by George J. Dance

Henrietta Maria av Frankrike - Skoklosters slott - 88967

Mary Villiers, Duchess of Richmond and Lennox (1622-1685). Portrait by Henrietta Maria av Frankrike (1609-1669), circa 1640. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Ephelia (1678-1681 fl.) was the pseudonym of an English poet who published in the late 17th century.


Nothing is known of Ephelia beyond her single collection of poetry (Female Poems on Several Occasions, 1679) plus 4 other poems: political broadsheets and a manuscript elegy. She also wrote a play, The Pair-royal of Coxcombs, of which only fragments survive.[1]

She was an admirer of poet Aphra Behn, who inspired her to write:

When first your strenuous polite lines I read,
At once it wonder and amazement bred,
To see such things flow from a woman's pen,
As might be envied by the wittiest men.[2]


Her poetry, which is mainly autobiographical (even confessional), tells of a love affair with a gentleman identified as "Strephon," who treats her callously:

One day she meets Strephon, or J.G., whose surname appears from an acrostic to have been Gilbert, and she falls in love with him at first sight. He is much older than she, and does not for some time respond to her passion; but by degrees he melts to her, and they are engaged to be married. J.G., however, is offered a valuable appointment in the factory at Tangiers, and he rides away under her bower-caves, like a false knight in a ballad, and sets sail without even bidding her farewell. She hears first a rumour that he is paying court to a lady of wealth in Morocco, and then that he had married 'This, the best-born among the Afric maids'."[3]

In Strephon's absence, Ephelia is courted by "Clovis," who then rejects her for "Marina." When Strephon finally comes back to London, he does not even contact her until 6 days after his return.[4]

"Ephelia loudly bewails her fate and Strephon's unkindness," Edmund Gosse says of the book, "and presents the public with a volume of poems in which every shade of emotion, as it passed through her mind, has been conscientiously transferred to verse. The result is extraordinary."[3]


Ephelia's identity is still unknown.

In 1914, Gosse speculated that she was the daughter of Katherine Philips (known as "the matchless Orinda"), who similarly wrote autobiographical poetry under a pseudonym:

we are told that Ephelia was a certain Miss Joan Philips. I do not know whether I start too wild a theory when I acknowledge that it has several times crossed my mind that Ephelia may have been Orinda's only daughter, who, as we have said, eventually married a Mr. Wogan, of Pembrokeshire. This daughter seems to have been born about 1656, and accordingly would be twenty-three in 1679. The portrait of Ephelia affixed to her poems, and the description she gives of her person would tally closely enough with this hypothesis; and she expressly speaks of herself as deprived of her parents in early life, and as having soon after lost the property which they bequeathed to her.... the poems of Joan Philips are closely modelled upon those of Katherine Philips, even to the form of her addresses to royalty and to the enthusiastic pseudonyms which she gives to her friends. That she does not refer to any such relationship would be amply accounted for by her desire to conceal her name, which the extremely confidential nature of her effusions made imperative.[3]

Writing in 1990, Marilyn Williamson says that she "is reputed to be Joan Philips." However, Williamson adds that "her identity is a mystery to this day."[2]

Germaine Greer advanced the theory that she was Cary Frazier, the mistress of the earl of Musgrave, whose later rejection by Musgrave strongly parallels Strephon's rejection of Ephelia.[5]

Maureen Mulvihill, who has been called "The leading twentieth-century authority on the Ephelia poems,"[5] in her 2003 book Ephelia advanced the theory that Ephelia was actually Mary Villiers (later Mary Stuart, Duchess of Lennox and Richmond) (1622-1685); the woman, called "Eugenia" in Female Poems, to whom the book is dedicated. She has continued to present evidence for her theory via a mailing list and on a website, Thumbprintts of Ephelia.[6]

Mulvihill's identification has been accepted by the English Short Title Catalogue and the Librarians Information Online Network.[6] The Orlando Project of Cambridge University states categorically that: "In more than a dozen years since Maureen E. Mulvihill identified Ephelia with Mary Villiers Stuart, Duchess of Richmond, the attribution has been accepted by all standard reference sources and has had no serious printed counter-identification."[1] However, writing in the Review of English Studies in 2007, Harold Love stated, as categorically, that "the evidence presented by Mulvihill establishes no acceptable foundation for her attribution."[6]

Almost all attempts to identify Ephelia, as Warren Cherniak has pointed out, rely on "two assumptions: that they are autobiographical, and that they are indeed 'Female Poems,' the work of a seventeenth-century woman poet. Neither of these assumptions is justified."[5]


  • A Poem to His Sacred Majesty, on the Plot. London: Henry Brome, 1678.
  • Female Poems on Several Occasions. London : William Downing, for James Courtney, 1679.
  • Poems by Ephelia (c. 1679): The premier facsimile edition of the collected manuscript and published poems; with a critical essay and apparatus (edited by Maureen Esther Mulvihill). Delmar, NY: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1992.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[7]

See alsoEdit



  1. 1.0 1.1 Ephelia, Orlando: Women's writings in the British Isles from the beginnings to the present, Univerity of Cambridge. Web, Mar. 15, 2017.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Marilyn Williamson, "Poets: Ephelia (fl. 1679) and Sarah Fyge Field Egerton (1669-1723)," Raising Their Voices: British women writers, 1650-1750, Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1990, 154. Google Books, Web, Mar. 15, 2017.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Edmund Gosse, ""The Matchless Orinda," Seventeenth Century Studies, 1914, 229-58. English Poetry, 1579-1830, Center for Applied Technologies in the Humanities, Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University. Web, Mar. 15, 2017.
  4. Williamson, 155.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Warren Cherniak, "Ephelia's Voice: The authorship of 'Female Poems' (1679)," Philological Quarterly, Spring 1995. Questia, Web, Mar. 15, 2017.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Harold Love, "'Ephelia' and the Duchess," Review of English Studies, New Series, 58:234 (Apr., 2007), 175-185, Oxford University Press. JStor, Web, Mar. 15, 2017.
  7. Search results = au:Ephelia, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Mar. 15, 2017.

External linksEdit

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