Anne Conway
Perspective View with a Woman Reading a Letter by Samuel van Hoogstraten. This painting is often thought to depict Anne Conway, though that attribution has been disputed.[1]
Anne Finch

(1631-12-14)14 December 1631
London, England
Died23 February 1679(1679-02-23) (aged 47)
Resting placeHoly Trinity Church, Arrow, Warwickshire[1]
(after 1651)
ChildrenHeneage Edward Conway
Parent(s)Sir Heneage Finch
Elizabeth Cradock
RelativesJohn Finch (brother)

Anne Conway (also known as Viscountess Conway; née Finch; 14 December 1631 – 23 February 1679[2]) was an English philosopher of the Enlightenment, whose work was in the tradition of the Cambridge Platonists. Conway's thought is a deeply original form of rationalist philosophy, with hallmarks of gynocentric concerns and patterns that lead some to think of it as unique among seventeenth-century systems.[3]Conways work was an influence on Gottfried Leibniz, and Hugh Trevor-Roper called her "England's greatest female philosopher."[4][5]


Anne Finch was born to Sir Heneage Finch (who had held the posts of the Recorder of London and Speaker of the House of Commons under Charles I) and his second wife, Elizabeth (daughter of William Cradock of Staffordshire). Her father died the week before her birth. She was the youngest child.[6] Anne grew up in the house now known as Kensington Palace, which her family owned at the time.[6] In her younger years, she was educated by tutors. She studied Latin, and later learned Greek and Hebrew. Her half-brother, John Finch, encouraged her interests in philosophy and theology. He introduced Anne to one of his tutors at Christ's College, Cambridge, the Platonist Henry More. This led to a lifelong correspondence and close friendship between Henry and Anne. The pair's communication was focused on the subject of René Descartes' philosophy. Eventually, Anne grew from More's informal pupil to his intellectual equal. When speaking about her, More said that he had "scarce ever met with any Person, Man or Woman, of better Natural parts than Lady Conway" (quoted in Richard Ward's The Life of Henry More (1710) p. 193), and that "in the knowledge of things as well Natural and Divine, you have not only out-gone all of your own Sex, but even of that other also."[7]

In 1651, she married Edward Conway, later 1st Earl of Conway. Her husband was also interested in philosophy and had been tutored by More. Anne and Edward established their place of residence at Anne's home at Kensington Palace. In the year following her marriage, More dedicated his book Antidote against Atheism to Anne. In 1658, she gave birth to her only child, Heneage Edward Conway, who died of smallpox just two years later.[8] Anne herself had also contracted the illness that had killed her son, but had managed to survive the disease.[9]

Anne contacted Elizabeth Foxcroft likely through More, and when Foxcroft's husband went to India in 1666, she moved in with Anne and became her companion and Amanuensis. They shared the same interests and Foxcroft lived at Ragley Hall until 1672.[10] Conway became interested in the Lurianic Kabbalah, and then in Quakerism, eventually converting in 1677. In England at that time, the Quakers were generally disliked and feared, and suffered persecution and even imprisonment. When Anne decided to convert, she made her house a centre for Quaker activity.[citation needed] While her family was not very supportive of Anne's conversion to Quakerism, they still respected her decision.

Anne's life was marked by the recurrence of severe migraines from the age of twelve, when she suffered a period of fever. This meant that she was often incapacitated by pain, and she spent much time under medical supervision and searching for a cure, at one point even having her jugular veins opened. The extreme pain she experienced led her to pursue her philosophical studies from the comfort of her own home. She received medical advice from Dr. Thomas Willis and many others.[11] The Conways had consulted the Swiss royal physician of the time, Theodore Turquet de Mayerne, as well as natural philosopher Robert Boyle.[12] She had also consulted William Harvey, who was a physician and researcher of how blood circulated in the human body. Even though Conway was famously treated by many of the great physicians of her time, none of the treatments proved to be successful.[13] She died in 1679 at the age of forty-seven.


