Mary Herbert countess of Pembroke (1561– 1621) and her works

Mary Herbert countess of Pembroke (1561– 1621) was a famous woman writer, translator, poet, and patron of art in Elizabethan England. She was the younger sister of Philip Sidney, whose first version of the Arcadia was written for her at Wilton shortly after her marriage to Henry Herbert, second earl of Pembroke (1534-1601), in 1577. After her brother’s death in 1586, she became in effect his literary executrix, overseeing the publication of The Arcadia and the rest of his works for editions in 1593 and 1598 and undertaking literary projects of which he would have approved.

She completed the Psalms, of which Sidney had translated only the first 42, rendering them in a very wide variety of English verse forms; they were not published as a whole until 1963, although John Ruskin had made a selection from them under the title of Rock Honeycomb (1877).

She translated the Discourse of Life and Death by Du Plessis Mornay (1549–1623) and Antonius, a Senecan tragedy by Robert Garnier (1544-90). Both were published in 1592; the latter was also published as Antonie in 1595. She also translated Petrarch’s Trionfo della morte. Herbert presided as “the greatest Patronesse of witt and learning of any Lady in her time “and supported writers such as Samuel Daniel, Nicholas Breton, Abraham Fraunce, and Edmund Spenser, John Harington, Thomas Nashe among others.

There is a two-volume edition of her works by Margaret P. Hannay, Noel J. Kinnamon, and Michael G. Brennan (1998).

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