Perdita woman: Lucy Hutchinson


Lucy Apsley was born in 1620 in the Tower of London. Her father was Sir Allen Apsley, then Lieutenant of the Tower of London. He gave his wife, Lucy St John, a generous personal allowance which she used to assist the prisoners in the Tower, including financing the experiments of Sir Walter Raleigh and learning chemistry and medicine from him. In a fragmentary autobiographical manuscript (now lost but printed with the first editions of her memoirs of her husband), Lucy Apsley Hutchinson relates how her pregnant mother dreamed of catching a falling star and understood the dream to mean that "she should have a daughter of some extraordinary eminency". As a result Lucy St John Apsley lavished on her daughter an expensive education in "languages, music, dancing, writing and needlework" (Keeble, 14). Sir Allen Apsley died in 1630 when the younger Lucy was ten, and her mother remarried in 1632, but shortly thereafter separated from her new husband, Sir Leventhorpe Francke. After the separation Lucy lived with various relatives.

Lucy writes that she was "averse from all but my book" from a very early age, shunning music and dancing but outstripping her brothers in Latin and attending sermons from the age of four. By her late teens she had begun composing poetry and songs that won the admiration of many acquaintances. In 1638 Lucy's younger sister Barbara lodged at the house of court musician Charles Coleman near Richmond to learn to play the lute, along with a young John Hutchinson. After finding some Latin books that belonged to Lucy Apsley and hearing one of her songs played by the musicians, John Hutchinson became increasingly eager to meet the erudite elder sister. Meanwhile, Lucy St John Apsley was conducting marriage negotiations on behalf of her elder daughter. John Hutchinson, after the usual romantic misunderstandings, eventually discovered that his beloved was free, and persuaded her to marry him. Although Lucy was disfigured by smallpox towards the end of their engagement, nevertheless the wedding went forward on 3 July 1638.

In the first years of their marriage the couple lived in seclusion with the bride's parents and devoted their time to religious learning, embracing a militant Presbyterianism and ultimately shunning adult baptism. They had seven surviving children. In 1641 they moved to the Hutchinson family home of Owthorpe in Nottinghamshire, and from 1642 John Hutchinson became involved in the Parliamentary defence of Nottingham. In 1643 he was appointed governor of Nottingham Castle, and Lucy assisted by tending the wounded troops throughout the war years. In 1649 after much personal deliberation John Hutchinson signed Charles II's death warrant, but although he initially served on the Council of State he soon became disillusioned with Cromwell. In 1653 the couple retired to Owthorpe, where Lucy began to work on her translation of Lucretius' De Rerum Natura (British Library Add. MS 19333).

At the Restoration in 1660 her husband was in danger as a regicide. Lucy Hutchinson used her contacts to secure a pardon for him and disobeyed him to pen a letter of recantation in his name. Her efforts did save him from execution and their estate from sequestration, but nevertheless John Hutchinson was arrested and imprisoned in 1663 for alleged involvement in a Fifth Monarchist plot. He was poorly treated while imprisoned and died in Sandown Castle, Kent, in 1664, leaving his wife devastated and determined to clear his name. She wrote a series of polemical elegies (later copied into Nottinghamshire Archives DD/HU 2) and turned her journal of the war years (British Library Add. MSS 25901, 39779, and 46172N) into a lengthy memoir documenting John Hutchinson's political commitments (Nottinghamshire Archives DD/HU 4). It was probably about this time that she began working on her long poem on the book of Genesis, Order and Disorder (Beinecke Library Osborn MS fb.100, partially printed 1679). She was active in a small circle of religious intellectuals that included Arthur Annesley, Earl of Anglesey, Anne Wilmot, Countess of Rochester, and John Owen, whose London conventicle she attended in the early 1670s. In the last decade of her life she translated Owen's Theologoumena Pantodapa and wrote a treatise on religion addressed to her daughter Barbara, as well as overseeing the copying of her Lucretius manuscript (while disingenuously adding a preface that disowned the work) and seeing the first five cantos of Order and Disorder into print. She died in 1681 and is buried at Owthorpe.

Biography by Erica Longfellow.

British Library: Add. MS 25901
Civil War Diary
Lucy (Apsley) Hutchinson (Author)
Short entry.

Nottinghamshire Archives: DD/Hu1
Lucy Hutchinson's Commonplace Book ()
Lucy Hutchinson

Nottinghamshire Archives: DD/Hu 2
Elegies (Written after the death of Colonel Hutchinson in 1664.)
Lucy Hutchinson

Nottinghamshire Archives: DD/Hu 3
Lucy Hutchinson's Religious Commonplace Book ()
Lucy Hutchinson

British Library: Add. MS 19333
De Rerum Natura ( early mid 17th c.)
Lucy Hutchinson ( Translator)

Beinecke Library: MS fb. 100
Order and Disorder (late 17th c.)
Lucy Hutchinson (Author)
Short entry.

Northamptonshire Record Office: Fitzwilliam Collection, misc., volume 793
On the principles of the Christian religion (mid 17th c.)
Lucy Hutchinson (Author)
Short entry.

Nottinghamshire Archives: DD/Hu 4
Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson (Written after the death of Colonel Hutchinson in 1664.)
Lucy Hutchinson
Full entry.

Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies: D/EP F32
Diary, Volume 4 (1706-1709)
(Author, Scribe) Sarah Cowper