Lady Hester Pulter (née Ley) (1605–1678) was a seventeenth-century poet and writer, whose manuscript was rediscovered in 1996 in the Brotherton Library, University of Leeds. Her major works include “Poems Breathed Forth By the Noble Hadassas”, “The Sighes of a Sad Soule Emblematically Breath’d Forth by the Noble Hadassas”, and “The Unfortunate Florinda.”
An inscription in Hester’s manuscript—”Made when my spirits were sunk very low with sickness and sorrow. may 1667. I being seventy one years old” (fol. 88v)—suggests that she was born in 1595; however, given the title of her poem “Universall dissolution, made when I was with Child of my 15th Child my sonne John/ I being as every one thought in a Consumption 1648” (fol. 10v), a birth year of 1595 would have made her fifty-three years old at the birth of her youngest child. Another alternative piece of evidence is given in Hester’s manuscript when she mourns the Irish Rebellion, writing that she remembers “sweete Hibernie where I first had life” (fol. 12v). Her family lived in Ireland from December 1604 to October 1608, due to her father taking up the position of Chief Justice of the King’s Bench in Ireland. This suggests Hester was born in or around Dublin during this time. Another poem, titled “Made when I was sick 1647”, provides further confirmation of this alternative date, when Hester laments her “forty years acquaintance” with her body. This would place her birth year at 1607.
However, an alternate piece of evidence is found in a manuscript titled “The Declaracion of Ley, or Ley: His Pedigree” (Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre, 366/1). As Alice Eardley observed, the manuscript provides a specific date for Hester’s birth and baptism:
Hester, the daughter of the said Sir James Ley and the Lady Mary, his wief, was borne at St. Thomas Court, neere Dublin, in the realme of Ireland, uppon Saturdaie beinge the [viii]th daie of June in the yeare of the raigne of King James of England and Ireland the third, and of Scotland the xxxviiith Anno dmi. 1605, betwene the houres of six and seven of the clock in the morninge, and was baptised in the parish church of St. Katherins in Thomas Streete, neare Dublin, uppon Sondaie beinge the [xix] daie of June then next followinge.
Although the manuscript states that Hester was born on 8 June 1605, Eardley notes that it was 18 June that fell on a Saturday that year, and it seems probable that Hester was born then and baptized the following day: “This gives us the 18 June 1605 as Pulter’s date of birth.”
Hester was the daughter of James Ley, who became the first Earl of Marlborough in 1626, and Mary, James Ley’s first wife. Hester was one of eleven children. It is speculated that the family had a strong connection to John Milton through his Sonnet 10 which addresses Hester’s sister, Margaret Ley, to a small degree, while focusing on James Ley, “that good Earl.” In 1623, supposedly at the age of thirteen, Hester married Arthur Pulter, and proceeded to spend the rest of her life confined to Broadfield Hall, near Cottered in Hertfordshire. (See image here) The Pulters’ had fifteen children, seven sons and eight daughters, only two of whom outlived their mother. During the English Civil Wars, the Pulters withdrew from public life, as a way for Arthur to remain politically neutral. Hester did not remain quiet like her husband, and began writing politically based poetry during the 1640s and the 1650s. Hester Pulter died in 1678; the exact date is unknown. She was buried on 9 April 1678. Her husband outlived both Hester and their children, dying on 27 January 1689. They were survived by their only grandson, James Forester, and he became the sole heir.