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07 Apr

The Triumfeminate and other Dublin Women: Swift’s “Female Senate”

Delville, home of the Delanys.

This post originally appeared on my personal blog. However at the recent conference on Irish Philosophy in the Age of Berkeley, Christine Gerrard gave a fascinating presentation on What the Dublin Women of the ‘Triumfeminate’ did with John Locke”. I have therefore moved this post here to serve as an introduction to these women.


In 1752 John Boyle (5th earl of Cork and Orrery), erstwhile friend of Jonathan Swift, wrote in his life of the Dean, “You see the command which Swift had over all his females, and you would have smiled to have found his house a constant seraglio of very virtuous women, who attended him from morning til night”. Boyle blamed Swift’s women for Swift publishing papers he would have been wiser to withhold, since “he communicated every composition as soon as finished, to his female senate.”

Patrick Delany, who had been close friends with Swift since meeting him in 1718, wasted no time in defending the reputation of Swift and his friends in Observations Upon Lord Orrery’s Remarks on the Life and Writings of Dr. Jonathan Swift. As well as giving explanations of Swift’s relationships with Esther Johnson (‘Stella’) and Esther Vanhomrigh (‘Vanessa’), he insisted that women almost never visited the Dean’s house, and then only by invitation. Delany had every opportunity of knowing this: “[Delany’s] house at Glasnevin was the scene of the weekly meetings at which Swift and his circle would read poems to each other and submit them for correction” (Andrew Carpenter, 2004). The house, Delville, has since been demolished but stood on the site of the present Bon Secours Hospital, Dublin.

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