Finch, Anne (1661–1720)

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Finch, Anne (1661–1720)

Countess of Winchelsea and English poet. Born Anne Kingsmill at Sydmonton, in Hampshire, England, in April 1661; died at her home on Cleveland Row on April 5, 1720; daughter of Sir William and Anne (Haslewood) Kingsmill (d. 1664); married Heneage Finch (c. 1647–1719, became the 4th earl of Winchelsea, 1712, 1st earl of Aylesford, 1714), on May 15, 1684.

According to biographer Barbara McGovern , Anne Finch, countess of Winchelsea, was "arguably, the best woman poet England produced before the 19th century." Five months after her birth as Anne Kingsmill, her father died and her mother remarried a younger man named Thomas Ogle. Three years later, her mother died. After a protracted estate and custody battle, the young Kingsmill was taken from her stepfather and put in the hands of guardians. Anne and her sister Bridget Kingsmill spent the next seven years with their paternal grandmother, Lady Kingsmill.

In 1683, along with Anne Killigrew , Catharine Fraser , Frances Walsingham , Catharine Walters , and Catharine Sedley , Anne took up residence in the Stuart court at St. James's Palace as maid of honor to Mary of Modena , second wife of James, duke of York (who would later be crowned James II). While there, Anne became devoted to the future queen, who was only three years her senior, and loyal to the Stuart monarchy; she also met and married Heneage Finch, groom of the bedchamber to the duke of York and future earl of Winchelsea, when she was 23. After her marriage, she resigned her court position, though her husband retained his.

For the first four years of their marriage all was bliss, and Finch, who had been dabbling with poetry for years, began to take up writing more seriously. But three years after James II assumed the throne in 1685, he fled to France (1688). Finch and her husband—both Anglicans and committed Royalists caught in the religious crossfire between James II and William of Orange—were exiled from court and sought refuge with friends and relatives. Fortunately, as they had no means of support, the 3rd earl of Winchelsea took them in at the family estate, Eastwell, in Kent.

After the death of the 3rd earl, the couple established a literary circle at this estate in Eastwell Park. Anne Finch's literary friendships included Katharine Philips , Aphra Behn , Alexander Pope, and Nicholas Rowe; she also had the affection and encouragement of Jonathan Swift.

Known to employ the "natural world in a distinctive and subtle way in her poetry," Finch is said by Clare Buck to link "landscape and state of mind in a way that blends the features of the inner and outer worlds, politics and place." But McGovern maintains that though she is best-known for her nature poetry—abetted by the high esteem with which William Wordsworth held her A Nocturnal Reverie—this is an unfortunate disservice. Finch's nature poems, remarks McGovern, are not her best; and they serve to thwart "recognition of the depth, the quality, and the diversity of her work."

It has long been reported that though her husband and friends delighted in her poetry, London society made it a subject of scorn. At the time, women who wrote often met with derision. Historians point to the satire Three Hours After Marriage which opened at the Drury Lane in January 1717 (co-authored by John Gay and Alexander Pope), in which Phoebe Clinket enters in an ink-stained dress, pens in her hair, while her maid has a desk strapped on her back in case her mistress should be inspired. The claim that Pope meant the character to be his good friend Finch was false, says McGovern. Rather, the claim was an attempt by an enemy to show that Pope had personally attacked known friends. Pope's biographer George Sherburn reaches a similar conclusion.

Anne Finch printed only one volume of verse in her lifetime, Miscellany Poems on Several Occasions, Written by a Lady (1713). Her long Pindaric ode, The Spleen, written in 1701, for which she was best known, contained a couplet that was echoed in Pope's Essay on Man and in Shelley's Epipsychidion.


Buck, Clare, ed. The Bloomsbury Guide to Women's Literature. NY: Prentice Hall, 1992.

Goreau, Angeline. The Whole Duty of a Woman: Female Writers in Seventeenth-Century England. NY: Dial Press, 1984.

McGovern, Barbara. Anne Finch and Her Poetry: A Critical Biography. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1992.