Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: September 2009

Chapter 4 - Sad delight: Theology and Marian iconography in Aemilia Lanyer's Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum


A majority of the texts we have examined thus far either focus on, allude to, or parody Mary Magdalene – the Magna Pecatrix and Beata Dilectrix. This focus on an important female saint makes clear that the early modern grammar of religious melancholy is often construed as “feminine.” Throughout the literature of tears tradition, the ability to weep and the modes of pneumatic knowing revealed in and through weeping are thought to be “feminine” gifts. In this chapter, I would like to examine what is at stake in this gendering by making explicit the feminization of tears that has thus far remained relatively implicit. I will do this by examining what is arguably the most thoughtful, and certainly the most politically charged, early modern representation of godly sorrow as “feminine,” namely Aemilia Lanyer's Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum. More precisely, I will consider how Lanyer grounds both her poetic and priestly authority, as well as the Virgin Mary's priestly authority, on the early modern practice of figuring divine sorrow as feminine.

In a recent summary of Aemilia Lanyer's well-documented efforts to represent women as possessing priestly authority, Micheline White observes that in Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum “the Countess of Cumberland exercises the healing power of St. Peter's keys … the Countess of Cumberland and her daughter are ‘shepherdesses’ who heal and feed Christ's ‘flock,’ and [other] virtuous women are authorized to anoint themselves with ‘Aaron's oil’ and feed each other with the Word”.

White, Micheline, “A Woman with Saint Peter's Keys? Aemilia Lanyer's Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (1611) and the Priestly Gifts of Women,” Criticism: A Quarterly for Literature and the Arts 45.3 (2003), 323.
Boyd McBride, Kari, “Sacred Celebration: The Patronage Poems,” in Grossman, Marshall (ed.), Aemilia Lanyer: Gender, Genre, and the Canon (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1998), pp. 60–82
McGrath, Lynette, “‘Let Us Have Our Libertie Againe’: Aemilia Lanier's 17th-Century Feminist Voice,” Women's Studies 20 (1992), 342
Wall, Wendy, The Imprint of Gender: Authorship and Publication in the English Renaissance (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993), pp. 319–30
Keohane, Catherine, “‘The Blindest Weaknesse Be Not Over-bold’: Aemilia Lanyer's Radical Unfolding of the Passion,” ELH 64 (1997), 359–89.
Woods, Susanne, Aemilia Lanyer: A Renaissance Woman Poet (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 138.
Beilin, Elaine V., Redeeming Eve: Women Writers of the English Renaissance (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1987), p. 182.
Gristwood, Sarah, Arbella: England's Lost Queen (London: Bantam Press, 2003), pp. 89–98
Cunnar, Eugene R., “Crashaw's ‘Sancta Maria Dolorum’: Controversy and Coherence,” in Roberts, John R. (ed.), New Perspectives on the Life and Art of Richard Crashaw (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1990), pp. 99–126.
Hamburgh, Harvey E., “The Problem of Lo Spasimo of the Virgin in Cinquecento Paintings of the Descent from the Cross,” Sixteenth-Century Journal 12.4 (1981), 45
Journet, Charles, “Notre Dame des Sept Douleurs,” Les Cahiers de la Vierge II (1934), 56.
Steinberg, Leo, “Pontormo's Capponi Chapel,” Art Bulletin 56 (1974), 386–87.
Hodgson, Elizabeth, “Prophecy and Gendered Mourning in Lanyer's Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum,” SEL 43.1 (2003), 101–16
Phillippy, Patricia, Women, Death and Literature in Post-Reformation England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 39–48.
Ellington, Donna S., “Impassioned Mother or Passive Icon: The Virgin's Role in Late Medieval and Early Modern Passion Sermons,” Renaissance Quarterly 6.22 (1995), 254.
Von Simson, Otto G., “Compassio and Co-Redemptio in Rogier Van Der Weyden's Descent from the Cross,” Art Bulletin 35 (1953), 9–16.
Baier, David, “Mary at the Foot of the Cross,” Franciscan Studies 23.2. (March 1942), 3–11
Carol, J. B., “Our Lady's Part in the Redemption According to Seventeenth-Century Writers,” Franciscan Studies 24 (1943), 3–20
Cardile, Paul Y., “Mary as Priest: Mary's Sacerdotal Position in the Visual Arts,” Arte Cristiana 72 (1984), 199–208.
Duffy, Eamon, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England c.1400–c.1580 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992), p. 259.
Peters, Christine, Patterns of Piety: Women, Gender and Religion in Late Medieval and Reformation England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), p. 237.
Andrews, Lancelot, Ninety-Six Sermons (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1841), vol. 2, p. 123.
Lodge, Thomas, Prosopopeia, Containing the Teares of the Holy, Blessed, and Sanctified Marie, the Mother of God (London, 1596), C8r, D1v, D4v, D1r, H8r.
Stanbury, Sarah, “The Virgin's Gaze: Spectacle and Transgression in Middle English Lyrics of the Passion,” PMLA 106 (1991), 1083–93.
Neff, Amy, “The Pain of Compassio: Mary's Labor at the Foot of the Cross,” Art Bulletin 80.2 (June 1998), 256.
Spirey Ellington, Donna, From Sacred Body to Angelic Soul: Understanding Mary in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2001), p. 148.
Shuger, Debora, Sacred Rhetoric: The Christian Grand Style in the English Renaissance (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988), p. 133.
Beacon, Thomas, The Catechism of Thomas Becon … With Other Pieces Written by Him, ed. Ayre, John (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1844), p. 322.
Dolan, Francis E., The Whores of Babylon: Catholicism, Gender, and Seventeenth-Century Print Culture (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999).
Sidney, Philip, “An Apology for Poetry,” in The Golden Hind: An Anthology of Elizabethan Prose and Poetry, ed. Lamson, Roy and Smith, Hallett (New York: W. W. Norton, 1956), p. 275.
Walker Bynum, Caroline, Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982).
O'Meara, Thomas, Mary in Protestant and Catholic Theology (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1966), p. 117.
Barroll, Leeds, Anna of Denmark, Queen of England: A Cultural Biography (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001).
Stull, William L., “‘Why Are Not Sonnets Made of Thee?’ A New Context for the ‘Holy Sonnets’ of Donne, Herbert, and Milton,” Modern Philology 80.2 (Nov. 1982), 129–35).
Hackett's, HelenVirgin Mother, Maiden Queen: Elizabeth I and the Cult of the Virgin Mary (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995).
Lewalski, Barbara, “Re-writing Patriarchy and Patronage: Margaret Clifford, Anne Clifford, and Aemilia Lanyer,” Yearbook of English Studies 21 (1991), 92.
Warner, Marina, Alone of All her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary (New York: Vintage Books, 1976)
Wiesner, Merry, “Luther and Women: The Death of Two Marys,” in Jim Obelkevich, Roper, Lyndal, and Samuel, Raphael (eds.), Disciplines of Faith: Studies in Religion, Politics, and Patriarchy (London: Routledge, 1987)
Kristeva, Julia, “Stabat Mater,” in Tales of Love (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983), pp. 234–63.