Mildmay Fane, 2nd Earl of Westmorland (c.1600-1666)

by John Butler

        Mildmay Fane was born around 1600, probably in Kent, to Francis Fane, first Earl of Westmorland, and his wife Lady Mary Mildmay, daughter of Queen Elizabeth's Treasurer. From around 1615 until 1617, Fane attended Emmanuel College, Cambridge, which had been founded by his grandfather, Sir Walter Mildmay. Fane served as MP for Peterborough (1620-21;1626-28) and for Kent (1625), and was created a Knight of the Bath at the time of the coronation of Charles I. He married Grace Thornhurst in 1628, and she bore him a son, Charles, and five daughters. After her death in 1637, Fane remarried in 1638 to Mary Townshend, daughter of Sir Horace Vere. She bore Fane a son, Vere, and four daughters.
        Fane is best-known for his friendship with the poet Robert Herrick, whom he knew from the 1620's and who dedicated several poems to him. Like Herrick, Fane lived retired in the country and dedicated his life to letters rather than to the public career which might have been expected of him, given his high aristocratic birth. Fane's involvement in the Civil War was short: in 1642 he was ordered to raise troops for the King in Northamptonshire, and served very briefly in the Prince of Wales's Regiment of Horse, but was arrested by Parliament. After paying a fine of £2,000, and serving some months imprisoned in the Tower of London, Fane compounded with Parliament for his estates, and from 1644 withdrew into almost-permanent retirement.
        Fane's best-known work is a collection of poems entitled Otia sacra (1648), but Fane was also a skilled translator of the Roman epigrammist Martial and wrote, for private performance in his private theatre at Apethorpe, Northamptonshire, a masque, Candia restaurata, for which he even designed the sets and special-effects machinery as well as writing the text and composing some of the music. Fane was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Northamptonshire at the Restoration, and died on February 12, 1666.
        Much of Fane's poetry survived, but still remains unpublished, although he is being increasingly anthologised. Indeed, new manuscripts have recently turned up at Fulbeck Hall, Lincolnshire, a country house still owned by the Fane family (see Loxley 238-39). In addition to his "retirement" poems, Fane also included poetry addressed to various members of the royal family, hoping that they could reverse their political fortunes and re-establish England as a kind of Arcadia. Fane makes a royalist icon of the young Prince of Wales (later King Charles II) as the symbol for a rebirth.
        Mildmay Fane's poetry is mostly lyrical in nature, and often has the theme of retirement. Otia sacra, as its title implies ("Sacred meditations"), contains mostly sacred poems, and is full of strange experimental shape-poems (not only Fane wrote these—George Herbert's "Easter Wings" and "The Altar" are other examples) and emblems. The front-page illustration of Fane's book shows a meditative eye of the soul on top of a pillar of faith. Much of the poetry is also pastoral in nature, suggesting that the poet wished to escape from the turbulence of the civil war. As Loxley puts it, "retirement is celebrated as a form of security against external threats and the opportunity for meditation" (224). The book also contains poems which are quite personal in nature, and reveal the character of the poet; in a poem entitled "My happy life," for example, Fane celebrates his own disengagement from public life. "But full contented with my owne,/ I let all other things alone," he says; "Which better to enjoy 'thout strife,/ I settle to a Countrey life" (see Loxley 224-25).
        There has recently been a revival of interest in Mildmay Fane, although much of his work, including dramas and masques, remains unpublished.

Criticism and Bibliography

Article Citation:
Butler, John. "The Life of Mildmay Fane."  Luminarium.
        16 Mar 2004. [Date you accessed the article}.

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