Love Letters of Great Women

Love Letters of Great Women

by Ursula Doyle

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429969147
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 11/24/2009
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 720,519
File size: 201 KB

About the Author

URSULA DOYLE was born in 1967. She graduated from King's College, Cambridge with an English degree in 1989. Since then she has worked as an editor in publishing, firstly at Granta, where she was deputy editor, then at Picador. She is currently editorial director of Virago. She lives in London and was the editor for Love Letters of Great Men.

Ursula Doyle lives in London where she was, until recently, the deputy publisher of Picador. She is the editor of the book Love Letters of Great Men.

Read an Excerpt

Love Letters of Great Women

By Ursula Doyle

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2009 Ursula Doyle
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-6914-7


Lady Joan Pelham

This 1399 letter from Lady Pelham to her husband, Sir John, was written from their home at Pevensey Castle in East Sussex. Sir John Pelham was away, helping Henry Bolingbroke to rally troops for what became a successful attempt to wrest the throne from Richard II. Pevensey was besieged by her husband's enemies; Lady Pelham, without wishing to make a fuss, is enquiring whether he might be returning soon.

* * *

To Sir John Pelham, (15 July?) 1399

My dear Lord,

I recommend me to your high lordship, with heart and body and all my poor might. And with all this I thank you as my dear Lord, dearest and best beloved of all earth lords. I say for me, and thank you, my dear Lord, with all this that I said before for your comfortable letter that you sent me from Pontefract, that came to me on Mary Magdalen's day; for by my troth I was never so glad as when I heard by your letter ye were strong enough with the Grace of God to keep you from the malice of your enemies. And, dear Lord, if it like to your high Lordship that as soon as ye might that I might hear of your gracious speed, which God Almighty continue and increase. And, my dear Lord, if it like you to know my fare, I am here laid by in a manner of a siege with the County of Sussex, Surrey and a great parcel of Kent, so that I may not go out nor no victuals get me, but with much hazard. Wherefore, my dear, if it like you by the advice of your wise counsel for to set remedy to the salvation of your castle and withstand the malice of the shires aforesaid. And also that ye be fully informed of the great malice-workers in these shires which have so despitefully wrought to you, and to your castle, to your men, and to your tenants; for this country have they wasted for a great while.

Farewell, my dear Lord! the Holy Trinity keep you from your enemies, and soon send me good tidings of you. Written at Pevensey, in the castle, on St Jacob's day last past, by your own poor J. Pelham. To my true Lord.


Margery Brews (Paston)


The Pastons were a prominent Norfolk family of the late medieval period who left behind a treasure trove of letters covering four generations, which paint a vivid picture of life at the time. The letters below, from Margery Brews to John Paston, written in 1476, are sometimes described as the oldest love letters in the English language but in fact they are more businesslike than they might at first appear. Their primary topic is the ongoing negotiations over the size of Margery's dowry, which the Paston family considered too small. Margery and John did eventually marry in 1477.

* * *

To John Paston
Sent from Topcroft, February 1476

Unto my right well-beloved Valentine, John Paston, Esq., be this Bill delivered, &c.

Right reverend and worshipful, and my right well-beloved Valentine, I recommend me unto you, full heartily desiring to hear of your welfare, which I beseech Almighty God long for to preserve unto his pleasure and your heart's desire.

And if it please you to hear of my welfare, I am not in good heele of body nor of heart, nor shall I be till I hear from you.

For there wottys [knows] no creature what pain that I endure,
And for to be dead, I dare it not dyscur

And my lady my mother hath laboured the matter to my father full diligently, but she can no more get than ye know of, for the which God knoweth I am full sorry. But if that ye love me, as I trust verily that ye do, ye will not leave me therefore; for if that ye had not half the livelihood that ye have, for to do the greatest labour that any woman alive might, I would not forsake you.

And if ye command me to keep me true wherever I go,
I wis I will de all my might you to love, and never no mo.
And if my friends say that I do amiss,
They shall not me let so for to do,
Mine heart me bids evermore to love you
Truly over all earthly thing,
And if they be never so wrath,
I trust it shall be better in time coming.

No more to you at this time, but the Holy Trinity have you in keeping; and I beseech you that this bill be not seen of none earthly creature save only yourself, &c.

And this letter was endited at Topcroft, with fully heavy heart, &c.

By your own

Margery Brews

To John Paston

I thank you with all my heart for the letter you sent me ... from which I know for certain that you intend to come ... shortly, with no other errand or business except to bring to a conclusion the business between my father and you. I would be the happiest one alive if only the business might come to fruition ... And if you come and the business comes to nothing, then I will be even sorrier and full of sadness.

