil wars in writing: she drafted penitential devotions that encompassed national as well as personal sins, and in an undated draft letter she offered the king ‘the first view of my Labours’.[28] Unfortunately we do not know which of her ‘Labours’ she intended, or even whether these were needlework or writing, or whether she did in fact send anything, but the letter nevertheless indicates that, as well as preferring a quiet life, Elizabeth Isham had wider ambitions.

The last few years of Elizabeth Isham’s life are not well documented. She spent some time, probably several months, with her paternal aunt Elizabeth Denton (D’Ewes) at Stowlangtoft, Suffolk, and died at Lamport on 24 April 1654.[29] Her only bequests were five pounds ‘to Mr John Goodman Minister of Lamport’ for a piece of plate and twenty pounds ‘to the fowre daughters of Edmund Dangham Clerk’. Neither Goodman or Dangham are mentioned elsewhere in her writings or correspondence.[30]

Elizabeth Isham in context

On the surface, Elizabeth’s Isham’s choice not to marry is one of the few details of her life that distinguish her from women of similar status and influences, but her writings also demonstrate the range of real intellectual possibilities available to women with leisure and favourable religious and family circumstances. Setting her life and works alongside those of her contemporaries illuminates the options that were available to Elizabeth Isham as well as the circumstances influencing her. For example, Justinian Isham’s correspondents included Dorothy ‘Dolly’, Lady Long, nee Leach (1623-1710), half a generation younger and a scant degree in station above both Justinian and Elizabeth. She was the niece of Justinian’s correspondent Bishop Duppa, and she married well: her husband Sir James Long, second baronet, was from an old Wiltshire family, and his mother Anne was the only child of James Ley, first earl of Marlborough. The Isham family, by contrast, were comparatively nouveau riche: they had held their estate for four generations and their title for two. Lady Long’s letters, from 1650 onwards, are roughly contemporary with Elizabeth Isham’s final notes from the late 1640s in IL3365, but it is difficult to imagine two more different writers. Lady Long’s letters to Justinian are openly flirtatious, exchanging coquettish witticisims with her ‘Sweet Valentine’ in almost the same sentence as she offers her husband’s greetings.[31] Her letters employ the banter of a royalist coterie, complete with nicknames and a (mocking) reference to their ‘Academy’, in a style reminiscent of the more familiar and accomplished works of Margaret Cavendish and Katherine Philips.[32] Lady Long does display an interest in literature, particularly the salacious Ovid, but she mocks the Countess of Dysart’s serious study of Donne.[33]

Had she read any of this correspondence, Elizabeth Isham would almost certainly have disapproved of Lady Long’s worldly and immodest literary persona. Yet the existence of Lady Long’s letters to Justinian demonstrates that Elizabeth Isham’s path of piety, reserve and learning was not the only option available to an educated gentlewoman in the period, and serves as an important reminder that at least two conflicting models of the ideal gentlewoman existed in close proximity in this period. Perhaps her relative youth, and the fact that she had achieved the status to which Justinian aspired, enabled Lady Long to imitate the witty and sociable femininity of the court in a way that was unavailable to Justinian’s unmarried sister. Nevertheless, Justinian’s letter of advice to his very young daughters in 1642 (when he had not yet begun to correspond with Lady Long) advises them to follow the family example of ‘Maides, Wifes & Widdowes, all of a very vertuous & Examplary Life’, and specifically names his sister and their devout (and well-connected) kinswoman Ann, Lady Montagu, as models of piety.[34] Clearly Justinian’s own social prospects had not at that time altered his view of exemplary womanhood, although his determined attempt to persuade Dorothy Osborne to marry him in the early 1650s may suggest that his ideals evolved as his own fortunes found firmer footing: Osborne was a keen observer of social life who had much more in common with flirtatious Dolly Long than with pious Elizabeth Isham.

Piety did not, however, necessarily mean reserve or seclusion for a woman. Lucy Hutchinson (1620-81) came from a very similar social and religious background to Elizabeth Isham, and even lived in the same region of the country, but her family’s direct involvement in politics, as well as her own affirming classical education, enabled her to engage more directly and frequently with both classical scholarship and the political events of the day. Hutchinson assisted her husband in the defence of Nottingham Castle, and after the Restoration successfully pled for his life. Her writings are both intellectually and politically daring: in the 1650s she translated Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura, then fashionable among atheists, solely out of curiosity, and although she later regretted having spent her time so frivolously she did not destroy the translation but sent it to the Earl of Anglessey for safekeeping.[35] She also penned a polemical biography of her husband and a narrative poem based on the book of Genesis, both of which circulated in manuscript.[36] The directness of Hutchinson’s political engagement contrasts starkly with Elizabeth Isham’s largely domestic and devotional response to the turmoil of the 1640s, in spite of that enigmatic letter to the king.[37]

