A First Key, with Notes, to
Female Poems On several Occasions. Written by Ephelia (1679) ("FPOSO")

The veiled identities of the many personages in Ephelia's collection, as well as the heretofore unidentified "occasions" of her best poems, have made FPOSO one of the most perplexing (and enticing) poetry books in Restoration literature.

How, for example, do today's readers make sense of poems so occasion-specific as, "To Clovis, desiring me to bring Him into Marina's Company"; or "To the Honoured Eugenia, commanding me to Write to Her"; or "To Mr J.G. on his being chosen Steward of his Club"? Anthologists, have understandably, have selected only the simplest and most generic of Ephelia's poems, such as "To one that asked me why I lov'd J.G."; or "Maidenhead: Written at the Request of a Friend; or the poet's uncomplex amorous and pastoral songs.

Because the obscured cast of players in Ephelia's intriguing book have not been identified these three centuries, the best poems in Ephelia's volume have eluded anthologists; and this has resulted in a serious underrepresentation of Ephelia as a skilled user of the polyvocal persona and as a strong moral and ethical critic of Stuart court culture during the first two decades of the Restoration. Now that my research has identified a reasonably persuasive candidate for Ephelia's authorship, the identities of nearly all these figures and the precipitating occasions of the poet's "female poems" have rather fallen into place; at last, we can put a face on the several disguised addressees in this heretofore enigmatic set of poems.

In assembling this first Key, I have relied on disclosing allusive content in the poems themselves and other verse of Mary Villiers’s time, as well as contemporary accounts and memoirs of Restoration court culture by Pepys, Reresby, John Heneage Jesse, and especially D'Aulnoy; the Historical Manuscripts Commission Reports; biographies of the personages in Mary Villiers's highly-placed coterie; John Harold Wilson's Court Satires of the Restoration (Ohio, 1976); Poems On Affairs of State 6 vols (Yale UP, 1963-71); An Index to Characters in the Performing Arts, eds. Harold S. Sharp & Margery Sharp (Metuchin, NJ, 1969); The Dictionary of Fictional Characters, ed. Martin Seymour-Smith (Boston, 1992). Many of my identifications, however, resulted from my own research, as I worked through the literatures which evidently shaped the poetic tastes of the woman behind the Ephelia mask.

Here are my first identifications of twenty-three of the veiled personages in FPOSO (1679); for elaboration, see the following section, ‘Notes to the Key’:

Bajazet and his lamenting "Lady" (FPOSO 104-106): poet and literary patron John (Sheffield), Lord Mulgrave (1648-1721) and Lady Mary ('Mall') Kirke (c. 1650-1711), a favorite of Mary Villiers’s younger brother, the pre-eminently handsome Lord Francis Villiers.

Madam Bhen (FPOSO 72-73): Aphra Behn (1640-1689), poet, playwright, novelist, translator, member of the Villiers circle, and elegist of George Villiers, second Duke of Buckingham.

Celadon (FPOSO 30-31, 71-72, 74): Most probably George Porter (1622-1683), eldest son of Endymion Porter, and Groom of the Bedchamber of Charles I.

Clovis (FPOSO 38-40, 51-53, 64-65, 89-92, 100-103): Ephelia's “young Clovis”, a “bashful” suitor, is Charles II, the poet’s beloved childhood friend (possibly more). As Clovis, a famous Merovingian king of the sixth century, Charles II was reputed to have had the magic, healing touch.

Damon (FPOSO 83-84): "Libeling Jack" How[e] (1657-1722), a rank inventor of scandal and a defamer of women. A stalker, a genuine rum cove.

Ephelia (FPOSO [A1], [A3], 34-35, 38-40, 68, 77-79, 86, 112): Very probably, Lady Mary Villiers, later Stuart, Duchess of Richmond & Lennox (1622-1684).

Eugenia (FPOSO 87-88, 98-100, 109-110): Henrietta Maria (1609-1669), queen-consort of Charles I; widowed in 1649, during the Civil Wars; reputedly, the clandestine 'wife' or platonic companion, after 1649, of Henry (Jermyn [Germyn]), first Duke of St Albans.

Madam F. (FPOSO 107): Most probably Cary Frazier (Fraser, Frasier) later Mordaunt, Countess of Peterborough (d. 1709), glorious fashionista of the Restoration court, whose extravagant gowns were said to upstage the queen’s.

Flora (FPOSO 75-77): Anne-Marie Brudenell, "the fatal Lady Shrewsbury" (d. 1702), a Restoration voluptuary and (public) mistress of George Villiers, second Duke of Buckingham, one of Charles II’s boon companions and Court Wits.

A Friend (the unfinished "Maidenhead" poem) (FPOSO 40-41): Most probably, John (Wilmot), second Earl of Rochester (1647-1680), poet-playwright, notorious libertine, and occasional merry prankster; a member of the Villiers inner circle, fast friend of the second Buckingham, and darling of the Court Wits.

Madam G. (FPOSO 111-112): Nell Gwyn (1650-1687), comedic actress, mistress of Charles II, and fast friend of George Villiers, second Duke of Buckingham.

