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Penrose [née Cartwright], Elizabeth [pseud. Mrs Markham] (c.1779–1837), writer, was born at Goadby Marwood, Leicestershire, on 3 August 1780, the second daughter of , rector of Goadby Marwood, and his wife, Alice (d. 1785), the youngest daughter and coheir of Richard Whittaker of Doncaster. Her family were lively and intelligent: her father was a famous inventor of textile machinery, and her uncle, , was a prominent radical reformer. Her brother Edmund (1773–1833), who took orders, was the author of a Parochial Topography of the Rape of Bramber (1830), and her youngest sister, , wrote a biography of their uncle (1826), and her elder sister, Mary, wrote one of their father (1843).

Alice Cartwright died on 12 September 1785, and on 5 June 1790 Edmund Cartwright married Susanna, daughter of the Revd John Kearney. His daughters lived almost entirely with paternal relatives after Cartwright's second marriage. The two eldest, Mary and Elizabeth, were sent to the Manor School in York; a former pupil, Eliza Fletcher, described the education offered at this boarding-school as ‘artificial, flat and uninteresting’, opining that ‘nothing useful could be learned’ (Autobiography of Mrs Fletcher, 17). Probably Elizabeth Cartwright developed her historical interests independently: her uncle, in a letter of 1796, recorded that ‘Eliza, though a merry girl, devours folios of history with much more appetite than her meals’ (Life and Correspondence, 1.411). Fair and slight, she became, according to Eliza Fletcher (162), ‘a most delightful woman, with a lively, active, accomplished mind, and the most engaging sweetness and simplicity of manners’.

Elizabeth Cartwright spent much time with two unmarried aunts at Markham, in Nottinghamshire, where she met , a Cornish clergyman who was the elder brother of Mary Arnold, wife of the famous Rugby headmaster and historian. He became vicar of Bracebridge, Lincolnshire, in 1809, and married Elizabeth Cartwright on 6 May 1814. Their marriage, apparently a happy one, brought them three sons: John (1815–1888), who took holy orders and became an assistant master at Rugby; Charles Thomas (1816?–1868), who was later headmaster of Sherborne School; and , an architect and astronomer. The daughter of the last, , became principal of Somerville College, Oxford.

In 1823 Elizabeth Penrose's first book, A History of England from the First Invasion by the Romans to the End of the Reign of George III, appeared under the pseudonym of Mrs Markham. It was first published by Archibald Constable of Edinburgh in 1823, but, after his notorious bankruptcy of 1826, John Murray purchased the remaining stock. In the same year a revised and enlarged edition appeared, with illustrations drawn from the antiquarian works of Joseph Strutt—a novel departure for an early nineteenth-century textbook. It was an immediate success and achieved ‘a very large and regular circulation’ (Smiles, 2.152).

According to the introduction Mrs Markham resolved to write the book, after her eldest son experienced difficulty reading Hume's History of England, as a didactic substitute for the usual bedtime story. The narrative is a domesticized version of English history, presenting historical figures as exempla of good and bad conduct in private life; the virtues advocated are familial duty, personal integrity, and social benevolence. But the History has wider implications: Elizabeth Penrose firmly supports the Anglican establishment and the social and political status quo. Her knowledge of the late eighteenth-century ‘philosophical’ historians was reflected in her determination to produce ‘something more than a mere chronicle of events’, hoping to trace ‘the successive changes which have taken place in manners, arts and civilization’. These matters were covered in the conversations at the end of each chapter, where the author employed the question–answer technique common to the nineteenth-century textbook writer.

With her husband managing publication with John Murray and probably her other publishers, Elizabeth Penrose produced a succession of juvenile works, including A History of France (1828), which was republished by Murray in a revised edition in 1857 and 1882. Books of questions to accompany it were published in 1853, 1854, and 1860. Histories of Greece and Rome were announced, but never published. Elizabeth Penrose also published A Visit to the Zoological Gardens (1829), Historical Conversations for Young Persons (1836), Sermons for Children (1837), and The New Children's Friend (1832). The latter publication is a curious compound of didactic tales and conversations on matters as diverse as the history of the Isle of Man and the transmigration of the soul.

By 1834 Elizabeth Penrose was unwell; she and her family moved to the Minster Yard, Lincoln, which was considered a more healthy situation. Here she died on 24 January 1837 and was buried in the cloisters of Lincoln Cathedral.

A History of England proved more resilient than its author, and had reached its twelfth edition by 1846. It was republished in revised editions by Murray in 1853, 1859, and 1875. In 1865, when it was published by T. J. Allman, the editor, Mary Howitt, commented in her preface that the History of England was ‘well-known to all mothers whose children, like mine, received their first lessons in English history from its pages’. The longevity of its reputation is confirmed by the appearance in 1926 of a parodic version by Hilaire Belloc. Books of questions to accompany the History of England were published in 1845, 1856, and 1858. With the possible exception of Maria Callcott's Little Arthur's History of England (1835), it was the most successful nineteenth-century history textbook: it is hardly an exaggeration to say that it ‘held its place as almost the only textbook of English history used in schools and families for nearly forty years’ (DNB).

Rosemary Mitchell


Boase & Courtney, Bibl. Corn., 2.454–5, 457–8 · DNB · Burke, Gen. GB · H. Carpenter and M. Prichard, The Oxford companion to children's literature, pbk edn (1999), 338 · Autobiography of Mrs Fletcher, of Edinburgh, ed. M. R. [M. Richardson] (1874), 17, 31–3, 162, 189 · GM, 2nd ser., 7 (1837), 332 · The life and correspondence of Major Cartwright, ed. F. D. Cartwright, 1 (1826), 407, 411 · V. E. Chancellor, History for their masters: opinion in the English history textbook, 1800–1914 (1970) · NL Scot. · R. A. Mitchell, ‘Approaches to history in text and image in England, c.1830–1870’, DPhil diss., U. Oxf., 1993, 1.55–89 · S. Smiles, A publisher and his friends: memoir and correspondence of the late John Murray, 2 (1891), 152 · IGI


NL Scot., John Murray archive