A room of 17th century women in conversation

Dorothy Moore: Building Networks in the Republic of Letters

The digital humanities project Six Degrees of Francis Bacon is holding an add-a-thon on 23rd January 2016 aimed at increasing the number of women (Early Modern Britain, 1500-1700) included in the project (see the Six Degrees of Francis Bacon site here.) Participate in person or online. Further details here or on Twitter via @6Bacon.

In 1639 Johan van Beverwijck published his book On the Excellence of the Female Sex [1] which argued for the intellectual abilities of women. One of the examples included was Dorothy Moore [2]:

the widow of an English nobleman, not yet twenty-seven years of age, adorned with all the graces of body and soul. In a short time she learned Italian and French to such an extent that she could read works written in both languages and spoke French fluently. This encouraged her to study Latin, which she also mastered soon. Not stopping there, she embarked on the study of Hebrew, in which she progressed so far in a few months that she could read the Bible in that language. In addition she is so devout that, in between her studies, she sets aside a special time each day to spend piously, reading and meditating.

We know little about Dorothy Moore before this. She was born around 1612 or 1613, probably in Bagot-Rath (in the area of present day Baggot St), Dublin. Her father was Sir John King, royal administrator in Ireland; the brother closest in age to her, Edward, was commemorated in Milton’s “Lycidas” after his death in August 1637. Though her brothers attended Cambridge, Moore later described her own lessons as merely singing and dancing [3]. However, her other sisters were also described as learned, suggesting that perhaps they were allowed attend the lessons of their brothers [4].

She married Arthur Moore, fifth son of Garret Moore, first Viscount Moore of Drogheda. He died in 1635, leaving her with two sons, Charles and John, and lands in Ireland [3]. At some point after this, Dorothy Moore decided to “build a network of supporters in order to create a spiritual career for herself” [5], feeling that she had a calling over and above the traditional role within the family. However, her opportunities to build such a network in Dublin were limited. It’s plausible that she was acquainted with Arnold Boate (who was a scholar in Hebrew), Lady Ranelagh and possibly James Ussher. So Dorothy Moore looked to Utrecht, where Carol Pal surmises that Arthur Moore may have been involved with Protestant Reform movements [6]. In 1639 Moore wrote in Hebrew to the humanist scholar Anna Maria van Schurman.

J. van Beverwijck, "On the Excellence of the Female Sex": frontispiece.
J. van Beverwijck, “On the Excellence of the Female Sex”: frontispiece.

The letter is no longer extant, but van Schurman’s reply is. On 8 August 1640, Anna Maria van Schurman wrote to Moore in Dublin to say she was “delighted to have heard of you and your reputation”, suggesting that she had learned something of Moore previously. She also offers any assistance Moore might need [7]. She had already given a boost to Moore’s reputation – it was by Anna Maria van Schurman’s request that Moore was included in Beverwijck’s book (a book that elevated van Schurman as a paragon despite her protests) [8].

By July 1641 Moore was living in London, in the house of Arnold Boate’s brother and sister-in-law Gerard and Katherine Boate. We know this due to a letter sent to her by John Durie, who addresses her as “Most entirely & only beloued freind in all Respects”, suggesting they have known each other some time [9]. In that letter Durie tells her of his intention to go to Utrecht, and promises to take care of her business (finding a school for her sons). This letter also asks her to stay in London and to send any further letters via Mr Hartlib, together with an endorsement of his trustworthiness. This may mark Dorothy Moore’s first meeting with Hartlib, with whom she would correspond into the 1660s.

On 29/19th July Durie wrote again, giving details of Gisbert Voetius’ school and again asking Moore to stay where she was [10]. He might have saved himself the trouble, since James Ussher was, on the same day, writing a letter to Dr Voetius, recommending the bearer, Dorothy Moore, to him [11]:

She who carries this letter, Mrs Dorothea Moore, a most excellent woman, has decided to commend her two much-loved sons to your attention and care. She is noble, erudite, modest, and (what is most important) pious without pretence.

