Damaris Cudworth Masham

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Damaris Masham
Born Damaris Cudworth
(1659-01-18)18 January 1659
Cambridge, England
Died 20 April 1708(1708-04-20) (aged 49)
London, England
Nationality English
Other names Lady Masham
Spouse(s) Sir Francis Masham, 3rd Bt (m. 1685)
Era 17th-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Cambridge Platonists
Main interests
Christian theology

Damaris, Lady Masham (18 January 1659 – 20 April 1708) was an English writer, philosopher, theologian, and advocate for women's education who is characterized as a proto-feminist. She overcame some weakness of eyesight and lack of access to formal higher education to win high regard among eminent thinkers of her time. With an extensive correspondence, she published two works, A Discourse Concerning the Love of God (1696) and Thoughts in reference to a Vertuous or Christian Life (1705). She is particularly noted for her long, mutually-influential friendship with the philosopher John Locke.

Family background

Early life

The Rev. Prof. Ralph Cudworth (1617–88)

Damaris Cudworth, born on 18 January 1659,[1] was the daughter of the Reverend Professor Ralph Cudworth and his wife, Damaris Cudworth (née Cradock) (d. 1695), five years after her father became Master of Christ's College in the University of Cambridge (a position he occupied for the rest of his life). A distinguished classicist and Regius Professor of Hebrew, Ralph Cudworth had been educated in the non-conforming environment of Emmanuel College during the 1630s. Both his father (a clergyman and royal chaplain also named Ralph Cudworth) and his stepfather, the clergyman John Stoughton (1593–1639), had previously studied and held Fellowships there, and had successively held the college Rectoriate of Aller, Somerset (where the younger Ralph had been born). He became a leading figure of the Cambridge Platonist School,[2] and poured immense erudition and originality into his great work, The True Intellectual System of the Universe (only the first very substantial part of which came to readiness by 1671, with publication in 1678).[3] Overtly a refutation of atheistic determinism, his work evolved in critique of aspects of Calvinist theology, in the light of his near-contemporary René Descartes, and in opposition to Thomas Hobbes.[4]

Damaris Cradock Andrewes (d. 1695)

Her mother, Damaris, daughter of Damaris and Mathew Cradock of London (d. 1641),[5] was first married to London merchant citizen Thomas Andrewes (d. 1653)[6] (son of the Commonwealth Lord Mayor of London Sir Thomas Andrewes), by whom there were several half-brothers and sisters.[7] Her mother's stepmother Rebeccah (relict of Mathew Cradock) later married the Emmanuel College Platonist Benjamin Whichcote,[8] whose niece married her father's friend Dr John Worthington (1657).[9] Through her mother's family, Damaris (Lady Masham) was cousin to Zachary Cradock, Provost of Eton (1680–95), and Samuel Cradock, nonconformist tutor of Wickhambrook, Suffolk (both of whom were educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge during the 1640s and 1650s).

Damaris Cudworth's half-sister, Damaris Andrewes (d. 1687), married Edward Abney, a student, graduate, and Fellow of Christ's College (from 1649), who had obtained the higher degree of Doctor of both laws (LL.D) and resigned his Fellowship to marry her (1661).[10] Her half-brother, John Andrewes (d. after 1688), also studied at Christ's College (from 1664) and held a Fellowship there (until c.1675).[11] Her other half-brother, Matthew Andrewes (d. 1674), entered Queens' College, Cambridge (1663/64), and was Fellow there at his death.[12] Whilst her brother, Charles Cudworth, who died in India (1684), and for whom Locke observed her tender affection,[13] may have been educated at Trinity College, Cambridge;[14] her other brothers attended Christ's College: John Cudworth (an undergraduate under John Andrewes, and later Fellow and Lecturer in Greek (1672–84)),[15] and Thomas Cudworth.[16]


Although her early life has left no record of formal schooling, the unusual collegiate context of her family environment (and her acquaintance with her father's Platonist circle) gave her advantages and insights in an age when higher education was not normally accessible to women.[1] The claims that she was taught by her father,[17] or owed the development of her thought especially to John Norris (an early associate with whom she came to differ), are to some extent superfluous: she was an intelligent young woman in a brilliant household of academics embedded in the collegiate life. Damaris herself emphasized the importance of the maternal influence on a child's education.[18]

Her early letters to John Locke show her experienced in philosophical discourse, capable in discussion of her father's Platonist views and having knowledge of many Platonist works.[19] By 1682, she was well-read in contemporary philosophy. This was despite a certain weakness of eyesight which affected her ability to read as copiously as she wished. There is no medical record for this: John Norris referred to her 'blindness' in his Reflections upon the Conduct of Human Life (1690),[20] but this was a statement which she, herself, contradicted and corrected him upon.[21] John Locke also referred to her sight in correspondence with Philip van Limborch.[22] Her scholarly calling, itself unusual for a woman in her time, was achieved in spite of this weakness.

