Russell, Elizabeth (1540–1609)

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Russell, Elizabeth (1540–1609)

English writer. Name variations: Lady Elizabeth Russell; Lady Elizabeth Cooke; Lady Elizabeth Hoby. Born Elizabeth Cooke in 1540 in Essex, England; died in 1609; daughter of Sir Anthony Cooke and Anne Fitzwilliam Cooke; sister of Anne Cooke Bacon (1528–1610) and Mildred Cooke Cecil; married Sir Thomas Hoby, in 1558 (died 1566); married John, Lord Russell, in 1574 (died 1584); children: (first marriage) Elizabeth Hoby (died young), Anne Hoby (died young), Edward Hoby, Thomas Hoby; (second marriage) Francis Russell (died young), Elizabeth Russell (died young), and Anne Russell, Lady Herbert.

The poet and translator Elizabeth Russell was one of four daughters of Anne Fitzwilliam Cooke and Anthony Cooke, tutor to the young English king Edward VI. Like many Renaissance intellectuals, the Protestant Anthony Cooke provided his daughters with an exceptional humanist education in languages and literature; their home was referred to as the "female university." In 1553 the family went into exile in Germany when the Catholic Mary I succeeded as queen of England, returning after Mary's death in 1558.

At age 18, Elizabeth married Thomas Hoby, the English ambassador to Paris. Hoby was, like his wife, both a scholar and a Calvinist reformer of the emerging Anglican Church. The couple had four children. As part of her continued studies of theology and classical languages, Russell translated a Latin treatise by Bishop John Ponet on the sacrament of the Eucharist. When Hoby died in 1566, Elizabeth composed touching elegies in Latin for his monument at Bisham Abbey in Berkshire. In 1570, she wrote epitaphs to honor the memory of her two young daughters who died a week apart at ages seven and nine.

In 1572, Russell worked with her two sisters, Anne Cooke Bacon and Mildred Cooke Cecil , to write dedicatory prefaces in Greek verse for a treatise on scientific knowledge which was presented to Queen Elizabeth I . Two years later, she married John, Lord Russell, heir to the earl of Bedford, with whom she had three children, though two were to die young. When John died in 1584, Elizabeth composed a cycle of Greek and Latin verses in his memory which adorn the tomb she had erected for him in Westminster Abbey. As do all her known verses, the Russell elegies demonstrate the centrality of her Calvinist beliefs in the primacy of faith and predestination.

As the widow of a wealthy aristocrat Russell became actively involved in the management of her children's inheritance. She also used her close family connections at the royal court (her sister Mildred was the mother of Robert Cecil, the queen's secretary of state) to seek help with financial and property disputes.

In 1605, Russell finally published her translation of Ponet's treatise on the Eucharist, completed decades before, as A Way of Reconciliation of a good and learned man, touching the Truth, Nature, and Substance of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrament. She had not thought it politically wise to publish sooner, given Ponet's radical theology; the work was dedicated to her only surviving daughter, Anne, Lady Herbert .

Russell commissioned her own monument to be built at Bisham Abbey and gave detailed instructions for its decoration and epitaphs. She died in 1609, at age 69.


Schleiner, Louise. Tudor and Stuart Women Writers. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1994.

Schlueter, Paul, and June Schlueter, eds. Encyclopedia of British Women Writers. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1998.

Laura York , M.A. in History, University of California, Riverside, California

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Russell, Elizabeth (1540–1609)

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