Taken together, the writings of Dolly Long and Lucy Hutchinson demonstrate that a life of devotion was not the only option for Elizabeth Isham. Nor did her choice of that life automatically limit her social and political connections; she might, like Lucy Hutchinson, have turned her religious commitments to a more active political engagement. It is also important to note that Isham herself registers no sense that she has been limited in her choices, by her gender or by any other influence. She presents herself as making reasoned decisions about all of her actions, from her costly and hard-fought decision not to marry, to the intellectual choice of medicine over Latin or her measured assessment of John Dod (‘I am not of there opinion who extole Mr Dod above all others’ (Princeton 15r)). Her choices are all made out of a wider sense of duty as well as knowledge of herself; recording how a friend told her she ‘might doe more good in the commonwealth’ if she married, Elizabeth Isham retorts, ‘yet if I doe not I hope I shall not prove an unprofitable member therof’ (Princeton 29r). She chooses herbal knowledge over Latin because she feels it ‘might be very beneficiall both to my Sister and others’ (Princeton 28r)—and her later medical drafts demonstrate that she ultimately combined these skills, using Latin titles for receipts and the Latin names of ingredients. [see Michelle DiMeo on a draft of Isham's receipt book]Link opens in a new window

Susan Wiseman has recently argued that reading early modern women’s writing requires ‘that we expand and refine what we mean by politics’.[38] Wiseman’s work ought to remind us that for seventeenth-century puritans a well-ordered inner life was considered vital in both men and women, for the good of the wider community as well as for the individual. Twenty-first century readers might value the wit and subversion of gender conventions in Dolly Long’s letters, or the politically daring manuscripts of Lucy Hutchinson, but for Elizabeth Isham a life of writing as devotional work was equally profitable, both to herself and to the commonwealth.

Elizabeth Isham’s writing in context

We can, then, place Elizabeth Isham among others of her station, as a woman who chose singlehood and intellectual and devotional pursuits, but did not see herself as cut off from the wider world. But in what category can we place her writings? As a project team we have struggled with that question. What was the purpose of the notes in IL3365, and why did she continue to make them? Should we refer to the longer narrative as an autobiography, or as life writing?

Both categories present some problems. The former is a genre that did not yet exist in the seventeenth-century, the latter a critical term coined to encompass the late twentieth-century widening of autobiography to memoir and semi-fictional accounts. ‘Life writing’ has recently been appropriated for early modern studies by Adam Smyth, who applies it to a range of common seventeenth-century practices, such as keeping a commonplace book, annotating an almanac or making notations in a parish register.[39] The term as Smyth uses it is not relevant to the long narrative of the Princeton manuscript, but it could comfortably apply to the notes Elizabeth Isham made in IL3365: fragmentary, condensed, organised as a list rather than a coherent narrative, and intended primarily as an aide memoire. Smyth has suggested that Isham’s notes in IL3365 resemble annotations transcribed from an almanac, and their brevity, topics, organisation by date and marginal reflections do bear some similarities to that form.[40] The fact that IL3365 was probably composed after the confessions implies that the earlier sections, at least, were probably not from another source such as an almanac, and the comprehensive Isham family collections contain no evidence that the family owned or annotated almanacs.

Nevertheless, the comparison is helpful as it suggests parallels for how Isham understood and used this unusual manuscript. Smyth’s work on almanacs cautions modern readers who expect to catch ‘a glimpse of a coherent, self-reflexive subjectivity that is in the process of emerging’ in texts such as Isham’s confessions and notes on her life. Following Catherine Belsey, he points out that identity has always encompassed both ‘sameness and uniqueness’, but that in the early modern period the sameness of the formal ways in which individuals expressed their identity and selfhood was much more pronounced than it is in our own time.[41] The sparse entries of IL3365 and their lack of narrative coherence should alert us to the fact that Isham is employing common early modern processes in all of her attempts to construct her life in writing. As Margaret Ezell has argued, IL3365’s ‘seeming resistance to narrative,’ provides ‘a glimpse of another early modern technique of artificial and artful memory’, ‘an artificial paper memory organized into discreet compartments in which texts are organized and stored’.[42] The very strangeness of this document’s way of constructing the self, as a complex, disunified nexus of family, neighbours, reading, needlework, national events and spiritual development, should perhaps make us wary of searching too rigorously for the seeming coherence of modern subjectivity in the more familiar narrative form of Isham’s confessions.

The way that Isham’s longer manuscript invites comparison with the long coherent narratives of modern autobiography and memoir renders the term ‘life writing’ a potentially misleading label. Isham herself referred to the longer narrative as her ‘confessions’, when, in IL3365, she noted their composition. ‘Confession’ in this period usually meant either an admission of guilt or a statement of faith, not a narrative of the self in the modern sense of ‘confessional autobiography’. Isham almost certainly chose the label to indicate her debt to St Augustine’s Confessions, which, like her own narrative, encompassed both early modern meanings: a confession of sin and a confession of faith. Both writers open their narrative with a prayer addressed directly to God that declares their faith and dwells on how much they owe to God. Both writers structure their narrative around specific events or developments in their faith that are either matters for thanksgiving or repentance, sometimes using the phrase ‘I call to mind’ to introduce these episodes (Princeton 2v, 4v, 26v). Both writers frequently interrupt the narrative in order to confess specific sins and general failings; Isham uses the phrase ‘I confess’ in this context more than twenty times. Both writers underline the importance of their mothers to the development of their faith, and both describe a specific episode of youthful transgression involving the theft of pears. In recounting her version of this story, Isham even borrows the unusual word ‘lickorishnesse’ from the 1631 translation of Augustine to describe her desire to steal (Princeton 10r).[43]

