Killigrew, Anne (1660–1685)

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Killigrew, Anne (1660–1685)

English poet, painter, and maid of honor to Mary of Modena, who was celebrated in one of Dryden's odes: "To the pious memory of the accomplished young lady, Mrs. Anne Killigrew." Pronunciation: Kill-LI-grew. Born in 1660; died of smallpox, age 25, on June 16, 1685; daughter of Judith Killigrew and Henry Killigrew (both royalist supporters of the Stuart kings, closely associated with the court of Charles II, in the early years of the Restoration); never married; no children.

Selected poetry:

Poems by Mrs. Anne Killigrew (London: S. Lowndes, 1686, published posthumously by her father; republished as Poems [1686] by Mrs. Anne Killigrew: A Facsimile Reproduction, with an introduction by Robert Morton, ed., Gainesville, FL: Scholars' Facsimiles and Reprints, 1967).

Portraits and still-lifes:

three of which are mentioned in her poems, including self-portraits and paintings of both James II and Mary of Modena. The portrait of James II is now in the possession of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II , and an engraving by Blooteling from a self-portrait and a mezzotint by B. Lens from Killigrew's painting Venus and Adonis are in the Paul Mellon Collection. The Venus and Adonis itself was recorded as in a private collection in Folke-stone in 1915. A miniature in mezzotint, done from Killigrew's self-portrait, was prefixed to the 1686 edition of her Poems.

Anne Killigrew's life, though short, was in many ways exemplary of a 17th-century gentle-woman born into the upper classes of the English gentry. Reading her poems and examining her paintings offer insights into what 17th-century English life might have been like for a lively and observant young girl at the court of Charles II. Setting these poems and paintings in the context of what we know of that court life confirms some of our assumptions while challenging others.

The details of Killigrew's life, though scant, are suggestive. She was the daughter of Henry and Judith Killigrew , both royalist supporters of the Stuart kings and connected by marriage to an illegitimate branch of the royal family. Thomas Killigrew, uncle of Anne, had been a page to Charles I and had accompanied the Prince of Wales (later Charles II) into exile during the years of the English Civil War and Republic. With the Restoration, the three Killigrew brothers, William, Thomas and Henry, were rewarded for their loyalty with offices at court. Henry, who had been a chaplain in the king's army, was appointed Master of the Savoy Hospital in Westminster. His daughter Anne Killigrew, born just months before the Restoration in 1660, was christened privately, as offices of the common prayer were not publicly allowed by the Puritan government of the Commonwealth.

Killigrew's family was not only associated with the court but also distinguished through its literary achievements and associations. As young men, all three of the Killigrew brothers wrote plays, and later in life Henry Killigrew published his sermons. Thomas Killigrew, with William Davenant, another playwright, was granted a patent for two theatrical companies, the Duke's Servants and the King's Servants. That same uncle, by all accounts a witty and lively courtier, introduced guitar playing to London society when he sent a group of Italian singers and musicians from Venice to entertain the king. The guitar rapidly became popular, and skill with this instrument was quickly added to the list of accomplishments desirable for fashionable women of the court. Killigrew's Italian singers continued to perform at the court where they were received with great enthusiasm.

A Grace for beauty, and a Muse for wit.

—Anthony Wood (1820)

We know nothing specific about Anne Killigrew's social training or her formal education, but we can make some inferences based on our knowledge of her family setting and drawn from allusions made in her poems and paintings. Despite the musical and dramatic interests of her father and uncles, neither music nor playwriting attracted her, but painting and poetry evidently did.

While most young women of Killigrew's social situation probably received some instruction in painting and would most likely have been introduced to sufficient reading to make them pleasing conversationalists, Killigrew seems to have profited from a more extensive and perhaps more formal education. Her paintings in their choice and handling of topic imply an engagement with Greek and Roman mythology and literature that goes beyond the superficial, and the development of classical allusions in her poetry implies an intellect capable of philosophical and moral insights. Her technical skill in both arts is immediately apparent, suggesting that she had competent teachers and was able to profit from their instruction. Killigrew had a number of brothers and sisters, yet she is the only member of that large family whose work was acknowledged by her contemporaries or continues to be read. While posthumous publication as a means of memorializing someone was not unusual in the 17th century, Anthony Wood, Killigrew's first, rather informal, biographer is emphatic in his assertion that if the praises her poems received had been no more than compliments, her father would not have permitted their publication.