Marriage (1685) and motherhood

In 1685, Damaris Cudworth (aged 26) married Sir Francis Masham, 3rd Baronet (c.1646–1723),[23] of the Manor of Oates in High Laver in the county of Essex (she was thereafter styled Lady Masham). She and Sir Francis (a widower), already (with his previous wife, Mary Scott) the father of eight children, including the courtier Samuel, 1st Lord Masham (1678/9–1758)), had one son: Francis Cudworth Masham (1686–1731).[24] Little is known of their personal relationship: the marriage provided security, if no great social or educational advancement of itself. When her father, Ralph Cudworth, died in 1688: he left her such of the English books from his library as she should choose.[25] Her mother maintained close connections with her daughter's household and, when she died (1695),[26] she made extensive provision for her daughter and appointed John Locke, Edward Clarke and Bishop Edward Fowler (her executor) as trustees for the future welfare of her grandson, Francis Cudworth Masham[27] (who later became Accountant-General to the Court of Chancery).

Correspondence and publications

From her early twenties onwards, she maintained a close personal relationship with John Locke (during the remainder of his life). They were probably brought together by a mutual friend, Edward Clarke.[28][29] They met sometime before 1682, and exchanged many personal, and often flirtatious, letters. Locke described her admirably in a letter to Phillipp van Limborch: “The lady herself is so well versed in theological and philosophical studies, and of such an original mind that you will not find many men to whom she is not superior in wealth of knowledge and ability to profit by it.”[19] She and Locke were of great importance to one another in their friendship and studies, and Locke took up residence in her household (from 1691 until his death in 1704). He brought with him his library (of nearly 2,000 books), purchased for her a writing desk, ink and quills, and paid for the binding of her works.[30] Much of Locke's last will and testament is devoted to gifts, legacies and arrangements for Damaris, Lady Masham and her son, Francis.[31] An account of Locke's last day (during which Lady Masham attended him), and of his character, was published in 1705.[32]

Constant companions, they exchanged ideas and theories and entertained many other theologians and philosophers (including Sir Isaac Newton and Franciscus Mercurius van Helmont).[33] During this time she published her first work, A Discourse Concerning the Love of God (1696), which was a response to John Norris's Practical Discourses. Shortly after Locke's death, she published her best-known work, Thoughts in Reference to a Vertuous or Christian Life (1705).[29] Both were published anonymously, to avoid prejudice or irrelevant courtesy towards a woman scholar: Pierre Bayle (who easily ascertained her authorship) hastened to amend one of his previous (careless) observations, concerning her father's work, with an elaborate (and probably) sincere compliment upon her Savoir and other perfections.[34] Her correspondence with Gottfried Wilhem Leibniz explored their respective theories including the latter's work on Pre-established harmony, on her father Ralph Cudworth's work, and on the relationship between body and soul.[35]

Death (1708), memorial, and portraits

Damaris Cudworth Masham died at Otes (20 April 1708), and was buried in the middle aisle of Bath Abbey. Over her grave it was written of 'her Learning, Judgement, Sagacity, and Penetration together with her Candor and Love of Truth (Ballard, 337).[36]


No extant portraits of Damaris Cudworth Masham are known. According to an inventory, her mother owned a portrait, and John Locke ordered one from Sir Godfrey Kneller (1704), but both appear to have been lost.[37]

Philosophy and advocacy

Often touted as the "Lockean feminist" by scholars (such as Jaqueline Broad and Lois Frankel), Damaris Cudworth Masham's public works consisted of a mix between her father's Platonism, Lockean theories and arguments, and her own proto-feminist ideals and advocacy. She criticised the double standard of men and women's moralities and women's lack of access to higher education.[38]

In her Occasional Thoughts in reference to a Vertuous or Christian Life (1705), Damaris Cudworth Masham makes two important points regarding the inferior education given to women. Firstly, she argues that giving an inferior education to women leaves them unfit to be able to give their children a proper education (since most children, during this period, were given early education by their mothers and education was still mostly reserved for members of the elite).[39] She writes,

“The improvements of Reason, however requisite to Ladies for their Accomplishment, as rational Creatures; and however needful to them for the well Educating of their Children, and to their being useful in their Families, yet are rarely any recommendation of them to Men; who foolishly thinking, that Money will answer to all things, do, for the most part, regard nothing else in the Woman they would Marry … Girls, betwixt silly Fathers and ignorant Mothers, are generally so brought up, that traditionary Opinions are to them, all their lives long, instead of Reason."[40]

Here, Damaris Cudworth Masham argued that it would be a benefit to all mankind should women be allowed access to higher education since it would allow them to educate better their sons and daughters and advance reason in society.

