Female Poems On Several Occasions
Some of the dated and unfashionable material in Female Poems by Ephelia -- the author's praise of Cowley, her acrostics, her Donnean exercise in alchemical transformation in her poem to Phylocles-- is now understandable in a book of 1679 as being material from an earlier generation, Mary Villiers's generation. The Cowley in Ephelia's book, for example, is the pre-Restoration Cowley, who accompanied the exiled Stuarts to the Continent and who served Queen Henrietta Maria as cipher-secretary. But in 1679, praise of Cowley in a book so decidedly Stuart was oddly out of place, as Cowley had abandoned the royalist cause to pen panegyrics on Cromwell; and he remained under suspicion from both political sides during the last decade of his life (Hutton 144). The Cowley invoked by Ephelia in Female Poems ("sweet Cowley's Wit," 47) is the earlier Cowley, the Stuart Cowley of the first Caroline court. This detail matters, as it dates the Ephelia poet to pre-Restoration times. (She was certainly not of the generation of Rochester and Behn.) Similarly, when she publishes acrostics in a poetry-book of 1679, the poet associates herself with a literary vogue which had become quite passé.
Allusions to Ephelia's prestigious rank and sororal circle are also suggested in texts outside of her canon, such as two poems to Ephelia (this Ephelia) by Anne (Finch née Kingsmill), Countess of Winchilsea ("Ardelia"), who addresses Ephelia as a grande dame ("all your powerful Influence ... your large Palace"). Though Winchilsea's poems were not published until 1713, they circulated at Court in manuscript in the early 1680s (Messenger 27ff). The presence of a three-quarter-length Van Dyck portrait of a distinctly melancholic, if not elegaic, Mary Villiers, preserved in the family collection of Sir Marcus Worsley, Baronet, Hovingham Hall, Yorkshire, would seem to ground the membership of Mary Villiers (Ephelia) in a coterie of literary women of the Thynne-Worsley-Finch circle. (Anne Finch's "Ephelia")
Mary Villiers's authorship of Ephelia's only surviving autograph manuscript (to date), being a working draft of a funeral elegy on Sir Thomas Isham, is now supportable (Image 4 and Image 5). The Villierses were longstanding friends of the Ishams; in fact, the handsome portrait of the first Buckingham by M. J. Van Mierevelt is preserved at the Isham family seat, Lamport Hall, Northamptonshire. The correspondence of the Isham family, published by Gyles Isham in 1955, documents strong ties between the two families. Unsurprisingly, the Isham elegy is preserved at Nottingham, where Lady Villiers maintained a residence and where she also hid her brother, George Villiers, after the Royalist defeat at Worcester (Burghclere 53).