LADY Anne Clifford was one of the most dynamic and determined women of the 1600s, overcoming serious obstacles in order to secure her vast inheritance of land, houses and castles in the North of England. Now, her copious and frank autobiographical writings are fully available to a modern readership, thanks to the scholarship of a University of Huddersfield expert who has also uncovered what she claims is a missing portrait of the woman who came to be known as the “Queen of the North”.
Professor Jessica Malay is established as the leading contemporary authority on Lady Anne and is editor of the newly-published Anne Clifford’s Autobiographical Writing, which contains material that covers seven decades and will appeal to general readers as well as historians.
“It’s very readable. You feel like you’re spending each day with her,” said Professor Malay, “and that you’re meeting the people she meets, and it is so filled with characters – like a Dickensian novel.
“It is of definite value as social and cultural history, for finding out about the politics of the time and how people lived their daily lives at court and in the country.”
The cover illustration of the new book is a painting by the artist Robert Peake, who was active in the early 1600s. One of his surviving works is identified in catalogues only as Portrait of a Girl, but as soon as Professor Malay saw the image she recognised it – from other portraits – as Anne Clifford.
“It has her dimpled chin, her eyes and her hair. I would date between 1610 and 1619,” said Professor Malay. Images of Portrait of a Girl are readily available, but the actual painting was sold privately at auction and its current owner is unknown. Its value could shoot up if Professor Malay’s identification of the subject as one of the most famous women of her age is widely accepted.
The new book Anne Clifford’s Autobiographical Writing draws on sources that include surviving diaries kept by Lady Anne when she was a girl in 1603 and a young woman in 1616-19, plus a Day-by-Day Book detailing the minutiae of her life as an elderly lady – by then Countess of Pembroke – during the last months of her life in 1676.
At the heart of the new anthology is The Life of Mee the Lady Anne Clifford, an autobiography covering its subject’s life from conception in 1589 to the year 1649. This is incorporated into the Great Books of Record, Lady Anne Clifford’s monumental family history, compiled in order to bolster the legal case that she was the true heir to estates in Westmoreland and Yorkshire.
When she did come into her lands and castles, she would be known “the Queen of the North”, rebuilding and extending her castles of Skipton, Brougham, Brough, Appleby and Pendragon. Also, her charitable work was known throughout the region and long remembered.
Professor Malay was responsible for the transcription of the Great Books, leading to the first published edition of the work. Now she plans to follow her new anthology with a full biography of Lady Anne.
She would also be happy to advise any novelist or scriptwriter who sensed potential in the long life of a lady who lived during the reigns of four monarchs plus the Cromwellian period and frequently found herself dangerously at odds with the politics of the day.
“I don’t understand why there has been no film or TV drama about her because she was a feisty lady, a larger-than-life figure who would come over very well on the screen!”