Anne Killigrew Essay - Critical Essays

Killigrew, Anne


Anne Killigrew 1660-1685

English poet.

For additional discussion of Killigrew's life and career, see LC, Volume 4.

Killigrew produced only one volume of poetry, the posthumously published Poems By Mrs. Anne Killigrew (1686). A maid of honor to the Duchess of York, Killigrew wrote odes, pastorals, and occasional pieces that reflect her experiences at court. She was a painter as well as a poet, and is perhaps best remembered as the subject of an ode by John Dryden, “To the Pious Memory of the Accomplisht Young Lady Mrs. Anne Killigrew, Excellent in the Two Sister-Arts of Poesy and Painting,” which introduces the collection of her verse.

Biographical Information

Killigrew was born in London in 1660, one of several children born to Reverend Henry Killigrew. Reverend Killigrew was a chaplain to the Duke of York, a Master of the Savoy, and a prebendary of Westminster. He also wrote poetry in Latin and at least one play. The Killigrew family had many connections to the royal family and included a number of writers of drama and poetry among its members. Killigrew probably received a typical education for a young woman of the period who was bound for the court, including instruction in painting. By the time she was twenty years old Killigrew was a maid of honor to the Duchess of York, Mary Beatrice of Modena, wife of the future King James II. Killigrew soon began writing poems that reflected her life at court, some of which were circulated in her lifetime. She also painted and drew; nine of her pictures are known, including portraits of the Duke and Duchess of York, a self-portrait, and several paintings on biblical and classical themes. Scholars are divided on her abilities, with some considering her an accomplished artist and others regarding her work as unskilled. Killigrew's life as a poet and artist was cut short when she caught smallpox and died of the disease on June 16, 1685, at her father's lodgings at Westminster Abbey. Killigrew was buried at St. John Baptist's Chapel in the Savoy Hospital. Her poems were collected soon after her death and published by her family. Included in the volume were her self-portrait and Dryden's ode, the popularity and significance of which greatly contributed to the survival of her memory and interest in her poetry.

Major Works

Killigrew's only published work, Poems By Mrs. Anne Killigrew, contains thirty poems and fragments in a variety of types and genres, including pindaric odes and love lyrics. Many of the pieces employ the conventions of courtly love poetry, but use mythological figures and imagery to comment on court affairs and politics. In “Upon the saying that my Verses were made by another,” “On the Birth-Day of Queen Katherine,” and other poems throughout the collection Killigrew addresses the status and position of women at court. In addition to these two works, there are a number of other occasional poems, including “On my Aunt Mrs. A. K. Drown'd under London-bridge,” as well as several epigrams, and three “Pastoral Dialogues.” A number of pieces, including “The Miseries of Man” and “Farewel to Worldly Joys,” treat conventional philosophical themes. Three poems are linked with her own paintings, each spoken by a figure in the corresponding painting.

Critical Reception

Killigrew's poetry appears to have been widely admired by her contemporaries. While Dryden's ode may have been conventionally effusive, its praise is supported by Anthony à Wood's observation that, had Killigrew's poems not been highly regarded, “her Father would never have suffered them to pass the Press” after her death. In the centuries following her death, however, Killigrew's poetry received little critical attention. In the twentieth century feminist critics began to examine her poems for what they reveal about a woman's life at court. Killigrew and others like her have been seen as striving to give meaning to their lives and escape sexual oppression and exploitation through their poetry. “Upon the saying that my Verses were made by another” has received much attention in this regard. Critics have also looked at Killigrew's use of the conventions of courtly love poetry to explore questions of female power and dependence. “Like other women poets of the Restoration,” Carol Barash has observed, “Killigrew often uses mythic stories to embody women's shifting relation to linguistic and political authority.” As the productions of a female member of the nobility, Killigrew's poems are valued as reflections of the literary and social life of the English court in the seventeenth century.

Principal Works

Poems By Mrs. Anne Killigrew (poetry) 1686


Anthony à Wood (essay date 1721)

Wood, Anthony à. “Henry Killigrew.” In Athenae Oxoniensis. An exact history of all the writers and bishops who have had their education in the most ancient and famous University of Oxford, Vol. II, columns 1035-1036. London: B. Knaplock, D. Midwinter and J. Tonson, 1721.

