The Love Story

Swift and Vanessa

Esther van Homrigh was the daughter of Bartholomew Van Homrigh, a merchant of Amsterdam and afterwards of Dublin. He was Lord Mayor of Dublin 1697–8. Her mother, also named Esther, was the daughter of John Stone, an Irish commissioner of revenue. Esther grew up at Celbridge Abbey in County Kildare.

Her father died in 1703, and his widow moved her family to London in 1707. Esther became acquainted with Swift in December of that year while the family was en route for London, at Dunstable, and it was here that their intense 17-year relationship began. She was 22 years younger than Swift, and it was obvious from the beginning that he admired Esther for her rugged qualities; he did not admire very delicate women. Swift later served as her tutor.

After her mother died in 1714, Esther followed Swift to Ireland, and returned to Celbridge Abbey, but she was desperately miserable there.

Their relationship was fraught.

It was broken up after 17 years by Swift’s relationship with another woman, Esther Johnson, whom he called “Stella”, in 1723.

Swift had known Stella since about 1690, when she was a little girl in the household of his employer Sir William Temple; their relationship was intense and it is possible that they had secretly married in 1716. Esther is thought to have asked Swift not to see Stella again, and he apparently refused, thus putting an end to their relationship.

Esther never recovered from his rejection and died on 2 June 1723. In her will, she named the barrister Robert Marshall and George Berkeley, the celebrated philosopher and future Bishop of Cloyne, executors and joint residuary legatees of her estate, although she knew neither man well. Swift, whose letters to her were published after her death, is not mentioned in her will, perhaps a final retaliation against a man whose neglect made her “live a life like a languishing death”.

Swift and Vanessa period portraits / images


‘Cadenus and Vanessa’ was the first work in which Swift refers to Esther as ‘Vanessa’.

— ‘Vanessa not in years a score
Dreams of a gown of forty-four
Imaginary charms can find
In eyes with reading almost blind’…..

Their letters

Correspondence between swift and vanessa

Swift and Vanessa’s letters provide insight to the passion and turbulence of their relationship, their different perspectives, and the influence of Vanessa on Swift’s life and writings.

The Letters

‘Vanessa and her Correspondence with Jonathan Swift’
The letters edited for the first time from the originals. With an introduction by A. Martin Freeman
London: Selwyn & Blunt
Digitised by the Internet Archive in 2008 with funding from the Microsoft Corporation.
Photo opposite – copyright Selwyn & Blount.

Letter from Esther Vanhomrigh (“Vanessa”) to SwiftE-rea [Online], 18.2 | 2021, Online since 15 June 2021, connection on 15 April 2023. URL: