Masham, Damaris (DNB00)

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MASHAM, DAMARIS, Lady Masham (1658–1708), theological writer, born at Cambridge 18 Jan. 1658, daughter of Ralph Cudworth, D.D. [q. v.], was educated under his care, and was early distinguished for her learning. About 1682 she became acquainted with John Locke the philosopher, and under his direction she studied divinity and philosophy. Locke formed the highest opinion of her, and in a letter to Limborch, written in 1690–1, says: ‘She is so well versed in theological and philosophical studies, and of such an original mind, that you will not find many men to whom she is not superior in wealth of knowledge and ability to profit by it.’

In 1685 she married Sir Francis Masham (d. 1723), third bart., of Oates, Essex, a widower with nine children, whose youngest son was Lord Masham, husband of Abigail Hill [see Masham, Abigail, Lady Masham]; and in June 1686 Francis Cudworth Masham was born, her only child (subsequently accountant-general to the court of chancery), to whose education she devoted herself. Her father died on 26 June 1688, and her mother then went to Oates and resided there till her death in 1695, when she was buried in High Laver Church (see Notes and Queries, 6th ser. x. 264). Lady Masham's stepdaughter, Esther, also lived at Oates, and to her many of Locke's letters are addressed.

In 1690 John Norris [q. v.] of Bemerton, the English Platonist, inscribed to Lady Masham his ‘Reflections upon the Conduct of Human Life.’ In the dedication he describes her as blind, a statement which was inaccurate, although her sight was weak (Locke, Familiar Letters). Lady Masham was subsequently on friendly personal terms with Norris. In 1691 Locke was forced to leave London on account of his health, and went to live at Oates with Sir Francis, the result being that Lady Masham adopted Locke's views, upon which her intimacy with Norris ceased. Locke continued at Oates till his death, 28 Oct. 1704. In 1696 Lady Masham published without her name ‘A Discourse concerning the Love of God’ (London, 12mo; translated into French by Coste in 1705), in which she answered some theories put forward by Norris and Mrs. Astell in ‘Practical Discourses of Divinity.’ Mrs. Astell replied to Lady Masham in ‘The Christian Religion as professed by a Daughter of the Church of England.’ About 1700 Lady Masham wrote ‘Occasional Thoughts in reference to a Vertuous or Christian Life’ (London, 1705, 12mo), an appeal to women to study intelligently the grounds of their religious belief. She has been placed on the long list of the supposed authors of ‘The Whole Duty of Man’ [see Pakington, Dorothy, Lady], but chronology is clearly against her claim (cf. Nichols, Lit. Anecd. vii. 529).

Lady Masham also wrote an account of Locke in the ‘Great Historical Dictionary.’ She died 20 April 1708, and was buried in the middle aisle of Bath Abbey.

[Ballard's Learned Ladies; Fox Bourne's Life of Locke; Familiar Letters of Locke; Burke's Extinct Peerages, p. 359; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

C. O.