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Cousins in Love: Penshurst Mount Poems

Find out how Lady Mary Wroth and her cousin William Herbert reacted poetically to the consummation and loss of their young love.

In this step we will find out how Lady Mary Wroth’s writings about love, including the sonnnets you have just read, are intimately bound up with her real-life romance with her cousin, William Herbert.

Wroth’s love for her cousin seems to have been consummated by a clandestine marriage contract and a series of night time lovers’ trysts at Penshurst Mount, to the north of the family estate, just before each of them were married – within a week – to other people in 1604. Their feelings about the secret love-making and the sudden breaking off of their relationship are expressed poetically in the manuscript versions of their two poems about Penshurst Mount, as critics Ilona Bell and Steven W. May have pointed out.

In this video, Professor Marion Wynne-Davies reads from extracts of William Herbert and Lady Mary Wroth’s poems about Penshurst Mount. She discusses how they reacted poetically to the consummation and loss of their young love.

Watch the video and think about how this biographical insight helps us to understand Wroth’s sonnets. Post a comment with your thoughts. You can find the extracts and further reading in the downloads section.

In the next activity, you will find out more about William Herbert and his poems.

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Penshurst Place and the Sidney Family of Writers

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