Home  »  Volume VIII: English THE AGE OF DRYDEN  »  § 25. Memoirs of Lady Fanshawe

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

X. Memoir and Letter Writers

§ 25. Memoirs of Lady Fanshawe

Though the Memoirs of Lady Fanshawe remained unpublished in full till 1829/30, they challenge comparison both as to the interest of their matter and as to the high spirit informing them, and also as to clearness and vivacity of style, with any memoirs of the age to which they belong—including, as has been justly said, even those of Mrs. Hutchinson. Unlike Lucy Apsley, Ann Harrison was, according to her own account, “a hoyting girl in her youth,” though we may well believe her asseveration that she was “never immodest but skipping.” Her mother’s death awakened the serious side of her nature, which, henceforth, in the great crises of her life, showed itself forth in words of almost impassioned prayer—ordinarily, however, in deeds rather than in words. The first sixteen years of her married life (from 1644) were a period of incessant struggle and sacrifice, through which she passed with unfailing and, at times, heroic courage. Sacrifice for the sake of the royal cause might have been called the badge of her husband’s as well as of her father’s family, which were closely connected with one another; she reckoned their revenues “engaged and sequestered for the crown in the time of the late rebellion” at near eighty thousand pounds a year. Nothing could be more stirring than the personal courage which she displayed by her husband’s side—as when she crept to his side on deck, disguised in a cabin-boy’s “thrum-cap” and tarred coat, while their ship was facing the approach of a “Turk’s man of war”; or when, night after night, she stood beneath his prison window on the bowling green at Whitehall. Nor could any devotion have surpassed that which she showed to him during his long absences in the king’s service—including the perpetration of a most ingenious forgery of a pass to Calais for herself and her children. All these things she tells in a style of delightful directness and freshness; and the interest of the narrative (which is diversified by one or two thrilling ghost stories) only slackens (as is common in biographies) when prosperous times at last came to her husband and herself with the restoration. It was, to be sure, a modified prosperity, owing to the king’s way of keeping his promises (of which she says very little) and to Clarendon’s real or supposed malice (of which she says a good deal). After serving as ambassador in both Portugal and Spain, concerning which country his lady has many favourable particulars to relate, Sir Richard Fanshawe died at Madrid, shortly after receiving his recall (1666); his widow had to bring his body to England and there live for the survivors among her many children, as she had lived for him whose story she set down for the benefit of his heir.

  • In this great distress I had no remedy but patience.… Neither did these circumstances following prevail to mend my condition; much less found I that compassion I expected upon the view of myself, that had lost at once my husband and fortune in him, with my son of but twelve months old in my arms, four daughters, the eldest but thirteen years of age, with the body of my dear husband daily in my sight for near six months together, and a distressed family, all to be by me in honour and honesty provided for; and to add to my afflictions, neither person sent to conduct me, neither pass or ship or money to carry me a thousand miles, but some few letters of compliment from the chief ministers, bidding “God help me” as they do to beggars—and they might have added “they had nothing for me,” with great truth. But God did hear and see and help me, and brought my soul out of trouble.…