III. GRAPHIC WIT:
THE EUREKA PIECE IN THE PUZZLE
detective work of all kinds, it is the apparently unremarkable detail
which proves to be the most valuable evidence."
Ronald B. McKerrow, Printers' and Publishers' Devices (1913, 1949)
My developing case for Ephelia's authorship in Lady Mary Villiers came into focus in 1995, with a first decoding of the curious oversized typographical mark (or fleuron) on the title-page of Female Poems...by Ephelia. This intricate design was the key to the book's authorship and the "Ephelia" mystery. As the purloined letter in the famous tale by Edgar Allan Poe, and as the second Buckingham's fearless high-jinks in the streets of Cromwell's London, this small detail illustrated the most skilled tactic of concealment: hiding in plain sight.
Sammy J. Hardman (Commerce, Georgia), a student of Van Dyck's English portraits, suggested to me in the spring of 1995 that the typographical device on the title-page of Mary's book resembled a butterfly. While this stunning observation aligned with her pet name, "Butterfly," it was not until I discovered the reference in Burghclere's Villiers to Mary's duel with a female romantic rival that this incomplete lead took wing. For the second component in this title-page device, I observed, is a pair of lateral fleurs-de-lys, which, in context, resembled (to my eye) the hilts of two dueling swords. Supporting this developing formulation was the argument from title-page placement: the device appears directly under the book's credit line, "Written by Ephelia," suggesting a direct connection between image and pseudonym. As Ronald B. McKerrow's work has shown, title-page devices in early printed books, especially clandestine and unusual books, such as Female Poems...by Ephelia, were typically not printer's marks, but rather emblems of the author or patron (xv) (Title-page Ornaments). Hardman then found butterfly language in Ephelia's pastoral songs, which identified her as a night butterfly: "Ranging the Plain, one Summers Night, / To pass a vacant hour, / I fortunately chanc'd to light / On lov'ly Phillis Bower" (Female Poems 27; emphasis added).
The case began to build swiftly with new finds of mine in 1995-1996, relating to butterflies. In Sir Thomas Mouffet's (variant, "Muffet"'s) great folio, the Theatrum Insectorum (1634; tr., 1658; see Appendix F1), I located an entomological near-equivalent of "Phylena," one of the courtwomen in Female Poems...by Ephelia. Mouffet calls the major order of English night-butterflies "Phalena" (plural "Phalenae"; 958f.). (Though a bonafide English female name at this time, Phylena, the feminine of Phylenum, is a most unlikely name in pastoral verse.) This potential find gained veracity when I then discovered a strong link between Mouffet and Mary Villiers's extended family. Mouffet's principal patrons had been Henry (Herbert), second Earl of Pembroke (the dedicatee of Mouffet's opus), and Herbert's wife, Mary Sidney Herbert, Countess of Pembroke, a distinguished Elizabethan woman of letters and sister of the poet, Sir Philip Sidney. We know that Mary Villiers married into the Herbert line in 1635, and that she had resided briefly at Wilton from the year of her mother's remarriage (1635) to the year of her (Mary's) first husband's death (1636). Mouffet, one of Pembroke's most popular pensioners, was a resident guest at Wilton, from the late 1590s to his (Mouffet's) death in 1604 (Weiss 662). It is probable that the young Mary Villiers became acquainted with the work of this celebrated butterfly-man during her residence at Wilton (see the author's illustrated webpage on Mouffet, Appendix F.1). She, moreover, would have had access, at almost any time in her long life, to the natural history archive formed by her maternal relations, the Knyvets. This family collection is preserved at Cambridge University Library (Raven 173ff, 178).