Moore went to the Netherlands, but was unable to stay, requiring Durie’s assistance to return home [12]. The following April Ussher was again writing a letter recommending Moore, this time to “perform some office about the Princess’ person” to Andre Rivet, theologian and friend of Anna Maria van Schurman [13]. The princess in question was the daughter of Charles I and bride-to-be of William of Orange, the eleven-year-old Mary Stuart [14].

However the question of reputation raised its head again. Later in 1642 Moore wrote to the Dutch ambassador asking him to help scotch the rumours (started by Rivet) that she and Durie were to be married [15], which would affect her chances of obtaining a position. In 1643 Lady Ranelagh appears to have told Moore to seek employment in the court again. Moore was hesitant since she felt her calling was preaching rather than teaching but took Lady Ranelagh’s advice. Durie asked Hartlib for assistance in securing the position for her, but in vain [16].

Nonetheless, Moore remained attached to the Court of the exiled Queen of Bohemia which, though impoverished, was a centre of learning. The Queen’s eldest daughter Elizabeth was a scholar, most famously debating Cartesian philosophy with Descartes. Van Schurman was associated with the court and wrote in late 1642 of her friendship with Moore to Rivet, requesting that Rivet admit Moore “to the inner temple of [his] friendship” [17]. Maria du Moulin moved in the same circle and there are letters extant documenting relationships between Moore and Voetius, Princess Sophia, Utricia Ogle and Queen Elizabeth of Bohemia [18].

The 1640s was Moore’s most active period for writing. She wrote a treatise on the education of girls at the request of Lady Ranelagh [19]. She initiated a debate by letter with Andre Rivet on the ways in which a woman might serve God, within the limits set by God and man and without going against “the modesty required of their sex” [20]. Moore also attempted to use her network to assist the Queen of Bohemia, asking Hartlib to intervene with parliament to give the queen an income [21], gathered money and tried to get support for Hartlib in his chronic financial difficulties [22], and attempted to engineer a acquaintance between Lady Ranelagh and the Prince Elector (son of Queen of Bohemia) in the hope Lady Ranelagh might be able to be of assistance to him [23]. She was then caught unawares by another debate, triggered by a letter from Durie to Lady Ranelagh in December 1644, asking Ranelagh to help convince Moore to marry him. The ensuing correspondence led to a pamphlet printed by Hartlib containing three of Durie’s letters and two of Moores, and to Moore agreeing to marry Durie [24].

Dorothy Moore Durie continued to avail of her network after marriage. In 1649 she considered raising money by work in the area of chemistry, and reached out via Hartlib to Benjamin Whorsley for advice. In the other direction, Anne Conway may have contacted Moore regarding the illness of her teacher, Platonist Henry More [25]. John Durie gave copies of his Declaration, a brief for King Charles I to use in his defence to Lady Ranelagh and Dorothy Moore, in the hopes that one of them might manage to get it to the King. And when Durie argued in a pamphlet for the Commonwealth government in 1655 that Charles I bore some of the blame for his execution, the outraged Queen of Bohemia wrote to his wife Dorothy Moore to express her anger [26].

Moore had had ongoing money problems since the 1640s. The Confederate and Comwellian wars had devastated Ireland, so there was no income from the estates she had inherited. These problems only intensified after her marriage to Durie: the couple were frequently low on funds. She had two children, a son born in 1649 who died in infancy and a daughter, Doro-Katherina born in 1654. By 1658 she isolated on the continent in ill-health. She continued to try to exercise influence: in 1661 when she heard from Hartlib, who was also in ill-health and near destitute, Moore contacted Lady Ranelagh and the Earl of Anglesey hoping to get Hartlib assistance. Hartlib died five moonths later in 1662 before it was forthcoming. With his death the window onto the life of Moore is lost. Dorothy Moore Durie probably died in June, 1664 [27]

Both networks that Dorothy Moore was involved in were ephemeral. The Hartlib Papers were only preserved by chance, and rediscovered in the 20th century. The exile court of the Queen of Bohemia, though a centre for learning and intelligence, was not permanent either. It is chastening to think how many, particularly women, who had influence in their time are probably now forgotten.