Secondly, Cudworth argued that women should have access to education for not only their children's spiritual welfare but for their own. She argued that “Women have Souls to be sav’d as well as Men,” and that, by being blessed with rational thinking, it was imperative for women to understand the principles and values behind their own religious beliefs.[41] “They [women] are, perhaps sometimes told in regard of what Religion exacts, They must Believe and Do such and such things, because the Word of God requires it; but they are not put upon searching the Scriptures themselves, to see whether, or no, these things are so."[42] She further argued that a woman's duty and knowledge should not be grounded on the "uncertain and variable Opinions of Men"[42] but that they should, instead, be able to nurture their minds as well as their bodies and form their own opinions about spirituality.

Influence on other philosophers

Damaris Cudworth Masham's work and correspondence with many of the great philosophers of the Enlightenment may be argued to have influenced their resulting published works. Most notably, it is surmised that she influenced Locke's second revision of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.[43] Locke worked on various revisions of this treatise (between 1689 until his death in 1704), during which time he resided, with the Mashams, at their manor of Oates, High Laver, Essex. Thus, it is not unlikely that Damaris Cudworth would have had some intellectual influence over aspects of these revisions. In revising the section "Of Power", Locke seems to adopt many of Ralph Cudworth's ideas (and especially those contained in his unpublished manuscripts, which are considered the second and third parts to his The True Intellectual System of the Universe (1678)).[44] Even though these manuscripts are not believed to have been in Damaris's possession until the death of her elder brother, John Cudworth (1726), the influence of Ralph Cudworth's ideas upon Locke's work cannot be ignored, and has led some historians to believe that it was Damaris Cudworth Masham herself (familiar with her father's works) who may have influenced Locke during this second revision of "Of Power."[45] Damaris Cudworth Masham did make parallels to her father's ideas on free will (contained in his third manuscript), which appear in her publication Occasional Thoughts,

"without a capacity in the Creature to act contrary to the Will of the Creator there could be no desert, or self-excellency in any Created Being; contrariety to the Will of God is therefore permitted in the Universe as a necessary result of Creaturely imperfection, under the greatest endowment that a Created Being is capable of having, viz. That of Freedom or Liberty of Action."[46]

Thereby indicating that her father was likely to have passed-on many of his ideas, regarding free will and the rejection of determinism, to Damaris (either directly through the reading of his manuscripts or indirectly from her education in philosophical discourse).[47]


  • A discourse concerning the Love of God (A. and J. Churchill at the Black-Swan in Paternoster-Row, London 1696).
  • Occasional Thoughts in reference to a Vertuous or Christian Life (Awnsham and John Churchill at the Black-Swan in Paternoster-Row, London 1705). At Project Gutenberg (accessed 8 December 2014).
  • Briefwechsel zwischen Leibniz und Lady Masham. 1703–1705. In: Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz: Philosophische Schriften (Weidmannsche Buchhandlung, Berlin 1887), vol. 3, pp. 331–375. [Leibniz writes in French, Lady Masham answers in English. Volume online.]


