Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (1611)

“Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum” was first published in 1611 in Aemilia Lanyer’s volume of poetry by the same title, though the year it was written is unknown. Lanyer lived from 1569-1645. The poem addresses the Passion of Christ, contrasting the virtuous women with the evil men, and includes a section defending Eve and all women.[1]

The book Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum was issued twice, though its publication history is complicated to reconstruct. One text includes the short version of dedications: STC 15277. Poems requesting patronage are addressed to Anne of Denmark (James I’s Queen), Elizabeth Stuart (their daughter), “All virtuous ladies in general,” Lady Lucy Russell (Countess of Bedford), and Lady Anne Clifford (Countess of Dorset). There is also a prose dedication to Lanyer’s current patron, Lady Margaret Clifford, Countess Dowager of Cumberland. This text includes a typesetting error that is corrected in the other version, STC 15277.5, indicating that this second text may be the later printing. It includes all the opening addresses existing today: Anne of Denmark (James I’s Queen), Elizabeth Stuart (their daughter), Lady Arabella Stuart, Susan Bertie (Countess Dowager of Kent), Lady Marie (Countess Dowager of Pembroke), Lady Lucy Russell (Countess of Bedford), Lady Katherine Howard (Countess of Suffolk), and Lady Anne Clifford (Countess of Dorset), Lady Margaret Clifford (Countess Dowager of Cumberland), “All virtuous ladies in general,” and “To the virtuous reader.”[2] Three editions of the text have been published in the 20th century, when Lanyer’s work was rediscovered: a 1978 edition by A. L. Rowse, a 1993 edition by Susanne Woods, and a 1994 edition by Diane Purkiss, which also includes the plays of Elizabeth Cary.[3]


The title poem of the book addresses the familiar story of the Passion of Christ, for which Lanyer borrows material from the gospels. As a long religious poem, it has no predecessor in the works of English women writers. There were a few women who wrote religious poetry or translated Psalms before Lanyer: Elizabeth Melvill, Anne Lok, and the Countess of Pembroke. The Countess, Mary Sidney, is one of the potential patrons Lanyer addresses in her opening poems. Mary completed a sequence of psalm translations that her brother, Sir Philip Sidney, began, and received much admiration for them, including from Lanyer. “Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum” argues for the virtues and achievements of women, particularly when joined in a community.[4] It contributes to the debate about women, or “querelle des femmes,” that has been happening since the Middle Ages.[5] Lanyer addresses accusations leveled against women in this poem, including those against Eve.

Many critics see the poem as one of the earliest feminist works of British literature. Shannon Miller argues that immediate influences can be seen from Lanyer’s work in John Milton’s representation of gender hierarchy in Paradise Lost. Later writers, such as Mary Astell, then addressed Milton’s work in their own.[6] The project of reclaiming Eve, arguably initiated by Lanyer, has occupied many women writers since “Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum,” including Rachel Speght in “A Muzzle for Melastomus,” Mary Astell in “A Serious Proposal to the Ladies,” Sarah Morgan Bryan Pitt in “The Coming of Eve,” Dorothy Livesay in “Eve,” and Stevie Smith in “How Cruel is the Story of Eve.”[7]


Allison Wheatley


  1. Greenblatt, Stephen, ed. “Aemilia Lanyer: 1569-1645.” p. 1430
  2. “Biography of Aemilia Lanyer.”
  3. Cooley, Ron. “Bibliography.”
  4. “Aemilia Lanyer.” Poetry Foundation.
  5. Greenblatt, Stephen, ed. “Aemilia Lanyer: 1569-1645.” p. 1430
  6. Miller, Shannon. Engendering the Fall: John Milton and Seventeenth Century Women Writers.
  7. Gilbert, Sandra and Gubar, Susan, ed. “Wrestling With Eve.”