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There are no known portraits of Emilia Lanier. In 2003 the actor and writer Tony Haygarth argued that this miniature portrait by Nicholas Hilliard, 1593, depicts her.
|Literary movement||English Renaissance|
Emilia Lanier (1569–1645), also spelled Lanyer, was the first Englishwoman to assert herself as a professional poet through her single volume of poems, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (1611). Born Aemilia Bassano and part of the Lanier family tree, she was a member of the minor gentry through her father's appointment as a royal musician, and was apparently educated in the household by Susan Bertie, Countess of Kent. She was for several years the mistress of Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon, first cousin of Elizabeth I of England. She was married to her first cousin, court musician Alfonso Lanier, in 1592 when she became pregnant by Hunsdon, and the marriage was reportedly unhappy.
Learning about the events of Lanier's life has not always been an easy task for researchers. Very little is known about her. Scholars have had to piece together Lanier's biography by relying on the sparse amount of church, court and legal records that mention Lanier's name and her activity. Researchers have also relied upon entries from astrologer Simon Forman's (1552–1611) professional diary, which mention his accounts with Lanier. Lanier visited Foreman many times during 1597 for astrological readings, and because Forman was evidently sexually interested in her and rejected, his account is likely biased.
Church records show that Lanier was baptised Aemilia Bassano at the parish church of St. Botolph, Bishopsgate, on 27 January 1569. Her father, Baptiste Bassano, was a Venice-born musician at the court of Elizabeth I. Her mother was Margret Johnson (born ca. 1545–1550), possibly the aunt of court composer Robert Johnson. Lanier also had a sister, Angela Bassano, who married Joseph Hollande in 1576. There were also brothers Lewes and Phillip, both of whom died before they reached adulthood.
Baptiste Bassano died on 11 April 1576, when Aemilia was seven years old. Bassano's will dictated to his wife that he had left young Aemilia a dowry of £100, to be given to her either when she turned 21 years old or on the day of her wedding, whichever came first. Forman's records indicate that Bassano's fortune might have been waning before he died which caused him to be unhappy.
Foreman's records also indicate that, after the death of her father, Lanier went to live with Susan Bertie, Countess of Kent. Some scholars have questioned whether Lanier went to serve Bertie rather than be fostered by her, but there is no conclusive evidence to confirm this. It was in Bertie's house that Lanier was given a humanist education and learned Latin. Bertie greatly valued and emphasised the importance of young girls receiving the same level of education as young men. Later evidence indicates that this decision may have greatly impacted Lanier and her own decision to publish her writing. After living with Bertie, Lanier went to live with Margaret Clifford, Countess of Cumberland, and Margaret's daughter, Lady Anne Clifford. Dedications in Lanier's own poetry seem to confirm this information.
Lanier's mother died when Lanier was eighteen. Church records show that Johnson was buried in Bishopsgate on 7 July 1587.
Not long after her mother's death, Lanier became the mistress of Tudor courtier and cousin of Queen Elizabeth I, Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon. At the time of their affair, Lord Hunsdon was Elizabeth's Lord Chamberlain and a patron of the arts and theatre (he supported Shakespeare's theatre company, known as the Lord Chamberlain's Men, but not until two years after their affair was over). He was also forty-five years older than Lanier. Records indicate that Carey gave her a pension of £40 a year. Lanier apparently enjoyed her time as Carey's mistress. An entry from Forman's diary reads "[Lanier] hath bin married 4 years/ The old Lord Chamberlain kept her longue She was maintained in great pomp... she hath 40£ a yere & was welthy to him that married her in monie & Jewells".
In 1592, when she was 23, Lanier became pregnant with Carey's child. Carey paid her off with a sum of money. Lanier was then married to her first cousin once removed, Alfonso Lanier. He was a Queen's musician and church records show the two were married in St. Botolph's church, Aldgate, on 18 October 1592.
Another of Forman's diary entries indicates that the marriage was an unhappy one. It also indicates that Lanier was much happier as Carey's mistress. It reads "...and a nobleman that is ded hath Loved her well & kept her and did maintain her longe but her husband hath delte hardly with her and spent and consumed her goods and she is nowe...in debt".
Alfonso and Aemilia remained married until his death in 1613. Forman's diary entries suggest Lanier told him about having several miscarriages. It is known that Lanier gave birth to a son, Henry, in 1593 (presumably named after his father, Henry Carey) and a daughter, Odillya, in 1598. Odillya died when she was ten months old and was buried at St. Botolph's, Bishopsgate. Lanier's son married Joyce Mansfield in 1623; they had two children, Mary (1627) and Henry (1630). Henry senior died in October 1633. It is implied from later court documents that Lanier may have been providing for her two grandchildren after their father's death.