Isham does not follow Augustine slavishly; she ignores other key episodes in his account and puts her own particular spin on the pear-stealing story. Augustine writes of being influenced by bad companions, but Isham’s experience is specifically solitary: her ‘lickorishnesse’ is to open her mother’s closet, a small room used by early modern households for every activity that required a locked door, from storing precious foodstuffs or the family jewels to study or prayer.[44] On this occasion the young Elizabeth found fruit in her mother’s closet and stole some. When caught she denied the offence, but she continued to steal secretly when she was given stewardship of the family supply of pears, stored in a closet of her own. Just as for Augustine his youthful transgression serves as a reminder of how much he loved sin for the sake of it, for Isham her ‘closet’ stealing is the beginning of an awareness of her own sins. ‘In these things’, she writes,

I scaped without the offence of my parents, not knowing what I did in secret, but my consience hath often reproved me. for these and other \smal/ things. which if \I/ should openly mention perhaps some would laugh at me; yet Lord thou gavest me the feare of thee in these times, for I remember the Bookes which I had in my closet reading and pra\y/ing to thee in secret thinking my selfe safe in so dooing[.] (Princeton 10r)

The solitary space of a closet enabled Elizabeth Isham to experience remorse for her sins that was not driven by fear of her parents’ anger, a significant stage in her moral development. It also provided her with the chance to begin the course of devotional reading and prayer that would come to define her life and lead to the composition of her ‘confessions’.

But if ‘confessions’ is an apt description for Isham’s life story, it is not the only way she understood the work she was doing. In fact only once in the narrative itself does she refer to the text as her ‘confessions’, although in IL 3365 she does call it that. Near the end of the longer manuscript she writes in a brief aside, ‘then thought I of these confessions that having done what I could I might arive at the desired haven where I would be’ (Princeton 33r). The sentence indicates the role that writing her confessions played in Elizabeth Isham’s spiritual life; they were meant to allow Isham to understand her own development in the light of God’s providence, and ‘arive at the desired haven’ of contentment with her lot in life. Towards the beginning of the manuscript she uses another title more prominently, a title which indicates another function this text played: ‘My Booke of Rememberance’ (Princeton 2r). Katharine Hodgkin associates this title with a general emphasis in the period on memory as ‘a fundamental quality of the person’: the ability to remember indicated soundness of mind and was necessary for spiritual growth. Hodgkin has pointed out that the episodes Isham chooses to remember—details of childhood, courtship, family relationships and above all ‘her mapping of the emotional tone of the household’—are strikingly ‘different in character and detail to the more familiar mode of self-narrative’ found in Puritan forms such as Margaret Hoby’s sparse diaries and Nehemiah Wallington’s hybrid notebooks, or even the nascent forms of life writing unearthed in Adam Smyth’s work. Hodgkin concludes by asking whether Isham’s ‘Booke of Rememberance’ should ‘change our notion of early modern subjectivity, or generic conventions, or – if the two are indeed inseparable – both?’[45] Considered in the light of Smyth’s and Ezell’s analysis of IL3365 as a more structured textual form, ‘an artificial paper memory’, Hodgkin’s question should encourage us to reconsider how Isham’s longer manuscript might also draw on existing early modern practices, even if it employs them in novel ways.

The text itself provides evidence of at least two influences that shaped what Elizabeth Isham chose to remember. The first is the Puritan concept of self-examination, discussed briefly above. Elizabeth Isham’s lists of her books include several Puritan guides that advocated self-examination as part of devotional life, including John Dod, Ten sermons tending chiefely to the sitting of men for the worthy receiuing of the Lords Supper; the collection of short guides to Christian life entitled A garden of spirituall flowers; John Abernethy, A Christian and heavenly treatise containing physicke for the soule; and John Preston, The saints daily exercise.[46] The family library surviving at Lamport Hall includes several similar books not in Isham’s booklists, such as Arthur Dent, The plaine mans path-way to heauen (London: for Robert Dexter, 1602). All of these texts set out models that direct, very specifically, how a good Christian should conduct her daily devotions. Each includes some form of self-examination, usually as a mental exercise at the end of the day. George Webbe’s instructions are typical:

IN thy Bedde before thou fall asleepe, looke backe vnto the former workes of the day; call thy soule to a scrutinie, to giue vp an account how thou hast spent the day past, how thou hast past it ouer: And how farre thou hast walked with God, and wherein (as thou art able to remember) thou hast offended, and then crauing pardon for those sinnes wherevnto thou art priuie, and entring into a resolution (as much as possibly thou mayest) for the time to come, to abandon and forsake them. [47]

