Lady Anne Halkett, The Memoir of Her Life (written,1640s-1656 / pub. 1778/1875) 

Genre: memoir, a form of autobiography which aristocratic and upper-middle-class men and women wrote when their careers were largely over to recall the people and deeds of their past which may have become important to the nation at large.

Form: prose.

Characters: "This gentleman" is Colonel Bamfield, a Cavalier officer who clearly is flirting with Halkett in a bantering fashion common among the court elite of the Carolinian period; the duke of York, second in line for the throne, named James, who later would reign briefly as James II before being deposed in the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688; the duke's Parliamentary jailers at St. James Palace; the other co-conspirators in the release of the duke.

Summary: Halkett, Colonel Bamfield, and a group of other Royalist sympathizers successfully plot the release of the the younger son of Charles I.  If the Parliamentarians had killed the Prince of Wales, eldest son and heir to the throne, currently traveling freely among allies on the Continent, then their imprisonment of James would give them the power to extinguish the Stuart line (see Richard III and the "princes in the Tower").   Haklett writes that the escape succeeded in no small part because scribes, who were to write the Parliament's orders to apprehend the boy, could not agree upon the text of the document and, while they were haggling over their editing, the prince safely crossed the Channel.

Issues and Research Sources:

  1. Halkett's narrative is partnered in the syllabus with Hutchinson's because they illustrate a split in English literary style between works arising from Court/Royalist (later "Tory") values and works arising from City/Parliamentary (later "Whig") values.  Halkett's use of narrative conventions from Medieval romance (rescue of the prince from the palace, use of disguises, reunions and hair's-breadth escapes) looks toward one literary aesthetic, and Hutchinson's use of dramatic dialogues and the pretense of unadorned reportage of facts looks toward another.  Even the issues at stake in each narrative reflect the authors' political and social assumptions about political power and artistic authority.  Why is Halkett's narrative so concerned about the fate of one teenaged boy, and why does Hutchinson's narrative worry so about the queen's nationality?  What does each have to do with political power, and how does each come to represent a form of political power?  Who determines who controls the prince in Halkett's narrative, or the queen in Hutchinson's narrative?
  2. Court style appears to allow playful talk about morality in ways that the deadly serious Puritans would have found offensive.  Consider yourself a sociologist or anthropologist studying the unusual behaviors of this ruling elite.  Look for the social structures and performance rules which underpin the dialogue Lady Anne reports.
    • How does she respond to his flirtation and what does that tell you about the relative power of women and men in the court culture of this era?
    • Compare the satirical view of the generation previous in Sir Politic and Lady Would-be (Volpone).
    • How would a Puritan reader of this era have interpreted their conversation?
  3. Certainly the plot Halkett develops to free the prince strongly resembles a drama in which the actors (prince and jailors) pretend to play "hide and seek" (1733) in a game that is, for the prince and his allies, reality.
    • Might we consider Halkett a courtly dramatist who has written a masque for the prince?
    • How would you analyze the plot as a courtly drama?
    • Can you see sprezzatura in its construction?  She also implicitly critiques the composing style of the Puritan scribes who were set to write the arrest warrants for the prince (1735).  Does this have anything to do with a "courtier aesthetic"?
    • How might this constitute the bases for a Court vs. Parliament view of the art of writing?
  4. Click here to read Ellen Moody's e-text of Anne Halkett's autobiographical manuscript, which formed the basis of the late 18th-century print edition from which the Norton excerpt was taken.  You will find that a great deal of the narrative has little to do with the Civil Wars and a great deal to do with Halkett's personal life, which we see a glimpse of in her playful courtship by the married cad, Bampfield.  This raises, once again, the question of what makes a text "literature."  Does artistic narrative have to be about great national events, or can it be about a woman's struggle with social conventions after she was tricked into an adulterous marriage?  If you are looking for the roots of the modern novel, this text (like Behn's Orronoko, with its own guilty secrets) might be a good place to start.
  5. Halkett's full text is available in the 1778 edition and the 1875 Camden Society edition of the Memoirs as an autobiography in the Eisenhower Library of Johns Hopkins University.  For the diary (not a memoir meant for publication) of another woman of the Renaissance, you might be interested in exploring this volume from Goucher's library:
    AUTHOR Pembroke, Anne Clifford Herbert, Countess of, 1590-1676.
    TITLE The diary of the Lady Anne Clifford, with an introductory note by
    V. Sackville-West.  (N.B.: Vita Sackville-West was born and raised at Pembroke and was a popular novelist and travel writer in addition to being the friend and lover of Virginia Woolf.)
    PUB. INFO. London, W. Heinemann ltd., 1923.
    DESCRIPT lxvi, 112 p. illus. 20 cm.
    ALT AUTHOR Sackville-West, V. (Victoria), 1892-1962.
    Main Collection 942.06 P39R CHK THE SHELF
  6. Halkett's account of her life comments on her life from birth (1623) until her marriage to Sir James Halkett of Dumfermline, Scotland, in 1656.  The circumstances of that marriage were severely strained by the events accompanying the evacuation of the Royalists from England after the execution of Charles I in 1649, and her own need to flee the aftermath of what may have been a bigamous relationship with Colonel Bamfield.  How does her depiction of her collaboration with Bamfield characterize her relationship with him?  What powers does the autobiographical writer claim in her representation of herself in history, and how does that contrast with the relationship of works "about" others (e.g., "Battle of Maldon," Lucy Hutchinson's Memoirs of Colonel Hutchinson, etc.)?  How might Halkett's memoir, like Aphra Behn's Oroonoko and Lucy Hutchinson's Memoirs of Colonel Hutchinson, also reveal the effects of an acceptance of change and novel ideas that transformed English people's  tradition-governed mentality into one we might call "modern"?
  7. Other sites which offer scholarly editions of previously unpublished works by women who wrote during the Renaissance, Restoration, and 18th century include the Brown University Women Writers Project, and the Emory Women Writers Resource Project at Emory University's Lewis H. Beck Center.  The Brown site has an exceptionally large text base of edited Renaissance women writers, and the Emory site's strength is its unedited (as in previously unpublished) texts.  These are being used as part of Emory's graduate program to teach editing practices.  To see Professor Sheila Cavanagh's very well-explained set of instructions for how a scholarly edition is prepared, and a well-equipped set of scholarly tools (paper and online), click here.

Secondary Scholarship on Halkett--

Moody, Ellen.  "'Cast out from respectability a while': Anne Murray Halkett's Life in the Manuscripts."  East Central American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies Conference: Civil Conflict in the Eighteenth Century.  Gettysburg College.  October 27, 2006.  Session Title: "Bibliography, Textual Studies, and Book History, Session I."  Available online at:  Viewed 11/27/06

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