Esther Inglis was raised in Edinburgh, Scotland, by parents who were Protestant refugees from France (her surname is an Anglicized version of her father's, Langlois). Her father was Master of the French School in Edinburgh, and her mother was a calligrapher. Like a small number of European daughters of forward-thinking, well-educated parents, Inglis was given a good home-school education; she was probably taught the humanities by her father, and calligraphy by her mother. In 1596 she married Batholomew Kello, who was a clergyman but who also worked as a clerk for James VI's Scottish court. The couple moved to London by 1604 when James became king of England, and returned to Edinburgh in 1615, remaining there for the rest of Inglis's life. They had six children, four of whom survived to adulthood.
At a young age, Inglis had begun producing books; the texts were transcriptions of religious works, beautifully hand-written and illustrated. After her marriage, she served as a scribe for Kello in his court-related work, but continued to produce her own books, eventually earning a reputation as one of the finest calligraphers in the British Isles. In addition to creating lovely borders and illustrations, she also embroidered some of her books' covers with silver and gold thread and adorned them with seed pearls.
One of her specialties was producing as novelty items miniature volumes - about sixty in total, records show - each one two or three inches square, with the same kind of masterful illustrations as in the larger books but pared down in size as if to flaunt her expertise. Another razzle-dazzle trick of hers was to use a different handwriting for each page of a book. Inglis always signed her work, and often included self-portraits within them. This was a woman who did not suffer from a lack of self-confidence.
As you might imagine, marketing in the 16th-century wasn't quite as sophisticated as it is now, but Inglis and her husband were tireless entrepreneurs. Reading about Inglis gives one the feeling that if she were alive today, she would be all over every form of social media and maybe even thinking up a few new forms on her own. Inglis's practice was to dedicate each completed volume to a wealthy and/or powerful and/or royal person whom she didn't personally know, and her husband, acting as her publicist, would deliver them and hope for acceptance and payment from the recipients. ("Hi! Are Will and Kate home? When do you think they'll be back?") Often the books would include flattering letters and poems written by Kello in praise of the donees, signing himself as the "husband of the book's adorner." After 1605, Inglis began making these unsolicited deliveries herself to the homes of the well-connected (generally Protestant) Londoners to whom she chose to dedicate the books.
From 1607 until 1614, Inglis appears to have produced a total of only eight books. This period coincided with the time when her husband was employed as rector of a church in Essex, which might suggest that the couple felt they no longer had to rely on her calligraphy income. But although Inglis's work was very highly regarded during her lifetime, she died in debt. Sad, right? After all that hard work? Ah, but we know what Robert Burns, Inglis's fellow Scotsman, had to say about the best-laid plans of mice and men...