Van Homrigh (Vanhomrigh), Esther (Hester) (1688–1723), Jonathan Swift's (qv) ‘Vanessa’, was born 14 February 1688 in Dublin, eldest of the four children of Bartholomew Van Homrigh (qv), a wealthy Dublin merchant of Dutch extraction who had provided supplies for the forces of William III (qv) during the Irish wars, and who served as lord mayor of Dublin in 1697–8. In 1707, some years after the death of her father, Esther (or ‘Hessy’, as she was known among family and friends) moved with her mother, her two sisters, and her brother to London, where they soon encountered the 40-year-old Jonathan Swift. Swift and Hessy, whom he called ‘Vanessa’, were strongly attracted to each other, and Swift became a regular visitor to the Van Homrigh house, sometimes reporting his visits in the Journal to Stella. Though Swift and Vanessa spent much time together, Swift wanted to keep the relationship from public scrutiny, not least because of his affection for Esther Johnson (qv) (‘Stella’).
When Vanessa's mother died (1714), she became the senior member of a wealthy family. Swift returned to Dublin as dean of St Patrick's in 1714 and Vanessa, much to his dismay and despite the fact that Stella lived in Dublin, followed him to Ireland. She set up house in Celbridge, Co. Kildare, and took lodgings in Dublin. For the remaining years of her life, Vanessa remained passionately attached to Swift, whom she met regularly, though he found her enthusiasm increasingly disconcerting and tried unsuccessfully to dampen her ardour. The complex nature of their affair can be discerned from the letters that passed between them (see The correspondence of Jonathan Swift D.D., ed. David Woolley, 5 vols (1999–2014)) and from Swift's poetic account of it in Cadenus and Vanessa (first published 1726). In the last year of Vanessa's life, there were several stormy scenes between herself and Swift, whom she eventually excluded from her will, leaving half her fortune to Bishop Berkeley (qv). Vanessa died in Celbridge on 2 June 1723. Several eighteenth-century portraits are said to represent her, but none seems to have been taken from life.