[In the following excerpt from the expanded edition of a work originally published in 1691, Wood briefly summarizes Killigrew's life and commends her poetry.]

This worthy Dr. Killigrew had a Daughter named Anne, a Grace for Beauty, and a Muse for Wit, born in St. Martin's Lane in Lond. in the latter end of the the times of Usurpation, a little before the Restoration of King Charles II. and christned in a private Chamber, when the Offices in the Common-Prayer were not publicly allowed. Afterwards being tenderly educated, she became most admirable in the Arts of Poetry and Painting. She was one of the Maids of Honour to the Dutchess of York; but dyed of the Small-Pox, to the unspeakable Reluctancy of her Relations, and all others who were acquainted with her great Virtues, in her Father's Lodgings within the Cloister of Westminster-Abbey, on the 16th Day of June 1685, aged 25 or thereabouts, and was buried in the Chancel of St. John Baptist's Chapel in the Savoy Hospital before-mention'd. Soon after were publish'd of her Composition a Book entit. Poems by Mrs. Anne Killigrew. Lond. 1686, in a large thin qu. wherein is nothing spoken of her, which (allowing only for the Poetical Dress) she was not equal to, if not superior: and if there had not been more true History in her Praises, than Compliment, her Father would never have suffered them to pass the Press. Before them is an Ode made to her pious Memory and Accomplishments, by John Dryden Poet Laureat, and after it follows her Epitaph engraven on her Marble Tomb, which is put over her Grave, beginning thus: Heu! jacet, fato victa, quæ stabat ubique victrix forma, ingenio, religione, &c.

Ellen Creathorne Clayton (essay date 1876)

SOURCE: Clayton, Ellen Creathorne. “Anne Killigrew.” In English Female Artists, Vol. I, pp. 59-70. London: Tinsley Brothers, 1876.

[In the essay below, Clayton surveys Killigrew's life, family background, and her painting and poetry.]

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 manner—such 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...

(The entire section is 2717 words.)

Elaine Hobby (essay date 1988)

SOURCE: Hobby, Elaine. “Romantic Love-Poetry.” In Virtue of Necessity: English Women's Writing, 1646-1688, Virago Press, Ltd., 1988, pp. 128-64.

[In the following excerpt, Hobby examines Killigrew's collection of poems as a response to the male-defined conventions of courtly love poetry.]

The writers who followed Katherine Philips, although they made frequent reference to her name, did not share her emphasis on women's friendship. Their poems, by contrast, addressed the vagaries of romantic love between men and women as it was described (or constructed) by courtly love conventions. In taking this as their subject-matter, they were at one level pursuing a quite...

(The entire section is 3355 words.)

Carol Barash (essay date 1996)

SOURCE: Barash, Carol. “The Female Monarch and the Woman Poet: Mary of Modena, Anne Killigrew, and Jane Barker.” In English Women's Poetry, 1649-1714: Politics, Community, and Linguistic Authority, pp. 149-208. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996.

[In the following essay, Barash surveys Killigrew's life and works, and analyzes many poems in terms of her experience of court life.]


Anne Killigrew (1660-85) spent her short adult life as an attendant to James II's second wife, Mary of Modena.1 The wages for women at court were reasonable (two hundred pounds per year, plus room and board)....

(The entire section is 8907 words.)

Further Reading


Ballard, George. “Anne Killigrew.” In Memoirs of Several Ladies of Great Britain Who Have Been Celebrated for Their Writings or Skill in the Learned Languages, Arts and Sciences, edited by Ruth Perry, pp. 304-09. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1985.

Considers Killigrew's life, works, and influence.

Cibber, Theophilus. “Anne Killegrew.” In The Lives of the Poets of Great Britain and Ireland, pp. 224-26. 1753. Rpt. Hildeshiem: Georg Olms Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1968.

Brief biography of Killigrew and an appreciation of her works.



(The entire section is 140 words.)