At some point, when Killigrew had completed her childhood education, her father secured a position for her as maid of honor in the household of Mary of Modena , second wife of the duke of York (later King James II). There she joined a circle of women who were to become known for their intellects and accomplishments. Catharine Sedley , Sarah Jennings (Churchill) , and Anne Kingsmill (Finch) were all members of this circle and women who would become influential in court life in the years to follow.

Mary of Modena has been praised by historians for the disciplined and serious nature of her household, in contrast to the increasingly dissolute court of Charles II. It is misleading, however, to conclude that so serious an atmosphere dictated the tone of Killigrew's poetry. A careful reading of the poems suggests instead that Killigrew was less "pious" than Dryden described her and more of an amused observer than the didactic moralist that membership in such a household might imply.

We have no way of knowing who determined the ordering of Killigrew's poems in her published volume or what criterion was used, but because the first poems in the collection refer to the writer as inexperienced, we might guess that the poems were ordered chronologically. If so, they allow for a tone of witty self-deprecation, implying a writer who takes her work, not herself, seriously.

The first poem, for example, is devoted to a curious choice of topic for a young female writer, suggesting that Killigrew thought of herself as a poet first and as a woman writer only secondarily. It celebrates Alexander the Great, in a confident tone, and begins in true epic fashion, "I sing the Man that never Equal knew/ Whose Mighty Arms all Asia did subdue." Although Killigrew does acknowledge her gender at one point ("Nor will it from his Conquests derogate/ A Female Pen his Acts did celebrate"), she certainly does not apologize for it, and part of the wit of the poem arises from the fact that the gorgeous rival troops, who with "Scarlet Plume" and "haughty Crest" challenge Alexander, turn out to be Amazons. The poem does break off, unfinished, and the editor (probably Killigrew's father) comments that the epic mode proved too challenging for the young poet, but both his comment and the self-deprecating wit of the poem are addressed to deficiencies in literary experience, not gender.

The arrangement of the poems that follow, while apparently still chronologically ordered, also seems to have been designed to display Killigrew's versatility as a poet; the poems are often grouped by poetic genre, thus emphasizing their variety. Epigrams appear together as do pastoral dialogues and some philosophical pieces. Occasional poems are scattered throughout, but another set of linked poems seems to emphasize personal rather than generic affinities. Killigrew's poems on her own paintings, for example, appear together. Viewed as a collection, Killigrew's Poems suggests that she tried her hand at a variety of poetic genres—heroic, pastoral, epigrammatic, occasional, panegyric—from a variety of stances, old and young, male and female, engaged by or disenchanted with the court. The arrangement of her verse, then, reinforces the impression that she viewed herself not as a female writer but as a serious beginning poet, exploring all the facets of her craft.

While all of the poems in the collection are intriguing, some deserve particular mention in filling out an impression of Killigrew's life and personality. The short verse titled "On My Aunt Mrs. Anne Killigrew Drown'd under London-bridge, in the Queen's Barge, Anno 1641," for example, while clearly notable for the startling nature of its title, also gives us a sense of Killigrew's own royalist sympathies and the intensity with which she maintained them. The stanza which specifically marks the drowning incident—

When angry Heav'n extinguisht her fair Light
It seem'd to say, Nought's Precious in my fight;
As I in Waves this Paragon have drown'd,
The Nation next, and King I will confound

—is sufficiently emphatic in its royalist sympathy as to leave no doubt that Killigrew's political affiliations were based on strongly held personal convictions and not simply a matter of family connections.

In similar fashion, the poem titled "To the Queen" clarifies Killigrew's moral stance as self-chosen rather than as a non-reflective product of familial and courtly influence. Moreover, while her moral position is delivered emphatically, it is tempered by humor and realism, and its tone, even when denouncing vice, is decidedly not "pious."

Appearing second in the collection, the poem begins by making an amused reference to the failure of the first poem, on Alexander. While the poet does acknowledge her own technical inadequacy in the earlier poem, she also observes that the fault there was not only that a young poet, in violation of decorum, chose an epic mode too early, but that that epic subject was not of true epic proportion after all. Alexander's force, set against the queen's virtue, is no longer impressive but comic, and he is seen as flailing with "Frantic Might" against "Windmills" in contrast to the queen's quiet "Prowess" of "Grace and Goodness." The poet "smile[s] … at his Unequal (though Gigantick) State" and is moved to "Pitty" for "him the world called Great." Yet the poem is more serious than amusing and, as it shifts its attention to the virtues of the queen, is even grim in its indictment of the corruption of the court, the moral equivalent of venereal disease which "dares its Ulcerous Face appear." These lines in particular dramatize Killigrew's own strongly felt indignation at court attitudes and practices which, as documented elsewhere, were indeed seriously corrupt.

