Female Poems On Several Occasions
Against the present case for Ephelia's authorship, much of her poetry now makes sense. Given Mary Villiers's familial ties to the royal Stuarts, the impulses which caused her to draw pen for party in the energetic broadsides on the Popish Plot (Image 1) and the Exclusion Crisis (Image 3) are now understandable. Both of these state emergencies shook the foundation of the Stuart monarchy; as a de facto Stuart, Mary Villiers was deeply invested in its stability and continuity. Her bold political poems of 1678, to Charles II on the Popish Plot, and of 1681, to James duke of Monmouth on the Exclusion Crisis, are 'retro' poems, whose political underpinnings recall Filmer, Bacon, the Eikon Basilike, and the ancient Liber Regalis. Her political broadsides also look back to earlier models of kingship and governance, such as the absolutist monarchy of the first Caroline court. Written in the style of an earlier generation of writers and in the lofty tones of "the Most Excellent Princess MARY, Dutchess of Richmond and Lenox," these two important political pieces in Ephelia's canon cannot be over-emphasized for what they reveal about the author's identity, access, political beliefs, and literary models, most of which were quite dated by 1678 and 1681. And we shall return to my poet's old-fashioned ways just a bit later.
While the verses in Ephelia's collection center primarily on love affairs, especially her tormented liaison with "J.G.," most probably the prominent Stuart statesman Henry (Jermyn [Germyn]), first Earl of St Albans (Appendix A), they also reconstruct some of the most sordid scandals of the day, several involving the Stuart-Villiers circle. For example, Ephelia's poem, "To a Gentleman, who had left a virtuous Lady for a Miss," alludes to the scandal involving Lady Mary's younger brother, George Villiers, who had left his wife, Mary Fairfax, for Lady Shrewsbury, the same "Miss" who had enticed Lady Mary's third husband, the impetuous "Tom" Howard. The poem, "To Clovis, desiring me to bring him into Marina's Company," reconstructs the poet's moral and emotional ambivalence as a participant in the plot to get Mary Villiers's beautiful niece, Frances ("La Belle") Stuart (the "beauteous Marina"), into the royal bed. Strengthening the identification of Charles II as Ephelia's "Clovis" in Female Poems is the King's prompt recognition of Mary Villiers's script during the horoscope caper, mentioned above. Charles knew her hand because she had written several poems to him as "Clovis"; she also had served the Stuarts as a conduit during the Civil Wars and the Secret Treaty of Dover, as mentioned, above. Ephelia's railing lines, "To Damon," align perfectly with the circumstances of a suit brought by Frances Stuart against "libeling Jack Howe" in August, 1678. And, finally, biographical allusions in the sad lyric, "My Fate," correspond to many crises in the long, unsettled life of Mary Villiers. (Negative Evidence.) For further details and the identity of other personages in Mary's book, see my Key (Appendix A).