As for myself, I have done and endured in the business as much as I know how or am able to, God knows. And I want you to understand clearly that my father refuses to part with any more money than one hundred [pounds] and fifty marks in this business, which is far from fulfilling your wishes.

For which reason, if you could be content with that amount and my poor person, I would be the happiest maid on earth. And if you do not consider yourself satisfied with that, or believe that you could get more money, as I have understood from you before, good, faithful and loving Valentine, do not take the trouble to visit anymore on this business. Rather let it be finished and never spoken of again, on condition that I may be your faithful friend and petitioner for the duration of my life.

No more to you now, but may Almighty Jesus preserve you, in both body and soul.


Katherine of Aragon


Katherine of Aragon was born at the palace at Alcalá de Henares, northeast of Madrid, on 16 December 1485, the daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. Isabella was determined that her daughters should have a good education based on Catholic principles. Katherine's knowledge of Latin, European languages and classical literature was widely admired, and she was extremely devout.

When the princess was only two, Henry VII of England proposed a match between Katherine and his eldest son, Arthur, Prince of Wales, who was a year younger than the prospective bride. After negotiations lasting more than ten years, the princess arrived in Plymouth in October 1501, and the marriage between Katherine of Aragon and Arthur, Prince of Wales, was solemnized in St Paul's on 14 November.

By the following April, at the age of fifteen, Arthur was dead. The Spanish immediately expressed an interest in Katherine marrying Henry, the new Prince of Wales. Henry VII was at first amenable, but negotiations dragged on in England, in Spain and in Rome (a dispensation was needed from the Pope, because Henry was Katherine's former brother-in-law) for six years. Katherine remained in London as dowager Princess of Wales; she was homesick and short of money, frequently complaining to her father about the tight-fisted behaviour of Henry VII. By March 1509, she was begging to be allowed to return to Spain and enter a convent. Henry and Katherine were finally married in June 1509, just weeks after Henry succeeded to the throne.

The length of the marriage – more than twenty years – is often eclipsed by what followed; Henry's five subsequent marriages took place over ten tumultuous years from 1533. It also appears that the pair were content for much of their married life, although Katherine's many miscarriages and stillbirths must have taken their toll – her only surviving child was Princess Mary, born in 1516. Katherine exists in popular myth as a dumpy, depressed religious maniac, with her rosary beads, broken English and unglamorous gynaecological problems, but the evidence suggests that Henry respected his wife to the extent that she took charge of affairs of state in his absence – notwithstanding her unshakeable belief that a wife's Christian duty was to obey her husband in all things. The first letter below was written while Henry was off fighting the French; Katherine had successfully repelled a Scottish invasion led by James IV, and the king himself had been left dead in the field. She gleefully writes of sending Henry the dead monarch's coat, implying that she would rather have liked to send his body, but her squeamish English courtiers would not allow it.

The rupture between Henry and Katherine was a more complicated business than one might be led to believe from its numerous portrayals in fiction, where it comes about through Henry's boredom with his ageing wife and his enslavement by the bewitching Anne Boleyn. If these were factors, there were several others, including the dwindling importance of the alliance with Spain, and Henry's obsession with producing a male heir. There is no doubt, however, that his treatment of Katherine was horrible. He put her through a humiliating trial concerning the consummation of her marriage to his brother, and after the annulment kept her apart from her beloved daughter, who he had proclaimed illegitimate.

After Anne Boleyn was installed as queen, Katherine was sent to the provinces, first to Huntingdon and then to Cambridgeshire. She refused to recognize Anne's title, refused to accept her own of princess dowager, and refused to sign an oath recognizing Anne's children as the legitimate successors to Henry. She died in 1536, steadfastly proclaiming that her marriage to Henry was valid, that she was queen, and that she continued to love her husband. Her final letter to him, the second below, is heartbreaking: 'Lastly, do I vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things.' Henry and Anne marked her death by dressing in yellow and parading their daughter, the baby Princess Elizabeth, around the court.

* * *

To Henry VIII, 16 September 1513

Sir, My Lord Howard hath sent me a letter open to your Grace, within one of mine, by the which you shall see at length the great Victory that our Lord hath sent your subjects in your absence; and for this cause there is no need herein to trouble your Grace with long writing, but, to my thinking, this battle hath been to your Grace and all your realm the greatest honor that could be, and more than you should win all the crown of France; thanked be God of it, and I am sure your Grace forgetteth not to do this, which shall be cause to send you many more such great victories, as I trust he shall do. My husband, for hastiness, with Rougecross I could not send your Grace the piece of the King of Scots coat which John Glynn now brings. In this your Grace shall see how I keep my promise, sending you for your banners a king's coat. I thought to send himself unto you, but our Englishmens' hearts would not suffer it. It should have been better for him to have been in peace than have this reward. All that God sends is for the best.

