A sixteenth-century love poem in Latin written by an Englishwoman has been discovered pasted inside a 1561 edition of Chaucer- the first discovery of its kind.
Medieval scholar Elaine Treharne made the discovery at the rare book room at West Virginia University and has researched its author. The poem was written by Elizabeth Dacre to Anthony Cooke,when she was around eighteen. Treharne’s research suggests that Cooke, a tutor to King Edward VI, may have been Elizabeth’s tutor. The poem’s cheeky, intimate tone and the subject matter within its Elizabethan context (as well as the fact it’s ‘a tad rude’) have led Treharne to suggest an illicit love affair between tutor and pupil.
While she went on to become a powerful and influential woman in Elizabeth I’s circle, Dacre was also a Roman Catholic (at a time when this was getting more and more unpopular), writing to her Protestant tutor. It is the first pre-19th century love poem written by a woman in Latin ever discovered, and the fact that it was found in Chaucer is also noteworthy- women’s libraries at this time were more likely to consist of romances and moral tracts.
To Anthony Cooke
The goodbye I tried to speak but could not utter with my tongue by my eyes I delivered back to yours.
That sad love that haunts the countenance in parting contained the voice that I concealed from display, just as Penelope, when her husband Ulysses was present, was speechless – the reason is that sweet love of a gaze.
Then afterwards Ovid sends greeting muses to the absent, just as to you, distant, I have sent my small note.
I hope then that silent Dacre will not be scorned by you for the mind has suffered and held fast in faithfulness to you.
Believe that among servants there is not any more faithful:
as Plancus Plotinus thus will Dacre be to you.
I remain your servant Plancus, more faithful than any;
to this servant Dacre, you remain sweet Coke.
Long enough am I now; but if your shape should swell under its grateful burden, then shall I become to you a narrow girdle