Autograph poems by Katherine Philips

Description

These manuscripts – two poems handwritten by Katherine Philips, and a scribal copy of an extract from her play Pompey (1663) – are part of a collection of 16th- and 17th-century poetry compiled by Sir Richard Browne (1605–1683), a diplomat who served the royal family in exile during the Interregnum (‘between reigns’) of 1649–60.

Pompey was the first play by a woman to be performed in a commercial theatre, making this manuscript fragment particularly significant.

Manuscript transmission of Katherine Philips’s poetry

Instead of publishing her work, which would have exposed it to a public and unknown audience, Philips circulated her poetry privately amongst friends and patrons who shared her Royalist politics. The two autograph poems collected here demonstrate manuscript transmission in action: they are written on loose but folded pieces of paper, indicating that they were sent by Philips in letters.

Which works are digitised here?

  • ‘To the Queen's Majesty’ (ff. 69r–69v)

In the printed editions of Philips’s works this poem is titled, ‘To the Queen Mother's Majesty, Jan. 1. 1660/1’. This is to avoid confusion between Queen Henrietta Maria (1609–1669), mother of King Charles II (1630–1685), and his wife Queen Catherine of Braganza (1638–1705), whom he married on the 21 May 1662.

In the poem, Philips laments the ’unwearied spite’ (l. 7) of the Civil War, the execution of Charles I and the ordeals endured by the Queen Mother in exile: ‘As from our Mischiefs all your troubles grew, / 'Tis your sad right to suffer for them too’ (ll. 25–26). However, the poem also celebrates the triumphant return of the Stuarts to England.

  • ‘An ode upon retirement, made upon occasion of Mr. Cowley's on that subject’ (ff. 70r, 70v and 71r)

‘An ode upon retirement’ was written as a response to a poem by Abraham Cowley (1618–1667), a prominent poet and literary correspondent of Philips. Retirement poetry, as a genre, focussed on the merits of a solitary, mindful retreat from the chaos and corruption of the world. The genre was widely used by Royalist poets during the Interregnum as a means of reconciling themselves to their new position outside mainstream society.

In her poem, Philips declares that those ‘Who will be happy, must be unconcern'd, / Must all their comfort in their bosome weare, / And seeke their power and their treasure there’ (ll. 44–46).

  • Pompey. A Tragedy: extract from Act 3, Scene 4. (ff. 72r, 72v and 73r)

Pompey. A Tragedy is Philips’s translation of Pierre Corneille's La Mort de Pompée (1644). The play would have resonated with a contemporary audience because of the parallels between the plot and the events of the English Civil War, the Interregnum and the Restoration. Set during the Roman civil wars, the eponymous Pompey is brutally murdered by King Ptolemy of Egypt, who is subsequently defeated by Cleopatra upon her return from exile.

Transcript

To the Queen’s Majesty

You Justly may forsake a Land, which you_
Have found so guilty, & so fatall too,
Fortune injurious to your Innocence,
Empty’d her Quiver here, & shot from hence;
‘Twas here, bold. Rebells once, your life pursu’d,
To whom ‘twas Treason, onely to be rude,
Till you were forc’d by their unweary’d spight
(O! Glorious criminall!) to take your flight.
And after you, all that was humane fled,
For here, oh! here, the Royall Martyr bled.
Whose cause & heart must sacred be & high,
That having you could be content to dy.
Here they purloyn’d what we to you did on,
And payd you in Variety of woe.
Yet all those billows, in your brest did meet
A heart, so firm, so royall, & so sweet,
That over them you greatir conquest made,
Then your immortal Father ever had.
(For we may read in Story, of some few
Who fought like him, none ye endur’d like you.)
Till sorrow blush’d to act what Traytors meant,
And Providence it self did first repeat;
But as our Active, so our Passive Ill,
Hath made your share to be the Sufferers still,
As from our mischiefs all your troubles grew,
‘Tis your sad right, to suffer for them too.
Else our Great Charles had not been hence so long,
Nor ye adored Gloucester dy’d so young,


Nor had we lost a Princess, all confessd
To be the Greatest, wisest & the best.
Who leaving colour parts, though less unkind,
(For it was here she set, & there she shin’d)
Did to a most ungrateful Climate come,
To make a Visit, & to find a Tomb.
So yt we might your pardon now despaire,
As of your stay, in this unpurged Ayre,
But yt your mercy does transcend our crimes,
As much, as your example former times;
And will accept our Offerings, though ye flame
Does tremble still betwixt regrett & shame,
For we have (Justly) suffer’d more than you,
By the sad guilt of your afflictions too;

As you ye Great Idea have been seen
of either Fortune & in both a Queen
Live still triumphant on ye noblest wars
And Justify your reconciled Stars;
See your offendors for your mercy bow,
And your try’d Virtue, all mankind allow.
While you to such a race have given birth,
Who are contended for, by heaven, & Earth.


