Margaret Lucas Biography


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Margaret Cavendish, duchess of Newcastle, was born Margaret Lucas, one of eight children afforded a privileged upbringing by her mother. Her favorite pastime was writing, for which she neglected her reading, her languages, and her spelling. She also enjoyed designing clothes and was known for her extravagance in dress as well as in her scientific opinions and her poetry. At nineteen, despite her great shyness, she became a maid of honor to Queen Henrietta Maria. In this capacity, she met William Cavendish, then marquis of Newcastle. They married in 1645; he was thirty-three years her senior. The duke was a learned man, a patron of poets, and a virtuoso, a friend of René Descartes and Thomas Hobbes.

The duke and his lady lived happily at Welbeck Abbey after the Restoration, but during the Civil Wars and the Commonwealth the duke was in financial peril. He had left England after the Battle of Marston Moor and spent most of the Interregnum at Antwerp. The duchess, who met her husband at Paris, returned to London in 1652 to attempt the compounding of his estates. It was at that time that she resumed writing poetry. She continued in Holland, where the duke entertained many notable visitors in politics and the arts. The frontispiece of Cavendish’s Natures Pictures shows her and her husband, crowned with laurel, sitting at a table with the duke’s sons and daughters. It provides a fair picture of the congenial literary readings and conversations that they shared.

In 1676, a commemorative volume of Letters and Poems in praise of Cavendish was published, with pieces by Thomas Shadwell, Henry More, Sir George Etherege, and Jasper Mayne.