Abraham Cowley’s Plantarum Libri Sex
: A Cavalier Poet and the Classical Canon

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Abraham Cowley’s Plantarum Libri Sex (1662 and 1668), a polymetric Latin poem of some 7,000 lines by a major English poet of the Interregnum and early Restoration, exists in no modern edition or translation and has received very little critical attention.

This thesis demonstrates that the Plantarum deserves wider study. Showing how the work’s complex and nuanced interaction with classical intertexts is brought to bear on contemporary literary and political concerns, it aims to establish the poem as an important work by a writer at the heart of seventeenth-century literary and political activity.

In the Introduction, I briefly describe Cowley’s life and work before contextualising the Plantarum in terms of neo-Latin and English literature and surveying existing scholarship. Chapter 1 looks at the elegiac books 1-2 (1662) in terms of their Ovidian intertext, relating Cowley’s poetics of change both to the Fasti and Metamorphoses and to the political upheavals of the mid-seventeenth century.

Chapter 2 considers books 3-4 in terms of their Horatianism and of the allusions to Caroline masque generated through use of the Chloris/Flora/Henrietta Maria identification. Rather than a Royalist retreat, Flora’s court represents a Stoic negotium animi where the nature of monarchy is energetically debated.

In Chapter 3 I show how Cowley juxtaposes the natural resources of the New World against the cultural heritage of the Old. I look at the combination of classical intertextuality and British national identity in his account of the forest, showing how he depicts the Stuart monarchy as its guarantor and guardian. After demonstrating the sophistication of Cowley’s engagement with Virgil and Lucan in the narrative of the Civil War and Restoration, I argue for an identification between Britain and America, and that books 5 and 6 are unified by Cowley’s prophecy of a maritime empire for the Stuart dynasty.
Date of Award2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorVictoria Moul (Supervisor) & Elizabeth Scott-Baumann (Supervisor)

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