The act of calling one’s soul to a scrutiny did not necessarily lead to great emotional introspection; most of these writers place self-examination firmly within a Calvinist salvation narrative, so that understanding the self is not about recognising how the self is different but about fitting it into a specific model of the Christian life. Dent’s The plaine mans path-way to heauen, for example, is a typical guide to salvation in dialogue form, ‘Wherin euery man may clearly see, whether he shall be saued or damned’, as the subtitle declares, by assessing his experience and his conscience according to a simple formula distinguishing the elect from the reprobate. Following this model would seem to leave little room for individuality, but the human conscience was rarely as transparent as the guides imply. By encouraging greater consciousness of the self yet simultaneously promoting a model of the self that did not fit many individuals’ experience, the guides to self-examination provided a vocabulary and an opportunity to express emotion. Richard Rogers, for example, emphasises the Christian duties of ‘obseruing our selues’ and ‘keep[ing] our heartes in frame’.[48] Rogers is explaining how Christians can test whether they are genuinely repentant, and thus of the elect, but in practice observations of the self and the frame of the heart expanded beyond a strict accounting of what was sinful and what lawful. Nehemiah Wallington’s anguished accounts of his ‘distrackted’ grief over the deaths of his children and Dionys Fitzherbert’s attempts to attribute her episode of madness to spiritual causes are both examples of how self-examination was transformed by the pens of the faithful.[49]


Wallington, Fitzherbert, and Isham herself provide evidence of how the duty of observing the self could lead the believer whose experiences did not fit proscribed salvation narratives to explore emotions in greater depth than the writers of Puritan guides anticipated. When she describes her response to the anniversary of her sister’s death, for example, Isham recounts in close detail each change in her emotions, in particular her confusion about her suicidal thoughts and whether, as a Christian, she should desire death. At each emotional turn Isham depicts herself as submitting, or attempting to submit, herself to God, thus returning to the appropriate stance of a Christian, but simultaneously recording how she failed to maintain that stance for long. The acknowledgment of her own failure is part of her posture as a humble sinner, but it also requires her to document her ever-changing inward state in great detail. This section, like all of her confessions, is shaped by frequent references to scripture that place her experience within a broader Christian context, and the influence of the guides to self examination is evident in the words she uses at the beginning of this section: ‘I return to exammination of my selfe’ (Princeton 33r).

Isham left behind partial drafts of her confessions that provide evidence of how she went about the task of examining her self. In the blank space around a letter from her sister-in-law Jane, Isham drafted and revised accounts of several experiences, beginning with the anniversary of her sister’s death. Curiously for a modern reader, the passages are organised not chronologically but thematically: the verso of the sheet contains sections scattered throughout the Book of Rememberance, but all referring to family illness and death, while the sections copied around the direction all relate to conscience and religious practice.[50] These groupings suggest that Elizabeth Isham did not begin at the beginning when drafting her life narrative, but rather set herself devotional topics, the better to ‘make good use of’ (Princeton 11r) her own experiences of God’s providence. Alice Eardley has demonstrated that Isham revised her drafts principally by changing the passages of reflection so that they did not refer to ‘the Lord’ in the third person, but—like St Augustine’s Confessions—were addressed directly to God.[51]

The second influence on Isham’s ‘Booke of Rememberance’ was the ‘nots or table Booke’ (Princeton 11r) left behind by her mother, who provided an example of the devotional uses of writing in a time of suffering and self-doubt. Lady Judith Isham appears to have suffered from a religious melancholy that began when her daughter was about ten. Elizabeth Isham introduces her memory of the experience with the simple phrase, ‘my mother began to be somthing sadd’ (Princeton 10v), and for a modern reader the nature and progression of Lady Judith’s illness is not always apparent from her daughter’s account. Lady Judith was a sickly woman, frequently too weak to leave her chamber, and she ‘began to be somthing sadd’ after one particularly long period of confinement. Although she tried to keep her distress to herself, eventually ‘she brake foorth of her owne unworthines sending to my Granmother this word which I take it was to this effect; that she was unworthy of her, not being a dutyfull daughter towards her’, although Elizabeth Isham writes that ‘I never remember any jarring betwext them, no not in word, but they lived and loved together the best that I knew any mother and daughter in-law’ (Princeton 11r). Lady Judith’s sudden bout of self-doubt was related to a much wider crisis of conscience in which she was ‘temted with blasfemie\o/s thoughts also of hardnes of hart in consealling her wickednes doubtings and great distruct of Gods mercyes’ (Princeton 11r-v). She does not appear to have experienced any of the more extreme symptoms reported by other sufferers, such as demonic possession or suicidal thoughts.[52] Indeed, her daughter notes with relief that ‘I never remember that ever she brack \foorth/ into any outragious; or unadvissed speech’, an admission which suggests that the family had feared Lady Judith’s spiritual distress might affect her ability to reason and control herself (Princeton 11v).

