Martha Fowke

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Martha Fowke, later Martha Sansom, (1 May 1689 – 1736) was an English poet associated chiefly with the circle about Aaron Hill. She was the daughter of Major Thomas Fowke and his wife Mary (née Cullen). Born in Hertfordshire on 1 May 1689 to a family of Roman Catholic gentry, she was educated at home and at boarding school. Her mother was less supportive of her daughter's writing than her father. Fowke lived in London after her mother died in 1705 but moved to East Anglia in 1730 with her husband, Arnold Sansom, whom she had married around 1721. Their marriage was not happy.[1]

Literary life

Title page for Fowke's Clio and Strephon, 1720

Fowke's work started to get public attention in the 1720s, especially when Clio and Strephon was published. Clio was Fowke's "literary" name for herself while Strephon was the poet and journalist William Bond. The book was an exchange of letters in verse and prose, popular enough to be republished twice in Fowke's lifetime. The first edition in 1720 was called The epistles of Clio and Strephon, being a collection of letters that passed between an English Lady, and an English Gentleman in France, who took an Affection to each other, by reading accidentally one another's Occasional Compositions both in Prose and Verse. The third edition in 1732 was published with some literary criticism and commentary by John Porter. The title was similar, but started "The platonic lovers..."

Other poetry appeared in the monthly Delights for the Ingenious (1711), Anthony Hammond's New Miscellany (1720), Richard Savage's compilation, Miscellaneous Poems and Translationss (1726), and also the Barbados Gazette.

Fowke's poetry sometimes expresses her frustration with the conventional expectations of a woman's place in 18th century society. She did not wish to be limited to a domestic role, and was serious about both her literary work and her aspiration for woman and man to be equals in a marriage of true minds.

Within her circle of literary acquaintances Fowke had various important friendships, notably with Aaron Hill. Her correspondence with him was published after her death as Clio: or, a secret history of the life and amours of the late celebrated Mrs. S-n---m. Written by herself, in a letter to Hillarius.[2] Another of her friends, the poet and painter John Dyer, painted her portrait and expressed devotion to her in two poems written from Wales that appeared, along with her verses in reply, in the Richard Savage miscellany of 1726.

Because of her association with fellow writers as an equal, her former friend and fellow-writer Eliza Haywood attacked Fowke in a scandalous account of her relationships which affected the poet's reputation badly.[3]


  1. ^ Christine Gerrard, writing in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  2. ^ This is now available with a substantial introduction by Phyllis J Guskin as Clio: the autobiography of Martha Fowke Sansom (1689-1736), University of Delaware, 1997
  3. ^ Christine Gerrard, Aaron Hill: The Muses' Projector, 1685-1750, Oxford University 2003, p.61ff
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