Elizabeth Minshull


Elizabeth Minshull and John Milton were married in 1663, when she was 24 and he 55. According to John Aubrey's Brief Life she was “A genteel person, a peaceful and agreeable woman,” pretty and golden-haired. She sang to Milton's bass-viol accompaniment, though his judgement of her musical ability is as quoted in the play.

Elizabeth is said to have put Milton's household into order, and put a stop to his daughters' quarrelling. There is, however, no evidence to suggest any degree of affection between Elizabeth and her husband. Milton's manner towards her raised the eyebrows of several visitors. One of them records that in a visit lasting three days the only words he heard pass between them were Milton's single line of praise for the meal given in the play.

The suggestion of an attraction between Elizabeth and Thomas Ellwood, her close contemporary in age, is my own fabrication. It is extremely unlikely that she would ever have voiced the complaint I have her make against her own marriage -- however consistent it is with Milton's views, it is an anachronism in the mouth of a 17th century woman.

Upon Milton's death in 1674 he left the entirety of his estate to Elizabeth, cutting his three daughters out of his will entirely. They threatened to sue, until Elizabeth volunteered a satisfactory compromise. She retained the Bunhill house until her death in 1724, and Masson records a touching vignette of Elizabeth, living as an elderly woman in genteel poverty, proudly exhibiting to visitors the relics of her famous husband.