Case Study: Anne Locke

Published: 2021/12/24
Number of words: 2484

Anne Locke was one of the first female English poets in history. She was born in 1530 and lived until 1590. However, the details of her last days are not mentioned in history. Apart from being an English poet, Locke was a translator and a religious conservative. She inherited religious background and belief from her parents, specifically from her father, who was a staunch religious believer (Waller 177). Her parent’s names were Stephen Vaughan and Margaret Gwynnethe. A bit of detail about them, the father was a royal envoy and a merchant and one of the supporters of the early protestant reformation. The father followed the ideas of early religious Protestants, mainly believing in John Calvin’s ideologies. Therefore, she inherited her religious beliefs and support for early protestant reformation from her father (May 797). Locke is little known in literary fame even though she was the first English poet to write the sonnet sequence. Her gender and work during the era speak volumes of her ability and dedication to literature and her beliefs (Felch 33). Anne was married to Henry Locke, with whom she shared the zeal for religious reformation during her period. In their marital life, Locke’s had two children. In 1553, the Protestants reformation was at a climax, and one of the main advocates for reforms was John Knox. He was forced to stay with Locke’s family until he was later forced into exile in Switzerland (Waller 126). The Locke family later followed Knox in Geneva, where they stayed for a year and returned to England after the death of Mary I.

Surprisingly, Anne Locke did not receive a formal education. During her living era, education in England was preserved for males, and because of that, she could not access formal education (Collinson 261). Therefore, her poetic work and translation skills were based on her passion for literature and the zeal to push for reforms and transform society. She had acquired essential education skills that enabled her to work and do several translations in different languages (Felch 41). As an enthusiast of Joh Calvin, Anne Locke translated his ideas and sermons from French to English, which were published in 1560.

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Anne Locke’s main work and one that she is supposedly celebrated for is the first English sonnet she named A Meditation of a Pertinent Sinner. The sequence comprises 26 sonnets that ideally originate from her interpretation of the bible and the book of Psalm 51. The choice of the book and verse is identical to early protestant reformers who majorly emphasized the need for faith towards religion (May 806). The sonnets are based on her view of sin and the need for repentance and seeking forgiveness from God. The work largely depends on her strong belief in religion and her champion from protestant reformation in her career days and life (Trull 11). Apart from the sonnet sequence, Anne Locke had several other literal works and poems, including the four-line Latin poem entailed in the 1572 manuscript of doctor Bartholo, her translation of The Markes of the Children of God in 1590, and the Necessitie and Benfite of Affliction. Her work poems were majorly religious, and they were based on her societal examination and religious concerns. In fact, many believed she presented other religious artists’ work, an allegation that she did not object. Instead, she promoted it by arguing that she only wrote John Calvin’s ideas but later was analyzed and tied to her belief and ways of life.

Anne Locke’s courage and ability to transform society is appreciated. She was even willing to exile in Geneva following Knox’s exile. This relocation orchestrated the death of her child in her earlier days in Geneva (Evans 103). Her gender and the advocacy, as envisioned in her works, are evident enough to prove her dedication to transforming society using religious approaches. Writers and poets praise Anne Locke’s virtues and behavior, hinting them as key factors, which helped her manage religious reformation ideas from originators, such as Calvin and Knox, whom she closely worked with and had the privilege of translating some of their work.

In her main work the Meditation of a Penitent Sinner, Ann Locke describes her personal experience, thoughts on sin, and the need to repent. She acknowledges the burden of sin and prays to God to relieve her. In fact, form a line, read;

My sinking soule is now so sore opprest,
That now in peril and in present fere,
I crye: susteine me, Lord, and Lord I pray

Anne’s religious background had led to her strong religious belief and the examination of Godly deeds and the sins that the society was accustomed. The religious analysis her realize and be able to distinguish the good from bad, evil from saint such that she could boldly address sin, informing people about the need to repent and seek forgiveness from God. During her era, Locke’s life and that gender privileges prompted her to dedicate much of her time to poem and religion, especially associating with specific individuals whom she perceived as being religiously upright (Ross 77). She overcame the gender prejudices during this period, as she persistently worked hard in order to enlighten society (Evans 105). Most of her literary works contributed significantly to gender equality, an aspect that is encountered in modern society. Even though she did not have access to equal opportunities as her male counterparts, she used her ability to express her ideas. Moreover, she later translated other male colleagues’ work, especially those who had the chance for better education and freedom of expression.

Gender equality is a vital aspect of society today, and the world is providing enlightenment and a chance for institutions and organizations to embrace gender equality, as both genders have unique talents and skills. Therefore, equality and equity in handling both genders were much required in all aspects. Locke’s orchestrated protestant transformation, leading to many religions. This act is evident in society today, as now different religions and denominations exist, meaning her effort created independence in the religious affairs (Serjeantson 58). The definition for sin and the repentance need is widely spread and sought in society, a concurrent notion with her major work and poem, eliciting her thought-provoking, creative, and appealing nature of literal presentation (Carsley 45). An analysis of some of the 26 sonnets in the sequence is shown below, emphasizing her thought-provoking pieces.

I haue added this meditation folowyng vnto the ende of this boke, not as parcell of maister Caluines worke, but for that it well agreeth with the same argument, and was deliuered me by my frend with whom I knew I might be so bolde to vse & publishe it as pleased me.

My many sinnes in nomber are encreast,
With weight wherof in sea of depe despeire
My sinking soule is now so sore opprest,
That now in peril and in present fere,
I crye: susteine me, Lord, and Lord I pray,
With endlesse nomber of thy mercies take
The endlesse nomber of my sinnes away.
So by thy mercie, for thy mercies sake,
Rue on me, Lord, releue me with thy grace.
My sinne is cause that I so nede to haue
Thy mercies ayde in my so woefull case:
My synne is cause that scarce I dare to craue
Thy mercie manyfolde, which onely may
Releue my soule, and take my sinnes awa

For lo, in sinne, Lord, I begotten was,
With sede and shape my sinne I toke also,
Sinne is my nature and my kinde alas,
In sinne my mother me conceiued: Lo
I am but sinne, and sinfull ought to dye,
Dye in his wrath that hath forbydden sinne.
Such bloome and frute loe sinne doth multiplie,
Such was my roote, such is my iuyse within.
I plead not this as to excuse my blame,
On kynde or parentes myne owne gilt to lay:
But by disclosing of my sinne, my shame,
And nede of helpe, the plainer to displaye
Thy mightie mercy, if with plenteous grace
My plenteous sinnes it please thee to deface

Assure my soule, I craue it not in vaine.


  1. The piece describes Anne’s acknowledgment of her sonnets as her colleagues’ work and further allows society to attribute the work to his colleagues, such as Calvin and Knox, and that she was only the translator.
  2. Focused on Anne’s acknowledgment of her sinful ways and plea for abundant mercies from God
  3. Anne Locke emphasizes the need to seek forgiveness from sin, as humans are born out of sin into a wicked society, and because of that, they need to reform. The name Mary is biblically associated with the mother of Jesus. It is a holy name. However, in the sonnet, Locke used this name in expressing an evil character in Mary I, as she was opposed to Protestants reformation and even orchestrated reformer’s exile and suffering during their reformation period (Ross 57).
  4. Locke’s expressed her faith in religion, believing in God. She believed that God has the power and is merciful to forgive the sinners only if they seek repentance (Carsley 43).


I was surprised by the inconclusive historical archival regarding a prominent poet such as that of Locke in the scholarly works. My choice for the writer was prompted by the belief that Locke is one of the renowned female writers, and because of that, her information is widespread in scholarly works. Besides, I believed that her bibliography information would be available in numerous scholarly sources since she was the first English woman and poet to write the sonnet sequence. My opinion regarding this insufficient information is that she was born when gender discrimination was at the peak. In this period, only noble people had their specific information archived because they were treasured in society (Ross 68). I believe that this explanation explains why finding her exact month, and day of birth is difficult. Eve if she did not have formal education, Locke managed to handle literature work effectively, indicating that she was a woman of magnificent ability and wisdom. During this era, society did not recognize the abilities of such women. Like her father, Locke lived with a protestant reformer, a decision which prompted her exile to Geneva later on. Mary I administration did not recognize protestants, which, in my opinion, may have orchestrated the lack of adequate information about Anne Locke.

