Periodic Poetry: Bradstreet, “Before the Birth of One of Her Children”

While we are wallowing in American Puritanism these twelve days of Christmas (starting here), it might be a good time to look at a different aspect of the Puritan experience.

Anne Bradstreet was the daughter of  Thomas Dudley. Dudley was a self-made man in a society not designed for self-advancement. His father, Capt. Roger Dudley, was a soldier who died in battle when Thomas was a child. What battle that was is a matter of dispute. He had a commission in the militia of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester. (It is unknown whether the Earl was related to Roger, Bradstreet’s grandfather.) Robert Dudley himself had risen from the disaster that befell his own father who supported Lady Jane Grey’s fatal claim to the crown. The Earl of Leicester became a close confidant of Queen Elizabeth in those heady days of intellectual ferment and romantic Protestant adventurism. His relation with the Queen, however, became a matter of public scandal, but his own ambition (notably in his botched stratagems in accepting of the position of governor general of the United Province, then in a war of independence from Spain) led the queen to publicly rebuke him.

The Battle of Ivry by Peter Paul Rubens. (From Wikipedia.)

It was long thought that Bradstreet’s grandfather fell under the Earl of Leicester in the great Huguenot victory at Ivry in 1590. The defeat of the Catholic League by Henry of Navarre was celebrated throughout the Protestant world. (Unable to take Paris by force, however, Henry would betray Elizabeth three years later by renouncing Protestantism. Paris vaut bien une messe (“Paris is well worth a Mass”), he explained.)

There is some contrary evidence (namely the will of Roger Dudley’s father-in-law in 1588) that suggests that Bradstreet’s grandfather died before Ivry. It is possible that instead of giving his life in a great victory, he died under Leicester in the dismal defeat by the Spanish at Zutphen in 1586. Leicester had laid siege to the city under Prince Alexander of Parma, but was unable to intercept a relief force and after a skirmish was forced to retire.Whenever and wherever he died, Roger Dudley left his son Thomas,  Bradstreet’s father, orphaned at an early age.

Thomas Dudley, father of Anne Bradstreet and four-time Governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony. (From Wikipedia.)

If Thomas’s father was related to the great favorite of the last of the Tudors (which some claim without much good proof other than similarity of Leicester’s name), his mother was in fact connected to the first of the Plantagenets, being a descendant of Henry II. But it was Thomas Dudley’s ambition and self-discipline (in common with all the Dudleys at that time and later in America) that got him noticed. He became steward to Theophilus Clinton, 4th Earl of Lincoln. Clinton (also known as Theophilus Fiennes) would fight on the Protestant side in 1624 in the Thirty Years War. Later he would side with the Parliament against Charles I. He became Speaker of the House of Lords during the first time Charles I was in Parliament’s custody. Clinton must have had remarkable political skills because 13 years later, at the darkest time for English Puritans, Charles II of the restored House of Stuart, appointed Clinton Commissioner for the Colonies. He would thus begin the process of taking back the liberties formerly granted the American colonies, a process first signaled by the Navigation Act of 1660.

Thomas Dudley became a Puritan in the 1590s, long before he met Clinton. He remained an adherent to his view of the Elizabethan Settlement, even as Anglicans, while Elizabeth was still alive, planned introducing rituals less distinct from Catholicism. Given Clinton’s later history, which included imprisonment in the Tower of London for opposing King Charles I’s forced loan, his service in the Regiment of Foot, Parliamentarian Army (he was commissioned Colonel), and his acting as Resident Commissioner for Parliament with the Scottish Army, it is likely Dudley’s religious profession helped recommend him to Clinton.

Simon Bradstreet. Two-time Governor of Massachussets Bay Colony, including during the beginning of the bewitchings in 1692. “My love is such that rivers cannot quench,” his wife Anne wrote.

While Clinton concerned himself with affairs of state and military adventures, Dudley worked to straighten out his finances. In 1622 he hired Simon Bradstreet to help him. Bradstreet had attended Emanuel College in Cambridge in 1617. Bradstreet was 19 when he began work for Dudley. At the time Dudley’s daughter, Anne was 10. Six years later, in 1628, Bradstreet and Anne Dudley would marry.

