Chudleigh, Mary Lee (1656–1710)

views updated

Chudleigh, Mary Lee (1656–1710)

English poet and essayist. Name variations: Lady Mary Lee Chudleigh. Born in August 1656 in Devon, England; died on December 15, 1710; buried in Ashton, Devonshire; daughter of Richard Lee, Esq., of Winsdale; married Sir George Chudleigh; children: several, including Eliza Marie, George, and Thomas.

Selected works:

The Ladies Defence; or, the Bride-Woman's Counsellor answered: A Poem. In a Dialogue between Sir John Brute, Sir William Loveall, Melissa and a Parson (1700); Essays Upon Several Subjects in Prose and Verse. Written by Lady Chudleigh (1710).

Though Mary Lee Chudleigh studied literature and history, while showing a particular enthusiasm for philosophy and divinity, her education veered from the norm in that she did not learn languages. She was highly motivated in her studies, valuing her intellect for aid in living a virtuous life. Writing offered her a means of finding solace, particularly after the deaths of her mother and young daughter Eliza Marie, and Chudleigh claimed that her true self was revealed in her poetry.

In 1700, she published the poem "The Ladies Defence" anonymously, and she was later concerned about acknowledging authorship of this feminist piece when it was included in a subsequent edition of her poetry. The work was an attack aimed explicitly at John Sprint, author of The Bride-Woman's Counsellor, who advised women to be subservient to their husbands. The other woman who challenged Sprint, under the pseudonym "Eugenia," was a close friend of Chudleigh, and to her Chudleigh dedicated the first edition of her poems.

Though Chudleigh applied John Locke's epistemology to argue for the equal education of women, her defense of women does not necessarily indicate that her own marriage accommodated her views. Indeed, her poetry displays bitterness about women's plight in marriage:

When she the word obey has said,
And Man by Law supreme has made,
Then all that's kind is laid aside,
And nothing left but State and Pride …

Value yourselves, and Men despise,
You must be proud, if you'll be wise.

A longtime sufferer of rheumatism, Chudleigh was confined to her bed for several years before her death in 1710. That same year, she published Essays upon Several Subjects, which included treatments of knowledge, pride, humility, life, death, fear, and grief.


Ballard, George. Memoirs of Several Ladies of Great Britain Who Have Been Celebrated for Their Writings or Skill in the Learned Languages, Arts and Sciences. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1985.

Kersey, Ethel M. Women Philosophers: a Bio-critical Source Book. NY: Greenwood Press, 1989.

Stenton, Doris Mary. The English Woman in History. NY: Macmillan, 1957.

suggested reading:

Smith, Hilda L. Reason's Disciples: Seventeenth Century English Feminists. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1982.

Catherine Hundleby , M.A. Philosophy, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada