Weston, Elizabeth Jane (DNB00)

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WESTON, ELIZABETH JANE (1582–1612), learned lady, was born in London on 2 Nov. 1582. Her father may possibly have been a member of a Surrey family—at least Fuller places Elizabeth Weston among his Surrey worthies because he found ‘an ancient and worshipful family of the Westons flourishing at Sutton’ (cf. Worthies of England, 1662, Surrey, p. 87). Either as a zealous catholic or a political rebel Elizabeth's father lost his property, and was forced to leave England. His wife, son, and daughter Elizabeth went with him. They passed to Bohemia, where they obtained help from influential persons, and, after a short stay at Prague, were able to purchase a house and some land at Brüx. But the father, who was fond of pleasure, found many excuses for visiting Prague, and soon fell into debt. His sudden death in the autumn of 1597 left his widow and two children almost destitute. The creditors having appropriated more than was rightly their due, Mrs. Weston and her young daughter went to Prague to try and gain restitution by enlisting the sympathy of the Emperor Rudolph II. The son had been for some years a student at the university of Ingolstadt, where he died on 4 Nov. 1600. In spite of her extreme youth, Elizabeth succeeded, through her personal attractions and a moving set of Latin verses, in interesting influential persons in her troubles. Heinrich von Pisnitz, the vice-chancellor of Bohemia, and the learned Canon Georg Barthold Pontanus von Braitenberg gave Mrs. Weston and her daughter every assistance, and in 1603 they won their suit.

Meanwhile Elizabeth had been composing Latin verses and corresponding with some of the foremost humanists of the day, who were loud in the praises of her scholarship. Scaliger spoke of her as miraculum virtutum, Heinsius as Deabus æqualem, Gernadius as decimam musarum, and Paul Melissus sent her a laurel wreath. Other of her correspondents were Justus Lipsius and Janus Dousa. In 1602 a Silesian noble, Georg Martin von Baldhoven, collected her scattered poems, and printed them at his own cost at Frankfort-on-the-Oder. About that time she married the jurist Johann Leon, agent at the imperial court for the Duke of Brunswick and the Prince of Anhalt, and had issue four sons (who predeceased her) and three daughters. She died at Prague on 23 Nov. 1612, and was buried in the cloisters of the abbey church of St. Thomas in that town. On the tomb is an extremely eulogistic Latin epitaph.

She was an accomplished linguist, speaking and writing perfectly the English, German, Greek, Latin, Italian, and Czech languages. She spoke chiefly German, and wrote always, whether in prose or verse, in Latin. Her poems consist of addresses to princes, among them James I of England, who, it is said, had recommended her case to the emperor; together with epigrams, translations from Æsop, and epistles to friends. English scholars thought highly of her performances. Farnaby ranked her with Sir Thomas More and the best Latin poets of the day. Evelyn mentioned her Latin poem in praise of typography (cf. Numismata, 1697, p. 264).

Her collected poems are entitled ‘Parthenicon | Elisabe|thæ Joannæ Westoniæ | Virginis nobilissimæ, poëtriæ flo|rentissimæ, linguarum plurima|rum peritissimæ, | Liber i | opera ac studio | G. Mart. à Baldhoven | Sil. collectus: & nunc denuò | amicis desiderantibus | communicatus. |’ Books ii. and iii. have fresh but much shortened title-pages, and at the end of book iii. is a list of learned women, beginning with Deborah and ending with Elizabeth Weston. Some of the editions are very rare. One in the British Museum (Cat. s.v. ‘Westonia’), printed in 1605 or 1606 at Prague, has on the flyleaf at the beginning some manuscript verses in a beautiful caligraphy, addressed ad lectorem, and signed ‘Elisabetha Joanna uxor Joannis Leonis,’ with the date 16 Aug. 1610; a few verses in manuscript are to be found here and there in the volume. Another rare edition (also in the British Museum) is that printed at Frankfurt in 1723. The editor, J. L. Kalckhoff, added a Latin preface in ‘memory of the illustrious author, with a description of her life.’ Other editions were printed at Leipzig in 1609, and at Amsterdam in 1712.

An engraved portrait by Balzer appears in Pelcel's account of her life (Pelcel, Abbildungen Boehmischer und Maehrischer Gelehrten, 1777, iii. 71–7).

[Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie, xlii. 193–196; Schottky's Prag wie es war und wie es ist, 1832, ii. 76–7; Allibone's Dict. iii. 2656; Ballard's Memoirs of Several Ladies of Great Britain, pp. 173–6; Zedler's Univ. Lexikon, 1748, lv. 929.]

E. L.