In 1611, Lanier published her volume of poetry, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum. Lanier was forty-two years old at the time and the first woman in England to declare herself a poet. People who read her poetry considered it very radical and many scholars today refer to its style and arguments as "proto-feminist". After the death of her husband, Lanier supported herself by running a school. She rented a house from Edward Smith to house her students but, due to disputes over the correct rent price, was arrested on two different occasions between 1617 and 1619. Because parents weren't willing to send their children to a woman with a history of arrest, Lanier's dreams of running a prosperous school ended.
Little else is known about Lanier's life between 1619 and 1635. Court documents state that, in this year, Lanier brought a lawsuit against her husband's brother, Clement, for money owed to her from the profits of one of her late husband's financial patents. The court ruled in Lanier's favour, declaring that Clement pay her £20. Clement couldn't pay her immediately, so Lanier brought the suit to court again in 1636 and in 1638. There are no records that verify whether Lanier was ever paid in full but it is known that, at the time of death, she was described as a "pensioner", someone who has a steady income or pension.
Lanier died at the age of seventy-six and was buried at Clerkenwell, on 3 April 1645.
As the author of the collection of poetry known as "Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum" (1611) Emelia was only the fourth woman in England to publish a book of original poetry, with Isabella Whitney, Anne Dowriche, and Elizabeth Melville preceding her. Her volume centres on the title poem, a long narrative work of over 200 stanzas. It tells the story of Christ's passion satirically and almost entirely from the point of view of the women who surround him. The main poem is prefaced by ten shorter dedicatory works, all to aristocratic women, beginning with the queen. There is also a prose preface addressed to the reader, comprising a vindication of "virtuous women" against detractors of the sex. After the central poem there is a verse "Description of Cookham," dedicated to Margaret, Countess of Cumberland and her daughter Lady Anne Clifford. This last is the first published country house poem in English (Ben Jonson's more famous "To Penshurst" may have been written earlier but was first published in 1616). Her inspiration came from a visit to Cookham Dean, where Margaret Clifford, Countess of Cumberland, and her daughter Lady Anne Clifford lived. While visiting the residence she says to have received a spiritual awakening, inspired by the piety of Margaret.
At the age of 42, in 1611, she published Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (Hail, God, King of the Jews). At the time that she published her book, it was extremely unusual for an Englishwoman to publish work and to do so as a means of making a living was even more unusual. The book was radical for its time, although the topics of virtue and religion were considered to be suitable themes for women. It was viewed as radical because it addressed topics such as the maltreatment of women. Lanier defends Eve, and womankind in general, arguing that Eve has been wrongly blamed for the original sin of eating the forbidden fruit, while no blame has been pointed at Adam. She argues that Adam shares most of the guilt by concluding that Adam was stronger than Eve, and thus, he should have been able to resist the temptation. She also defends women by pointing out the dedication of the female followers of Christ who stayed with Him throughout the Passion, and looked for him first after the burial and resurrection. She also draws attention to Pilate’s wife who attempted to intervene and prevent the unjust trial and crucifixion of Christ. Lanier reproaches mankind by accusing them of crucifying Christ. She also notes the male apostles that forsook and even denied Christ during His crucifixion and Passion. Theorists who claim Lanier was Jewish ignore the fiercely anti-Semitic statements she makes in the poem, though these beliefs are of course the norm for her period.
After Emilia was no longer at court and two years after her affair with Lord Hunsdon had ended, he became the patron of the Lord Chamberlain's Men, the theatre company which performed the Shakespearean plays after 1594. Some have speculated that Lanier, an apparently striking woman, was Shakespeare's "Dark Lady". This identification was first proposed by A. L. Rowse and has been repeated by several authors since, notably David Lasocki and Roger Prior in their 1995 book The Bassanos:Venetian Musicians and Instrument makers in England 1531–1665 and in articles by Martin Green and Stephanie Hopkins Hughes. Although the colour of her hair is not known, records exist in which her her Bassano cousins were referred to as "black," a common term at that time for brunettes or persons with Mediterranean coloring. That she came from a family of Court musicians fits Shakespeare's picture of her playing the virginal in Sonnet 128, and that he claims she was "forsworn" to another in Sonnet 152 fits her relationship with Shakespeare's patron, Lord Hunsdon. More recently, the theory that she was the Dark Lady has fallen into disfavor by Lanier scholars like Susanne Woods (1999), given that Rowse posited her immorality based on Forman's biased accounts. Woods offers the most reliable account of Lanier's life. Barbara Lewalski notes that Rowse's theory that Lanier was Shakespeare's "Dark Lady" has unfortunately deflected attention from Lanier as a poet.
A number of commentators have concluded that it cannot be just coincidence that in Shakespeare’s two Venetian plays, there is an Emilia in one (Othello) and a Bassan(i)o in the other (Merchant of Venice). In addition in Titus Andronicus there is an Aemilius and a Bassianus. In 2008  Roger Prior suggested that in 1593 Shakespeare visited Bassano (del Grappa) where he saw the fresco of Goats & Monkeys that he apparently cites in Othello (IV.i.263) on the external wall of a house there. Prior does not, however, feel there is conclusive proof that the Bassanos were Jewish.