No, No, unfaithfull world thou hast
Too long my easy heart betray’d
And me too long thy captive made
But I am wiser grown at last
And will improve by all that I have past.
I know ‘twas Just I should be practised on
For I was told before
And told in sober. & instructions lore,
How little all that trusted thee have won,
And yet I would make hast to be undone
But by my sufferings I am better taught
And will no more comit that stupid fault
Go get some other Foole
Whom thou may’st next cajole:
On me thy frowns thou wilt in vain bestow
For I know how
To be as coy & as reserv’d as thou
2.
In my remote & humble seat
Now I’m again possess’d
of that late fugitive my Brest
From all thy tumults, & from all thy heat
He find a quiet, & a coole retreat
And on the letters I have worne
Look with experienc’d. & revengefull scorne
In thy my sovereign = Privacy
In truth, I cannot govorn thee


[Left hand page]

But yet my self I may subdue
And that’s the nobler Empire of the Two.
If every passion had got leave
It’s satisfaction to receive
Yet I would it a higher pleasure call
So conquer one, than to indulge them all.
3.
For thy Inconstant Sea no more
I’ll leave this safe, & solid shore
No, though to proper in the cheat
Thou shouldst my Destiny defeat
And make me belov’d, or rich, or Great
Nor from my self, shouldst me reclaim
With all the noise, & all the pomp of fame
Judiciously I’ll thee dispise
Too small the bargain . & too dear the price
For them to cozen twice
At length thy secret I have learn’d
Who will be happy must be unconcern’d
Must all their comfort in their bosom wear
And seek their power. & their Treasure there.
4.
Nor other newly
No other wealth will I aspire
But that of nature to admire
Nor envy on a Laurel will bestow
Whilst I have any in my Garden grow
I And when I would be great
‘tis but assending to a seat
Which nature in a lofty Rock has built

[Right hand page]

A throne as free from trouble as from Guilt
Where when my soul her wings does raise
Above what wordlings fear or praise
With Innocent & quiet Pride I’le sit
And see the humble waves pay tribute to my Feet
O’ life divine! When free from Joys= diseas’d
Not always merry, but ‘tis always pleas’d.
5.
A heart which is too great a thing
To be a present for a Persian King
Which God himself would have to be X his Court
Where Angells would officiously resort
From its’ own height would much decline
If this converse it should resign
Ill=natur’d world for Thine
Thy unwise rigour hath thy Empire lost
It has not onely set me free
But is has’ let me see
They onely can of thy possession boast
Who do enjoy thee Least. & understand thee most.
For Loe! The Man whom all mankind admire’d
By the very grace adorn’d. & every Muse inspired
Is now triumphantly retir’d
The Mightly Cowley thy hath done
And over thee a Parthian conquest won.
Which future ages shall adore
And which in this subject thee more
Than either Greek or Roman, ever X could before.


Extract of a Scene in Corneile’s Pompey
Act 3 Scene 4
Enter Ceasar, and Cornelia Being his Prisoner

Cornelia

Ceasar! That envious Fate which I can
makes mee thy Prisoner, but not thy Slave.
nor canst thou hope my Heart should ere afford
to pay thee Homage, or to call thee Lord
how rude soever fortune makes’ her blow
I Crassus Widdow once and Pompeyes now
Great Scipios’ Daughetor, (and what’s higher yet)
A Roman have a Courage still more great
and of all wrongs her Creulty can guid
nothing can make mee blush, but that I livd
I have not follow’d Pompey when he dyd
and though the meanes to doo it word deny’d,
though creull Pittye would not let me have,
the quicke assistance of a stoole, or Wave,
yet I’m ashan’d that after Such a Woe
greif: had not cut my hard life in two
Death had been glorious, & had set me free
as from my Sorrow then, see now from thee
yet I must thanke the Gods though soo Severe
that coming hither I doo find thee here,
that Caesar reigns here and not Ptolomy
And yet O! Heaven! what stares doo governe mee,
that some faint Kind of Comfort now it is,
to meet heere with my greatest Enemyes.
And that into their handes I rather fall;
then into his that ow’d my Husband all,
but of thy Conquest Casar., makes noo boast.
which to my single Destiny thou ows’t