More individual notes can also be found in Killigrew's poems on her own paintings, although again the reader must depend on inference as Killigrew is rarely direct about her own personal beliefs. The titles of the three poems—"St. John the Baptist Painted by her self," "Herodias' Daughter … also painted by her self," and "On a Picture representing two Nimphs of Diana's … Painted by her self"—tell us little and were probably in fact selected by someone else. The references to Biblical and mythological subjects sound conventional until one recalls that the Savoy Hospital where Killigrew's father held the post of Master included a chapel dedicated to John the Baptist (in the chancel of which Killigrew herself was to be buried and where her family erected a monument to her). This chapel may well have held personal and familial meaning for Killigrew, and thus the selection of John the Baptist as a topic may not have been dictated by convention at all.

What is most interesting about the painting poems, however, is Killigrew's attitude toward the relative merits of the two arts. While her contemporaries, as reported by Wood and Horace Walpole, appear to have valued her at least as much as an artist, Killigrew herself praised the poet. "If you ask where such heights do dwell," she concludes of the heroic beings celebrated in the visual arts, "the Poets only that can tell." Thus she implies that only poetry can deliver the special knowledge which is the key to the kind of virtuous behavior needed to offset the corruption of the contemporary world.

Killigrew's love poems, too, might well be rewarding when read more in the context of her own life than from the perspective of the conventions of her age. While they are, of course, conventionally pastoral and offer the expected counsel of caution to the various nymphs whom they invoke or to whom they are addressed, one might also profitably view them as referring to the various courtship experiences of Killigrew's own circle of friends. The images of Alinda and her shepherd suitor Amitor in the second pastoral dialogue, for example, might well correlate with the historical figures of Anne Kingsmill and Heneage Finch whose courtship, in 1684, was generally seen as exemplary and in just the serious and reciprocally respectful terms that Killigrew's poem promotes.

One last grouping of poems might finally be examined in the light of learning about Killigrew's life in Mary of Modena's household. The poem titled "Upon the saying that my Verses were made by another" which is frequently anthologized and read alone, could sound much like the lament of a female poet, excluded from acknowledgement by her peers and unfairly valued because of her gender. "The Envious Age" the poet complains, "only to Me done,/ Will not allow, what I write my Own" and instead, while commending her verses, sees them as more likely springing from "An other's Brow, that had so rich a store/ Of sacred Wreaths, that circled it before." The more experienced male poet is given credit that belongs to the female as the others "'gainst a Maide Conspire."

As the editors of Kissing the Rod, one anthology in which the poem appears, point out, such a poem is a commonplace in female writing. Nevertheless, when this poem is read in conjunction with the lines addressed to "My Lord Colrane," a rather different picture emerges. The second poem, evidently written in response to lines by Colrane written to Killigrew and probably prompted in turn by a poem of hers, makes clear that Killigrew practiced her craft not as an isolated female writer but rather within an established manuscript culture. Such an impression is reinforced by the delicate mixture of tact and strategy which Killigrew brings to what must have been a fairly sensitive undertaking. Lord Colrane (Henry Hale, 2nd Baron Colrane, 1638–1708) was a fairly influential individual, well-educated and scholarly in his interests. An antiquary of Tottenham, Middlesex, he evidently was acquainted with all of Killigrew's verse as a copy of her Poems bearing his bookplate survives (now in the possession of the University of Michigan libraries). Killigrew, in responding to Colrane, had to be respectful yet not obsequious. She had to demonstrate her understanding of the conventions of compliment and courtly exchange that verse circulated in manuscript called forth. She succeeds in meeting these requirements quite skillfully, exchanging compliment for compliment in such a way that inequities of gender, age, and possibly social standing which might have existed at the beginning of the poem are gently adjusted by its conclusion. The poem closes by invoking the exemplary goals of complimentary verse, instancing both Colrane's lines and Killigrew's as efficacious moral instruments in accordance with proper complimentary decorum.

