Strictly Agnes Strickland

So who is Agnes Strickland? And why am I writing about her today?

You may not have heard of her but she was a very well known author in her day. Although I had heard of her for a long time I can’t remember when I first knew that she was the author of a 12 volume history entitled : Lives of the Queens of England published between 1840 and 1848. Each volume was eagerly awaited by the public at the time.  I’ve kept a 2-page article about Agnes and her family, including her 4 literary sisters, which appeared in the Sunday Supplement to the Eastern Daily Press back in April 2009. Unfortunately, I can’t find a link to this article online.

Agnes first wrote what are now called ‘improving’ stories for children and later collaborated with her sister, Elizabeth, to produce her best-known work about the Queens of England. Elizabeth did not want her name included but Agnes was happy with her celebrity fame. Later her sister Jane Strickland wrote and published Agnes’ biography.

Two of her sisters found fame in Canada as writers – Catherine Parr Traill and Susanna Moodie – Catherine’s The Backwoods of Canada (1836) became a classic as did sister Susanna’s Roughing it in the Bush (1852).  I could write more about the sisters but as I’ve called this post Strictly Agnes Strickland  I’ll stick to my subject.

Agnes was born in London in 1796. She was the second of six sisters and two brothers. Her father had business interests in London, Norwich and the small Suffolk town of Bungay. He encouraged his daughters’ education and reading habit. The family  moved to Reydon Hall in Suffolk in 1806.

Reydon Hall

When her father, Thomas Strickland, died in 1818 he had lost most of his fortune from acting as guarantor to a firm that failed. The family stayed at Reydon Hall and the daughters set about earning their livings. In 1832 the two younger daughters sailed from Southwold via Greenock to Quebec with their husbands to start new lives in Canada. When Mrs Strickland died in 1864 the family home was sold and after travelling around with various addresses Agnes decided to settle in Southwold in Park Lane in the house that is now called Strickland House.

She died there in 1874 and is buried in the churchyard of St Edmund’s parish church.

Jane Margaret, Thomas and Elizabeth Strickland tomb beside Agnes Strickland’s.

Agnes and Elizabeth carried out much of their historical research at the British Museum. The 12 volume Lives details the stories of 38 queens – from Matilda of Flanders, the wife of William the Conqueror, to Queen Anne. They also wrote a Lives of the Queens of Scotland and other histories.

“Agnes Strickland’s Lives of the Queens of England (1840-8) marked a new era in the writing of English history by women. ‘Facts not opinions’ was the watchword of these historical biographies, which were based on pioneering manuscript research.” (Publisher)

Last year I read the single volume selected and edited by Antonia Fraser. My friend Lyn has written a much better review than I could ever hope to do – especially as it’s some time since I read it.


14 comments on “Strictly Agnes Strickland

  1. Nice to see the houses where the Stricklands lived. Agnes was an enormous best seller in her day, and her sisters in Canada are worthy themselves of many posts! I’ve always wondered how Agnes did her phenomenal amount of research. Can you kindly provide the link to Lyn’s post?

  2. I know so much more about the sisters than I do about Agnes so this is fascinating Barbara. Sisters in the Wilderness is one of my favourite books so I am hoping you will write more about Catherine and Susannah soon. As I recall it was their impressions of Canada which created the whole fear of the wilderness for everyone back home.

  3. Glad you found this interesting, Lynne. The Strickland sisters, Catherine Parr and Susannah, will have to wait until I’m in the appropriate region of Canada – which is probably never. I hope to read them for myself one day.

  4. Joanna Barker says:

    I have discovered art works signed Agnes Strickland, do you have any evidence that your Agnes may have been an artist?

  5. How very interesting, Joanna. I’m afraid I have no idea. It might be worth contacting a museum or public gallery or maybe an auction house to see if they have some information or can advise.

