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Elizabeth Vesey

(b. 1715, County Kilkenny, Ireland – d. 1791, Cremorne Gardens, Chelsea, London )

Gender: F

Elizabeth Vesey (1715-1791) was the daughter of Sir Thomas Vesey, 1st Baronet Vesey (c1668-1730) and Mary Muschamp. Her father was ordained as a priest in the Church of Ireland in 1700, and was Bishop of Ossory from 1714-1730. In 1731, at the age of 16, she married William Handcock; he died in 1741. In 1746 she married her cousin Agmondesham Vesey. They had no children. Elizabeth Vesey was, along with Elizabeth Montagu and Frances Boscawen, one of the key Bluestocking hostesses. She was known for her attempts to create an air of informality at her salons, and was said to have exhorted her guests to “come in your blue stockings” rather than in evening dress. Fanny Burney recalled Lord Harcourt saying that “Mrs Vesey is vastly agreeable, bur her fear of ceremony is really troublesome; for her eagerness to break a circle, is such, that she insists upon everybody’s sitting with their backs one to another; that is, the chairs are drawn into little parties of three together, in a confused manner, all over the room.” [Diary & Letters of Madame D’Arblay, (London, Henry Colburn, 1842), Vol 1, p.184] Vesey’s friends referred to her as “the Sylph”, for her absent-minded and impractical nature. She was looked after by her companion Mrs Handcock, the sister of her first husband. She was often anxious and in need of reassurance; following the death of her husband and his cruel refusal to provide for her financially, she suffered a mental collapse (it was said she wept every day for the rest of her life) and this was transformed in her final years into severe dementia.

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