II. FLASHPOINT: THE "BUTTERFLY" IN MY NET
of scholarly reasoning sometimes begin with evidence that is very fragile."
Roger Eliot Stoddard, Marks in Books
(Exhibition Catalogue, Houghton Library, Harvard University, 1985)
After the second printing of my edition of Ephelia's collected verse in 1993, and in the process of assembling materials for my present project (a multimedia source-book on Stuart women writers and patronesses), I came upon a tantalizing piece of information in an early work on the Villiers family (1903) by Winifred (Gardner), Baroness Burghclere. It is not unusual in a complex project that new developments surface after the publication of first findings; nor is it unusual, as Roger Stoddard observes, that "chains of scholarly reasoning sometimes begin with evidence that is very fragile" (Stoddard 2). The information in Burghclere's Villiers was the first significant break in my new case for Ephelia's identity. Burghclere's clue proved to be my passport to a whole new zone in Ephelia research.
My new candidate for "Ephelia" is none other than the very dedicatee of Female Poems...by Ephelia, Mary ("Mall") (Stuart née Villiers), Duchess of Richmond and Lennox (1622-1684), one of the wittiest tricksters at the Court of Charles II. My edition of Ephelia's verse in 1992 did not overlook the strong presence of Lady Mary in Ephelia's book of 1679; and I mentioned at this time that "Ephelia's identity, if it is ever to be known for certain, rests with Mary Villiers: she is the strongest link" (pp.31-34, with Van Dyck portrait). Little did I know then how close I was to cracking the case.
While today's scholars have only a passing acquaintance, at best, with Mary Villiers, she was a celebrated personality at the Courts of James I, Charles I, and Charles II; she also was a quietly-powerful member of the Stuart inner ring. Of special relevance to the present case, Mary Villiers was reportedly a consummate intriguer, and known as the beloved "Butterfly" among her exclusive coterie. When Burghclere mentioned, quite in passing, that Lady Mary was rumored to have fought a duel with a female romantic rival (140), whom Burghclere fails to identify (alas!), I immediately recognized Mary Villiers as a strong contender for "Ephelia"'s authorship. This fragile piece of information in Burghclere seemed highly probative; so probative, that it took me back to the Ephelia project in 1995. Working then on a wholly new track, a fresh case quickly began to build, resulting in a stunning new candidate and newly-reclaimed Stuart duchess. Burghclere's small information had large implications; and I promptly anticipated that a case for Mary Villiers could explain several centuries-old perplexities in the project. After conducting research into the Villiers family-circle and contemporary material on butterflies, a body of internal and external circumstantial evidence rapidly began to form. I was not 'done' with Ephelia in the 1990s, as I had thought; or perhaps Ephelia was not quite done with me.