WESTON, Elizabeth Jane

(1582-1612)
Elizabeth Jane Weston, known as "Westonia," was a brilliant poet, scholar, and exile. Her background is ambiguous, and there seems to be some question over whether Elizabeth and her brother John Francis Weston, two years older, were the illegitimate children of a noble.
When her children were infants, Joanna Cooper Weston married Edward Kelley, the assistant of the learned magician John Dee.* Dee and his entourage soon after left England for the Continent. Dee returned to England in 1587, but Kelley and his family stayed on. Kelley received a knighthood from Emperor Rudolf II* in 1589 and soon after removed his family to Jilov. Kelley, himself intellectually gifted, insisted on a fine education for both his stepson and step­daughter. Despite the knighthood, Kelley offended the emperor, and he was imprisoned in 1591 in the town of Most. Joanna and her daughter then moved to Most, where Elizabeth continued her education. By the time she was fourteen, Elizabeth was writing Latin verse and was also fluent in Italian, German, and Czech. Kelley remained in prison until his death in 1597. All his property was confiscated, and the situation of Elizabeth and her mother became even more desperate and tragic when John Francis died in 1600 while still a student. In 1601 Elizabeth and her mother moved to Prague. Elizabeth wrote Latin verse seeking patronage from nobles at the emperor's court as a way to support herself and her mother. Elizabeth was also a skilled calligrapher. Her skill as a poet as well as her reputed grace, wit, and beauty led to her success at finding court patrons and to the publication of some of her poems in 1602.
Though Elizabeth had left England as a small child, English was spoken in her family home, and she had a strong identity as an English woman. Especially after the deaths of Kelley and her brother, she wished to return to England and wrote some poems that she sent in 1603 to the new king, James I.* James, however, was appalled by educated women and suggested that the poems were probably ghostwritten, which deeply hurt Elizabeth. Her fortunes improved in 1603 when she married Johann Leo, or Lowe, a lawyer and agent of the duke of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel at the imperial court, who aided her and her mother in their legal fight with the emperor to have Kelley's estate returned to them. Leo also edited her poetry for publication. Elizabeth revised some of her poems as well as adding new ones for a new edition that was probably published in 1607. Elizabeth had four sons and three daughters in the nine years of her marriage, but she died in Prague on 23 November 1612. Only the three daughters survived her.
Bibliography
S. Bassnett, "Revising a Biography: A New Interpretation of the Life of Elizabeth Jane Weston (Westonia) Based on Her Autobiographical Poem on the Occasion of the Death of Her Mother," Cahiers Elisabethains 37 (April 1990): 1-8.
L. Schleiner, Tudor and Stuart Women Writers, 1994.
Carole Levin

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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