Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Bathsua Makin and the Education of Women

Bathsua Reginald Makin (elegy addressed to the Countess of Huntingdon, 24 June 1649)


Although Bathsua Makin is a noted writer and proponent of education for women, much of her life is not well documented. Her date of birth is not known (even the year isn't certain), and the year of her death is also unknown. So I've linked this post to an event in Makin's life that can be dated--on 24 June 1649, Makin wrote a Latin elegy to Lucy Hastings, the dowager countess of Huntingdon, commemorating the death, by smallpox, of the countess's nineteen-year-old son, Henry.

Bathsua Makin, c. 1640-48,
engraving by William Marshall
Bathsua Reginald was the elder daughter of a schoolmaster named Henry Reginald. (We don't know the name of her mother.) Her year of birth is generally given as "c. 1600"--her younger sister, Ithamaria, was baptized at the church of St. Dunstan and All Saints in Stepney in 1601.

Henry Reginald ran a school in London, and a former student was to note that Bathsua had "an exact knowledge in the Greek, Latin, and French tongues," as well as "some insight" into Hebrew and "Syriac." Indeed, she "doubtless" had "much more learning" than her father, who was "a mere pretender to it."

Aside from this later recollection, the earliest clear information about the young Bathsua's life comes from Musa virginea, published in 1616 by Henry Reginald, a collection of his daughter's  poems in praise of King James and other members of the royal family composed in six languages: Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Spanish, French, and German. (A gift of praise the king obviously appreciated: when he received the volume, the king is reported to have asked, "But can she spin?") On the book's title page, Reginald says that the book is published in his daughter's "sixteenth year of age."

A second publication may be dated from the same year--a book published by her father, probably in 1616, contains a demonstration of a new system of shorthand, which seems to be Bathsua's original creation. Bathsua may have published a pamphlet, under her own name, on the system--a 1619 title page for her Index Radiographia is all that remains. 

The young woman was already gaining a reputation; by 1619, the king's physician wrote that she was "eruditiones eximiae virgini" (an exceptionally learned young woman), and part of her exceptional learning may have been her medical knowledge; a noted London doctor was later to claim that she had accumulated a trove of medical "receipts" (Sir Walter Raleigh's medical receipts, to be exact!), and that she had treated and cured one of Charles I's chaplains. 

Bathsua Reginald married Richard Makin, a minor court servant in the court of both James I and Charles I, on 5 March 1622, and over the course of the next two decades, she gave birth to eight children (1623, 1627, 1628, 1629, 1630, 1633, and 1642). 

But, while Richard Makin lost his place at court by 1640, Bathsua gained one. Although it is not at all clear how, she had become the tutor of Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of Charles I, responsible for instructing the princess in classical and modern languages and mathematics. She continued in this position at least until 1644, when she writes about Elizabeth's skills at age nine, and perhaps until the death of the princess in 1650. 

After the death of Princess Elizabeth, Makin suffered financially. In 1655 she petitioned for payment "of the arrears" for her "attendance on the late king's children," but this petition was dismissed. The death of her husband Richard, in 1659, was a personal loss and further contributed to her financial difficulties. But, at some point, she found another influential pupil, Lucy Hastings, countess of Huntingdon, whom she instructed in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, and Spanish. She also taught the countess's son, Theophilus, who would become the seventh earl of Huntingdon. When her role in the household began isn't clear, though her elegy for the countess's oldest son, Henry, was dated 1649. In 1664, when Lucy Hastings died, Makin also wrote an elegy dedicated to her. Letters from 1668 show Makin's ongoing connections to the family. 

By 1673, Makin had established her own school, in Tottenham, designed to educate the daughters of gentlemen; her Essay to Revive the Ancient Education of Gentlewomen in Religion, Manners, Arts, and Tongues, published in that year, provides a rationale for educating women (or, at least, some women); delivers a brief history of women’s accomplishments in a range of fields, including languages, philosophy, and mathematics; includes the names of women renowned for their learning; and serves as an advertisement for her school.

For Makin, education for women is not only a practical advantage but a moral necessity, enabling women, like men, "to employ their lives to those noble and excellent ends for which the omnipotent and all-wise Creator made them, which are the glory of God, the eternal happiness of their immortal souls, and to be useful in their places."

Interestingly, while objecting to the "barbarous custom to breed woman low," Makin's "essay" is actually composed in the voices of not one but two "men," who exchange letters, one male writer arguing in favor of women's education, the other opposing it. 

It's not clear whether Makin's school was a success, how long it was open, how many students she may have taught, and who some of those students may have been. It isn't even clear when she died--the last letter from her that survives is dated November 1675 and shows that she was still living in London. There are no death or burial records.

The best account of Makin's life is Frances Teague's entry for her in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biograpphy--access is by subscription, however (which I don't have--I have to get it via Interlibrary Loan, so that's another option). Teague also published Bathsua Makin: Woman of Learning, which seems to be out of print, though copies are available. There is also a wonderful chapter on Makin, "Bathsua Makin: Female Scholars and the Reformation of Learning," in Carol Pal's Republic of Women: Rethinking the Republic of Letters in the Seventeenth Century.

Makin’s Essay to Revive the Ancient Education of Gentlewomen in Religion, Manners, Arts, and Tongues is available online at A Celebration of Women Writers.