Perdita woman: Jane Barker


Jane Barker (1652-1732) poet, novelist and Jacobite polemicist, was born in Blatherwick, a village in Northamptonshire. The parish register for Blatherwick records the date of her baptism as 17 May 1652 (Shiner Wilson xvii-xviii).

Barker was one of four children born to Thomas Barker and Anne Connock. Her father's lineage is obscure, but he appears to have held a position at Charles I's court. As Carol Shiner Wilson has observed, Jane Barker's burial notice located in St. Germain, France, identifies her father as a former "Secretary to the Great Seal of England," which implies that he worked for the Lord Chancellor (Shiner Wilson xviii). On her mother's side, Barker was descended from the Connocks, a gentry family from Cornwall.

In 1662 the family moved to Wilsthorp in Lincolnshire and Barker left the girls' school that her novels indicate she had been attending in Putney (Shiner Wilson xxi). Whilst at Wilsthorp Barker read extensively in the fields of poetry, classics and medicine. Her brother Edward, who studied at Oxford, is portrayed in her novel Love Intrigues (1713) as assisting Barker's fictional alter ego, Galesia, in her studies. Edward's death shortly after he received his MA in 1675 appears to have affected Barker very deeply and her sorrow at his loss recurs as a theme in both her poetry and her prose writings (King, The Magdalen Manuscript 19).

At some point, probably in the 1670s, Barker established friendships with a group of students at Cambridge with whom she exchanged coterie verse (King, Jane Barker, Exile 23). In her novel A Patch-Work Screen for the Ladies (1723), Barker describes this supportive community of friends and shows Galesia receiving books and pamphlets from these students.

Thomas Barker died in 1681 and at some point within the next four years Barker moved to London. In the capital she became acquainted with Benjamin Crayle who was responsible for her first print publication, Poetical Recreations: Consisting of Original Poems, Songs, Odes, etc. Kathryn King has discovered that although the title page of this work bears the date 1688, the volume was actually on sale by December 1687. This indicates that the work was not written in response to the Revolution of 1688 as some critics have supposed ((King, Jane Barker, Exile 31). It is not known how Barker met Crayle. However, an advertisement which appeared at the end of a promotional list of titles by Crayle in 1685 might shed further light on their commercial relationship. The advertisement is for "Dr. Barkers Famous Gout Plaister," an item which was offered for sale at Crayle's bookshop (King, Jane Barker, Exile, 75). Although the evidence is purely circumstantial, Barker's knowledge of medicine, reflected in her novels and her poetry, and her presentation of Galesia as an amateur medical practitioner, leads King to speculate that "Dr Barker" and Jane Barker might have been the same person.

The events of Barker's life in the second half of the 1680s are obscure. However, the evidence of her manuscript poems suggests that she converted to Roman Catholicism under the influence of the Benedictines at some point in this decade. After the Revolution of 1688, Barker followed the exiled Stuart court to France. Living in St-Germain-en-Laye, Barker continued to work on the collection of manuscript poems now known as the Magdalen Manuscript (cross-reference). This manuscript is composed of three parts, the first two of which are comprised largely, although not exclusively, of poems which demonstrate Barker's commitment to Jacobitism and which comment on her conversion to Roman Catholicism. Part Three of the manuscript contains a selection of the poems that had appeared in Poetical Recreations. Due to the deterioration of her eyesight, which led to an operation for cataracts in 1696, Barker was forced to rely upon her cousin, Colonel William Connock, to act as her amanuensis for Part One of this manuscript. Twenty of the poems from the Magdalen Manuscript were copied into a presentation volume for the Jacobite Prince of Wales, James Francis Edward Stuart, later known as the Old Pretender, in commemoration of the "new century" in 1701 (King, The Magdalen Manuscript 1; Jane Barker, Exile, 122-9).

In 1704 Barker returned to Wilsthorp where she managed the farm whose leasehold she had inherited. In 1717 a niece took Barker to court over a financial disagreement and also tried to prevent her from raising two girls in her care as Catholics (King, Jane Barker, Exile 13-14). Barker's continuing commitment to Jacobitism at this stage of her life is evidenced by a letter she wrote to James Butler, second duke of Ormonde, in 1718 encouraging him to lead a Jacobite invasion of England (British Library MS Stowe 232, fol. 93) (King, Jane Barker, Exile 160).

The first decades of the eighteenth-century saw the publication of Barker's novels. Love Intrigues, or, the History of the Amours of Bosvil and Galesia appeared in 1713. This was followed in 1715 by Exilius; or, The Banish'd Roman: A New Romance: In Two Parts, Written after the Manner of Telemachus. In 1718 Barker followed these two novels with a non-fiction text; a translation of a French devotional work entitled The Christian Pilgrimage. In the 1720's, Barker published her two "patchwork" narratives: A Patch-Work Screen for the Ladies; or, Love and Virtue Recommended (1723) and The Lining of the Patch Work Screen (1726). Both of these novels feature the character of Galesia, who had previously appeared in both Love Intrigues and Poetical Recreations. Of these five works, all but The Lining of the Patch Work Screen were published by the notorious Edmund Curll.

It is not possible to keep track of Barker's movements during these years and it is conceivable that she returned to France between the publication of The Christian Pilgrimage and A Patch-Work Screen for the Ladies (King, Jane Barker, Exile 159). However, it does seem certain that she left England for France once more in 1727 (Shiner Wilson xxxi). In 1730, Barker was involved in a renewed campaign to have James II canonised. In that year, Barker sent a letter to an unnamed female addressee whom Kathryn King believes was probably the Augustinian Prioress, Mother Lucy Theresa Joseph, the former Lady Lucy Herbert. In this letter, Barker claimed that a tumour - which she enclosed in the letter - had fallen from her breast after the application of a cloth soaked in the dead king's blood. Despite other similar claims of miraculous cures, the attempt to have James canonised ended in failure (King, The Magdalen Manuscript, 9; Jane Barker, Exile 103-8).

Barker died two years after this somewhat macabre incident. Her death is recorded in the parih register of St-Germain-en-Laye as having taken place on 29 March 1732 (Shiner Wilson, xxxi). She was nearly eighty years old.

The major sources for biographical information about Jane Barker are:

King, Kathryn. Jane Barker, Exile: A Literary Career 1675-1725. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000.

King, Kathryn, and Jeslyn Medoff. "Jane Barker and Her Life (1652-1732): The Documentary Record." Eighteenth-Century Life 21 (1997): 16-38.

King, Kathryn. The Poems of Jane Barker: The Magdalen Manuscript. Oxford: Magdalen College, Occasional Paper 3, 1998.

Wilson, Carol Shiner, ed. The Galesia Trilogy and Selected Manuscript Poems of Jane Barker. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Biography by Claire Pickard.

British Library: Add. MS 21621
A Collection of Poems Referring to the times (?early 1701)
(Author)Jane Barker
(Scribe)William Connock

Magdalen College Library: MS 343
Poems on several occasions (c. 1700-1704)
(Author)Jane Barker