Rawdon, Elizabeth (1731–1808), countess of Moira , literary patroness, and amateur antiquarian, was born 23 March 1731, eldest surviving daughter of Theophilus Hastings , 9th earl of Huntingdon, and his wife Selina, daughter of Washington Shirley, 2nd Earl Ferrers. Selina, countess of Huntingdon, was founder of the Huntingdon connection, an offspring of the methodist movement. On 26 February 1752 Elizabeth became the third wife of Sir John Rawdon (qv) of Moira, Co. Down, who was created earl of Moira in 1762. She admitted that her inducement to marry had been the frustration at living ‘a life of duty with my mother’ (Hastings MSS, iii, 78–9). In 1760, shortly after preaching at Moira, John Wesley (qv) wrote to her berating her for her loss of faith and for loving the worldly virtues of visiting and conversation. In later life she openly professed the most violent enmity to religion. She possessed a sharp intelligence tempered by intermittent bouts of depression and a sometimes strained relationship with her husband, described by a contemporary as ‘something of a poltroon and a common butt’ (Cockayne (1910–40), ix, 30).
While she could seek emotional refuge in the upbringing of her six sons and five daughters, she also interested herself in Dublin's literary circles and the intellectual clique surrounding Bishop Thomas Percy (qv) at Dromore from 1782 to 1810. Her Dublin residence, Moira House, was described as ‘the gathering place of people of genius’ (Annual Register (1808), 151). In the 1780s she befriended the young Maria Edgeworth (qv) and later edited extracts of her work. She was used as a model by Edgeworth three times: for the characters of Mrs Hungerford in Patronage (1812), Lady Oranmore in The absentee (1813), and the countess of Annaly in Ormond (1817). She was also a personal friend of Charlotte Brooke (qv), author of the Reliques of Irish poetry (1816), and aided her in compiling and translating sections of the work. She also patronised Thomas Dermody (qv), best known for his Poems moral and descriptive (1800), dedicated to the countess, who had financed his early education, and provided support and encouragement to Thomas Romney Robinson (qv), who penned Juvenile poems (1807).
As an antiquarian she was instrumental in encouraging her husband to become one of the founding members of the RIA, and herself became the first woman to be published in Archaeologia in 1783, when she submitted a discourse concerning the remains of a human skeleton discovered on the Rawdon estate. She was also a contributor to the Proceedings of the Royal Dublin Society in November 1773, when she reported her experiments on the cultivation of flax. In return she received a silver medal from the society (February 1774). J. C. Walker (qv) admitted in the preface of his Historical memoirs of the Irish bards (1786) that few pages of the book could not ‘boast some obligation to her ladyship’. She also subscribed to the Anthologia Hibernica: a monthly collection of science, belles lettres and history from January 1793 to December 1794.
Irish politics also came within the scope of her interests. In 1770 she hosted a fancy-dress ball to encourage the Irish linen industry. This was financed by the Irish government and attended by 600 of the country's nobility and gentry. In 1772 she expressed public concern at the plight of the Hearts of Steel, an agrarian movement formed in Co. Antrim and Co. Down to protest against high levies of county cess; and much later, in 1798 as baroness of Botreaux, Hungerford, Moleyns, Hastings, and Hastings of Hungerford in her own right, she wrote to Lord Camden (qv) and Lord Castlereagh (qv) protesting against the government's coercive policies. Her papers contain the material she compiled to supplement the speech of her son, Francis Rawdon-Hastings (qv), 2nd earl of Moira, in the Irish house of lords on 19 February 1798, condemning the excesses of the army in Ireland. She also conversed with those outside elite politics. The memoirs and papers of many United Irish leaders including Theobald Wolfe Tone (qv), Thomas Russell (qv), Edward Fitzgerald (qv), William Sampson (qv), and Thomas (qv) and Robert Emmet (qv) recount visits to her home. In 1798 she sheltered Pamela Fitzgerald (qv) after her husband's arrest, and after Emmet's rising in July 1803 two of his agents, Thomas Wylde (qv) and John Mahon, lay concealed in Moira House while a proclamation was issued for their capture. Some weeks later Lady Moira's rooms were searched under orders of the secretary of state to determine her connection with the radical lawyer and politician William Todd Jones (qv). She later corresponded with Denys Scully (qv), an advocate of catholic relief. She died 11 April 1808 at Moira House and was buried at Moira.