Lady Judith’s cure was effected slowly through the comfort and counsel of friends and religious advisers, particularly John Dod, who worked to convince her that she was not damned, but she also seems to have worked to improve her own state through the medium of writing. Recounting her illness twenty years later, her daughter asserts that

I can no better express my mothers troubles then out of the nots of her owne hand-writing, which she keept (carring then about her) as rememberancess and instructions to her selfe: how horribly low she was, the Lord leveing her, as it ware to her selfe the vile visions and outrages the sinfull wordes the which the temter did assalt her weaknes[.] (Princeton 11r)

‘thus she writeth of her selfe’, Elizabeth Isham notes in the margin next to this passage, to underline that these are not her words but her mother’s. In the main text she goes on to paraphrase her mother’s notes in detail. The texts she has to hand—sadly no longer extant—appear to have included both a description of what her mother felt at the time and Lady Judith’s retrospective analysis of the event. After the crisis had passed, Lady Judith accused herself ‘for reasoning with Satan against the light of Conscience,’ and for ‘not comfortaly receving her frinds good counsell which they so religiously and kindly gave her’ (Princeton 11v). Finally she rededicated herself to God’s service, and asked for forgiveness, determining, as her daughter later reads ‘in her nots or table Booke’

to make good use of all the Lords mercies and corrections to her writing

thus to her selfe: ever set the Lords gifts to thee. and thy sinnes before thee

consider \that/ wee are the Lords steurdes and must give acount of that wee who

how wee dispose of that wee have[.] (Princeton 11v)

It is clear from the way Elizabeth Isham repeatedly signals that she is quoting from her mother’s writings that she had them to hand as she wrote her own account. These notes were precious evidence of what her mother, now long dead, had felt and experienced during that frightening period of mental distress. But they also provided the adult Elizabeth with an example of how to use writing to document and interpret an experience of religious melancholy, first by recording her emotions at the time, then by reflecting on and analysing those emotions in the light of scripture, and finally rededicating herself to service of God in the light of experience. This model followed accepted Puritan forms of self-examination, but shaped them into a new genre of writing. When Elizabeth Isham’s own temptations arose it was perhaps natural that the Puritan impulse to ‘examine my life’ was realised in the unusual form of autobiographical writing.

The afterlife of Elizabeth Isham’s writings

Elizabeth Isham and her mother may have turned to devotional writing in order to place their own experience of suffering in a Christian context, but it would be a mistake to assume that for either woman the process was wholly introspective. Devotional writing also acted as a conversation, frequently in memoriam, a way of remembering and analysing not only one’s own past actions but also those of family and friends, especially those who had died. In recording how she has found memories, instruction and comfort in her mother’s writing, Elizabeth Isham implicitly reminds her own readers that they might make the same use of her own Booke of Rememberance, to continue its devotional work into the next generation. Her expectation that her confessions would be read is recorded in the margin of the first page, where she notes:

not that I intend to have th[is] published. but to this end I have it in praise a than[k]fullnes to God. and for my owne benefit. which if it may doe my Brother or his children any pleasure I think to leave it them. whom I hope will charitable censure of me[.] (Princeton 1r)

Although she did not intend for her confessions to circulate widely and had primarily written them to fulfil her own religious duty, Isham nevertheless anticipated a small family audience who might take the same pleasure in her writing that she had found in her mother’s words.

The afterlife of Isham’s confessions is difficult to establish. The manuscript probably remained in the family archive with all of her other papers until 1952, when it was sold from an unidentified private collection to Princeton University Library, but it may have been part of the periodic sales of the family collection in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.[53] By the late twentieth century the connection between the confessions and Elizabeth Isham’s other writings had been forgotten; in 1972 Karl Joseph Holtgen requested information on the whereabouts of the confessions in Notes and Queries, and when in 2004 Kate Aughterson wrote an entry on Elizabeth Isham for the Dictionary of National Biography the connection was still not widely known.[54] By this time, however, scholarly work had begun on the confessions and Isham’s other writing. Isaac Stephens is producing a microhistory of Elizabeth Isham, using the confessions and the extensive Isham archive, and is also working on a scholarly edition of the confessions.[55] Katharine Hodgkin and Margaret Ezell have written articles on the centrality of memory to Isham’s writings.[56] Our own project team has produced a fully-searchable online edition of both the Princeton manuscript and IL3365, and are also writing articles on various aspects of Isham’s life and works.[57] Isham’s writing has inspired scholarly work on early modern medicine, housewifery, life writing, melancholy, religious eclecticism and devotional life.[58] The unique manuscripts in which she preserved her own life story, coupled with the wide-ranging materials in the family archive, will provide material for scholars of the early modern period for years to come.

[1] The manuscript is now in Princeton University Library, Robert H. Taylor Collection RTC 01 no. 62. The quotation is a marginal note on the left side of f. 33v. Citations hereafter in the text as Princeton.

[2] Elspeth Graham, ‘“Oppression Makes a Wise Man Mad”: the suffering of the self in autobiographical tradition’, in H. Dagstra et al., eds, Betraying Our Selves: forms of self-representation in early modern English texts (London: Macmillan, 2000), 198.