A room of 17th century women in conversationFeatured Image: D’après Abraham Bosse “Conversation de dames”. Wikimedia, Public Domain.

Further Reading

Carol Pal (2012) The Republic of Women Cambridge University Press

M. Greengrass (2004) “Durie [King], Dorothy (c.1613–1664)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press (online edn, Oct 2007).

Lynette Hunter (ed.) (2004) The Letters of Dorothy Moore 1612-1664, Aldershot: Ashgate Pub Ltd. Online at Oxford Text Archive.


[1] Van de Wtementheyt des Vrouwelicken Geslachys, verciert met kopere platen; ende verssen van Mr. Corn. Boy.. Carol Pal (2012) The Republic of Women Cambridge University Press, p. 117.
[2] Quoted in Pal (2012, p. 119. Translation from Cornelia N. Moore, “Anna Maria van Schurman,” in Kristiaan Aercke (1994) Women Writing in Dutch, pp. 226-7.
[3] M. Greengrass (2004) “Durie [King], Dorothy (c.1613–1664)”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press (online edn, Oct 2007)
[http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/55437, accessed 9 Nov 2015]
[4] Pal (2012) pp. 120-121.
[5] Pal (2012), p. 127.
[6] Lynette Hunter (ed.) (2004) “Letters”, p. 1. Based on Lynette Hunter (ed.) (2004) The Letters of Dorothy Moore 1612-1664, Aldershot: Ashgate Pub Ltd. Online at Oxford Text Archive.
[7] Pal (2012), p. 112.
[8] Pal (2012) p 119.
[9] John Dury to Dorothy Moore, 6 July 1641. In Hunter (2004), p. 4.
[10] John Dury to Dorothy Moore, 29 July 1641. In Hunter (2004), pp. 6-8.
[11] Ussher to Gisbert Voet, 19 July 1641. In Elizabethann Boran (ed) (2015)The Correspondence of James Ussher, Vol II, pp. 861-2.
[12] John Dury to Dorothy Moore Hunter, 1 August 1641. In Hunter (2004), pp. 8-10.
[13] Ussher to Andre Rivet, 1 April 1642. In Boran (2015) pp. 870-1.
[14] Pal (2012), pp. 130-1.
[15] Dorothy Moore to Albert Joachimi, Dutch Ambassador, undated [1642]. In Hunter (2004), pp. 14-16.
[16] Dorothy Moore to Katherine Jones, Lady Ranelagh, 8 July 1643. In Hunter (2004) pp. 19-23.
[17] Van Schurman to Rivet, 19 November 1642 quoted in Pal (2012) p. 134.
[18] Pal (2012), p. 130.
[19] Pal (2012), p. 128.
[20]The debate spans five letters. The first is Dorothy Moore to André Rivet, 23 September 1643 and the last is Dorothy Moore to André Rivet, 24 October 1643. In Hunter (2004), pp. 23-40.
[21] Dorothy Moore to Samuel Hartlib, 17 March 1643. In Hunter (2004), pp. 16-19.
[22] Dorothy Moore to Samuel Hartlib, 8 May [c. 1644] and Dorothy Moore to the Prince Elector, 29th September 1644. In Hunter (2004), pp. 51-2 and pp. 55-56.
[23] Dorothy Moore to Samuel Hartlib, 29 September [1644]. In Hunter (2012), p. 56-57.
[24] Dorothy Moore and John Durie married in February 1745. Pal (2012) p. 133.
[25] Pal (2012) pp. 166-7.
[26] Pal (2012), p. 249.
[27]Pal (2012), pp. 210-213.


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