1679 witnessed the printing of Female Poems on Several Occasions. Written by Ephelia.
Ephelia is almost certainly a pseudonymous author. Her identity (or identities) are unknown, but modern scholars have put forward a number of possible candidates, including the courtier, Mary Villiers Stuart, Duchess of Lennox and Richmond (1622-1685, Mulvihill 2003, 2008); Queen Catherine of Braganza’s maid of honour, Carey Frazier (c. 1658-1709, Greer 1989: 178); and a gentry woman from the Powney family, based in Berkshire (Love 2007: 184).
Warren Chernaik (1995: 167) posits that Female Poems may not be a single-authored volume, but a collaborative work by several writers, male and female. RECIRC is interested in Ephelia because some seventeenth-century commentators regarded her as a female author. Robert Gould, for instance, in A Satyrical Epistle to the Female Author of a Poem (1691: 5) implies that Ephelia is a ‘Female Author’ and a ‘Ragged Jilt’. Gould’s term ‘Ragged Jilt’ is an allusion to Female Poems which includes a number of lyrics that delineate Ephelia’s relationships with two men: J. G. (alias Strephon) and Clovis – in the narrative of Female Poems, both Strephon and Clovis desert Ephelia, hence Gould’s adumbration of her as a jilted woman poet.
Ephelia was not only associated with love lyrics, but political poetry. In 1681, a broadside poem titled, ‘Advice to His Grace [the Duke of Monmouth]’, was printed and attributed explicitly to Ephelia. In this broadside, the speaker critiques Charles II’s illegitimate son, James Scott, Duke of Monmouth (1649-1685), for his disloyalty to the king.
One piece of evidence for the early modern circulation of Ephelia’s writings that has been overlooked by scholars is the extant manuscript adaptation of the lyric, ‘The Twin Flame’ (from Female Poems), which is transcribed in the Duke of Monmouth’s autograph notebook (British Library, London, MS Egerton 1527, c. 1683-1685).
‘The Twin Flame’ is copied in MS Egerton 1527 in Monmouth’s hand and is unattributed. Monmouth does not simply copy out ‘The Twin Flame’, but, rather, adapts it to suit his own purposes. The male suitors in Ephelia’s ‘The Twin Flame’, Strephon and Clovis, become female lovers in Monmouth’s version and are named, Cloris and Philis. Monmouth thus seems to turn Ephelia’s female-voiced lyric into a male-voiced poem, where the male speaker portrays a love triangle between one man and two women.
What is striking about MS Egerton 1527 is that this adaptation of Ephelia’s ‘The Twin Flame’ appears alongside Monmouth’s recastings of two poems by Katherine Philips (1632-1664). As Elizabeth Hageman and Andrea Sununu (1993: 209-214) have shown, MS Egerton 1527 contains (in Monmouth’s hand) two unattributed adaptions of Philips’s poems, ‘A retir’d friendship, to Ardelia’ and ‘A Countrey life’. Monmouth’s notebook thus presents crucial evidence for the reception and circulation of seventeenth-century female-authored poetry.
This discovery of Monmouth’s adaptation of Ephelia’s ‘The Twin Flame’ is significant for a number of reasons. First, it provides further evidence for the manuscript transmission of Ephelia’s poetry. Secondly, it points to an additional connection between Monmouth and Ephelia, hinted at in the printed broadside, ‘Advice to His Grace’ and confirmed in Monmouth’s notebook. Thirdly, Monmouth’s placing of ‘The Twin Flame’ in the same notebook with two excerpts from Katherine Philips’s poems indicates that Ephelia’s poetry was being read alongside the works of the celebrated woman writer, Philips.
MS Egerton 1527 may be described as a canonical manuscript – it is written in the hand of the son of a king and is now held in a mainstream archive. However, the fact that scholars examining this manuscript have overlooked Monmouth’s debt to Ephelia suggests that famous manuscripts of this kind still need to be examined by scholars interested in women’s writing because they can sometimes shed surprising new light on the circulation of early modern female-authored works.
British Library, London, MS Egerton 1527.
Chernaik, Warren. 1995. ‘Ephelia’s Voice: The Authorship of Female Poems (1679)’. Philological Quarterly 740: 151-72.
[Gould, Robert]. 1691. A Satyrical Epistle to the Female Author of a Poem, Call’d Silvia’s Revenge. London: R. Bentley.
Greer, Germaine. ed. 1989. The Uncollected Verse of Aphra Behn. Stump Cross: Stump Cross Books.
Hageman, Elizabeth H., and Andrea Sununu. 1993. ‘New Manuscript Texts of Katherine Philips, the ‘Matchless Orinda’’. English Manuscript Studies, 1100-1700, 4: 174-219.
Love, Harold. 2007. ‘‘Ephelia’ and the Duchess’. The Review of English Studies 58: 175-85.
Mulvihill, Maureen E. ed. 2003. Ephelia. Aldershot: Ashgate.
——. 2008. Thumbprints of Ephelia. http://www.ephelia.com/
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