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  1. 1.0 1.1 Frankel, Lois. "Damaris Cudsworth Masham." Vol. 3, in A History of Women Philosophers, 1600–1900 by Mary Ellen Waith (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1991.), 73.
  2. See Cambridge Platonist Research Portal Archived 14 September 2014 at the Wayback Machine
  3. R. Cudworth, The true intellectual system of the universe. The first part wherein all the reason and philosophy of atheism is confuted and its impossibility demonstrated (Richard Royston, London (1678) but with imprimatur of 1671).
  4. Benjamin Carter, 'The standing of Ralph Cudworth as a Philosopher', in G.A.J. Rogers, Tom Sorell and Jill Kraye (eds), Insiders and Outsiders in Seventeenth-Century Philosophy (Routledge 2010), pp. 99–111. Catherine Osborne, 'Ralph Cudworth's The True Intellectual System of the Universe and the Presocratic Philosophers', in Oliver Primavesi and Katharina Luchner (eds) The Presocratics from the Latin Middle Ages to Hermann Diels (Steiner Verlag 2011), pp 215–35.
  5. Will of Mathew Cradock (P.C.C. 1641).
  6. Will Of Thomas Andrewes (P.C.C. 1653).
  7. Wills of Ralph Cudworth (P.C.C. 1688) and Damaris Cudworth (P.C.C. 1695).
  8. Sarah Hutton, 'Whichcote, Benjamin (1609–83), theologian and moral philosopher' in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  9. John T. Young, 'Worthington, John (bap. 1617, d. 1671)' in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  10. Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses Vol. I Part 1, p. 2.
  11. J. Peile, Biographical Register of Christ's College 1505–1905, I: 1448–1665 (Cambridge University Press, 1910), p. 612 (Internet Archive). Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses, Vol. I Part 1, p. 30.
  12. Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses Vol. I Part 1, p. 30. Will of Mathew Andrewes, Fellow of Queen's College of Cambridge (P.C.C. 1674, Bunce quire). Abstract in H.F. Waters, Genealogical Gleanings in England, with the addition of New Series, A-Anyon Vol. II (Genealogical Publishing Company, Baltimore 1969), p. 1738.
  13. Locke's letter, in Lord King, The Life of John Locke: With Extracts from His Correspondence, New Edition, 2 Vols (Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, London 1830), II, pp. 16–21 (Google).
  14. Peile, Biographical Register II, pp. 49–50, citing Journal entries from Factory Records, Kasinbazar III. See David A. Pailin, 'Cudworth, Ralph (1617–88), theologian and philosopher' in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  15. J. Peile, Biographical Register of Christ's College 1505–1905, Volume II, 1666–1905 (Cambridge University Press 1913), II, p. 46.
  16. Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses Part I. From the earliest times to 1751, Vol. 1 (1922), pp. 430–31.
  17. The claim appears to originate speculatively in George Ballard, Memoirs of Several Ladies of Great Britain (Author, Oxford 1752), pp. 379–88, at p. 379. See a discussion in James G. Buickerood, 'What is it with Damaris, Lady Masham? The Historiography of one early modern woman philosopher', Locke Studies. An Annual Journal of Locke Research 5 (2005), pp. 179–214; and a reply by Richard Acworth, 'Cursory Reflections', &c., Locke Studies 6 (2006).
  18. 'I.3: "Household Affaires are the Opium of the Soul": Damaris Masham and the Necessity of Women's Poetry', in B. Smith and U. Appelt (eds), Write or be Written: Early Modern Women Poets and Cultural Constraints (Routledge, Abingdon 2016), at pp. 83 ff (Google).
  19. 19.0 19.1 Frankel, A History of Women Philosophers, 1600–1900, 73–74.
  20. Jaqueline Broad. "Damaris Masham." In Women Philosophers of the Seventeenth Century, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 138.
  21. Buickerood, Locke Studies 5 (2005), at pp. 191–93, citing letter of Masham to Jean le Clerc of 18 June 1703, Universitseitbibliotheek, Amsterdam, MS J.58v.
  22. Frankel, A History of Women Philosophers, 1600–1900, 73–74; but see Buickerood, p. 193.
  23. M. Knights, 'Masham, Sir Francis, 3rd Bt. (c. 1646–1723), of Otes, High Laver, Essex', in D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks and S. Handley (eds), The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690–1715 (Boydell & Brewer, 2002) Read here.
  24. Sarah Hutton, "Lady Damaris Masham." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (March 2014). http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/lady-masham.
  25. Will of Ralph Cudworth, Doctor of Divinity (P.C.C. 1688).
  26. Her epitaph (monumental inscription in High Laver church) was reputedly written by John Locke, see H.R. Fox Bourne, The Life of John Locke, 2 Vols (Harper & Brothers, New York 1876), II, pp. 306–07.
  27. Will of Damaris Cudworth (P.C.C. 1695).
  28. M. Knights, 'Clarke, Edward I (1650–1710), of Chipley, Som.', in D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks and S. Handley (eds), The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690–1715 (from Boydell and Brewer, 2002), History of Parliament Online.
  29. 29.0 29.1 Hutton, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  30. Jaqueline Broad, 'A Woman's Influence? John Locke and Damaris Masham on Moral Accountability,' Journal of the History of Ideas 2006 (University of Pennsylvania Press), 493.
  31. Will of John Lock of High Laver (P.C.C. 1704).
  32. J. le Clerc, 'Article V. Eloge de feu Mr. Locke,' Bibliothèque Choisie, pour servir de suite à la Bibliothèque Universelle, Vol. VI: Année MDCCV (Henry Schelte, Amsterdam 1705), pp. 342–411, at pp. 398–401 (deathbed scene); pp. 402–10 (character). (In French).
  33. Lois Frankel, 'Damaris Cudsworth Masham, A Seventeenth-Century Feminist Philosopher,'in Linda Lopez McAlister (ed), Hypatia's Daughters (Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1996), pp. 128–138.
  34. 'Lettre CCXXVII, à Mr Coste, 3 Juillet 1705,' Lettres Choisies de Mr. Bayle, avec des Remarques, Vol. III (Fritsch et Böhm, Rotterdam 1714), pp. 874–76. (In French).
  35. Frankel, A History of Women Philosophers, 1600–1900, p. 75.
  36. Ballard G (1752) Memoirs of several ladies of Great Britain.
  37. Masham (1659–1708) on ProjectVox.
  38. Frankel, A History of Women Philosophers, 1600–1900, 83.
  39. Broad, Women Philosophers. 138.
  40. Lady Damaris Masham. "Occasional Thoughts in Reference to a Vertuous or Christian Life." Project Gutenburg. (1705). https://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/13285/pg13285.html
  41. Broad, Women Philosophers. 139.
  42. 42.0 42.1 Masham, Occasional Thoughts
  43. Broad. Journal of the History of Ideas, 492.
  44. Broad. Journal of the History of Ideas, 497–500.
  45. Broad. Journal of the History of Ideas, 502–508.
  46. Lady Damaris Masham. "A discourse concerning the love of God" (London: A. and J. Church at the Black-Swan in Paternoster-Row, 1696).
  47. Broad. Journal of the History of Ideas, 506.

