A Celebration of Women Writers

"Anne Killigrew."

From: Clayton, Ellen Creathorne. English Female Artists. London: Tinsley Brothers, 8 Catherine St., Strand, 1876. Vol. I. pp. 59-70.

Anne Killigrew.

A BEAUTY, a wit, a verse-writer, an agreeable painter, maid of honour to a royal duchess standing next the throne, almost perfect in character, sweet and gracious in her mannersuch is a rough pen-and-ink outline of the charming Anne Killigrew.

The Killigrew family, now extinct, was of venerable Cornish extraction, ever distinguished for loyalty and for talent. They were connected with the royal house by the marriage of Mary, daughter of Sir William Killigrew, with Frederic of Zulestein, illegitimate son of Henry, Prince of Orange. The three sons of Sir Robert Killigrew, of Hanworth, were all remarkable men at Court. William, the eldest, had suffered much during the Civil War, "both in purse and person;" in recompense, he received, after the [Page 60] Restoration, the honour of knighthood, and the post of vice-chamberlain. He was fond of play-writing, and his pieces were popular in their day. When he grew old and world-weary, he wrote an essay on the instability of human happiness.

Thomas, the second brother, was page to Charles the First, and accompanied the Prince of Wales into exile. When the King "came to his own again," Thomas Killigrew was appointed one of the grooms of the bed-chamber. A gentleman of a facetious disposition, and full of oddities, he was nicknamed the Court buffoon, and King Charles' jester. By the liveliness of his temperament, and the laxity of his general behaviour, he was not unfrequently led into dilemmas, if not indeed downright discredit. When in 1651, he was appointed resident at Venice, the Venetians were so scandalized at his irregularities, that they drove him out of the Republic, and a complaint was preferred against him to Charles the Second, at Paris, by their ambassador. From Venice he sent over a company of Italian singersamong them a youth named Francisco Corbetta, whose performance on the guitar was much admired and patronized by the king. The guitar was thus introduced to London society, and it became a mania to play on it; the instrument was then an indispensable addition to a lady's toilette, like her rouge and patch-box. With his royal master Killigrew was on the easiest of terms, [Page 61] his almost inseparable companion, allowed access to his presence when men of the highest dignity were refused. Despite his own eccentricities and peculiar habits of thought, he considered that the sovereign was bound to behave with propriety, and sometimes undertook to admonish him after a fashion. One morning, happening to be reading a volume of his own very stupid plays, which he had taken up from the window-seat while his Majesty was shaving"Ah, Killigrew," said the king, "what will you say at the last day, in defence of all the idle words in that book?" To which Killigrew replied, that he would give a better account of his "idle words" than the king would be able to give respecting his idle promises, and "more idle patents," which had undone more than ever his book did. Another day he went into the king's apartments, dressed like a pilgrim about to start off on a long journey. His Majesty wonderingly asked "Whither he was going?" "To hell," Killigrew coolly answered, "to fetch Oliver Cromwell to take care of England, as his successor takes none at all. " His highly popular company of Italian singers, who performed in dialogue and recitative, with accompaniments, excited great admiration at Court. To his energy and enterprise we owe the first serious essay towards the foundation of English opera. To Sir William Davenant, another eccentric notability of the period, and to Sir Thomas Killigrew, were granted [Page 62] patents for two companiesthe Duke's Servants, and the King's Servants. The history of these rival companies is exceedingly interesting, but too lengthy and irrelevant to touch upon.

Said Denham, sneeringly

"Had Cowley ne'er spoke, and Killigrew ne'er writ,
Combined in one they'd made a matchless wit. "

Dr. Henry Killigrew was the youngest of the three brothers. As a boy of seventeen he wrote a tame tragedy called the "Conspiracy," which Ben Jonson and Lord Falkland praised. When it was acted at the Black Fryars some cavillers ridiculed the sentiments of Cleander, a youth in the play, saying that so much discretion and good sense would better suit a person of thirty. Lord Falkland replied that it was by no means unnatural for Cleander "to speak at that rate," as "he that made him speak in that manner was the while himself only seventeen." He was given a stall as prebendary in Westminster Abbey, from which he was expelled by the Parliament.

Anne was the daughter of Dr. Henry, who had several sons and daughters. She was born in 1660, shortly before the Restoration, in St. Martin's Lane. That street, now given up to retail dealers in pickles, cigars, china and glass, stationery, pastry, and the like prosaic commodities, was then, we know, an ultra fashionable place, and artistic recollections crowd every [Page 63] step, as literary associations hustle over one another in Fleet Street. Half a dozen pages would scarce contain the most rapid notes of all the celebrities who have lived and died in St. Martin's Lane from the days when it was called the West Church Lane to the era when the first Royal Academicians went to and fro along its flagstones. The rash, ill-fated Vanderdort, keeper of King Charles the First's pictures, resided here; also Mytens, the Dutch painter, Vandyck's predecessor, afterwards his friend; Sir John Suckling; Sir Kenelm Digby, the handsomest, most accomplished cavalier, the oddest man, dabbler in judicial astrology and alchymy, statesman, courtier, philosopher"prudent, valiant, just, and temperate"one of the most ardent picture collectors of his time, who was said to have accidentally poisoned his superlatively lovely wife in trying to make her beautiful for ever with a marvellous elixir. But the list is a long one, of the various wits, song-writers, artists, and leaders of society who peopled this favoured region.

Owing to the strict orders against the offices of the Common Prayer, Anne was christened in a private chamber.

As a child, she showed signs of a lively genius, which were not neglected by her father. Of her mother we learn nothing. Neither do we hear the name of the teacher who instructed Mistress Anne in painting. [Page 64]

When General Monk had altered the existing state of affairs, Dr. Henry Killigrew was restored to his stall in Westminster Abbey, and made Master of the Savoy. That quaint, picturesque old palace, hidden in congeries of warehouses, offices and manufactories on the south side of the Strand, tempts to another digressionits history is so interesting, so chequered, its desolation so pitiful, its downward career so sad, from ancient splendour to deserted loneliness. The mastership was simply a discreditable sinecure, reflecting little honour on its holder. The palace had been rebuilt and endowed by Henry the Seventh, as a hospital for one hundred poor people. The sick and wounded in the Dutch war of 1666 were lodged within its gates.

A place as maid of honour to the Duchess of York was obtained for Mistress Anne. The beautiful, tender-hearted Mary Beatrice of Modenaso sensitive that she wept when called to the throne by the death of her kindly, jocund brother-in-law, so religious and virtuous as to gain the respect of the most worthless in a vicious circleloving, pure, graceful as an antique goddesswas a mistress to gain the affections of a lovely young creature full of imaginative fancies, herself "a Grace for beauty and a Muse for wit. " The enthusiastic gifted girl had at least one congenial companion among the other maids of honourAnne Kingsmill, who wrote and published a volume of poems. [Page 65]

Many years before, when Anne Killigrew was a child of six or eight, Harry Killigrew, her cousin, son of her uncle Thomas, had been in the service of the Duke of York. Pepys, in his gossiping way, gives a few incidental sketches of this young fellowa bit of a scapegrace, apparently, and as queer and wild as his father. Twice Harry fell into terrible trouble, each time appearing as the hero of a story with the utmost disadvantage. The first time, 1666, he spoke with such coarse freedom of Lady Castlemaine, that she rushed to the king in a fury, and made him send to the Duke of York to ask him to dismiss young Killigrew. The duke, Pepys says, "takes it ill of my lady that he was not complained to first; she attended him to excuse it; but ill-blood is made by it." A year after, he was thrashed at the Duke's Playhouse by the Duke of Buckingham, who took away his sword, and made him cry like a craven for his life. "And I am glad of it," Pepys declares, as if rubbing his hands; "for it seems in this business the Duke of Buckingham did carry himself very innocently and well, and I wish he had paid this fellow's coat well. I heard something of this at the 'Change to-day; and it is pretty to hear how people do speak kindly of the Duke of Buckingham as one that will enquire into faults; and therefore they mightily favour him." Harry Killigrew ran off to France, but came back again very soon"a rogue," Pepys calls him; and immediately on his return (1669) [Page 66] he got into fresh trouble for bragging falsely that he was a favoured lover of Lady Shrewsbury. Her ladyship sat in her "coach with six horses," to see him belaboured by her footmen; but the men rather overdid their task, and he was dangerously wounded in nine places.

The duchess, although firmly attached to her own church, never attempted to disturb the religion of those about her. Even with her ladies, most of whom she loved, she never interfered, though some of them, like Anne Killigrew, were members of the English communion. Anne admired intensely the classical majestic loveliness of her royal mistress, and painted her picture as a very labour of love.

Of the inner life of this charming, industrious, gentle maid of honour, we see nothing. No tender hand has mirrored it, as Evelyn pictured the short life of that other fair young court beauty, Margaret Godolphin. Much was said of her wit, while no one thought it worth while to make the most trifling memorandum of even a solitary repartee or spontaneous flash of pleasantry. It is certainly a remarkable fact thatwith the exception of one or two queens, some leading literary women and actresses, and a few of the most distinguished heroinesthe historians, the letter-writers, the biographers, even the diarists, have been persistently mute regarding the sayings and everyday doings of eminent Englishwomen. Scarcely [Page 67] a witty phrase, an illustrative incident, a trait beginning with the familiar "One day," has been hastily jotted down. Of her female artists, the muse of English history as been curiously reticent. We feel as if in presence of a circle of wax models; we see the outward form, may chance to come upon traces of much extolled work, but the difficulty is to discover what the silent, toiling student, seated tranquilly in front of her easel, is really like, even if we are told she was one of the wittiest and most delightful of women. A dusty niche in a dry "Biographical Dictionary," or "Memoirs of Learned Ladies," does not enable us to believe in them as realities.