Anne had advantages that most English girls did not. She was taken seriously (Puritans took everything seriously). She had access to libraries of the world’s great books. And she received some training in Greek, Latin, French, and Hebrew. She grew to love literature, while at the same time remaining devout. She was able to marry an educated man, who, as an added benefit, was only nine years older than she. But it seemed that God never intended Puritans to enjoy peace on this earth, so after Charles I ascended to the throne, religious intolerance became their lot. The glove was finally thrown down in 1629 when the king dissolved Parliament to rule as absolute king. A corrupt king at the head of a corrupt church meant that this was not the land for the Elect.

So in 1629 Dudley with four others became officers in the Massachusetts Bay Company that received a charter from the king for the colony. In 1630 Dudley, John Winthrop, Simeon Bradstreet, Anne Bradstreet and a select group of saints set sail on the Arabella for New Jerusalem. The Cambridge Agreement among the shareholders, signed the previous year, ensured that the treasures this company would lay up were not on earth.

Arrival of the Winthrop Colony, by William F. Halsall

The voyage was harrowing. John Winthrop was able to envision a City upon the Hill when they landed; Anne Bradstreet had a different experience. She told her children in a book “that I leave for you when I am dead” that she “came into this Country, where I found a new world and new manners, at which my heart rose. But after I was convinced it was the way of God, I submitted to it and joined to the church at Boston.” (“To my Dear Children” in John Harvard Ellis (ed.), The Works of Anne Bradstreet in Prose and Verse (Charlestown: Abram E. Cutter 1867), p 5.)

Goodwife that she was, Anne would also learn to submit to living in a wild forest far from the world of literature and books that she grew up in. They moved from Salem, where they landed on June 14, 1630, first to Charlestown and then to Boston. They would soon move to New Towne, where Anne had her first child. New Towne would become Cambridge, where her father chartered the first college in North America–in fact the first corporation. Thomas Dudley would describe the history of that first year in a letter to Lady Bridget, Countess of Lincoln (Clinton’s wife, now an investor in the company). The letter would be anthologized at the end of the century with other accounts in Massachusetts: or New-England, The first Planters of  New-England, The End and Manner of their coming thither, and Abode there:  In several Epistles (Boston: B. Green & J. Allen: 1696).

After Cambridge, Anne Bradstreet would again move further into the wild, first to Ipswich and then to North Andover, where their house would burn down in the middle of the night on July 10, 1666, leaving her family near destitute. Anne was sick but not broken; she would see this too as a matter of great indifference:

And, when I could no longer look,
I blest his Name that gave and took,
That layd my goods now in the dvst:
Yea so it was, and so ’twas jvst.
It was his own: it was not mine;
far be it that I should repine.

(See the poem “Copyed out of a loose Paper” beginning at p 40 in the Ellis edition linked above.)

The American history of Anne’s father and husband was recorded in laws and charters and diaries. Anne’s history, like that of all Puritan women, was necessarily more interior. Women were not permitted to take part in public affairs. If Anne Bradstreet needed any lesson in this regard, the treatment of Ann Hutchinson would have graphically provided it. But Ann did not need any such lesson. The Dudleys and the Bradstreets were not the Mathers. They didn’t have the overweening hubris that leads to personal (and social) calamity. Anne was always conscious of her role, and whenever she felt unfairly treated she would eventually ascribe it to a benevolent God’s plan to make her soul better. She told her children in her written autobiography to be read after her death:

“Among all my experiences of God’s gratious Dealings with me, I have constantly observed this, that he hath never suffered me long to sitt loose from him, but by one affliction or other hath made me look home, and search what was amisse – so usually thus it hath been with me that I have no sooner felt my heart out of order, but I have expected correction for it, which most commonly hath been upon my own person, in sicknesse, weaknes, paines, sometimes on my soul, in Doubts and feares of God’s displeasure, and my sincerity towards him, sometimes he hath smott a child with a sicknes, sometimes chasstened by losses in estate, – and these Times (thro: his great mercy) have been the times of my greatest Getting and Advantage, yea I have found them the Times when the Lord hath manifested the most Love to me. Then have I gone to searching, and have said with David, Lord search me and try me, see what wayes of wickednes are in me, and lead me in the way everlasting: and seldome or never but I have found either some sin I lay under which God would have reformed, or some duty neglected which he would have performed. And by his help I have layd Vowes and Bonds upon my Soul to perform his righteous commands.” (Ellis edition, pp 5-6.)

