Perdita woman: Elizabeth Burnet


Elizabeth Blake-Berkely-Burnet, born 8.11.1661, was eldest daughter of Sir Richard Blake of Southhampton and Elizabeth Bathurst. When she was 17, Dr. Fell, guardian of Robert Berkely, arranged Berkely’s marriage to her. His mother was Catholic, and at the accession of James II she persuaded him to go into exile in Holland. There she met the Burnets and became a friend of Mary. Berkely died in 1693 and was buried at his home, Spetchly. She developed a friendship with Dr. Stillingfleet, bishop of Worcester: in her widowhood she stayed with him and with Robert Wylde, and her sister, the wife of Judge Dormer. John Locke was their neighbour in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and she began a friendship with him: he sent her his Reply to Stillingfleet (1697) and she responded with a detailed critique. She married Gilbert Burnet, Bishop of Salisbury, in May or June 1700. (The Correspondence of John Locke ed. E. S. De Beer, 8 vols (Oxford: Clarendon, 1976-1989, 6, no. 2315, 7, no. 2879) It may have been while living in Salisbury that she became friendly with John Norris of Bemerton. She had five step-children: her own two children died in infancy. She and her husband had a close relationship with the Churchills, the Duke and Duchess of Marlborough. She was a lifelong Whig (her husband said that her zeal for politics was perhaps ‘her only excess’). Her health was always poor--a letter to John Locke describes her symptoms in detail. He replied telling her to do less reading, which she refused to do.( The Correspondence, 6, nos 2491, 2511). She introduced the author Catharine Trotter to him in 1702--she had written A Defence of the Essay of Human Understanding (1702)-- and asked him to give her money, as she herself had done. (The Correspondence, 7, nos 3153, 3164) In 1707 she took a trip to Holland for her health, accompanied by her step-daughter Elizabeth. She took two of her stepsons to university in Leyden and fulfilled many business and political errands enjoined upon her by her husband and Sarah Churchill. Detailed journals by herself and her stepdaughter exist of this visit. She ‘spent as much time, as she could get to her self, in Writing upon Divine, and Moral Subjects’ (A Method of Devotion, p. xv). Her only published work was A Method of Devotion, or Rules for Holy and Devout Living (1708) first composed in her early twenties. Among her manuscripts in the Bodleian Library is the undated ‘A Dialogue on Marriage’ (MS Rawl D. 1092 ff.157-203) of which only the second quire is preserved. It takes the form of a dialogue between friends in which such topics are discussed as the legalities of marriage, the power of the parents, the entertaining of friends and the furnishing of houses. It includes some satire on contemporary manners. She died on May 29th 1707. See The Correspondence of John Locke ed. E. S. De Beer, 8 vols (Oxford: Clarendon, 1976-1989,; and ‘Some Account of Her Life’ in A Method of Devotion (1709) dictated by her husband to the Archdeacon of Oxford.

Bodleian Library: MS Rawl. D 1092 ff. 136r-156v
Book of spiritual memoranda ( 1701-1709)
Elizabeth Burnet (Author)