My Lord of Surrey, my Henry, would fain know your pleasure in the burying of the King o Scots' body, for he has written to me so. With the next messenger your Grace's pleasure may be herein known. And with this I make an end, praying God to send you home shortly, for without this no joy here can be accomplished; and for the same I pray, and now go to Our Lady of Walsingham that I promised so long ago to see. At Woburn the 16th of September.

I send your Grace herein a bill found in a Scotsman's purse of such things as the French King sent to the said King of Scots to make war against you, beseeching you to send Mathew hither as soon as this messenger comes to bring me tidings from your Grace.

Your humble wife and true servant, Katherine.

To Henry VIII, 1535

My Lord and Dear Husband,

I commend me unto you. The hour of my death draweth fast on, and my case being such, the tender love I owe you forceth me, with a few words, to put you in remembrance of the health and safeguard of your soul, which you ought to prefer before all worldly matters, and before the care and tendering of your own body, for the which you have cast me into many miseries and yourself into many cares.

For my part I do pardon you all, yea, I do wish and devoutly pray God that He will also pardon you.

For the rest I commend unto you Mary, our daughter, beseeching you to be a good father unto her, as I heretofore desired. I entreat you also, on behalf of my maids, to give them marriage-portions, which is not much, they being but three. For all my other servants, I solicit a year's pay more than their due, lest they should be unprovided for.

Lastly, do I vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things.


Anne Boleyn


Anne Boleyn was the daughter of Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Ormond, and Elizabeth Howard, the daughter of Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk. Thomas Boleyn was enormously ambitious for his three children, of whom Anne was the second, and when at the age of thirteen she was offered a position as a lady-in-waiting at the court of Margaret of Austria in Brussels, he saw it as an unmissable opportunity. Margaret's was among the most prestigious courts of Europe, and would equip Anne for the ultimate prize, a place at the court of Katherine of Aragon. But shortly after her arrival in Brussels, the diplomatic situation changed, and Anne was moved to France, where she entered the service of Claude, the queen. The two became close, and Anne acquired a polish and glamour that was immediately apparent when she returned to the English court in 1521 – accomplished, tasteful, witty and beautifully dressed, she was absolutely unlike her contemporaries.

The next step for Anne was marriage, but several avenues of enquiry came to nothing, possibly because in her father's eyes the suitors on offer were insufficiently grand. And then, in 1526 or thereabouts, Anne caught the eye of Henry VIII. The king was ready for a new mistress, having recently dispensed with the services of Mary, Anne's sister. But it so happened that the vacancy coincided with Henry's growing conviction, in the absence of a male heir, that his marriage to Katherine had never been valid.

The annulment of Henry and Katherine's marriage and his subsequent marriage to Anne played out over the next six years. The political and religious fallout was huge, and led ultimately to Henry's break with Rome and the establishment of the Church of England. The couple were finally married in January 1533, when Anne was just pregnant; Princess Elizabeth was born on 7 September.

It was not a disaster for Anne that her first child was a girl; she was still young. But a miscarriage in August 1534 did not augur well, and she did not conceive again until the autumn of 1535. In January 1536, Katherine died, which came as a relief to Henry and Anne, who knew how much support she and her daughter, Mary, retained in the country at large; this relief was short-lived, as Anne had another miscarriage at the end of the same month. Still, the situation might have been salvageable, had it not been for Anne's falling out with the Lord Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell, previously a key ally, and for important diplomatic negotiations being scuppered by Henry's insistence that powerful European monarchs recognize Anne as his lawful wife.

Anne had to go, and Thomas Cromwell arranged it. A mere divorce would not suffice; Anne and her faction had to be permanently dispatched. So Cromwell cooked up a selection of terrible charges, accusing her not only of incestuous relations with her brother George, but adultery with four other men of her circle. All were arrested and taken to the Tower.

After trials of non-existent legality, George Boleyn and his co-accused were executed on 17 May 1536, and that afternoon the Archbishop of Canterbury declared Anne and Henry's marriage null and void on the grounds of Henry's previous association with Mary Boleyn (which rather begs the question of how an unmarried Anne managed to commit the alleged adultery). On 19 May, Anne was executed on Tower Green by a swordsman brought over from France in order to spare her the axe. It was less than six months since the death of Katherine of Aragon. On 30 May Henry married Jane Seymour, one of Anne's ladies-in-waiting.

