Saturday, May 23, 2015

Lady Anne, Viscountess Irwin: Poet and Voice for Women

Anne with her husband Richard, fifth Viscount Irwin by Jonathan Richardson, the elder

Anne Irwin (née Howard) was born in 1696 to Charles Howard, third earl of Carlisle and his wife Anne Capel, the daughter of the Earl of Essex and the granddaughter of the Earl of Northumberland. Anne was the middle daughter of two sisters: Mary (1695- 1786) and Elizabeth (1701- 1739). Anne’s parents did not appear to have a happy marriage and separated in 1712. Nevertheless, Anne remained close with her father due to their similar interests and exchanged a wealth of letters with him over the years. These letters reveal a woman of sharp mind and acute intellect. She had a wide range of interests that included, “theater, music, history, politics, [and even] astronomy (Todd, 176). Her thirst for knowledge led her to attend the lectures of Desagulier on astronomy in 1737. She enjoyed literature but preferred the classics and conservative pieces. She was raised at the Castle Howard estate in Yorkshire but eventually moved to London to participate in court life. In 1732, Anne wrote a tribute to her home and her father in her poem Castle Howard, which takes the reader on a tour of the estate. Her close relationship with and affection for the earl of Carlisle colors most of her poem:

            “Carlisle, to thee I dedicate these lays,
            Reject them not because they sing thy praise
            Your children, servants, friends, these blessings share
            And feel the bounty of your constant care” (Kennedy, 121)

Although this piece was published anonymously, Anne would eventually come to be a well-known female poet and writer. 

A piece of Anne's Castle Howard

            In 1717, Anne married Richard, fifth Viscount Irwin and his financial difficulties that occurred after the South Sea Bubble. Their marriage would not last long after her husband was appointed Governor of Barbados in 1720. He passed away due to smallpox in 1721 before even leaving for Barbados. Although she was now widowed, Anne did not marry again right away. She instead became actively involved in London social life and made acquaintances such as Alexander Pope, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Horace Walpole. A series of letters exchanged with her sister Elizabeth detail Anne’s travels about the European continent, primarily within the Low Countries and France, in 1730. In April of 1736, Anne was chosen to be a Lady of the Bedchamber for Augusta, Princess of Wales and was asked by the Queen to help escort the Princess to London before her marriage to Frederick. Anne would remain in this post for the majority of the 1750s. Her family disapproved of Anne’s second marriage to Colonel William Douglas in 1737 but independent Anne chose to ignore their objections. The couple would have no children and Anne was widowed once again after Douglas passed away in 1748 due to a fever.  
            Although the poet Alexander Pope was part of her circle of acquaintances, she did not agree with Pope’s ideals. In 1743, Pope published a poem entitled “Epistle II. To a Lady” in which he argues “Nothing so true as what you once let fall/ “Most Women have no Characters at all” (Lines 1-2). By this point in Pope’s career, many of his women readers had disappeared, but Lady Anne chose not to be victimized by Pope’s misogynistic couplets. She wrote a response to Pope titled, “An Epistle to Mr. Pope. Occasioned by his Characters of Women.” In a pre-Wollstonecraftian manner, Anne argued for the education of women and that a lack thereof is what creates perceivable differences between men and women. Her poem mimics much of Pope’s style and calls him out for not providing any suggestions on how to “ameliorate women’s vapid minds and lives” (Thomas, 149). She ends her argument by calling for the “rescue of women from this Gothic state” (line 51). 

            Anne had spent the majority of her life without a husband, despite her two marriages. Her lack of children allowed her more freedom than was usually expected for a woman her social standing and her vicious intellect clearly made her a voice with which to be reckoned. Anne passed away on 2 December 1764 in her home near Kew and was buried with her second husband in the nearby chapel. 


Kennedy, Deborah. Poetic Sisters: Early Eighteen-Century Women Poets. Rowman & Littlefield, 2013.,+poem&source=gbs_navlinks_s.

Lonsdale, Roger. Eighteenth Century Woman Poets: An Oxford Anthology. Oxford University Press, 1990.

Quaintance, Richard. “Ingram , Anne, Viscountess Irwin (c.1696–1764).” Richard Quaintance In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed., edited by Lawrence Goldman, January 2008. (accessed May 23, 2015).

Pope, Alexander. “Epistle II. To a Lady. Of the Characters of Women.” 1743. 

Smith, Charles Saumarez. The Building of Castle Howard. University of Chicago Press, 1990.
Thomas, Claudia N. Alexander Pope and his eighteenth-century women readers. Southern Illinois University Press, 1994.

Todd, Janet ed. A dictionary of British and American women writers, 1660–1800. Rowman & Allanheld, 1984.

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