Conway, Anne (1631–79), Viscountess Conway , woman of learning, was born in London, youngest child of Heneage Finch (1580–1631) and his second wife, Elizabeth Cradock (d. 1655). Elizabeth, from Staffordshire, brought both sturdy independence and wealth into her second marriage, expressed in the purchase of Kensington House (later, Palace) where Anne Finch was born. Heneage Finch was a lawyer, recorder of London, and speaker of the English house of commons. He died the month his daughter was born. Anne Finch grew up in the revolutionary and turbulent period of the civil war, the interregnum, and the rise of numerous dissenting communities in England and Ireland.
Although nothing is known of her early formal education, by the age of 18 Anne Finch was a cultured woman. She could read and write well, was keenly interested in philosophy, mathematics, Euclid, astronomy, literature (including the Bible), and the classics, and she was becoming at ease in French, Greek, and Latin, and had a growing interest in Hebrew. From an early age she was a keen seeker after truth and knowledge, well supported by her family, especially her stepbrother, John. He was a Platonist, a diplomat, and her constant friend. In 1650 Anne Finch met Henry More (1614–87), with whom she maintained a friendship and regular correspondence on philosophical matters for the rest of her short life. More was tutor to her stepbrother John in Christ's College, Cambridge, and the key figure among the Cambridge Platonists. She and More were intellectual peers and had lively debates, especially on the philosophical questions of the day. While More fully accepted the position of Descartes on the unity of being, she critiqued both Descartes and Hobbes, and in this she anticipated the position of Leibnitz.
In 1651 Anne Finch married Edward Conway (qv), later 3rd Viscount Conway. Originally of an Anglo-Irish family of Welsh descent, Conway was a soldier active in the army in Ulster, and resident there for some years in Portmore, near Lisburn, Co. Antrim. He was successively governor of Armagh, Tyrone, Monaghan, and part of Down; joint commissioner of customs; lieutenant governor of horse; and in 1681 secretary of state for the northern department. He was an interested participant in the philosophical explorations of his wife, though his professional commitments in Ireland absorbed most of his time and energy. From her childhood days Anne Conway struggled with poor health, especially with persistent migraines, which no doctor was able to relieve. This pattern continued and worsened to the extent that in 1656 the great physician William Harvey (1578–1657) proposed that she go to Paris for trepanning. Although she travelled to Paris, in the end she decided not to have the crude treatment and returned home uncured. Then Heneage Conway, her first and only child, was born in 1658 and tragically died of smallpox in 1660. To alleviate her grief and in the hope of improving her health, Anne Conway accompanied her husband to Ireland.
In Portmore the Conways lived on a magnificent property adjoining Lough Neagh, in a mansion designed by Inigo Jones. She revelled in the extensive library in Portmore, established by the 2nd Viscount Conway (qv), which contained over 9,900 books, and provided her with all resources she needed for her intellectual pursuits. The new bishop of Down and Connor, Jeremy Taylor (qv), had been the minister of the congregation the Conways had attended in London during the interregnum. The new dean of Connor, George Rust (d. 1670), was a good friend of Henry More. Both Taylor and Rust provided Anne Conway with theological conversation, and they shared common interests in the pre-existence of the soul and in psychical phenomena. She maintained regular correspondence with More, and pursued her philosophical interests through exchange of letters. Yet despite these aids and congenial surroundings, her health worsened and finally necessitated a return to England in 1664. Taylor wrote a tract for her personal use, by way of farewell: Christian consolations.
In the Conway family home, Ragley Hall, Warwickshire, Anne Conway continued the form of life that she had established in Portmore. At Ragley Hall she provided a centre for intellectual pursuit, for esoteric readings and enlightened conversation. More was a constant presence. But there were many other visitors. On account of her chronic illness, Anne Conway was attended by most of the famous medical figures of the day. The famous Irish healer Valentine Greatrakes (qv) visited Ragley Hall and tried in vain to heal her. Baron von Rosenroth and Ezechiel Foxcroft, the translator of the text of Christian Rosenkreutz's The chymical wedding, also stayed in Ragley Hall. Quakers such as George Fox, George Keith, and Robert Barclay spent time there discussing the tenets of their movement with Anne Conway, especially the writings of William Penn and Issac Pennington. In 1670 More asked the Rosicrucian Francis Mercury van Helmont to visit Anne Conway, in the hope that he could heal her illness. The arrival of van Helmont brought her into further contact with central European streams of theology and philosophy. Van Helmont stayed in Ragley Hall for seven years, and while he could not prevent her early death, he ensured that after her death her philosophical work was published. Because of the conventions of the day, however, Anne Conway's own name could not be put to her text, The principles of the most ancient and modern philosophy concerning God, Christ and the creatures (Amsterdam, 1690; London, 1692).
In the final years of her short life, Anne Conway publicly ‘owned’ the quakers. While Lord Conway could not agree with this step, nevertheless, at her request, he ensured that quakers imprisoned in his jurisdiction in Ireland be freed. Anne Conway died on 23 February 1679.