‘In a mirrour clere’: Protestantism and Politics in Anne Lok’s Miserere mei Deus

  • Rosalind Smith
Part of the Early Modern Literature in History book series (EMLH)


In 1560, Anne Lok published a translation of four of Calvin’s sermons on Isaiah 38, prefaced by a dedicatory epistle to Catherine Brandon and followed by a sonnet sequence in two parts — five sonnets ‘expressing the passioned minde of the penitent sinner’, followed by a longer sequence paraphrasing the 51st psalm.1 It is an unsettling text in a number of ways. Generically anomalous, it contains the first sonnet sequence not only to be written in English, but to combine the Petrarchan genre of the sonnet sequence with that of psalm paraphrase. Compiled by a middle-class woman from the community of Protestant exiles in Geneva, it emerges from beyond the English court, in contrast to the texts of aristocratic women surrounding Catherine Parr which form the major precedent for women’s publication in England before 1560. The text’s strangeness disturbs the practice which underpins criticism on early modern women’s writing of this period: characterizing women’s textual activity in terms of a restricted class of aristocratic authors, in a secondary or derivative relationship to male-authored texts, and confined to religious genres and topoi. Lok’s text draws upon largely male-authored French Calvinist and Anglo-Genevan traditions of psalm paraphrase to construct a text in which textual virtuosity works to out-trope the sonnets and psalm paraphrases of Thomas Wyatt, Lok’s main poetic predecessor in England.


Woman Writer Late Sixteenth Century Textual Subject Attribution Problem English Tradition 
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  1. 1.
    A[nne] L[ok]; Sermons of John Caluin, vpon the songe that Ezechias made after he had bene sicke, and afflicted by the hand of God, conteyned in the 38. Chapiter of Esay (London, 1560).Google Scholar
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    See Elaine Beilin, Redeeming Eve: Women Writers of the English Renaissance (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987), pp. 61–3; Margaret P. Hannay, ‘“Strengthening the walles of … Ierusalem”: Anne Vaughan Lok’s Dedication to the Countess of Warwick’, ANO 5 (1992), 71–5, and ‘“Unlock my lippes”: the Miserere mei Deus of Anne Vaughan Lok and Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke,’ in Privileging Gender in Early Modern England, ed. Jean R. Brink (Kirksville, Mo.: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 1993), pp. 18–36; Susanne Woods, ‘The Body Penitent: A 1560 Calvinist Sonnet Sequence,’ ANO 5 (1992), 137–40. Of these texts, only Margaret Hannay’s 1993 essay considers the attribution problems raised by the disclaimer, but she finds ‘internal evidence’ to link the sonnets and the dedication in a similarity of theme and in Lok’s own parallel of the songs of Hezekiah and David, and makes the attribution in the face of a lack of external evidence to the contrary. Hannay (1993), pp. 21–2.Google Scholar
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    J.W. Saunders, The Profession of English Letters (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964), p. 44; Wendy Wall, The Imprint of Gender: Authorship and Publication in the English Renaissance (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993), p. 13.Google Scholar
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    Laing glosses the psalms published in Knox’s texts as ‘although sanctioned by Knox, they cannot be considered as forming any part of the Reformer’s works.’ David Laing. ed., The Works of John Knox, 6 vols. (Edinburgh: Bannatyne Society, 1846–64), 6: 284–5.Google Scholar
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    Patrick Collinson, ‘Windows in a Woman’s Soul: Questions about the Religion of Queen Elizabeth I,’ in Elizabethan Essays (London: Hambledon Press, 1994), pp. 87–110.Google Scholar
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    See Carl J. Rasmussen, ‘“Quietnesse of Minde”: A Theatre for Worldlings as Protestant Poetics’, Spenser Studies 1 (1980), pp. 3–27.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2000

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  • Rosalind Smith

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