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Margaret Cavendish

Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle (1623-1673) was an English aristocrat and writer, best known for the biography of her husband, published in 1667.

Born Margaret Lucas, she was the youngest sister of prominent Royalists, Sir John Lucas and Sir Charles Lucas. She became an attendant of Queen Henrietta Maria, and travelled with her into exile in France, living for a time at the court of the young king Louis XIV. She became the second wife of William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle in 1645, when he was a mere Marquis. He was immensely rich, and was appointed governor of the Prince of Wales by King Charles I of England, but was dismissed in the course of the political machinations leading up to the English Civil War. At the Restoration in 1660, he was made a duke, and his wife became a duchess. She had a great ear for gossip, and it is the intimate secrets of her contemporaries that are the main point of interest in her work.

She was a poet, philosopher, essayist, playwright and, some say, an efficient and tireless self-publicist. She took the - for a Duchess - unprecedented step of publishing her work under her own name which infringed the then prevailing ideas of propriety. Samuel Pepys called her "mad, conceited and ridiculous". Among her works is New Blazing World which could be described as the first science fiction novel. Whatever the quality of her work, she was the only woman in contemporary England to have published more than one book.

As a philosopher, Margaret Cavendish rejected the Aristotelianism of the 17th century, with its picture of nature as a great machine, and the views of Thomas Hobbes, Descartes, Boyle and members of the Royal Society of London.

With the advent of the Women's Movement, Margaret Cavendish has become a role model for today's women. There is a Margaret Cavendish Society at the University of Dundee.

Some of her works:

Several of these works and many lesser-known writings are available from the Women Writers Project.


Mad Madge by Katie Whitaker (ISBN 070116929X)