Biography of Anne Killigrew

Anne Killigrew
Anne Killigrew by Peter Lely
Anne Killigrew by Peter Lely
St Martin's Lane, London, England
Died16 June 1685(1685-06-16) (aged 24–25)
London, England

Anne Killigrew (1660–1685) was an English poet. Born in London, Killigrew is perhaps best known as the subject of a famous elegy by the poet John Dryden entitled To The Pious Memory of the Accomplish'd Young Lady Mrs. Anne Killigrew (1686). She was however a skilful poet in her own right, and her Poems were published posthumously in 1686. Dryden compared her poetic abilities to the famous Greek poet of antiquity, Sappho. Killigrew died of smallpox aged 25.

Early life and inspiration

Anne Killigrew was born in early 1660, before the Restoration, at St Martin's Lane in London. Not much is known about her mother Judith Killigrew, but her father Dr. Henry Killigrew published several sermons and poems as well as a play called The Conspiracy. Her two paternal uncles were also published playwrights. Sir William Killigrew (1606–1695) published two collections of plays and Thomas Killigrew (1612–1683) not only wrote plays but built the theatre now known as Drury Lane. Her father and her uncles had close connections with the Stuart Court, serving Charles I, Charles II, and his Queen, Catherine of Braganza. Anne was made a personal attendant, before her death, to Mary of Modena, Duchess of York.

Portrait of James II (1685) - Royal Collection

Little is recorded about Anne's education, but it is known that she kept up with her social class, and she received instruction in both poetry and painting in which she excelled. In their introduction to Anne Killigrew in The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar point out that because of her father's work—he was a clergyman and a playwright, and her uncle was the well-known playwright and theatrical patentee Thomas Killigrew—she was encouraged to pursue her creative talents, unusual for women in the 17th century. Her theatrical background added to her use of shifting voices in her poetry. In John Dryden's "Ode To the Pious Memory of the accomplished young lady, Mrs. Anne Killigrew," he points out that "Art she had none, yet wanted none, / For Nature did that want supply". Killigrew most likely got her education through studying the Bible, Greek mythology, and philosophy. Mythology was often expressed throughout her paintings and poetry.

Inspiration for Killigrew's poetry came from her knowledge of Greek myths and Biblical proverbs as well as from some very influential female poets who lived during the Restoration period: Katherine Philips and Anne Finch (also a maid to Mary of Modena at the same time as Killigrew). Mary of Modena encouraged the French tradition of precieuses (patrician women intellectuals) which pressed women's participation in theatre, literature, and music. In effect, Killigrew was surrounded with a poetic feminist inspiration on a daily basis in Court: she was encompassed by strong intelligent women who encouraged her writing career as much as their own.

With this motivation came a short book of only thirty-three poems published soon after her death by her father. It was not abnormal for poets, especially for women, never to see their work published in their lifetime. Since Killigrew died at the young age of 25 she was only able to produce a small collection of poetry. In fact, the last three poems were only found among her papers and it is still being debated about whether or not they were actually written by her. Inside the book is also a self painted portrait of Anne and the Ode by family friend and poet John Dryden.

The Poet and the Painter

Mezzotint of Anne Killigrew, based on a self portrait she had painted.

Anne Killigrew excelled in multiple media, which was noted by contemporary poet, mentor, and family friend, John Dryden in his dedicatory ode to Killigrew. He addresses her as "the Accomplisht Young LADY Mrs Anne Killigrew, Excellent in the two Sister-Arts of Poësie, and Painting." Scholars believe that Kelligrew painted a total of 15 paintings; however, only four are known to exist today.

Many of her paintings display biblical and mythological imagery. Yet, Killigrew was also skilled at portraits, and her works include a self-portrait and a portrait of James, Duke of York. Some of her poetry references her own paintings, such as her poem "On a Picture Painted by her self, representing two Nimphs of DIANA's, one in a posture to Hunt, the other Batheing." Both her poems and her paintings place emphasis on women and nature, suggesting female rebellion in a male-dominated society. Contemporary critics noted her exceptional skill in both mediums, with John Dryden addressing his dedicatory

John Dryden and critical reception

Killigrew is best known for being the subject of John Dryden's famous, extolling ode, which praises Killigrew for her beauty, virtue, and literary talent. However, Dryden was one of several contemporary admirers of Killigrew, and the posthumous collection of her work published in 1686 included several additional poems commending her literary merit, irreproachable piety, and personal charm.

Nonetheless, critics often disagree about the nature of Dryden's ode: some believe his praise to be too excessive, and even ironic. These individuals condemn Killigrew for using well worn and conventional topics, such as death, love, and the human condition, in her poetry and pastoral dialogues. In fact, Alexander Pope, a prominent critic, as well as the leading poet of the time, labelled her work "crude" and "unsophisticated." As a young poet who had only distributed her work via manuscript prior to her death, it is possible that Killigrew was not ready to see her work published so soon.

Some say Dryden defended all poets because he believed them to be teachers of moral truths; thus, he felt Killigrew, as an inexperienced yet dedicated poet, deserved his praise. However, Anthony Wood in his 1721 essay defends Dryden's praise, confirming that Killigrew "was equal to, if not superior" to any of the compliments lavished upon her. Furthermore, Wood asserts that Killigrew must have been well received in her time, otherwise “her Father would never have suffered them to pass the Press” after her death.

Authorship controversy

Then, there is the question of the last three poems that were found among her papers. They seem to be in her handwriting, which is why Killigrew's father added them to her book. The poems are about the despair the author has for another woman, and could possibly be autobiographical if they are in fact by Killigrew. Some of her other poems are about failed friendships, possibly with Anne Finch, so this assumption may have some validity.

An early death

Killigrew died of smallpox on 16 June 1685, when she was only 25 years old. She is buried in the Chancel of the Savoy Chapel (dedicated to St John the Baptist) where a monument was built in her honour, but has since been destroyed by a fire.


  1. Alexandreis
  2. To the Queen
  3. A Pastoral Dialogue
  4. On Death
  5. Upon Being Contented With A Little
  6. On Billinda
  7. On an Atheist
  8. On Galla
  9. A Farewell to Worldly Joys
  10. The Complaint of a Lover
  11. Love, the Soul of Poetry
  12. To my Lady Berkeley
  13. St. John the Baptist
  14. Herodias
  15. Nimphs of Diana's
  16. An Invective against Gold
  17. The Miseries of Man
  18. Verses
  19. Queen Katherine
  20. My Lord Colrane
  21. The Discontent
  22. A Pastoral Dialogue
  23. A Pastoral Dialogue
  24. On my Aunt Mrs. A. K.
  25. On a Young Lady
  26. On the Duchess of Grafton
  27. Penelope to Ulysses
  28. An Epitaph on Herself
  29. An Ode
  30. Young Gallant
  31. Cloris Charmes
  32. Upon a Little Lady
  33. Motions of Eudora

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