Exploring the interplay between class and classical languages in early modern England, this essay examines the funerary inscriptions that Elizabeth Russell wrote for her male relatives. Most critical treatments of Russell’s funerary poetry have focused on her public self-representation as a grieving widow who used her classical education to evoke and circumvent early modern limitations on female speech. This essay extends that scholarly conversation by analyzing the social aspects of her epitaphs, which participated in the early modern vogue for constructing tombs that conveyed social prestige. Russell continued and adapted a tradition of neo-Latin elegies and epitaphs written by and for prominent male humanists linked to her family: William Cecil, John Cheke, Anthony Cooke, and Walter Haddon. By situating Elizabeth Russell’s funerary inscriptions within these wider contexts, this essay aims to show that her knowledge of classical languages served as a basis for documenting and establishing her family’s upward mobility.
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