Further reading

  • Broad, Jacqueline, 2002, 'Damaris Masham', in Women Philosophers of the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 114–140.
  • Broad, Jacqueline, 2006, 'A Woman's Influence? John Locke and Damaris Masham on Moral Accountability,' Journal of the History of Ideas, 67 no. 3 (July 2006): 489–510.
  • Frankel, Lois, 1989, 1991, 1996, 'Damaris Cudworth Masham,' in Mary Ellen Waithe, ed., A History of Women Philosophers, Vol. 3, (Kluwer Academic, Dordrecht 1991), pp. 73–85. (Reprinted from Hypatia, 1989). Reprinted as 'Damaris Cudworth Masham, A seventeenth-century feminist philosopher' in Linda Lopez McAlister (ed), Hypatia's Daughters: 1500 Years of Women Philosophers (Indianapolis, Indiana University Press 1996), pp. 128–138.
  • Hamou, Philippe, 2008, 'Enthousiasme et nature humaine: à propos d'une lettre de Locke à Damaris Cudworth', Revue de Métaphysique et Morale, 3: 337–350.
  • Hutton, Sarah, 1993, 'Damaris Cudworth, Lady Masham: between Platonism and Enlightenment', British Journal for the History of Philosophy 1 (1): 29–54.
  • Hutton, Sarah, 2010, 'Damaris Masham', in P. Schuurman and S.-J. Savonius Wroth (eds.), The Continuum Companion to Locke (London & New York: Continuum), pp. 72–6.
  • Hutton, Sarah, 2012, 'Religion, Philosophy and Women's Letters: Anne Conway and Damaris Masham', in Anne Dunan-Page and Clotilde Prunier (eds.), Debating the Faith: Religion and Letter-Writing in Great Britain, 1550–1800 (Dordrecht: Springer).
  • Hutton, Sarah. 'Lady Damaris Masham,' Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Stanford University 2014). (accessed 8 December 2014)
  • Laslett, Peter, 1953, 'Masham of Oates', History Today, 3: 535–43.
  • Phemister, Pauline, 2007, ' ‘All the time and everywhere everything's the same as here’: the principle of uniformity in the correspondence between Leibniz and Lady Masham', in Paul Lodge (ed.), Leibniz and his Correspondents (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
  • Simonutti, Luisa, 1987, 'Damaris Cudworth Masham: una Lady della Repubblica delle Lettere,' in Scritti in Onore di Eugenio Garin (Pisa: Scuola Normale Superiore), pp. 141–165.

External links