Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Penrose, Elizabeth

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PENROSE, Mrs. ELIZABETH (1780–1837), writer for the young under the pseudonym of Mrs. Markham, second daughter of Edmund Cartwright [q. v.], rector of Goadby-Marwood, Leicestershire, and inventor of the power loom, and of his wife, Alice, youngest daughter and coheiress of Richard Whittaker of Doncaster, was born at Goadby-Marwood on 3 Aug. 1780. When Elizabeth was about four years old her mother died; five years later Dr. Cartwright married again, and thenceforth Elizabeth and her sisters lived almost entirely in the houses of their father's relatives. Elizabeth was sent with an elder sister to the Manor school at York, a typical boarding-school, where, according to another pupil, Mrs. Fletcher of Edinburgh, ‘nothing useful could be learnt’ (Autobiogr. p. 17). Whatever the defects of her education, Elizabeth Cartwright was fond of reading and of history. Her uncle, Major Cartwright, writing to one of her sisters in 1796, says: ‘Eliza, though a merry girl, devours folios of history with much more appetite than her meals, except when we have bantam eggs; then, indeed, she is like a conjuror swallowing his balls.’ In youth she was also a frequent visitor at Markham, near Tuxford in Nottinghamshire, where two maiden aunts lived, and there she met John Penrose, whom she married in 1814 [see Penrose, John].

In 1823 Mrs. Penrose began to publish her series of school histories. She wrote under the pseudonym of ‘Mrs. Markham,’ taking that name from the village where her aunts resided, and where much of her early life was spent. Her first book, ‘A History of England from the first Invasion by the Romans to the end of the Reign of George III, with Conversations at the end of each Chapter. For the use of Young Persons,’ appeared in 1823. In the advertisement she states that the work was originally begun for the use of her own children. It was published by Constable of Edinburgh, and at first attracted little attention. On the failure of Messrs. Constable the publication was transferred to John Murray. A new edition, revised, corrected, enlarged, and illustrated, was brought out in 1826. Thereupon the work became very successful, and held its place as almost the only textbook of English history used in schools and families for nearly forty years. The tenth edition appeared in 1843, the sixty-eighth thousand, continued to the fourteenth year of Queen Victoria, in 1853, the eighty-eighth thousand in 1856, and later editions are dated 1857, 1862, 1865, 1871, 1872, and 1873. Some of the later editions were edited and continued to the present day by Mary Howitt. In 1828 ‘Mrs. Markham’ published, also in two volumes, a history of France on the same plan; the forty-eighth thousand appeared in 1856, and another edition in 1857. Numerous volumes of questions relating to both the history of England and that of France have been published. The latter was also continued down to 1871 by Francis Young, and an edition published in that year and in 1873. Histories of Greece and Rome were announced, but never published. Many editions of her books were published in America (Hale, Woman's Record, p. 847).

Mrs. Penrose adapted her history to what she considered the needs of the young, and omitted scenes of cruelty and fraud as hurtful to children, and party politics after the ‘Revolution’ as too complicated for them to understand.

In 1829 Mrs. Fletcher paid a visit to the Penroses at Bracebridge. ‘She [Mrs. Penrose] was a happy wife and the mother of three promising sons, a most delightful woman, with a lively, active, accomplished mind, and the most engaging sweetness and simplicity of manners’ (Autobiogr. p. 162). Mrs. Penrose was fair, slight, and a little above the average height. She was popular in society, and a model housewife. Latterly her health failed, and for the last two years of her life she suffered from cancer. To relieve her sufferings, her husband removed from his vicarage at Bracebridge, near Lincoln, which lies low, to the higher ground of Minster Yard, in the city. There, on 24 Jan. 1837, Mrs. Penrose died. She was buried in the cloisters of Lincoln Cathedral.

Works by Mrs. Penrose not mentioned above were: 1. ‘Amusements of Westernheath, or Moral Stories for Children,’ 2 vols. 1824. 2. ‘A Visit to the Zoological Gardens,’ 1829. 3. ‘New Children's Friend,’ tales, 2 vols. 1832. 4. ‘Historical Conversations for Young People (Malta and Poland),’ 1836. 5. ‘Sermons for Children,’ 1837; 2nd edit. 1846.

[Boase and Courtney's Bibl. Cornub. ii. 454, 457–8; Smiles's Memoirs of John Murray, ii. 452; Allibone's Dict. ii. 1555; Gent. Mag. 1837, p. 332; information supplied by Mr. F. C. Penrose.]

E. L.