[3] John Osborn, ed., The autobiography of Thomas Whythorne (Oxford: Clarendon, 1961). Elizabeth Heale, ‘The “Outward Marks” and the “Inward Man”: Thomas Whythorne's Songs and Sonnets’, Autobiography and authorship in Renaissance verse : chronicles of the self (Basingstoke : Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 101.

[4] Joanna Moody, The Private Life of an Elizabethan Lady : The Diary of Lady Margaret Hoby, 1599-1605 (Stroud: Sutton, 1998), 39.

[5] Nehemiah Wallington’s extant notebooks are Guildhall Library MS 204; British Library Sloane MSS 1457 and 922 and Add MSS 40,883 and 21,935. For a study of Wallington and his writings see Paul S. Seaver, Wallington's World. A Puritan Artisan in Seventeenth-Century London (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1985).

[6] Portions of Richard Rogers’s journal are preserved in Doctor Williams’s Library, Baxter MS 61.13. The surviving portions of Lady Anne Clifford’s diary from 1616-1619 have been edited by Katherine O. Acheson in The Diary of Anne Clifford 1616-1619: A Critical Edition (London: Garland, 1995). The entire surviving diaries are available in D. J. H. Clifford, ed., The Diaries of Lady Anne Clifford (Stroud: Alan Sutton, 1990). Lady Grace Mildmay’s autobiographical reflections are in the Northamptonshire Studies Collection in Northamptonshire Central Library. They have been rearranged and edited by Linda A. Pollack in With faith and physic : the life of a Tudor gentlewoman, Lady Grace Mildmay, 1552-1620 (New York: St Martin’s, 1995).

[7] For further discussion of autobiographical genres in this period, see the essays in Michelle Dowd and Julie Eckerle, ed., Genre and Women’s Life Writing in Early Modern England (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007); Sharon Cadman Seelig, Autobiography and gender in early modern literature : reading women’s lives, 1600-1680 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006); and Katharine Hodgkin, Madness in Seventeenth-Century Autobiography (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2007).

[8] The most influential definition of autobiography is G. Gusdorf ‘Conditions and Limits of Autobiography’ in J. Olney (ed. and trans) Autobiography (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980), 28–48. Gusdorf’s model has been criticised as presupposing a unified self that is often unattainable for women; see especially S. Benstock ‘Authorizing the Autobiographical’ in The Private Self: Theory and Practice of Women’s Autobiographical Writings, S. Benstock (ed.) (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988), 10–33. Michelle Dowd and Julie Eckerle summarise the implications of these theories for early modern texts in the Introduction to their volume Genre and Women’s Life Writing in Early Modern England (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), 2-4.


[9] Adam Smyth, for example, cautions those who expect to find ‘a glimpse of a coherent, self-reflexive subjectivity that is in the process of emerging’ in early modern life writings. A. Smyth ‘Almanacs, Annotators, and Life-Writing in Early Modern England’, ELR 38.2 (2008): 200-44.

[10] K. A. Coles Religion, Reform, and Women’s Writing in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), p. 6.

[11] Thomas Wilson, A Christian dictionarie (London: by W. Iaggard, 1612), 130.

[12] Richard Rogers suggested in passing that a wise reader would ‘set downe many parts of his life in writing also, such as are principally to be kept in record (as Gods benefits, and his owne sinnes) as he is able, and all to helpe him to be better directed in it.’ Richard Rogers, Seven treatises (London: by Felix Kyngston, for Thomas Man, and Robert Dexter, 1603), 309.

[13] Saint Augustine of Hippo, Saint Augustines confessions translated, trans. William Watts (London: John Norton for John Partridge, 1631). This Protestant translation of the Confessions was not reprinted until 1650. M. A. Papazian (2003) ‘The Augustinian Donne: How a “Second S. Augustine”?’ in M. A. Papazian (ed.) John Donne and the Protestant Reformation: New Perspectives (Detroit: Wayne State University Press), 66-89, especially 67-69. The poet Anne Southwell’s booklists included a copy; see Jean Klene, ed, The Southwell-Sibthorpe Commonplace Book: Folger MS V.b.198 (Tempe, Arizona: Renaissance English Text Society, 1997), 101.

[14] John King, Lectvres vpon ionas, delivered at yorke in the yeare of our lord 1594. (Oxford: by Joseph Barnes, 1597). A copy survives in the Isham family library at Lamport Hall. It is signed by Elizabeth Isham’s aunt Elizabeth Isham Denton (later D’Ewes) and may have been a gift from her to her niece. Isham’s copy of Henry Mason’s The cure of cares does not survive, but she records that it was a gift from her brother before he went abroad in 1633 (Princeton, 27v).

[15] This manuscript is now in the Isham family papers in Northamptonshire Record Office, MS IL3365. Citations hereafter in the text as IL3365.