In 2005  the English conductor Peter Bassano, a co-lateral descendant of Emilia suggested that she provided some of the texts for William Byrd’s 1589 Songs of Sundrie Natures dedicated to Lord Hunsdon. He further suggested that one of the songs, the setting of the translation of an Italian sonnet: Of Gold all Burnisht may have been used by Shakespeare as a parodied model for Sonnet 130, My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.
Irish poet Niall McDevitt believes the oft-reviled Dark Lady sonnets cannot be properly understood without knowing about Emilia Lanyer. Such phrases as 'bastard shame' and 'my music' and 'careful housewife' are not just metaphors but details of a highly realistic portrait of a very real woman. His essay 'TWO POETS: WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE and EMILIA LANYER' argues that the poets had an intense literary and extra-marital relationship akin to that of Robert Graves and Laura Riding; and that Lanyer was Shakespeare's lifelong, oeuvre-long muse, as coded into the earliest Shakespeare plays such as Titus Andronicus with its 'Aemilius' and 'Bassanius' and The Comedy of Errors with its Abbess 'Aemilia', to the final plays The Winter's Tale and The Two Noble Kinsmen, the former which has a minor lady-in-waiting called Amelia and the latter whose leading lady is an Emilia. McDevitt also leads a Shakespeare and Lanyer as 'Dark Lady' Walk through the City of London which tells the whole story in situ.
A New York production in 2007 by The Dark Lady Players, based on a thesis by John Hudson at the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham, suggested that she was the author of an underlying religious allegory in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and perhaps of the play itself. In summer 2008, Michael Posner, in a 15 page review of the theory in the 'Canadian arts journal The Queen's Quarterly, concluded that the case for Amelia Bassano Lanier is as plausible as Shakespeare’s and more plausible than many others". Posner's 2010 article in Reform Judaism argued that Lanier was very likely the author of all or most of Shakespeare's plays, and asserts that she was Jewish. In summer 2010, writing in the on-line literary magazine Bibliobuffet.com, Lev Raphael concluded there is no firm evidence that she was Jewish and challenged the basic assumptions of Posner's article. The consensus among Lanier experts is that even if her father was of Jewish heritage, she herself was not educated in Jewish texts and would not have been able to embed coded Jewish references of any sort into the plays, had she written them. Lanier scholars welcome the growing attention to her own poetry, but categorically dismiss the theory that she wrote Shakespeare's plays.
Aemilia Lanier’s book of poetry, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum has been viewed by many critics to be one of the earliest feminist works of British literature. Barbara Kiefer Lewalski in her article, "Writing Women and Reading the Renaissance," actually calls Lanier the "defender of womankind"  Lewalski claims that with the first few poems of the collection, as dedications to prominent women, Lanier is initiating her ideas of the genealogy of women. The genealogy follows the idea that "virtue and learning descend from mothers to daughters". Marie H. Loughlin continues Lewalski’s argument in her article, "'Fast ti'd unto Them in a Golden Chaine': Typology, Apocalypse, and Woman's Genealogy in Aemilia Lanier's Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum," by noting that the genealogy of women began with Eve. Loughlin claims that Lanier is advocating the importance of knowledge of both the spiritual and material worlds in connection with women. She argues that women must focus on the material world and their importance in it to supplement their life in the spiritual world rather than focusing solely on the spiritual. This argument stems from Lanier’s desire to raise women up to the same level as men. Lanier attempts to convey the message to her audience that men are not the only important beings in the material world, but that women belong there as well.
Lanier’s poetry is working towards reversing the images of women typically portrayed in the Bible; specifically, that women should be subservient to men. Lanier flips that idea of the subservient woman and instead strives towards illustrating the idea that women are in “mystical and apocalyptic union with Christ”, that is, if either gender was placed nearer the “‘everlasting throne’” of Jesus, it would be the female sex. In lines 745–840 of Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, more commonly known as Eve’s Apology, Lanier brings together two biblical women of different eras who perfectly portray this idea of the genealogy of women striving towards that union with Christ. The first half of the passage has Eve addressing the fact that Adam too should share the blame of the fall of Man. If women are to be subservient to men, men should be protecting women. Adam should have stopped Eve from eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, but he instead succumbed to temptation, although he had not been tempted by any "subtle serpent" as Eve had been. Lanier writes, "Her weakness did the serpent's words obey, / But you in malice God's dear Son betray", thereby placing greater blame on the men responsible for Jesus's death. Eve’s disobeying God’s laws led to the need of having a savior. The second half of the passage illustrates that Pilate’s wife tried to save Jesus Christ’s life, therefore remedying any fault of Eve’s. This smaller section of the larger Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum uses Christ’s Passion to depict good women in contrast to bad men. Eve’s Apology and Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum as a whole was Lanier’s vehicle, as Loughlin claims, to “depict(s) woman’s history as a teleological progression from the times of the Old Testament to those of the New Testament and finally beyond time itself into her glorious future union with Christ.” 
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