Ranke, Clarissa (‘Clara’) Helena von (1808–71), poet, was born in Dublin, elder daughter of John Crosbie Graves (1776–1835), chief police magistrate of Dublin, and his wife Helena, daughter of the Rev. Charles Perceval, rector of Bruhenny, Co. Cork. Her brother John Thomas Graves (qv) became a lecturer in mathematics at University College, London; Robert Perceval Graves was one of the founders of Alexandra College, Dublin; and her youngest brother was the Rt Rev. Charles Graves (qv), fellow of TCD, president of the RIA, and later bishop of Limerick. Educated in different schools in England and on the Continent, Clarissa displayed considerable talents in literature, music, and languages, and especially poetry, a favourite being William Wordsworth. The family was also close to Sir William Rowan Hamilton (qv). After the death of her father Clarissa travelled with her mother throughout Europe.
In July 1843 she met the German historian Leopold Ranke (1795–1886) while on a visit to Paris. The couple became engaged in London and were married at Bowness-on-Windermere, Westmorland, England, in October 1843. They had three sons (one of whom died aged c. six months) and a daughter. After their marriage the Rankes went to live in Berlin, and at their home at Luisenstraße built up an influential social circle known as the ‘Salon Ranke’. Eminent people of all professions and nationalities met there for musical parties, classes in poetry and literature (especially Shakespeare), and discussions of politics and history. Regulars included the brothers Grimm, the scholar of philosophy Schelling, the Shakespearean translator Wilhelm von Schlegel, and English diplomats such as Sir Andrew Buchanan and Lord Francis Napier. The salon was characterised by romanticism and conservatism, and the ideology of revolutionary movements was mostly rejected. However, issues such as the position of women, cultural exchange, and the nation-building of Ireland, Germany, Italy, and America were discussed, as was the role of religion in a changing society. Clarissa kept an active interest in Irish affairs, and in 1846 expressed her concern to her brother Robert about the threat of famine: ‘You all eat too much in England & will in the end starve your poorer neighbours’ (Wiehe, EB 32). Her correspondence with Julia Garnett Pertz, also the wife of a German historian, reveals an interest in social reform and the emancipation of slaves, and she advocated education for women. With Felix Mendelssohn she took part in piano competitions, and also gave classes in various languages, especially French, Italian, and English. She spoke ten languages fluently and had a knowledge of twenty others. She also wrote poetry and several of her poems were published in Thomas Solly's Coronal of English verse (Berlin, 1864) and Main's Treasury of English sonnets (1880).
For nearly thirty years Clarissa assisted Leopold in his historical work and was responsible for finding him a competent English translator; when necessary she translated passages herself for comparison purposes. In November 1849 he was elected an honorary member of the RIA, and was ennobled in 1865, adding ‘von’ to his name. He received further recognition from Ireland, being conferred in June 1865 with an honorary degree from Dublin University for his History of England (1859–68). With the help of his wife and her Irish relatives, he had presented in it an objective portrayal of Irish history, and justified the right of the Irish nation to self-determination. Clarissa welcomed the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1869, hoping with her brother Robert that protestants and catholics could live in peace. Her nephew Alfred Perceval Graves (qv), son of her brother Charles, married (1891) her great-grand-niece Amelie Elisabeth Sophie von Ranke; their most famous son was the poet Robert von Ranke Graves (1895–1985). Clarissa suffered from poor health over the years and developed an interest in medical issues and nursing. Having met Florence Nightingale, she became involved in programmes to assist wounded soldiers. Despite several cures in German baths, her health did not improve, and she died 30 April 1871 in Berlin.