Dr. Elaine Treharne – Tudor Courtly Love

Sep 28, 2012

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Elaine Treharne of Stanford University explains the discovery of an inscription that provides rare insight into the nature of romantic relationships at the Tudor court.

In the fall of 2012, Elaine Treharne joined the faculty of Stanford University as a Professor of English, where she teaches courses in literary history and the history of text technologies. She specializes in the cultural contexts, contents, and languages of Early English manuscripts from c. 700 to 1500. She has published a number of books, including her most recent work,  Living Through Conquest: The Politics of Early English, 1020-1220. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Manchester.

About Dr. Treharne

Dr. Elaine Treharne – Tudor Courtly Love

In West Virginia University Library, pasted down in the back of a sixteenth-century volume of Chaucer’s works, a Latin poem from the 1560s remained, till recently, unread and unknown. It turns out to be a literary treasure. The fourteen-line, sonnet-like poem is signed ‘Elizabeth Dacre’—the identity of an aristocratic Englishwoman who also signed the front of the book itself. Elizabeth was, for a short time, one of the most powerful women in England when she married Thomas Howard, fourth Duke of Norfolk, cousin of the Queen. Elizabeth and Howard were only married for seven months before she died in childbirth in September 1567.  

Elizabeth was married first, though, to Lord Dacre of the North, with whom she had at least four children. Despite these two marriages, the poem placed in the Chaucer book is addressed to neither of her husbands. Instead, this poignant poem is addressed to Sir Anthony Coke, gentleman, scholar, and tutor to King Edward VI. In the love poem to Anthony, Elizabeth says ‘I hope that silent Dacre will not be scorned by you… sweet Coke’, and ‘Believe that among servants there is not any more faithful’. She talks about trying to say goodbye to him with her eyes, since words would not permit her to take leave of him. Such explicit statements of love hint strongly of a close relationship between Coke and Dacre, whether it was one spent learning Latin poetry, or one much more intimate.

From this poem we see a curious personal bond never previously known about. We discover the identity of this noblewoman, who’s only ever been mentioned in passing. She was a skilled Latin poet and linguist, remarkable for a time when so few women were permitted a literary voice, let alone one that speaks with such passion.