J.G. (Strephon) (FPOSO 7, 12-16, 22, 32-34, 37-38, 42-44, 48-49, 51-52, 56-61, 66-71, 78- 82, 102, 108): While there surely are other (slim) possibilities, the author’s speculative candidate, at present, is Henry (Jermyn or Germyn), first Earl of St Albans (c. 1584?-c. 1685), Stuart statesman, Freemason Grand Master, and chief financial administrator ("Steward") to Queen Henrietta Maria. St Albans was the administrative principal of the queen-mother's "Louvre" group (her 'Society' of mostly Catholic royalists) during the Stuart exile; the longstanding favorite and confidant of the queen-mother, indeed rumored to have been her clandestine 'husband' or platonic companion after 1649, as commonly (and variously) mentioned in contemporary sources. See the long note on J.G. and his other candidates, in 'Notes to the Key.'

... Gentleman that durst not pass the Door while I stood there (FPOSO 10-12): Possibly St Albans, who is observed by Mary Villiers, standing at her post as Lady of the Queen’s Bedchamber, while he attempts a clandestine meeting (tryst?) with the Queen.

... Gentleman, who left his Virtuous Wife for a Miss (FPOSO 75-77): George Villiers, second Duke of Buckingham (1627-1687), poet-playwright, Court Wit, shameless libertine, and merry prankster, who shocked even the Restoration court when he publicly left his wife, Mary (Villiers, née Fairfax), Duchess of Buckingham (“Phylena”), for his mistress, Lady Shrewsbury (“Flora”).

Marina (FPOSO 83-84, 89-92, 100-103): Frances ("La Belle") Stuart, Duchess of Richmond & Lennox, the Court Duchess of Richmond (1647-1702), and favorite young niece of Lady Mary Villiers. Catharine MacLeod, National Gallery of Art, London, is the current specialist on images of Frances Stuart. See MacLeod and Alexander, ‘Works Cited,’ section of this archive.

Mopsa (FPOSO 36-37, 43, 49, 80): Possibly Lady Catherine Crofts (1635-1686), longstanding mistress of St Albans, spinster sister of Monmouth's former guardian (William Lord Crofts) and guardian herself, until 1684, of Mary Tudor, illegitimate daughter of Charles II by the actress, Moll Davis.

"... One that Affronted the Excellent Eugenia"(FPOSO 98-100): Very probably Oliver Cromwell. See 'Notes to the Key,' following.

Orinda (FPOSO 87): Poet Katherine Philips (1631-1664), exulted by Cowley as "the Matchless Orinda," and "the English Sappho"; Philips was the standard for her century of the comely, virtuous woman writer. Praised by Ephelia in FPOSO ("the sweet Orinda's happy Strain").

Pair-Royal of Coxcombs(FPOSO 16-21): Charles II and his brother, James, Duke of York, philandering husbands and corrupt exemplars of English moral leadership.

Phillida (FPOSO 45-46): Elizabeth ("Betty"), Lady Howard née Felton (1656-1681), a dazzling neurotic courtesan and occasional court actress, wed to Thomas Felton, Esq., an excellent jockey. Lady Betty is the Restoration Messalina in Lord Rochester’s “Let Antients Boast No More”, frequently thought to be about Barbara (Palmer née Villiers), Lady Castlemaine, chief mistress of Charles II. Pathologically jealous, Lady Betty could not endure rivals.

Phylena (FPOSO 74-77): Mary (Villiers, née Fairfax), Duchess of Buckingham (1612-1671), heiress of the third Lord Fairfax of Cromwell's administration and wife of George Villiers, second Duke of Buckingham. Stout and plain, Mary Fairfax was wealthy, and she proved to be a forgiving wife of an abusive, libertine husband.

Phylocles (FPOSO 85-86): Prince Rupert of the Rhine (1619-1682), third son of Frederick V, the Elector Palatine, and Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of James I. A fierce Stuart partisan and glamorous hero of the Civil Wars ("the Mad Cavalier"); ardent suitor (c. 1640s) of his best friend’s wife: Lady Mary Villiers.

A Proud Beauty (FPOSO 54-55): Barbara (Palmer née Villiers), Countess of Castlemaine and Duchess of Cleveland (1642-1708), Charles II's most rapacious mistress and least favorite relative of Lady Mary Villiers, whose loathing of this female intimidator and bully led to verbal clashes in open Court and, evidently, in St James's Park. Castlemaine, the whore who would be queen.

Strephon, see "J.G.," above; Ephelia's occasional pastoral name for her principal lover in FPOSO, "J.G."



Eight Personages Unidentified by the Author, to date:

"Coridon," "Cleon," "Colin," "Phillis" and the four women in Ephelia's acrostics (a very old-fashioned form by 1679): Ann Bury, Venetia Cooke, Anne Gilbert, and Rachel Powney.

Ephelia's four encomia to these four women may be juvenilia, and the women may be friends from the poet's girlhood. By 1679, they probably were untraceable through their family surnames. Yet, I did ferret out a few leads. Venetia Cooke may descend from the literary Cooke women of Gidea Hall, Essex, mentioned in Ballard's Memoirs (1752); or she may have been related to the Restoration actress, Sarah Cooke. Ann Bury brings to mind the seventeenth-century diarist, Anne Bury, and the learned lady, Elizabeth Laurence Lloyd Bury, also mentioned by Ballard. Rachel Powney may have been of the Powney-Etherege line of Berkshire. Female community and alliances amongst women in Ephelia’s writings have recently been examined by Henriette Andreadis, and by Susan Frye and Karen Robertson (see ‘Works Cited’).


[For ‘Notes to the Key,’ click on ‘next,’ below]