[16] For a detailed analysis of the construction of IL3365, see Jill Millman, ‘The Other Life of Elizabeth Isham’,

[17] Finch, Mary E. The Wealth of Five Northamptonshire Families 1540-1640 (Oxford: Northamptonshire Record Society, 1956), 6-37.

[18] Her mother’s sister Catherine Lewyn had married James Paget, of Northampton, who kept a house in London.

[19] On the nuances of the gendering of the term ‘private’ in this period, see Erica Longfellow, ‘Public, Private and the Household in Early Seventeenth-Century England’, Journal of British Studies 45.2 (April 2006): 313-334.

[20] Northamptonshire Record Office Isham Correspondence numbers 182-191, 193-200, and 3360. See Isaac Stephens’ discussion of the Isham-Dryden marriage negotiations and Elizabeth Isham’s singlehood in ‘The Courtship and Singlehood of Elizabeth Isham, 1630-1634’, The Historical Journal 51.1 (2008): 1-25.

[21] Justinian’s correspondence with Bishop Duppa is edited by Sir Gyles Isham in The Correspondence of Bishop Brian Duppa and Sir Justinian Isham 1650-1660 (Lamport Hall, Northamptonshire: Northamptonshire Record Society, 1955). Justinian’s other correspondents included Seth Ward and Lady Dolly Long, Bishop Duppa’s niece.

[22] Sir Gyles Isham, Introduction, The Correspondence of Bishop Brian Duppa and Sir Justinian Isham, xxxv, xxxix.

[23] Sir Gyles Isham, Introduction, The Correspondence of Bishop Brian Duppa and Sir Justinian Isham, xlii. 25 June 1652, Northamptonshire Record Office IC 314.

[24] Kenneth Parker, ed., Dorothy Osborne: Letters to Sir William Temple, 1652-54: Observations on Love, Literature, Politics and Religion (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002), 106, 61.

[25] Notes for 1639-44, IL3365. In a postscript to a letter dated 30 September 1644 Elizabeth Denton informs Elizabeth Isham that ‘your neeces groe in stature grace, and goodnes, to the cumfort of all theire frinds’, Northamptonshire Record Office IC249; and on 20 May 1645 Elizabeth Isham the younger wrote her first letter, from Ixworth, to her sister Jane Isham at an unspecified location. Letters from all of Justinian’s daughters sending Elizabeth Denton’s greetings exist from 1648: Northamptonshire Record Office IC261, 265, 268, and 281-7.


[26] See Northamptonshire Record Office IC3273, 3274, 4335 and 4620. Elizabeth Isham also records soldiers at Lamport in IL3365, every year from 1643-6.

[27] Northamptonshire Record Office IC4823, 4824, 4826, 4827, 4828.

[28] Northamptonshire Record Office IC249. This manuscript is a draft, in the blank space around an unrelated letter, as was the Isham family custom. The form of the devotions resembles both the drafts of Princeton in IC4344 and her notations about her life in IL3365. It is partly in shorthand, and Isham has made marginal notations to several passages. It is not known whether she intended to make a fair copy of these devotions. Northamptonshire Record Office IC4261.

[29] The latest extant writings by Elizabeth Isham are probably two brief letters of business written from her aunt Elizabeth Denton’s house in Stowlangtoft, Suffolk, to her brother as ‘Sir Justinian’, Northamptonshire Record Office IC4334 and IC4348. The former, dated 23 May, must be from 1652 or 1653, after Justinian succeeded his father as Baronet in July 1651 and before Elizabeth’s own death on 24 April 1654. In this letter she thanks her brother for his kind invitation to stay, suggesting that it marks the end of her visit to Suffolk. The latter is also undated, from Stowlangtoft, but gives news of her paternal aunt Susanna Stuteville’s death in January of 1653.

[30] Elizabeth Isham’s will is Northamptonshire Record Office MS IL320.

[31] 5 September 1650, Northamptonshire Record Office IC288.

[32] For a recent study of the coterie style of Cavendish and Philips, see Hero Chalmers, Royalist Women Writers 1650-1689 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 59-72 and 132-48.

[33] Northamptonshire Record Office IC288.

[34] October 22 1642, Northamptonshire Record Office IC3415. Justinian entrusted the sealed letter to his sister before he joined the king. In IC250, dated 4 August 1645, John Stuteville writes to Elizabeth, asking her to open the letter and forward a copy to Justinian via Stuteville, presumably so that one or the other could deliver the letter to Justinian’s daughters in the care of their great-aunt Elizabeth Denton at Stowlangtoft, Suffolk.

[35] Hugh de Quehen, ed. and Introduction, Lucy Hutchinson's Translation of Lucretius: De rerum natura (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996), esp. 23-27.

[36] N. H. Keeble, ed. and Introduction, Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson (London: Everyman, 1995); David Norbrook, ed. and Introduction, Order and Disorder (Oxford: Blackwell, 2001).

[37] On the relation ‘The transfiguration of Colonel Hutchinson in Lucy Hutchinson’s elegies’, Women and Religious Writing in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 180-208.

