Elizabeth Melville, Lady Culross, lived from about 1578 to about 1640. She was the first Scottish woman writer to have her work appear in print. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Elizabeth Melville was the daughter of Sir James Melville of Halhill, a statesman who served in the courts of Mary, Queen of Scots and King James VI and who wrote Memoirs of His Own Life. She was born near Collessie in Fife and was educated to a high standard at home. In about 1597 she married John Colville, the younger son of the Commendator of Culross Abbey (in effect, the laird who had managed to gain the lands of the abbey at the time of the Reformation in 1560). They had six children and after John inherited his father's title (but not much of his money), the family moved to live in Culross, with Elizabeth acquiring the honourary title of Lady Culross.
In 1603, Elizabeth published Ane Godlie Dreame in Scots, with an English translation the following year. She thus became the first (known) Scottish writer to have her work appear in print. Described as a Calvinist dream-vision poem which presented the imagery and teachings of medieval dream vision poetry in a form and language acceptable to Protestants, this proved highly popular at the time, and was reprinted many times over the following two centuries. Many believe it was the inspiration for Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. The poem describes the religious experience of a woman active in the Reformation and has some distinctly Scottish landscape settings.
Although best known for Ane Godlie Dreame, Elizabeth wrote many other poems and songs. Manuscripts containing 29 of her poems only came to light in 2002. Elizabeth died at Culross in about 1640. One of her sons, Samuel Colville, followed in her footsteps as a writer, while another, Alexander, became a church minister.