Piers [née Roydon], Sarah, Lady Piers
- Holly Faith Nelson
Piers [née Roydon], Sarah, Lady Piers (d. 1719), poet and literary patron, is identified in a contemporary inscription on her engraved portrait as the daughter of Matthew Roydon of Roydon, or Rawdon, in West Yorkshire. Her father may have been 'one of the farmers of the Irish revenue', whose will was proved in 1676 (Brownbill, 211). Piers's mother may be the Martha Allen who married a Matthew Roydon on or about 22 August 1666 at St Michael Paternoster Royal, London. Colepeper suggested that Sarah Roydon, a 'great poetess', married Sir George Piers (1670–1720), baronet, about 1694 (Colepeper; Brownbill, 211). The eldest son of Sir Thomas Piers and Elizabeth Courthope, Sir George—of Stonepit, in Seal, Kent—was made clerk of the privy seal on 11 December 1696 and was an army officer with the duke of Marlborough. Lady Piers, whose earliest surviving letter is dated 9 June 1697, is known to have had at least two infant sons by 1698, both of whom she outlived, the elder dying in 1707.
Piers is principally remembered as an early patron of the playwright and philosopher Catharine Cockburn, née Trotter. She supported Cockburn's entrance into the public language of the stage at a time when women dramatists sought to establish themselves in London's theatrical scene. In her dedication to Love at a Loss (1701) Cockburn heralds Piers as a woman of 'universal Complaisance of Temper', 'agreeable Wit', and 'solid Judgement'. Letters from Piers to Cockburn between 1697 and 1709 reveal, as Cockburn's biographer notes, a 'most intimate and unreserved friendship' (Birch, 1.10). In The New Atalantis (1709) Delarivier Manley may have depicted the relationship of Piers (Zara) and Cockburn (Daphne) as lesbian, and fashioned Sir George (Chevalier Pierro) a dupe unequal in wit to his wife. Though a key to this 'scandalous history' linked Zara with Catharine Sedley, suo jure countess of Dorchester, and countess of Portmore, narrative details make Piers the more likely candidate (Birch, 1.47).
Piers was also a poet, literary critic, and political commentator in her own right, as her occasional verse reveals. Greer and others believe her first published work was an unsigned poetic commendation, 'To my much esteemed Friend, On her Play called Fatal Friendship' (1698). She is known to have contributed another such poem, 'To the excellent Mrs Catharine Trotter', to The Unhappy Penitent, published in 1701 (Birch, xiv).
With Manley, Trotter, Mary Pix, and others, Piers also memorialized the life and work of John Dryden in The Nine Muses (1700). Adopting the voice of 'Urania: The Divine Muse', in 'On the Death of John Dryden, Esq.', Piers is both elegiac mourner and literary arbitrator as she recollects the poetic 'Raptures' of Dryden and pronounces the 'learned bard' and physician Samuel Garth the new Dryden.
In an untitled printed poem of 1708 that begins
Let Those malicious Pens that take delightIn Snarling Satyr scurvy Verse to Write
Piers turns her attention to one of several female communities in which she circulated—a society of estimable women who regularly assembled at Tunbridge Wells. Slighting the satirical verse of her age, and inspired by Susan Howard, Lady Effingham, to a 'Loftier Theme', she fervently praises the virtue and beauty of select women who come to take the mineral waters. Her final and most substantial published work is a royal panegyric on the accession of George I. In George for Britain (1714), a poem of forty-four pages, she warns of the dangers of republicanism and details the benefits of monarchy. For her George I can ensure the stability and security of Britain, which is vulnerable to discord, division, and faction despite the beauty of its landscape, the temperance of its climate, the nobility of its people, and the rectitude of its religious and political institutions. In an appendix to The Environs of London Daniel Lysons reported that Lady Piers was buried on 8 September 1719 at Chelsea, Middlesex. Sir George Piers, who had signed his will on 15 June 1719, died on 7 May 1720 and was buried at Seal, Kent, on 20 May.
- Sarah, Lady Piers, corresp., 1697–1709, BL, Add. MS 4264, fols. 284–332
- A biographical history of England, from the revolution to the end of George I’s reign: being a continuation of the Rev. J. Granger's work, ed. M. Noble, 3 (1806), 447–8
- C. Trotter, dedication, Love at a loss, or, Most votes carry it: a comedy (1701)
- T. Birch, The works of Mrs. Catharine Cockburn, theological, moral, dramatic and poetical, 2 vols. (1751)
- J. C. Smith, British mezzotinto portraits, 3 (1880), 1110
- parish registers, Seal, Kent, P326½
- E. Hasted, The history and topographical survey of the county of Kent, 3 (1790), 51–9
- The manuscripts of his grace the duke of Portland, 10 vols., HMC, 29 (1891–1931), vol. 2, p. 176
- CSP dom., 1696, 449
- [D. Manley], Secret memoirs and manners of several persons of quality of both sexes, from the New Atalantis, 2 (1709), 50–57
- G. Greer and others, eds., Kissing the rod: an anthology of seventeenth-century women's verse (1988), 445–51
- M. Maison, ‘Pope and two learned nymphs’, RES New Series, 29/16 (1978), 405–14
- C. Barash, English women's poetry, 1649–1714 (1996)
- J. L. Chester and G. J. Armytage, eds., Allegations for marriage licences issued by the dean and chapter of Westminster, 1558 to 1699; also, for those issued by the vicar-general of the archbishop of Canterbury, 1660 to 1679, Harleian Society, 23 (1886)
- The Historical Register: containing an impartial relation of all transactions … with a chronological diary, 5 (1720), 19
- D. Lysons, The environs of London, 4 (1796), appx, 620
- will, Sir George Piers of St Ann's parish, Westminster, Middlesex, TNA: PRO, PROB 11/574
- T. Colepeper, ‘Adversaria’, BL, Harley MS 7601, fol. 220
- The nine muses, or, poems written by nine severall ladies upon the death of the late famous John Dryden, esq. (1700)
- J. Brownbill, ‘The Piers baronetcy’, N&Q, 1 (1923), 211–12, 13th ser.
- BL, Cockburn MSS, corresp. with C. Trotter Cockburn, Add. MS 4264, fols. 284–332
- J. Simon, mezzotint