Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

1689 –

Born on May 15, 1689 to Evelyn and Mary Pierrepont, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu is remembered primarily as a letter writer. Her father was a wealthy Whig who later became the Marquess of Dorchester, and Lady Mary, like other aristocratic women of her time, was educated at home. In her father's library she secretly taught herself Latin, and by 1710 she had translated Epictetus' Enchiridion and sent a copy to a London bishop with a letter advocating a woman's right to formal education. Such independence of mind would characterize her entire adult life. Known for her flamboyant behavior, Montagu often wore elaborate Turkish clothing and took snuff; in her poems, too, Lady Mary exhibited an uncommon independence, wit, and candor.

In 1712 Lady Mary eloped with Edward Wortley Montagu, a Whig M.P. like her father. Her first poems would appear shortly thereafter, under the pseudonym "Lady President." In 1716 her husband was appointed ambassador to Constantinople; while traveling with him in Turkey, Lady Mary wrote what would become her most widely-known work—the "Turkish Embassy Letters." Although many of these letters were written to specific friends, she also took the opportunity to address a larger audience on subjects such as the patriarchal legal system. As per her wishes, the letters were not published until one year after her death.

Although her marriage would gradually fail, through her husband and his friendship with Joseph Addison Lady Mary met many of the writers of her generation, including Alexander Pope and John Gay. Her relationship with Pope began on friendly terms—he admired her wit and exuberance—but they would later have a very public falling out: Pope attacked her in print as a "Sappho" and Lady Mary returned the favor with a scathing satire of Pope, VERSES Address'd to the IMITATOR of the FIRST SATIRE of the Second Book of Horace (1733).

Like her peers, Lady Mary wrote in many of the forms of Augustan verse—satires, mock epics, translations, and ballads. By all accounts, she often wrote at the spur of the moment with little revision. Her poems maintain some of this casual feel. Nonetheless, they reveal a strikingly independent and clever mind. They appeared sporadically during her life and were first collected posthumously in 1768. Lady Mary spent the latter part of her life traveling in Europe, primarily in France and Italy. She died on August 21, 1762.