Biography, Women's History

Women’s History Month: Anne Halkett

On the 2 March 1652, the seventeenth-century diarist we know as Anne Halkett acquired that name when she married Sir James Halkett. She was thirty-three, and a serious Anglican who consulted a clergyman before entering into wedlock with a Presbyterian.

This was not her first marital venture. At twenty-one she had herself initiated marriage negotiations with Thomas Howard (later second Baron Howard of Escrick), whose sister was her friend. Her mother, however, disapproved of his family’s (parliamentarian) politics and judged her daughter’s behaviour disgracefully forward. (Anne had sat on Thomas’s knee and let him kiss her. After promising not to see him again, she met him with her eyes blindfolded.) He married somebody else, and after brief emotional collapse she quite quickly decided that he was not worth her regret.

Three or four years after that she got involved in royalist ploting, and developed a relationship with a more experienced spy, Colonel Joseph Bampfield. He was separated from his wife, and later claimed that his wife was dead (which he may or may not have believed himself). John Loftis, editor of Halkett’s Memoirs, thinks that she actually married Bampfield, probably in the Netherlands, before it emerged that his wife was definitely alive (a piece of news which he did not break to her, leaving it to be communicated by none other than Sir James Halkett). Even after this she helped Bampfield once more by protecting him from arrest.

She married Sir James Halkett only after much hesitation. He was a genuine widower, with four children who were grown-up or near it; they were married fourteen years, apparently happily, before he died. Lady Halkett bore four children of her own, but only one lived to grow up and even that one died before her. After she was widowed she returned to practising medicine (as she had done before in wartime) and took up teaching. She also wrote her autobiography (drawing on old diaries), which she says she was provoked to do by a “report raised of me that I was a witch.” We are lucky that it has (mostly) survived.

This information is provided by Dr Isobel Grundy, University of Alberta, and comes from Orlando: Women’s Writing in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present, Cambridge University Press, by subscription. Click here for more information.

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