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.
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.