Margaret Cavendish: A Glorious Fame
Margaret Cavendish was the first English woman to write specifically for publication and to consider herself primarily a writer.
She cloaked her crippling shyness in extravagant dress and an exotic public persona. A feminist long before her time, she believed in sexual equality, criticised the role that society assigned to women and even questioned the institution of marriage.
Although she, like virtually all women of her time, had little formal education, she wrote, with atrocious spelling, stories, poems, essays, ‘fancies’ and scientific and philosophical treatises. So controversial was her reputation that when she visited London, crowds lined the streets to watch her pass. She was a solitary, gifted and outlandish figure.
Margaret lived at one of the most exciting and turbulent times in British history. She was only a young girl when civil war broke out in England. Her family were Royalist supporters who lost everything - their house was pulled down by an armed mob and the family graves looted. Margaret’s mother was imprisoned and later died. Two of Margaret’s brothers died in battle. She herself became a fugitive, following the Queen into exile in Paris as one of her ‘waiting women’.
Though Margaret was only the daughter of a gentleman, she caught the eye of William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle and - fearing the Queen’s displeasure - conducted a secret romance until they were able to marry. She lived with him in exile until the Restoration of Charles II in 1660.