Wharton, Anne (1659–1685)

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Wharton, Anne (1659–1685)

English poet . Born in Ditchley, Oxfordshire, England, in 1659; died at age 26 (of a venereal disease caught from husband) in Adderbury, Oxfordshire, England, on October 29, 1685; second daughter of Sir Henry Lee (a wealthy landowner) and Anne (Danvers) Lee; married Thomas Wharton, marquis of Wharton and Whig leader, in 1673; no children.

Although none of her work was published during her lifetime, Anne Wharton was one of the best-known poets of the Restoration because her poems had such wide private circulation. She was a wealthy orphan from birth, as her father, Sir Henry Lee, had died of the plague before she was born and her mother Anne Danvers Lee died giving birth to her. Anne grew up under the care of her grandmother, Anne Wilmot , mother of John Wilmot, earl of Rochester, and married at age 14 to Thomas Wharton, later marquis of Wharton and prominent figure in the Whig faction of Parliament. The considerable wealth of her deceased father resulted in a substantial dowry for Anne, but the marriage was loveless and plagued by Thomas Wharton's ceaseless womanizing, for which he earned a reputation as the greatest rake in all of England. Anne Wharton was also bothered by poor health which kept her largely confined to her husband's country estate, where she occupied herself with reading and writing.

Through her uncle, John Wilmot, Wharton made the acquaintance of Gilbert Burnet, who later became the bishop of Salisbury. The two established a friendship and Anne began to send him copies of her poetry in her correspondence to him. Burnet, in turn, distributed them to all his female friends as well as Edmund Waller, a renowned lyric poet. Waller, highly impressed by Wharton's poetry, also began passing her work around his social circle, resulting in wide circulation and praise from other eminent poets of the day such as John Dryden and Aphra Behn , the first English woman to earn her living by writing.

Wharton died at the age of 26 at her uncle's home of a venereal disease she had contracted from her husband. At the time of her death, her verse paraphrases of the Bible were considered her best work, although her lyric poems proved to be more enduring. Her tragedy Love's Martyr, or Witt Above Crowns, a political allegory of the Exclusion Crisis, was never produced or published. Perhaps reflecting her unhappy marriage, her poetry, which appeared in many anthologies after her death, often had a despairing tone.


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

The Concise Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Shattock, Joanne. The Oxford Guide to British Women Writers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Todd, Janet, ed. A Dictionary of British and American Women Writers. Roman & Allanheld, 1985.

Malinda Mayer , writer and editor, Falmouth, Massachusetts

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Wharton, Anne (1659–1685)

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