Her poetry, which she never intended for publication, is filled with the kind of submission that reminds one more of Zen than Mather. Watching her house burn down she could see the workings of a kind God, not a vengeful one. Yes, society was then organized in such a way that a brilliant woman like Anne Bradstreet could not demonstrate her mastery of letters or otherwise express her mind and person the way she might be expected (or permitted) now. But it is difficult when reading her writing not to have a vague suspicion that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, it might all–all of it–be for the best.

Before the Birth of One of Her Children

from Several Poems Compiled with great variety of Wit and Learning, full of Delight (Boston: John Foster: 1678)

by Anne Bradstreet

All things within this fading world hath end
Adversity doth still our joys attend;
No ties so strong, no friends so dear and sweet,
But with death’s parting blow are sure to meet.
The sentence past is most irrevocable,
A common thing, yet oh, inevitable.
How soon, my Dear, death may my steps attend,
How soon’t may be thy lot to lose thy friend,
We both are ignorant, yet love bids me
These farewell lines to recommend to thee,
That when the knot’s untied that made us one,
I may seem thine, who in effect am none.
And if I see not half my days that’s due,
What nature would, God grant to yours and you;
The many faults that well you know I have
Let be interred in my oblivious grave;
If any worth or virtue were in me,
Let that live freshly in thy memory
And when thou feel’st no grief, as I no harmes,
Yet love thy dead, who long lay in thine arms,
And when thy loss shall be repaid with gains
Look to my little babes, my dear remains.
And if thou love thyself, or loved’st me,
These O protect from stepdame’s injury.
And if chance to thine eyes shall bring this verse,
With some sad sighs honor my absent hearse;
And kiss this paper for thy dear love’s sake,
Who with salt tears this last farewell did take.

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    • T. Thompson
    • January 10th, 2017

    To say that the October 1588 will of Dudley’s father-in-law Thomas Dorne (wherein Susanna (Dorne) Dudley is referred to as “Susan Dudley, my Daughter, widow”) is “some evidence” that Roger Dudley did not die at Ivry is a bit of an understatement. He could not have died there, since he was dead already. Also, the image purporting to be Thomas Dudley is that of his son, Joseph Dudley. It says in the Wikipedia article from which you copied the image that it is “probably a reversed photographic image of a painting of his son Joseph.”
    Tut tut.

    • T:

      Thank you for your comment.

      As for your reliance on Wikipedia for the identity of the subject of the portrait, 2 things:

      1. At the time this piece was posted, the Wikipedia article was not yet amended to say that the portrait was “probably” of the son. It said that it was of Thomas Dudley. You can see the article as of January 2, 2011 by clicking here.

      2. Even today the caption of the portrait says “This image, frequently claimed to be of Thomas Dudley” and gives a citation. (It could have even cited a previous version of the same article for further support.) The attribution of the image to his son was made by an anonymous editor based on his comparison with another image in the article on John Dudley and has no citation (which, I believe, violates Wikipedia’s policy against “original research,” but I leave it to them to sort out; it is, at any rate, hardly grounds to support sniffy disdain). This is a phenomenon one often sees on Wikipedia. Someone without authority has to make an edit (or comment in “talk”) solely to assert his own purported intelligence. This is usually done with a superciliousness unsupported by the nature of the edit or comment. This happens in other areas of the internet, such as in comments, right?

      Your other point, that “some” should be deleted before “evidence,” is quite valid. Thank you for the copy edit.

      I did enjoy the snark, however misplaced. Please feel free to comment any time.

  1. January 13th, 2011
    Trackback from : Earl of leicester | CatDate
  2. April 1st, 2011

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