Pure Wit: The Revolutionary Life of Margaret Cavendish by Francesca Peacock - review by Lucy Moore

Lucy Moore

Royalist Surrealist

Pure Wit: The Revolutionary Life of Margaret Cavendish


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The life that stretched ahead of the newborn Margaret Lucas in 1623 should have been as unmemorable as it was comfortable: marriage, children, genteel household management. But even as a girl, the future Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, self-styled princess and hopeful ‘authoress of a whole world’, looked for something a little more exciting.

Events conspired to offer her crises as well as opportunities. She was nineteen when the forces of Charles I and Parliament first met in battle. In the same year, St John’s Abbey in Colchester, the home of her Royalist family, was stormed by perhaps a hundred Puritan-inclined townspeople. The family’s horses and weapons were seized, their possessions were looted and the women – Margaret’s mother, her sister-in-law and possibly Margaret herself – were imprisoned for several days.

The following year, Margaret made her way to Oxford, the centre of Royalism, where she attached herself to Henrietta Maria’s court as a lady-in-waiting. She accompanied Henrietta Maria in 1644 on her flight to France, hotly pursued by Parliamentary ships, all guns blazing. Although she never wrote directly about

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