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Magdalen Herbert Danvers and Donne's Vision of Comfort by Bettie Anne Doebler and Retha M. Wernicke Admirers of John Donne have long recognized the importance of Magdalen Herbert Danvers as a friend and as an inspiration to his work. The mother of George Herbert, she was an extraordinary woman, and, considering that she left no literary work or even a corpus of letters, there is an astonishing amount of extant material about her. Two remarkable contributions associated with her provide evidence of the way in which she, her culture, and her friend Donne were preoccupied with death. These are the elaborate tomb she commissioned for her family and Donne's commemorative sermon for her, which so comforted her son George that he attached to it nineteen poems of his authorship when it was printed in 1627. Perhaps more important, it so captured the essence of her character that her son Edward stated in his autobiography that his mother was just the way Donne had described her.1 Although accounts of her life do exist, more attention needs to be given to her Newport heritage and her indirect association with the Virginia Company. Understandably, because four of her ten children were written up in the Dictionary of National Biography, studies of her usually emphasize her role in the Herbert family.2 Without denying her sons' achievements, this essay will look more closely at her Newport origins and the Virginia Company, for the purpose of offering a greater understanding of her life, and therefore of theirs, and of providing a framework in which to study Donne's commemorative sermon. She was born in the early 1560s into a Shropshire family that traced its lineage back to both English and Welsh royalty. In the 1390s her ancestors had obtained the manor of High Ercall, the chief manor of their estates, which were greater 6 Bettie Anne Doebler and Retha M. Wernicke than those of any other Shropshire family since the conquest. Over 150 years later, their descendant, Richard, greatly added to his inheritance when he married the heiress of Sir Thomas Bromley, a warden of the Drapers' Company of Shrewsbury. When Sir Thomas died in 1555, he was Chief Justice of the Queen's Bench and left his property in five counties, including his manor of Eyton-upon-Severn, to that daughter, Margaret.3 Before Bromley's death, Margaret had already begun to give birth to her Newport children, foursons and fourdaughters, of whom Magdalen was the youngest. For dowries their father Richard, who died in 1570, bequeathed to Isabel 300 marks; to Elizabeth 200 marks; and to Magdalen, "of tender years," 200 pounds to be paid one year after her marriage or whenever after that she became twenty; and to his eldest daughter's husband a gelding. His widow commissioned an altar tomb for him in Wroxeter Church, Shrewsbury, and in civic documents he was characterized as "a valiant knight" and a "pryncely personage."4 Like many contemporary widows, Lady Newport, who lived at Eyton-on-Severn with her smallest children, never remarried. Although before his death Sir Richard had arranged the marriages of his three elder daughters, he had not yet sought a husband for the youthful Magdalen. As the fourth girl, she normally would have had little chance of marrying, but because of her substantial dowry, her mother was able to arrange a union for her with Richard, the heir of Sir Edward Herbert, descendant to a brother of the Earl of Pembroke who had died in 1469.5 Her father-in-law had brought his branch of the family to prominence by obtaining Montgomery Castle and other property during the reign of Henry VIII. His career overshadowed that of his heir, Richard, who was never knighted and who survived his father by only three years. From 1581, when Magdalen married Richard, perhaps at the age of nineteen, until Sir Edward died in 1593, the newlyweds may have lived largely with her mother at Eyton where their son Edward was born on March 3, 1582. In the next fifteen years she gave birth to six boys and three girls, and as the records of Montgomery list the births of...