Her portrait, done by herself, represents Anne Killigrew as very handsome. An elegant, if rather thin figure, dressed in the picturesque fashion of the time; an oval face; square, somewhat heavy eyebrows; clear, frank eyes; a straight nose; perfectly formed, smiling mouth; firm rounded chin; long curling hair, worn negligently. Her portrait by Sir Peter Lely has a pleasing expression, though the air has been criticized as being "slightly prim." The dress is low-necked, as in her own, with beads, and a mantle is fastened at the breast with a brooch. Curls cluster round the face, the back hair is loose and flowing. Becket executed a miniature of her in mezzotint, after her own painting. This was prefixed to her poems. [Page 68]

She painted the portrait, not only of her mistress, but that of the Duke of York. These portraits were very much admired. In pictures of still life she excelled. Three of her paintings she has recorded in her own poems"St. John in the Wilderness," "Herodias with the head of St. John," and "Diana's Nymphs." At Admiral Killigrew's sale, 1727, were six pictures painted by her"Venus and Adonis," a "Satyr playing on a Pipe," "Judith and Holofernes," a "Woman's Head," the "Graces dressing Venus," and her own portrait.

"These pictures, " says Vertue, "I saw, but can say little. "

Of course, the presumption is that she painted only for her own amusement, and the gratification of her friends. The style of Sir Peter Lely she imitated with acknowledged successs. Dryden, in his famous Ode, written after her death, speaks with almost ecstatic admiration of her portraits of the Duke and Duchess of York. Several of her historical paintings are still in existence, but it is hard to say where they may be placed.

This fair and promising young lady was only five and twenty when she was seized with that pitiless disorder, the small-pox. She died, June 16, 1685, at her father's lodging within the cloister of Westminster Abbey, to the unspeakable grief of her father, mother, sisters, and brothers, and all who were acquainted [Page 69] with the beauty and sweetness and deep piety of her innocent character.

They laid her in St. John the Baptist's Chapel, in the Savoy, on the north side, and raised to her memory a monument of marble and freestone, inscribed with a Latin epitaph, setting forth her accomplishments, virtues, and piety. On the eastern wall, near the altar-piece, was a beautiful ornamental recess, on the back of which effigies were engraved in brass. Near this was a small tablet to Anne Killigrew.

This small unpretentious chapel, with its rich-coloured ceiling, its altar window, its tabernacle work at the east end, held "a silent congregation of illustrious dead"historical personages all of more or less interest. It was destroyed in 1864 by a fire originating in an explosion of gas, but was afterwards rebuilt, being now all that remains to bear witness of that old palace with its strangely chequered story.

The year after Anne Killigrew's death, a thin quarto volume of about one hundred pages, containing her poems, and with her portrait and an ode by Dryden, was published. This ode to her memory was much admired by some good judges, though ridiculed by Horace Walpole, who remarks, sarcastically, "The rich stream of his numbers has hurried along with it all that his luxuriant fancy produced in its way; it is an harmonious hyperbole, composed of the fall of Adam, Arethusa, Vestal Virgins, Diana, Cupid, Noah's [Page 70] Ark, the Pleiades, the Valley of Jehoshaphat, and the last assizes." Anthony Wood assures us that Dryden has said nothing of the lovely Anne Killigrew "which she was not equal to, if not superior," adding that, "if there had not been more true history in her praises than compliment," her father would never have suffered them to pass the press. Dr. Johnson pronounced the ode "the noblest our language has produced. "

It is far too long for quotation. One of the verses in the Latin inscription says:

"Though much excellence she did show,
And many qualities did know,
Yet this alone, she could not tell,
To wit, how much she did excell.
Or if her worth she rightly knew,
More to her modesty was due,
That parts in her no pride could raise
Desirous still to merit praise,
But fled, as she deserv'd, the bays,
Contented always to retire,
Court glory she did not admire;
Although it lay so near and fair,
Its grace to none more open were:
But with the world how should she close,
Who Christ in her first childhood chose? "

Three portraits have been published of Anne Killigrew: one in her volume of poems, one a scarce mezzotinto, one in Walpole's "Anecdotes."