[38] Susan Wiseman, Conspiracy and Virtue: Women, Writing, and Politics in Seventeenth-Century England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 59.

[39] Adam Smyth, ‘Almanacs, Annotators, and Life-Writing in Early Modern England’, ELR ? (2008): 200-44. Dr Smyth also generously shared draft chapters for his forthcoming book on the subject.

[40] Personal communication with the author.

[41] Adam Smyth, ‘Almanacs, Annotators, and Life-Writing’, 242, 239-40.

[42] Margaret Ezell, ‘Elizabeth Isham's Books of Remembrance and Forgetting’, Modern Philology, forthcoming.

[43] Augustine writes that he and his youthful companions stole many pears, ‘not for our lickerishenesse, but even to fling to the Hogs’; Saint Augustines confessions translated, Book II chapter 4, 79.

[44] Lena Cowen Orlin, ‘Gertrude’s Closet’, Shakespeare Jahrbuch 134 (1998), 44-67.

[45] Katharine Hodgkin, ‘Elizabeth Isham’s everlasting library: memory and self in early modern autobiography’, paper given at the London Renaissance Seminar, 8 March 2008. I am grateful to Dr Hodgkin for graciously sending me the text of this paper.


[46] Elizabeth Isham wrote two lists of her books on the verso of letters she received, now in the Isham family papers in Northamptonshire Record Office, IC4829 and IC4825. Dod’s Ten sermons and A garden of spirituall flowers are mentioned in IC4829 and Abernathy and Preston in IC4825. Isham does not give publication dates and only A garden of spirituall flowers (London, Printed for T. Paunter, 1610) survives from the Isham family library at Lamport Hall, although it is now at the Folger Shakespeare Library. It is impossible to know which of many editions of the other books she owned.

[47] George Webbe, ‘A short Direction for the dayly exercise of a Christian’, in William Perkins et al., A garden of spirituall flowers, sigs. F6r-v.

[48] Richard Rogers, ‘A Direction vnto true happines’, in William Perkins et al., A garden of spirituall flowers, sigs. A8v, Br.

[49] Nehemiah Wallington, Guildhall Library MS 204, 409. Katherine Hodgkin’s edition of Dionys Fitzherbert’s manuscripts is forthcoming from Ashgate.

[50] Northamptonshire Record Office IC4344.

[51] Alice Eardley, ‘“I Reading of the Nature of Things”: Literary Influence and Elizabeth Isham’s Booke of Rememberance (1639)’, paper given as part of the Special Session: Social and Material Genres in Early Modern Life Writing, MLA Annual Convention, Chicago, 27 December 2008.

[52] On religious melancholy see Katharine Hodgkin, Madness in Seventeenth-Century Autobiography and the Introduction to her forthcoming edition of the manuscripts of Dionys Fitzherbert, which the author kindly allowed me to read before publication (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2009).

[53] Sixteenth and seventeenth century books from this period were sold to the book-collecting Christie-Miller family of Britwell Court in 1893. The entire Britwell Court library was dispersed at Sotheby’s in successive auctions from 1916-27; the Isham books now in the Folger were acquired at one of these auctions. See Charles Edmonds, An Annotated Catalogue of the Library at Lamport Hall, Northamptonshire, the Seat of Sir Charles E. Isham, Bart., Including Copious Notes and Observations on the Rare, Unique, and Hitherto-Unknown Books of English Poetry, Early English Plays, and Prose Works, as well as on other interesting Books and Manuscripts preserved therein (Privately printed, 1880).

[54] Karl Joseph Holtgen, Notes and Queries (March 1972), 109; Kate Aughterson, ‘Isham, Elizabeth (bap. 1608, d. 1654),’ in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: OUP, 2004),


[55] Isaac Stephens, ‘The Courtship and Singlehood of Elizabeth Isham, 1630-1634’, 1-25. Dr Stephens is revising his Ph D dissertation, In the Shadow of the Patriarch: Elizabeth Isham and her World in Seventeenth-Century Northamptonshire, University of California, Riverside, 2008.

[56] Katharine Hodgkin, ‘Elizabeth Isham’s everlasting library: memory and self in early modern autobiography’. Margaret Ezell, ‘Elizabeth Isham's Books of Remembrance and Forgetting’.

[57] We have been generously supported by Larger Research Grant from the British Academy. See work at Forthcoming articles include Erica Longfellow, ‘Take unto ye words’: Elizabeth Isham’s “Booke of Rememberance” and Puritan Cultural Forms’, in The Intellectual Culture of Puritan Women: 1558-1680, ed. Johanna Harris and Elizabeth Scott-Baumann (Basingstoke: Palgrave, forthcoming).

[58] Papers on aspects of Elizabeth Isham’s work have been presented at Elizabeth Isham in Princeton, a symposium to support ‘Constructing Elizabeth Isham, 1608-1654’, with the support of the Department of Special Collections at Princeton University Library, 7-8 Sep 2007; at the MLA Annual Convention, Chicago, 27 December 2008; and the Renaissance Society of American Annual Conference, Los Angeles, California, March 2009.