Cary (Tanfield), Elizabeth (1585–1639), Viscountess Falkland , writer and translator, was born at Burford Priory, Oxfordshire, the only child and heir of Lawrence Tanfield (c.1551–1625), a wealthy lawyer, later appointed chief baron of the exchequer, and his wife, Elizabeth (d. 1629), daughter of Giles and Catherine Symonds. A precocious and highly intelligent child, she mastered several European languages unaided, and her earliest extant work was ‘The mirror of the world’, a translation of Ortelius's Le mirroir du monde (1598), completed prior to her marriage, in October 1602, to Sir Henry Cary (qv) (c.1575–1633), the future 1st Viscount Falkland. Cary, a professional soldier, spent the early years of the marriage abroad on military service, during which time Elizabeth continued to live both at home and with her in-laws, Sir Edward Cary (d. 1618) and his wife, Catherine Knyvett (d. 1622), in Hertfordshire. Though her mother-in-law sought to check her insatiable reading, Elizabeth continued her intellectual pursuits and her play Mariam, the fair queen of Jewry, begun about 1604, was published in 1613. Following the return of her husband in 1606, Elizabeth made a determined effort to be a dutiful wife and mother to their eleven children, though she was plagued by religious doubts. When Cary, created 1st Viscount Falkland in 1620, was appointed lord deputy of Ireland in 1622, she assisted him financially by mortgaging her jointure lands, which so infuriated her father that he disinherited her in favour of her eldest son, Lucius (1609/10–1643).
Elizabeth travelled to Dublin in August 1622, where she attempted to learn Irish and initiated a project to provide orphans with apprenticeships. While in Ireland, she became closely associated with the catholic Lord Inchiquin (d. 1624). She returned to England in 1625 and, the following year, converted to catholicism; her conversion was a great source of embarrassment to her staunchly protestant husband. In response, Falkland took custody of the children and, refusing to give her any financial support, left her almost destitute until the privy council intervened in October 1627, and ordered him to maintain her. She continued to write, producing The history of Edward II (1627) as well as numerous hymns and a series of verse biographies of female saints. In 1630 her translation of Cardinal Perron's reply to King James, which was published at Douai and viewed as an overt piece of catholic propaganda, was publicly burned, and her subsequent translations of Perron's works remained unpublished. Her literary achievements were such that John Marston and Michael Drayton both dedicated works to her.
Falkland and his wife achieved a measure of reconciliation prior to his death in Hertfordshire in September 1633. After his death, however, Elizabeth arranged to have six of her children received into the catholic faith on the continent. Patrick (c.1624–1657) and the younger Henry, then living with their brother, Lucius, 2nd Viscount Falkland, at Great Tew in Oxfordshire, were educated at the monastic school of St Edmund's in Paris while four daughters, Anne, Lucy, Mary and Elizabeth, were received into a convent at Cambrai some time before their mother's death in 1639. Lady Falkland died in London in October 1639 and was buried in Queen Henrietta Maria's chapel at Somerset House.