  6. Wonderful. …Susanna was my Grt Grt Grand mama. …While she and Catherine Parr emigrated to Canada in the 1830s; I emigrated from Canada to England in the 1960s. …Tomorrow I’m off on a break to a place I stay near Grt Yarmmouth. Browsed for Reydon Hall, and dear me, it’s up for sale yet again. Such a beautiful Jacobean (?) style. Wonderful setting. Am checking with my bankers to see what’s possible. …Deary me. Doesn’t have the upsy-downsy of where we live here in Sussex, but the space would certainly be ample compensation. …I visited Reydon Hall some 40 years ago. A pop group manager—Mr Legree (?)—was then the owner. He kindly let me have a look round. Splendid property. …My oh my. Little wonder poor Susanna and Catherine Parr didn’t want to go. What a savage jolt the Bush must have been. No middle ground. …I did not visit Agnes’s Southwold house. I will try to this time. …Agnes, who grew to move in high circles, thanks to her literary productions, was rather dismissive, and a bit embarrassed by Susanna and Catherine Parr out in the Canada Bush. So far as she was concerned; while she, Agnes, was seeking to move forward in evolving English civil life; her two sisters were dropping back into a culture of coarse primitivity. Which of course was largely true so far as human engagement was concerned. Until the ‘Canada Girls’ started to make a bit of a name for themselves, Agnes (with her worker/ research asst, sister, Elizabeth) retained only intermittent contact. This did not greatly change in later years. …I might add, the girls’ brother, Col. Samuel Strickland, preceded them to Canada. He did well in the land speculation/ sales business. His house is (or was) the Headmaster’s residence at Lakefield School near Peterborough. ( ) …Like Reydon Hall (which appears now to be its name) it too is apparently on the market. …The Strickland girls by a quirk of fate hit an interesting ‘opening period.’ This was the era of Carlyle; and the advance of liberal thought. It could be said, they caught a bit of the up-draught. …Enough. …Just a passing tit-bit from a trans-migrant traveller/ colonial. …I’m looking forward to my passing visit to Southwold/ Reydon tomorrow. It appears the weather should be good. …Best, Michael v

    • A lot of additional information here, Michael. Thank you. I hope you enjoyed revisiting Southwold and your stay in Great Yarmouth. Barbara

    • Emmeline Winterbotham says:

      Michael as one of the new owners of Reydon Hall I would be happy to show you around one day when you are en route to Gt Yarmouth. The person who showed you around was one of the LeGrys family all now deceased or living elsewhere. However I do know the previous family (Ewen) who lived there both before and after the Stricklands.
      E Winterbotham

  7. vicki dinger says:

    I have a book titled Stories by Agnes Strickland, True Stories from Modern Histories starting with 828 Egbert, King of England, ending with 1815 Battle of Waterloo, June 18. Published by Porter & Coates in Philadelphia but no date when it was published. Would you be able to enlighten me on a date and any information you
    might have on this book.
    Thank you

    • I’m afraid I can suggest nothing other than doing an internet search, Vicki. Perhaps try abebooks or some university library catalogues (OPACs). Sorry. Barbara

    • Michael Vickers says:

      VICKY, A quick check with the British Library; or Library of Congress (if you are in US)
      should—failing other checks—provide required info.

  8. Emmeline Winterbotham says:

    Michael I read your post and as the current co-owner of Reydon Hall wondered if you would every like to look around again next time you are passing to Great Yarmouth. I expect we can liaise via
    Barbara. Emmeline W

    • Michael Vickers says:

      Wonderful, Emmeline.
      No plans for moment, but will certainly hope to take your kind offer
      when I duly make it up to the Isle of Flegg.

      Bit of whimsy.
      When heading for Great Yarmouth on my April 2014 visit,
      I stopped at my very special and favoured town of Bungay.
      Interesting. In Barbara’s write-up (?) re Thomas Strickland, Bungay
      is mentioned as one of the places he had business. I wonder if
      he too felt it’s magic and wonder, as do I?

      Here’s LYRiC, the brief ode scribbled on that passing visit.

      2 April, 2014
      East Anglia


      Wondrously beautiful,
      Settling in its
      Gentle force.

      My special place,
      Reluctant to
      Reveal it on
      Their bespoke
      Cartographic creations.

      But perhaps like me
      They are enchanted with this
      Small, ancient place
      On its rise of land
      Above Waveney’s Valley
      And seek to keep firm in place a
      Curtain screen to
      Shield her from the
      Common Public Gaze?

      Yet again
      Is it not
      Just this special feel,
      This surreal, yet
      Very real magic of
      This tight close place which
      Opens wide its
      Private enticements
      With the lightest touch of
      Love engaged?


      Tis an ancient place
      In an ancient
      Seasonal setting,
      As engaging and
      Embracing now
      As when Time
      Began for these
      Special lands, these
      Special waters, in this
      Special place.

      It is indeed a
      Healing place.

      And like all special lands
      Tis there for those
      Who seek,
      Who take the time, to
      Pause, to
      Listen through the
      Stillness, to
      The Silence, to
      Feel the Rising warmth and
      Easy, finger-beat
      Rhythms of
      Vigour release.


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