‘The language of friendship and conversation’: Jane Cavendish and Elizabeth Brackley’s Conversational Alliances

  • Katherine R. Larson
Part of the Early Modern Literature in History book series (EMLH)


As high-ranking and educated royalists brought up in a collaborative literary environment that encouraged their active participation in conversation and poetic composition, it is not entirely surprising that Jane Cavendish and Elizabeth Brackley should embrace conversation and conversational alliance as core elements of their familial and political identity. The sisters were encouraged to hone their oral and written conversational skills from a young age. Their father, William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle, a noted dramatist, literary patron, and conversationalist who hosted a scientific and philosophical salon while living in exile on the Continent (see Whitaker 91–4, 112–20), structured his early letters to his children as poetic conversations.1 In one interchange, Newcastle invites Jane, Elizabeth, and their brother Charles to compose couplets in response to his:

Sweet Charles,

This letter, iff you like Itt nott, then race Itt:

Butt Anser Itt, for Usus promtus facitt.


Sweet Jane.

I knowe you are a rare Inditer. —

Ande hath the Pen off a moste redye writer.


Bess, you muste write to, write butt what you thinke

Nowe you’re a Girle, disemble when you Linke.



Direct Address Conversational Skill Marital Happiness Dead Relative Textual Conversation 
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© Katherine R. Larson 2011

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  • Katherine R. Larson

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