The Correspondence of Anne Conway

Primary Contributors:

Sarah Hutton, Oxford University Press, and Oxford Scholarly Editions Online


Anne Conway (1631–1679)

Anne Conway, née Finch, was born on 14 December 1631 into a political family. Her father Heneage Finch (1580–1631), who died the week before she was born, had been Speaker of the House of Commons, and her eldest half-brother Heneage (1621–1682) became Lord Chancellor and was created first earl of Nottingham, while her youngest half-brother John (1626–1682) studied medicine at Padua, became a fellow of the early Royal Society, and served as a diplomat first as English resident at Florence and subsequently as ambassador to the Ottoman court.

Although little is known about Anne’s early education, she spent a significant portion of her youth in the house formerly on the site of Kensington Palace and her wish to study philosophy resulted in arrangements being made with Henry More, her brother John’s tutor at Christ’s College, Cambridge. Prevented, as a woman, from attending the university, from 1650 Anne received tuition from More by letter and this exchange matured into a friendship that endured for the rest of her life.

On 11 February 1651, Anne married Edward Conway (c. 1623–1683), who succeeded as third Viscount Conway and Killultagh just four years later and who played an active role in both English and Irish politics following the Restoration. The couple’s only child, a son Heneage, died of smallpox at the age of just two and a half. In the early years of her marriage, Anne divided her time between a house in Queen Street, London, and the Conway family seat in Warwickshire, Ragley Hall, and between 1661 and 1664 she visited Ireland. Repeated episodes of illness prevented travel, however. Anne suffered from chronic pain that became increasingly acute as her life progressed and, in the hope of a cure, she consulted the leading physicians of the age, including William Harvey, Theodore Turquet de Mayerne, and Thomas Willis, and an account of the symptoms from which she suffered was given, anonymously, by the latter in his De anima brutorum (1672). In 1656, Anne travelled to Paris intending to undergo trepanation, but she was counselled against proceeding with such an operation. In 1666, Valentine Greatrakes, the healer known as the ‘Irish stroker’, attempted — unsuccessfully — to offer relief, and Anne became confined as an invalid at Ragley Hall where she lived from 1666 to 1672 with a companion Elizabeth Foxcroft, the sister of the Cambridge theologian and philosopher Benjamin Whichcote.

Anne’s quest to alleviate her symptoms brought her into contact with Francis Mercury Van Helmont (1614–1699), the son of the Flemish natural philosopher Jan Baptist van Helmont (1580–1644). For the final years of her life Van Helmont became a member of the Conway household. He awakened her interest in the Jewish Kabbalah; he introduced her to Quakerism and the Quaker leaders George Fox, Robert Barclay, George Keith, and William Penn visited the house, while Anne used her influence to help their imprisoned followers. She converted to Quakerism just before her death, despite opposition both from her family and from Henry More. Anne died on 23 February 1679 and, although her wish was not to be buried according to the Anglican ritual, she was interred in the church at Arrow, Warwickshire. Subsequently, a manuscript treatise discovered among her effects was published anonymously in Amsterdam as Principia philosophiae antiquissimae et recentissimae with a preface by Van Helmont (1690), and an English translation by ‘J. C. Medicinae Professor’ was published, also anonymously, two years later in London under the title The Principles of the most Ancient and Modern Philosophy

 


Partners and Additional Contributors

The metadata for this inventory of Anne Conway’s correspondence has been compiled from Sarah Hutton’s revised edition of Marjorie Hope Nicolson’s The Conway Letters (for full bibliographic details, please see below), which was published in 1992 by Oxford University Press and may be consulted, via institutional subscription, on Oxford Scholar Editions Online.

The Cultures of Knowledge project would like to thank Sarah Hutton for her invaluable assistance in the preparation of this catalogue and its introductory text, as well as for the contribution of the metadata for two additional letters that have come to light in recent years. Work to prepare the dataset for upload to the union catalogue was conducted by EMLO Digital Fellow Alex Hitchman.


Key Bibliographic Source(s)

The Conway Letters: The Correspondence of Anne, Viscountess Conway, Henry More, and their Friends 1642–1684. Revised edition, ed. Marjorie Hope Nicolson and Sarah Hutton (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992).

Richard Ward, The Life of Henry More. Parts 1 and 2, ed. Sarah Hutton, Cecil Courtney, Michelle Courtney, Robert Crocker, and A. Rupert Hall (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000), p. 169.


Contents

The debilitating effects of her illness notwithstanding, Lady Anne Conway resided at the heart of a distinguished intellectual circle. Through Henry More, she came into contact with others Cambridge Platonists, including Benjamin Whichcote, Ralph Cudworth, and John Worthington.

 


Further resources

Bibliography

Sarah Hutton, British Philosophy in the Seventeenth-Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).

Sarah Hutton, ‘Lady Anne Conway‘, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. Edward N. Zalta (Fall 2015 Edition).

Sarah Hutton, ‘Conway [née Finch], Anne, Viscountess Conway and Killultagh (1631–1679), philosopher‘, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (published online 23 September 2010).

Sarah Hutton, Anne Conway, a Woman Philosopher (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

The Conway Letters: The Correspondence of Anne, Viscountess Conway, Henry More, and their Friends 1642–1684. Revised edition, ed. Marjorie Hope Nicolson and Sarah Hutton (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), and available on Oxford Scholarly Editions Online.

Richard Ward, The Life of Henry More. Parts 1 and 2, ed. Sarah Hutton, Cecil Courtney, Michelle Courtney, Robert Crocker, and A. Rupert Hall (Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000), p. 169.

 

Principia philosophiae antiquissimae et recentissimae de Deo, Christo & Creatura id est de Spiritu & materia in genere (1690).

The principles of the most ancient and modern philosophy: concerning God, Christ, and the creature; that is, concerning spirit and matter in general, tr. J. C. (1692).

 

 

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