Aphra Behn


The poet, writer and dramatist Aphra Behn (1640?-1689) was probably the daughter of a barber called Johnson and was born in Kent. Little is known of her early life but she did spend some time in Surinam in South America. Her husband Johann Behn apparently died a few years after their marriage. She wrote many plays and poems and became associated with the circle of the Earl of Rochester. Charles II employed her as a spy or agent during the Dutch war. However her reputation was so bad that no one believed her when she warned of a Dutch raid along the Medway river but the raid actually did take place. Her most famous novel is Oroonoko, or the History of the Royal Slave.

She was buried in the East Cloister of Westminster Abbey and her gravestone reads:

"MRS APHRA BEHN DYED APRIL 16 A.D. 1689. Here lies a Proof that Wit can never be Defence enough against Mortality."

A photograph of the gravestone can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.

Further reading:

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004
"The Secret Life of Aphra Behn" by Janet Todd, 1996.