Anne Finch 1661-1720

Anne Finch was born Anne Kingsmill in Sydmonton, Hampshire in 1661, the daughter of Sir William Kingsmill, who died shortly after she was born. Her mother remarried Sir Thomas Ogle the following year and gave birth to a daughter Dorothy, with whom Anne maintained a lifelong friendship. Her mother died in 1664 and Anne and her sister Bridget subsequently lived with their grandmother in Charing Cross.

In accordance with her late father’s will, which specified that his daughters be treated on equal terms to his son, Anne and her sister received a comprehensive classical education which included Latin and Greek as well as French and Italian. In 1682 Anne became a maid of honour at the court of Charles II to Mary of Modena, the Italian second wife of James, Duke of York, the King’s Brother, who became King of England in 1685 on Charles’s death. Her friends at the Palace included two maids of honour, Sarah Churchill and Anne Killigrew, both poets. Anne Finch took to writing poetry but remained anonymous, having witnessed the male animosity that Killigrew’s poetry aroused.

In 1684 she married Colonel Heneage Finch, a soldier and Groom of the Bedchamber to James, Duke of York. She resigned her position but her husband stayed on. One of her first poems was to her husband, A Letter to Dafnis (1685). The couple demonstrated great loyalty to James II who was deposed in 1688 and fled to France. When Anne and her husband refused, as Catholics, to take the oath of allegiance to the new King, William III, her husband was dismissed and imprisoned but later released. They then moved into Eastwell Park, the family estate in Kent of Heneage Finch’s elder brother, the 4th Earl of Winchilsea. Anne’s poetry blossomed in this peaceful environment and after William III died and Anne, James II’s daughter became queen, their fortunes and security greatly improved.

In 1701 she published a Pindaric ode, The Spleen, anonymously and became friends with other distinguished writers such as Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope who encouraged her to publish under her own name. In 1713 she published Miscellany Poems , on Several Occasions which contained 86 poems and a play. The previous year her husband became the 5th Earl of Winchilsea on the death of his brother and she became Lady Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea.

She suffered ill health in the last few years of her life and some of her poems, such as A Suplication for the Joys of Heaven, became more contemplative. One of her last poems was a touching tribute, On The Death of the Queen, to her former mistress and queen, Mary of Modena, who died in poverty in exile in a French convent in 1718. During her career Anne wrote lyric poetry, love poetry, odes and prose poetry, sometimes joyful, sometimes despairing, but always reflective of her religious, emotional and spiritual nature. She died in 1720, a sad loss to her husband to whom she was devoted. A Collection, The Poems of Anne, Countess of Winchilsea, was published in 1903.

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