I both my Husbands fortunes have defaec’t
and twice have causd the World to be disgrac’d,
my nuptiall knott twice ominously ty’d
banish'd the Gods from the uprighter Side,
but I had happye been in Misery, if it
For Romes advantage had wth thee been knitt
and if on thy house I could soo dispence
all my owne starres malignant influence
for never thinke my hatred can grow less,
since I sho Romane constancy professe,
and though thy Captive, yet a heart like mine
can never stoope to hope for ought from thine;
Comand, but never thinke to bend my Will,
Remember this I am Cornelia still.

Casar

O’worthy Widdow of a spouse soo brave,
whose Courage Wonder Fate does Pitty crave
your noble thoughts doe quickly make us know,
to whom your Loud; to whome your Birth you owd,
and wed may find your heartes glorious frame,
to whome you married, and from whome you came,
young Crassus Soule; & noble Pompeyes too
(whose Virtues fortune cheated of their due)
the Scipios’ blood (who said out Deityes)
speakes in your tongue; & sparkles in your Eyes,
and Rome her self hath not an auntient stem,
whose Wife; or Daughter hath more honour’d them
Oh! that those Gods your Ancestors once sav’d,
When Hannibal then at their Altar’s brav’d,
had steerd yor Hero to decline this port;
and to avoid a wild Barbarians Court
that his uncertaine faith hee had not try’d,
but on our auntient friendship had rely’d,
and would have sufferd my victorious Fate


onely to conquer his hill grounded hate
and that expecting not distrusting mee;
h'had stay’d till I my Selfe could justifye,
then trampling on our former enuius strife;
I would have begg’d him to accept of Life,
forget my Conquest, & his Rivall, love,
who fought, but that he might his equall prove,
then I with a Content entirely great,
had pray’d the Gods to pardon his Defeate,
and giving me his friendship to possesse,
he had pray’d Rome to pardon my Successe.
But since fate (Soe ambitious to destroye;)
has robbed the World, & VS of soe much joye
Caesar must Strive & acquit himselfe to you,
of what was your Illustrious Husbands due;
Enjoye your selfe then, with all freedome heere;
onely two dayes my Prisoner appeare,
and witnesse beare how after our Debate,
I shall revere his name; revenge his Fate;
you this account to Italye may yield,
what Pride I borrow from Thessalia’s field,
I leave you to yor selfe, and Shall retire,
Lepidus furnish her, to her desire
as Romane Ladyes have respected been
Soe honour her that is above a Queene,
Madam Command, all Shall your orders waite,

Cornelia

O! Heavns! how may vertues must I hate!


Full title:
EVELYN PAPERS. Vols. LXVI (ff. 133). Miscellaneous English verse collected and partly copied by Browne and his father; circa 1590-circa 1700, n.d. English and Latin. Many of the verses, which are arranged largely in chronological order of composi
Created:
c. 1650–1664
Format:
Manuscript / Letter / Playscript
Creator:
Katherine Philips
Usage terms

Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Held by
British Library
Shelfmark:
Add MS 78233

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Print and perception: The literary careers of Margaret Cavendish and Katherine Philips

Article by:
Tamara Tubb
Theme:
Gender and sexuality

Margaret Cavendish and Katherine Philips both wrote across a range of genres and achieved considerable success in their day. Tamara Tubb explores their different approaches to the difficulties of being a 17th-century female writer: Philips created a reserved and modest literary persona, presenting herself as the ideal woman of the time, while Cavendish openly challenged literary and feminine conventions.

The turbulent 17th century: Civil War, regicide, the Restoration and the Glorious Revolution

Article by:
Matthew White
Theme:
Politics and religion

The 17th century was a time of great political and social turmoil in England, marked by civil war and regicide. Matthew White introduces the key events of this period, from the coronation of Charles I to the Glorious Revolution more than 60 years later.

Related collection items

Related people