Perdita woman: Mary More


Mary More was a writer and portrait artist who lived in London during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Little information about her life is extant. The date and place of her birth are unknown, as are the dates of her two marriages and the identities of her husbands. From her first marriage she had two children: Richard and Elizabeth Waller. Elizabeth Waller married Alexander Pitfield at the church of St Leonard, Shoreditch, in April 1680. She was then seventeen years old and her mother was said to be living in the parish of St Andrew's Undershaft, Bishopsgate. Richard Waller (c.1660-1715) was a friend of Robert Hooke and acquaintance of John Evelyn, who served as secretary of the Royal Society and translated numerous scientific works from Latin, French and Italian. While, as his DNB biographer notes, nothing is known of Richard Waller's education or the sources of his estates (Mulligan, 'Waller, Richard'), it can reasonably be assumed that he was brought up in a household where scientific and other intellectual interests were encouraged.

Of More's portraits, only one is now known to exist: a copy of a Holbein portrait of Thomas Cromwell, presented by More herself to the Bodleian Library in 1674 and still held there. Otherwise she is best known for her treatise 'The Woman's Right', in which she aims 'to prove a greater equality between Husbands and Wives than is allowed and practised in England' (Harley MS 3918, fol.49r). The treatise was dedicated to Elizabeth Waller before the latter's marriage, and so presumably dates from the 1670s. More's self-identification, both on the title-leaf and in conclusion to her dedicatory letter as 'M.M.' implies that by the time of writing she was already married to her second husband (fols 46r and 48r), while her use of tenses also suggests that he was still alive at the time the treatise was composed. However, in her letter to young Elizabeth, More is careful to stress that she has not been motivated to write in defence of women because of any ill-treatment she has received from either of her husbands.

'The Woman's Right' provoked a misogynistic reply, 'The Woman's Right Proved False', from the Oxford don (and friend of the Earl of Rochester) Robert Whitehall. Whitehall and More also exchanged verses; and the only known copy of 'The Woman's Right' is extant in his manuscript miscellany, where it is preceded by his refutation. The treatise testifies to More's detailed familiarity with the Bible, and suggests that she may also have known Latin and possibly Greek.

The date of More's death is unknown, but must predate her son Richard's death in January 1715.

British Library: Harley 3918, fols 46r-58r
The Woman's Right (c.1670s)
(Author) Mary More