“Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition” ― Timothy Leary

(images for reference only and from Google images unless otherwise stated)

Currently out there in the real world, I’m writing some “stuff” for year 11. This “stuff” is a sheet explaining attitudes to women in Elizabethan times. This is because we are looking at Romeo and Juliet,  trying to get our heads around  why Capulet gives his daughter such a rough ride over her refusal to marry Parris. And it’s a tough “ask” when you’re an emancipated  human being, who holds Equality to be a universal and self evident truth. In the 21st century the idea that children let alone girls are the property of their fathers is a difficult one to understand. Even more difficult to explain  is that the two very strong women who occupied the throne from 1553 – 1603   who were both very much their father’s daughters, were not products of their time and were educated beyond society’s expectations simply because -until the next child was born  – they were heir to the English throne.

Part of me, of course, knows the above statement isn’t entirely accurate.

Ok both Mary and Elizabeth were educated beyond the usual – dancing, painting, languages and housekeeping  –  educational fodder for 16th century women.  And true, neither of them attended University, well even for royal princesses that would have been forbidden but they were not the only powerful or unusually educated women. Bess of Hardwicke is the obvious  candidate – four husbands and a prestigious legacy with descendent in some of the most politically powerful families in England.

Yet there were others and in no particular order here are three other women for consideration :

Dame Joyce Frankland

Dame Joyce Frankland

who after the loss of  husband number two and her only son – poured her wealth and interest into founding Newport Free Grammar School in North Essex; a school which celebrates its 425 birthday this year and over the years has given education to quite a few famous alumni in the realms of business, charity, and celebrity “chef-ness”.

Mildred Cecil nee Cooke –


this formidable woman  and another “Essex Girl” was wife to William Cecil – Elizabeth I’s chief advisor.  Her father –  Sir Anthony Cooke was tutor to Edward VI and  in addition to being a notable Latin and Greek scholar her book collection  was spread between several academic institutions including St John’s College Oxford on her death. Her daughter, Anne – the Countess of Oxford -was pretty impressive too, and both are buried in Westminster Abbey.

Finally – for your delectation – a Swedish woman who made her home and career in England:

Helena Snakenborg –


always worthy of inclusion in any list, not only for her name but for her prowess as a painter. Born in  1549 Helena died in England aged 86. She became the third wife of Catherine Parr’s brother; the the elderly and heir-less Earl of Northampton. Despite intial reservations, she married her second husband in secret in 1576 – an act which saw her exiled from Court by a scandalised Queen Elizabeth, despite the fact that her choice of husband Thomas Gorges of Longford was related to both  Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howerd and thus related to Elizabeth herself . Like both of his more famous relatives he too was incarcerated in the Tower by the Monarch, though (fortunately for Helena) he did not enjoy their ignominious fate.

But back to Helena: because the title became extinct with the death of her first husband, Helena was known for life as the Marchioness Northamptonn  a titular conceit which continued despite her remarriage.  In addition to her role as a senior courtier – deputising for the Queen at Christenings and other such functions, especially after the Queen’s health deteriorated – she was Chief Mourner at the funeral of Queen Elizabeth in 1603 and remained an influential court figure until her death. Like Bess Hardwicke, detractors claimed that she had family everywhere. Indeed with 8 surviving children it is thought that she had 92 immediate descendants at the time of her death.