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Aemilia Lanyer
b. 27 January 1569
d. 1645

Author of Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, an epic poem describing the passion of Christ.

Born Aemilia Bassano, daughter of Baptist Bassano, a native of Venice who was a musician in the court of Queen Elizabeth I and Margaret Johnson, his common law wife. Aemilia was born into the fringes of the Elizabethan court. Her father died when she was 7 years old, and she and her mother were cared for by charitable women who were members of the court. They were probably particularly taken in hand by the Lady Susan, Countess Dowager of Kent. It was probably in this noble household that she gained the education that informs her poems. When Aemilia was 18 years old her mother died. Having no male reletives to care for her and very little money, she became the mistress of Henry Cary, Lord Hunsdon, at that time Queen Elizabeth's Lord Chamberlain. After three years she became pregnant and had to be got rid of. She was married to Alphonso Lanyer, a court musician, who promptly spent whatever money she had inherited from her father and the money the Lord Chamberlain had given her. Her husband died when she was 43. She then tried to keep a school, but it had to close after 2 years because of disputes with the landlord. By this time in her life the her son Henry, her only child to survive to adulthood, was old enough to work to support her, and she lived with him and his family to the age of 76.

Lanyer's epic poem about the passion of Christ, the Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum was published in 1611, the same year the King James Bible appeared in print. Lanyer dedicates the book to no less than 10 different ladies, from King James' Queen Anne to the Lady Anne, Countess of Dorcet, her old care-taker's daughter, a woman about 20 years her junior. Her introduction appeals to an educated community of women who have the critical thinking skills and judgment to appreciate her talent. She makes essentially no appology for being a female poet publishing her own work (this was something that women were not encouraged at that time to do).

In the volume, Lanyer makes revolutionary assertions about the nature of women. She points out for example in her introdution "to the Vertuous Reader" the prominence women have in the Gospel, saying that Christ was "begotten of a woman, borne of a woman, nourished of a woman, obedient to a woman; and that he healed woman, pardoned women, comforted women: yea, even when he was in his greatest agonie and bloodie sweat, going to be crucified, and also in the last houre of his death, tooke care to dispose of a woman: after his resurrection, appeared first to a woman, sent a woman to declare his most glorious resurrection to the rest of his Disciples" She makes an appology or defense for Eve from the garden of Eden story, and portrays the women throughout the story and strong characters and good women. In an interesting contrast, her portrayal of Christ strikes the modern reader (and possibly the contemporary reader) as rather feminine. She shows him as obedient, submissive, patient and merciful, and describes him as physically very beautiful, using language from the Song of Songs both to extoll his beauty, and to link him to the church (Christ was said to be married to the christian church).

Nine original copies of the text exist today, five of which are complete (having all the dedications and introductions). Aemilia Lanyer was one of the first women to write and publish poems in English.

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