Several relevant scholarly articles address Locke differently. I believe that this disparity arises because Locke married three different husbands during her lifetime, and because of that, she had different surnames, which might be confusing to writers. Locke’s major work, the sonnet sequence, AMeditation of a Pertinent Sinner, helped me research her, as I could find vital information about her life, work, and general principles (Ma 39). The piece earned her global recognition, and through it, I was able to determine her purpose for the literature work, recognize her zeal behind protestant reformation, and identify her belief system. Notably, Locke expressed her fight for religious awareness and the need to revert the normal oppressive religious customs. She championed for better societal customs and values, especially insisting on those cultural systems pertinent religious doctrines. Her main focus was to convince people to adopt a responsible lifestyle that is relevant to religious ideologies. Locke wanted to institute change in society and instill the belief that humans, regardless of their gender, have the capabilities to change society, and because of that aspect, everyone needs equal treatment. Her virtues and persistence in searching for knowledge for a better society provoked her to work with notable reformers, such as Calvin and Knox – an attribute many scholars respect, as they cite it in their works.

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Locke’s work revolved around religious issues, and I believe that church history adopted some of her belief systems. She insisted on the need to acknowledge the sinful ways of life in society, the need to change, and seek repentance from God. Her main work, notably AMeditation of a Pertinent Sinner existed in 26 sonnets. I highlighted this work by analyzing it thoroughly in the endnotes section. I did this process by picking and highlighting significant areas and then analyzed it in the endnotes section. Anne is a rare writer considering that she opted to write when gender discrimination was rampant. Considering all these factors, I was overwhelmed by her historical facts. I never thought of procrastinating the project because I was curious to know more about her life, noting her work was encouraging, thought-provoking, and educative to me. Her works have inspired me significantly, and I believe it has improved my enthusiasm for poetic works.

My research was made easy by the fact that Locke appeared to me to be a natural translator. Her works, majorly A Meditation of a Pertinent Sinner, were published in English, making it easy to follow and understand for an English literate scholar. Overall, my research on Locke was a success, educative, and easy despite some of the inconclusive vital information in her life that I had to search through several scholarly works in order to ascertain.

Works Cited

Carsley, Catherine A. “Biblical Versification and French Religious Paraphrase in Anne Lock’s “A Meditation of a Penitent Sinner”.” ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes, and Reviews. Vol. 24, no.1-2, 2011. pp. 42-50.

Collinson, Patrick. “The Role of Women in the English Reformation Illustrated By the Life and Friendships of Anne Locke.” Studies in Church History.  Vol. 2, 1965. pp. 258-272.

Evans, Robert C. ““Despaire Behind, and Death Before”: Comparing and Contrasting The” Meditative” Sonnets of Anne Vaughan Lock and John Donne.” Ben Jonson Journa. Vol.16, no.1-2, 2009. pp. 99-116.

Felch, Susan M. “Anne Lock and the Instructive Complaint.” Early Modern Women’s Complaint. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham, 2020. pp. 29-46.

Ma, Ruen-chuan. “Counterpoints of Penitence: Reading Anne Lock’s “A Meditation of a Penitent Sinner” through a Late-Medieval Middle English Psalm Paraphrase.” ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes, and Reviews. Vol.24, no.1-2, 2011. pp. 33-41.

May, Steven W. “Anne Lock and Thomas Norton’s Meditation of a Penitent Sinner.” Modern Philology. Vol. 114, no.4, 2017. pp. 793-819.

Ross, Sarah CE. “Elizabeth Melville and the Religious Sonnet Sequence in Scotland and England.” Early Modern Women and the Poem. Manchester University Press, 2016.

Serjeantson, Deirdre. “‘Anne Lock’s Anonymous Friend:’A Meditation of a Penitent Sinner’and the Problem of Ascription’.” 2012. pp. 51-72.

Trull, Mary. “Petrarchism and the Gift: The Sacrifice of Praise in Anne Lock’s” A Meditation of a Penitent Sinner”.” Religion & literature. 2009. pp. 1-25.

Waller, Gary F. English Poetry of the Sixteenth Century. Routledge, 2014.

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