It would be satisfying to be able to round out a discussion of Killigrew's life by assessing her paintings against known cultural contexts as well, but all we have for now are one or two portraits (including the one of King James II), possibly the Venus and Adonis and several titles. Walpole reports that six of Killigrew's paintings were sold from her brother Admiral Killigrew's collection. These included the Venus and Adonis, A Satyr playing a pipe, Judith and Holofernes, A woman's head, The Graces dressing Venus and one of Killigrew's self-portraits. Walpole, however, did not see them and thus comments at second hand when he reports that Killigrew painted "in the style of Sir Peter Lyly." The self-portraits we do have, one appended to the Poems and another attached to Walpole's Anecdotes of Painting, show us a rather elegant young woman, fashionably dressed and poised in expression and posture. The portrait done by John Lyly reinforces this impression. She looks at home in her age and place.

Taken altogether, then, the poems and paintings of Anne Killigrew confirm our impression that life for a 17th-century woman at court was comfortable, though also both personally and socially demanding. What her poems challenge is the stereotype of female authorship, particularly that it was isolating and handicapped by deficiencies in education and opportunity. Killigrew seems to have been a confident young woman, observant in her daily life and successfully serious about developing the skills of a poet and painter. It is ironic that even the official appointments and public acts of her father, uncles, and brothers might still have left them unknown. We have retrieved the names of Henry, William, Thomas and Admiral Killigrew not for their accomplishments, but because they had the good fortune to be related to a young poet named Anne.


Ballard, George. Memoirs of Several Ladies of Great Britain. London: J. Noon, 1752, pp. 337–345.

Cibber, Theophilus. Lives of the Poets. Vol. 2. London: R. Griffiths, 1753, pp. 224–226.

Clayton, Ellen Creathorne. English Female Artists. Vol. 1. London, 1876, pp. 59–70.

Granger, John. Biographical History of England. Vol. 4. London, 1775, p. 129.

Morton, Richard, ed. Poems (1686) by Mrs. Anne Killigrew, a Facsimile Reproduction, with introduction. Gainesville, FL: Scholars' Facsimile Press, 1967.

Reynolds, Myra. The Learned Lady in England 1650–1750. 1920 (reprinted 1964).

Walpole, Horace. Anecdotes of Painting in England. Vol. 3. London: Shakespeare Press, 1828, pp. 52–55.

Wood, Anthony. Athenae Oxonienses. 3rd ed. with additions. Ed. by Philip Bliss. Vol. 4. London, 1820, pp. 622–623.

suggested reading:

Doody, Margaret. Daring Muse. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985.

Ezell, Margaret J.M. The Patriarch's Wife: Literary Evidence and the History of the Family. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1987.

Greer, Germaine, Susan Hastings, Jeslyn Medoff, Melinda Sansone, eds. Kissing the Rod: An Anthology of Seventeenth-Century Women's Verse. NY: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1988.

Hobby, Elaine. Virtue of Necessity: English Women's Writing 1649–1688. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1990.

Messenger, Ann. His and Hers: Essays in Restoration and 18th-Century Literature. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1986.

Mulvihill, Maureen E. "Essential Studies of Restoration Women Writers: Reclaiming a Heritage, 1913–1986," in Restoration: Studies in English Literary Culture, 1660–1700. Vol. 11, Fall 1987, pp. 122–131.

Pohli, Carol Virginia. "Formal and Informal Space in Dryden's Ode, 'To the Pious Memory of … Anne Killigrew,'" in Restoration: Studies in English Literary Culture, 1660–1700. Vol. 15. Spring 1991, pp. 27–40.

Rogers, Katharine, and William McCarthy, eds. Anthology of Early Women Writers 1600–1800. NY: New American Library, 1987.

Silber, C. Anderson. "Nymphs and Satyrs: Poet, Readers and Irony in Dryden's 'Ode to Anne Killigrew,'" in Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture. Vol. 14, 1985, pp. 193–212.

Straub, Kristina. "Indecent Liberties with a Poet: Audience and the Metaphor of Rape in Killigrew's 'Upon the Saying that My Verses,' and Pope's Arbuthnot," in Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature. Vol. 6. Spring 1987, pp. 27–45.

Ann Hurley , Assistant Professor of English, Wagner College, Staten Island, New York