To the Vertuous Reader
This International Women’s Day, we share a piece of prose from Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum, by one of the first published female poets, Emilia Bassano
Often haue I heard that it is the property of some women, not only to emulate the virtues and perfections of the rest, but also by all their powers of ill speaking, to ecclipse the brightness of their deserved fame: now contrary to this custome, which men I hope uniustly lay to their charge, I haue written this small volume, or little booke, for the generall vse of all virtuous Ladies and Gentlewomen of this kingdome; and in commendation of some particular persons of our owne sexe, such as for the most part, are so well knowne to my selfe, and others, that I dare undertake Fame dares not to call any better. And this haue I done, to make knowne to the world, that all women deserue not to be blamed though some forgetting they are women themselues, and in danger to be condemned by the words of their owne mouthes, fall into so great an errour, as to speake vnaduisedly against the rest of their sexe; which if it be true, I am persuaded they can shew their owne imperfection in nothing more: and therefore could wish (for their owne ease, modesties, and credit) they would referre such points of folly, to be practised by euell disposed men, who forgetting they were borne of women, nourished of women, and that if it were not by the means of women, they would be quite extinguished out of the world: and a finall ended of them all, doe like Vipers deface the wombes wherein they were bred, onely to giue way and vtterance to their want of discretion and goodnesse. Such as these, were they that dishonoured Christ his Apostles and Prophets, putting them to shamefull deaths. Therefore, we are not to regard any imputations that they vndeseruedly lay upon us, no otherwise than to make vse of them to our owne benefits, as spurres to vertue, making vs flie all occasions that may colour their uniust speeches to passe currant. Especially considering that they haue tempted euen the patience of God himselfe, who gaue power to wise and virtuous women, to bring downe their pride and arrogancie. As was cruell Cesarus by the discreet counsell of noble Deborah, Iudge and Prophetesse of Israel: and resolution of Jael wife of Heber the Kenite: wicket Haman, by the diuine prayers and prudent proceedings of beautiful Hester: blasphemous Holofernes, by the inuincible courage, rare wisdome, and confident carriage of Iudeth: & the vniust Iudges, by the innocency of chast Susanna: with infinite others, which for breuitie sake I will omit. As also in respect it pleased our Lord and Sauiour Iesus Christ, without the assistance of man, beeing free from originall and all other sinnes, from the time of his conception, till the houre of his death, to be begotten of a woman, borne of a woman, nourished of a woman, obedient to a woman; and that he healed woman, pardoned women, comforted women: yea, euen when he was in his greatest agonie and bloodie sweat, going to be crucified, and also in the last houre of his death, tooke care to dispose of a woman: after his resurrection, appeared first to a woman, sent a woman to declare his most glorious resurrection to the rest of his Disciples. Many other examples I could alledge of diuers faithfull and virtuous women, who haue in all ages, not onely beene Confessors, but also indured most cruel martyrdome for their faith in Iesus Christ. All which is sufficient to inforce all good Christians and honourable minded men to speake reuerently of our sexe, and especially of all virtuous and good women. To the modest sensures of both which, I refer these my imperfect indeauours, knowing that according to their owne excellent dispositions, they will rather, cherish, nourish, and increase the least sparke of virtue where they find it, by their fauourable and beste interpretations, than quench it by wrong constructions. To whom I wish all increase of virtue, and desire their best opinions.
— Emilia Bassano