Vesey, Elizabeth (c. 1715–1791)

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Vesey, Elizabeth (c. 1715–1791)

Irish writer and Bluestocking. Name variations: Elizabeth Vessey. Born Elizabeth Vesey around 1715 in Ireland; died in 1791 in London, England; daughter of Bishop Sir Thomas Vesey and Mary (Muschamp) Vesey; married William Handcock, around 1730; married Agmondesham Vesey (an Irish MP and member of Dr. Johnson's club), in 1746; no children.

Elizabeth Vesey was a prominent social hostess and member of the Bluestockings' literary circle of London. Born around 1715 in Ireland into a prosperous family of ecclesiastics and property holders, Vesey was the second daughter of the bishop of Ossory. Little is known about her childhood, except that her parents provided their children with a thorough classical education. Around 1730, she married a member of Parliament, William Handcock. The marriage did not last, however, and in 1746 she was married again, this time to her Irish cousin Agmondesham Vesey. He was a wealthy member of Parliament, later appointed accountant-general of Ireland. After their marriage, the couple divided their time between their estates in Ireland and a home in London.

The Veseys' arrival in London corresponds to the emergence in the later 18th century of a new form of aristocratic social life. This was the salon, an informal gathering of literary and political figures in the homes of educated aristocratic women. Through her husband's political and social ties, and through her friendship with leading hostess Elizabeth Montagu , Vesey gradually became acquainted with the literary elite of London. Soon she was well enough established in London to emerge as a leading host in her own right. Her parties brought together London's female intellectuals with members of "The Club," a circle of prominent male writers, scholars, and philosophers, including Horace Walpole, Samuel Johnson, and her husband Agmondesham.

The Bluestockings, a literary club of highly educated women who shared ideas and debated issues at weekly parties, emerged in the 1760s as a female counterpart to "The Club." Vesey's friends admired her wit, vivacity, and artful conversation. She was also a prolific correspondent. Her imaginative letters reveal the joy she took in poetry and in playing with language. They also reveal her frequent bouts of depression and her constant ill health, which declined rapidly after the death of Agmondesham in 1785. Although he had been supportive of his wife's social and literary activities, Agmondesham had never been a faithful husband. Elizabeth was deeply grieved to discover that he had left her very little of his fortune for her support as a widow. Instead he provided a large yearly income for his longtime mistress, with most of the rest of his property going to a nephew.

After this, Vesey, about age 70, ended her weekly parties and withdrew into retirement. She became increasingly senile over the next few years, and died in her London home in 1791.


Carter, Elizabeth. A series of letters between Mrs. Elizabeth Carter and Miss Catherine Talbot … [with] Letters from Mrs. Elizabeth Carter to Mrs. Vesey. NY: AMS Press, 1975.

Scott, Walter S. The Bluestocking Ladies. London: J. Green, 1947.

Laura York , M.A. in History, University of California, Riverside, California