By Brenda Collins
This blog provides a useful outlet for the publication and exchange of information about the increasing complexity of findings of female book owners. It enables connections at an individual level to be made between time, space and place and these connections can sometimes be used in the interpretation of other events in the owners’ lives. In the case reviewed here, a book in the collections of the Armagh Robinson Library, Mark Empey interprets the two ownership signatures on the title page of Simon Patrick Advice to a Friend (1673) as those of a woman, Hellena (Helen, Ellen) Rawdon and her brother-in-law Edward Rawdon (see blog here). But I suggest that the E. Rawdon signatory on Hellena Rawdon’s book is Elizabeth Rawdon, Countess of Moira (1731-1808) whose husband was Helen’s grandson and therefore great-grandson of George and Dorothy Rawdon née Conway.
Patrick’s book forms part of a collection originating within the Conway family. Though the first viscount Conway had a book collection, it was the second viscount, Edward (1594-1655) who had deep interests in the acquisition and ownership of books. Conway never inscribed the books with a signature nor were they annotated in the margins; however, a number of books contain signatures or initials of Rawdon descendants of the third viscount, later earl, of Conway (1623-1683) – George Rawdon’s son Arthur, daughter-in-law Hellena, their son, John, grandson John, first earl of Moira and of his wife, Elizabeth, spanning the period from the late seventeenth to the late eighteenth century. Thus, a book published in 1673 with a signature of Hellena Rawdon can form part of the Conway collection. There is no evidence that Arthur Rawdon’s elder brother, Edward, who died in his early 20s, owned or inscribed any of his grandfather Conway’s books, and his signature, habitually, was an abbreviation of his first name.
Hellena and her husband Arthur Rawdon, together with their son John and grandson John all signed books with Conway’s crest as well as books of their own acquisition. Grandson John Rawdon married his third wife, Elizabeth Hastings, in 1752, and they became the earl and countess of Moira in 1762. The E in the signature of E Moira (in a letter from the Countess of Moira in 1782) seems very similar to that of the E inscribed on the book by Simon Patrick. This suggests that Elizabeth Rawdon inscribed her signature on the Patrick book before she became the countess of Moira.
Many other Conway/Rawdon books in the Robinson Library are signed by the countess of Moira with the letter M (Moira) at the head or foot of the title page, which would only have been possible after her husband’s ennoblement. Elizabeth Rawdon, née Hastings, viewed any ancestral entitlements highly and valued her Conway connection. For all the Rawdons, the signatures provided endorsement of the connection that they felt had been wrongfully denied. Emphasis on tracing the family connections between the ownership of Advice to a Friend by a seventeenth-century woman and her grandson’s wife should not be allowed to obscure their intellectual capabilities. Hellena Rawdon was scholarly with a breadth of interests; other books in the Robinson Library with her signature include several on botany and on garden design, a passion shared with her husband, Arthur. The countess of Moira also had a scholarly upbringing and interests which she demonstrated in later life. She led intellectual soirées in Dublin in the 1780s and 1790s and was a patron and friend of a wide range of literary, cultural and political figures in Ireland and in Britain. For both women, the printed word provided access to knowledge beyond their immediate environments, which was of benefit in their everyday lives.
Source: Book in the Armagh Robinson Library. Images reproduced with permission.
 E. Charles Nelson, “Sir Arthur Rawdon (1662-1695) of Moira: His life and letters, family and friends, and his Jamaican plants,” Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society Vol.10, 2nd series 1977/8–1981/2, 30-52.
 ‘Rawdon, Elizabeth (1731-1808), countess of Moira, literary patroness, and amateur antiquarian’, Dictionary of Irish Biography.