Born circa 1586, Lady Mary Wroth was the daughter of the poet Robert Sidney -- brother of poet Sir Philip Sidney -- and his wife Barbra Gamage, cousin of Sir Walter Raleigh. She was married in 1604 to Sir Robert Wroth, whose union brought her no happiness but great wealth and social standing. He died ten years later, however, known as a drunkard, womanizer, and a spendthrift, leaving Lady Mary with his entire debt. Their only son died at the age of two.
By then, she had become well-acquainted with the royal court. She had gotten to know Ben Jonson quite well and appeared in two of his masques. She also became mistress to her first cousin William Herbert, and bore an illegitimate son and daughter by him. The resulting scandal exiled her from the masques as well as James I's court circle.
In 1621, she wrote and published a prose-and-poetry romance titled The Countess of Montgomeries Urania, the first work of long fiction ever published by an Englishwoman, which drew on the scandals and characters to which she'd been exposed in the royal court, as well as her own experiences. The work was fictitious, centering on the story of the woman Pamphilia and the fidelity she demands from herself and her lover Amphilanthus. (The sonnets published today as Pamphilia to Amphilanthus appear at the end of Urania are intended as poems written from the female character to the male.) However, its similarity to actual people and events led to a controversy and a charge of slander from the Baron of Waltham.
She maintained her innocence, but the scandal permanently marred her reputation and she retained a low profile for the rest of her life, until circa 1651. She continued to write poetry, as well as an play called Love's Victory and a sequel to Urania (both of which were unpublished).
- Love what art thou? Light and fair,
- Fresh as morning, clear as th' air.
- But too soon thy evening change
- Makes thy worth with coldness range;
- Still thy joy is mixt with care.
from "Love What Art Thou?" from Urania