The letter below, dated 6 May, exists only as a copy, and so its authenticity has not been established.


Excerpted from Love Letters of Great Women by Ursula Doyle. Copyright © 2009 Ursula Doyle. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Lady Joan Pelham to Sir John Pelham,
Margery Brews (Paston) to Sir John Paston,
Katherine of Aragon to Henry VIII,
Anne Boleyn to Henry VIII,
Dorothy Osborne (Temple) to Sir William Temple,
Nell Gwyn to Lawrence Hyde (later Earl of Rochester),
Lady Mary Pierrepont (Lady Mary Wortley Montagu) to Edward Wortley Montagu,
Abigail Smith (Adams) to John Adams,
Manon Jeanne Philipon (Madame Roland) to Léonard Buzot,
Maria Smythe (Mrs Fitzherbert) to the Prince Regent,
Mary Wollstonecraft to Gilbert Imlay,
Mary Wollstonecraft to William Godwin,
Marie-Josèphe-Rose Tascher de la Pagerie (Empress Joséphine) to Napoleon Bonaparte,
Mary Hutchinson (Wordsworth) to William Wordsworth,
Maria Branwell (Brontë) to the Rev. Patrick Brontë,
Maria Bicknell (Constable) to John Constable,
Claire Clairmont to Lord Byron,
Jane Welsh (Carlyle) to Thomas Carlyle,
George Sand to Alfred de Musset,
George Sand to Pietro Pagello,
Clara Wieck (Schumann) to Robert Schumann,
Queen Victoria to Prince Albert,
Queen Victoria to the King of the Belgians,
Emily Dickinson to Susan Gilbert (Dickinson),
Isabella Mayson (Mrs Beeton) to Sam Beeton,
Mary Wyndham (Lady Elcho) to Arthur Balfour,
Edith Newbold Jones (Wharton) to W. Morton Fullerton,
Rosa Luxemburg to Leo Jogiches,
Empress Alexandra of Russia to Tsar Nicholas II,
Katherine Mansfield to John Middleton Murry,
Katherine Mansfield to Princess Bibesco (née Elizabeth Asquith),
Letters from the Great War,
A Note on the Type,

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Love Letters of Great Women 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
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Abbie8 More than 1 year ago
I was at awe to have found this book at a local bookstore on sale at $4.00, I just had to buy it. It gives me goose-bumps to read intimate, and at one point in time- private letters which although written more than two ceturies ago, still echo what every women in love or has ever been in love still feel today. 'How often do I not re-read your letters! I press them to my heart, I cover them with kisses.'- Mdme Roland 1754
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ashbrux More than 1 year ago
I have never read Love Letters of Great Men, but when I saw Love Letters of Great Women in the store I really could not pass it up. It was on the table for Valentine's Day. It had a pretty cover. Quite a bit of white space when I was looking for a quick read. And a quick look at the back flap assured me that I would find at least a few good letters in this collection. But what I found wasn't quite what I was expecting. In fact, I think it was better. I was looking for a gushy romantic collection of letters from women to their loved ones, but many of the letters in this book are business like. The women in this collection might be in love, but they are also serious, assertive women with thought provoking ideas. Ursula Doyle's introductions to each woman left me asking thousands of questions and wondering why I had never heard of some of these women before. When I read her introduction to the book I wondered if I was going to enjoy it, mostly because of this: For the Great Men of history, the matter of who they loved and who they might marry was but on aspect of their lives; their Greatness rested on their achievements in other spheres: scientific discovery, exploration, conquest, political triumph, artistic endeavour. These avenues were not open to most women until shockingly recently, and it is a sad fact that the Greatness of many of the women in this collection rests either on who they married or to whom they gave birth... (2) But after considering, I realized that this is mostly true. It's a great introduction as well, because Doyle spends the majority of her introductions talking about what these women did outside of their marriages. She does allow their accomplishments to come out, and the romance takes a backseat. So is this the ideal read for Valentine's Day, or a romantic weekend? Probably not. But it is an ideal read for anyone interested in women's history and relationships. Doyle is honest too, which makes the book that much better. I particularly enjoyed her honesty about Emily Dickinson's relationship with Susan Gilbert. No need to skirt around the corners people. Emily loved Susan. Other women I particularly enjoyed in this book were Lady Mary Pierrepont, Abigail Smith Adams, Manon Jeanne Philipon, Marie-Josphe-Rose Tascher de la Pagerie, Maria Branwell Bronte, Claire Clairmont, Queen Victoria, and Katherine Mansfield.