The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy

The Principles develops Conway's monistic view of the world as created from one substance. Conway is critical of the Cartesian idea that bodies are constituted of dead matter, of Henry More's concept of the soul in his Antidote Against Atheism, and of dualist theories of the relationship between the body and spirit.[14] The text itself was likely written in 1677, and shows the influence of Franciscus Mercurius van Helmont.[15] The text was first published in Latin translation by van Helmont in Amsterdam in 1690 as Principia philosophiae antiquissimae et recentissimae. An English retranslation appeared in 1692.[16]


Throughout Anne Conway's life, she had written numerous letters back and forth to Henry More, Francis Mercury van Helmont, and other major thinkers of their time. Most of Conway's letters were back and forth to Henry More, as they talked about numerous philosophies and theological concepts. At times, Conway would speak about personal things like the death of her son, and other various family-related events.

There were also around a dozen letters written to Conway's father-in-law, Lord Conway, and around a dozen addressed to Conway from her brother, John Finch.[17] These letters contained writings of many different things including personal information, discussion about philosophy, and considerations of social issues. In the 20th century, Marjorie Hope Nicolson collected as many letters of Conway's as she could obtain. In 1930, she wrote a novel using 307 letters of Conway's correspondence, and an account of bibliographical information.[18] In 1992, Sarah Hutton wrote a revised version of Nicolson's Conway Letters.[19] Nicolson's version has a primary focus on Conway's social life between her friends and family as well as an analysis of her relationship with Henry More and others.[20]



  1. ^ a b "Conway (1631-1679)". Project Vox. Retrieved 2 March 2022.
  2. ^ Hutton, Sarah (2009). "Death". Anne Conway : a woman philosopher. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 215. ISBN 9780521109819. OCLC 909355784.
  3. ^ Jane Duran (2006). Eight Women Philosophers: Theory, Politics, And Feminism. University of Illinois Press. p. 73. ISBN 978-0-252-03022-2.
  4. ^ Trevor-Roper, Hugh. One Hundred Letters from Hugh Trevor-Roper, Oxford 2014, 73
  5. ^ Israel, Jonathan I. Spinoza, Life and Legacy. Oxford: Oxford University Press 2023, 1127-28
  6. ^ a b Ablondi, Fred (1 January 2014). Zalta, Edward N. (ed.). "Géraud de Cordemoy" (Fall 2014 ed.).
  7. ^ Broad, Jacqueline (2002). Women philosophers of the seventeenth century. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-511-04237-X. OCLC 56208440.[page needed]
  8. ^ Hutton, Sarah (2004). Anne Conway : A Woman Philosopher. Cambridge University Press. p. 32. ISBN 9780521835473. OCLC 76904888.
  9. ^ Project Vox team. (2019). “Anne Conway, Viscountess Conway and Killultagh.” Project Vox. Duke University Libraries.
  10. ^ Matthew, H. C. G.; Harrison, B., eds. (23 September 2004). "The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/53695. Retrieved 21 August 2023. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  11. ^ Carol Wayne White, The Legacy of Anne Conway (1631–1679): Reverberations from a Mystical Naturalism (2008), p. 6.
  12. ^ Project Vox team. (2019). “Anne Conway, Viscountess Conway and Killultagh.” Project Vox. Duke University Libraries.
  13. ^ Owen, Gilbert Roy (1937). "The Famous Case of Lady Anne Conway". Annals of Medical History. 9 (6): 567–571. PMC 7942846. PMID 33943893.[page needed]
  14. ^ Broad, Jacqueline (13 August 2007). Women Philosophers of the Seventeenth Century, pg. 66–67. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521039178.
  15. ^ Merchant, Carolyn (1986). "Quaker and Philosopher" (PDF). Guildford Review (23): 2–13. Retrieved 20 January 2018.
  16. ^ Derksen, Louise D. "20th WCP: Anne Conway's Critique of Cartesian Dualism". Retrieved 20 January 2018.
  17. ^ Project Vox team. (2019). “Anne Conway, Viscountess Conway and Killultagh.” Project Vox. Duke University Libraries.
  18. ^ G. C. Moore Smith. The Review of English Studies 7, no. 27 (1931): 349–56.
  19. ^ Project Vox team. (2019). “Anne Conway, Viscountess Conway and Killultagh.” Project Vox. Duke University Libraries.
  20. ^ Duran, Jane. “ANNE CONWAY.” In Eight Women Philosophers: Theory, Politics, and Feminism, 49–76. University of Illinois Press, 2006.

Further reading