Conway, Edward (c.1623–1683), 3rd Viscount Conway and Killultagh and 1st earl of Conway , politician, was the eldest surviving son of Edward Conway (qv) (d. 1655), 2nd Viscount, and his wife Frances, daughter of Sir Francis Popham. He was sent to the Continent for his education, and was in Paris in 1640. Throughout the civil wars of the 1640s he probably soldiered in England and Ireland under his father, an ardent royalist commander. The need to efface his royalism and recoup the losses incurred in fighting obliged him to live retiredly during the Cromwellian interregnum, mainly on his Warwickshire estate of Ragley and at Kensington. He was in London when he married (11 February 1651) Anne, daughter of Sir Heneage Finch (see Anne Conway (qv)). In 1653 he travelled to Ireland to attend to the affairs of his shattered Ulster inheritance. Thereafter, however, he delegated oversight of the lands, centred on Portmore, near Lisburn, Co. Antrim, to his brother-in-law, Maj. (later Sir) George Rawdon (qv). Through the circle of royalist and episcopalian academics whom he patronised, he secured Dr Jeremy Taylor (qv) as incumbent of the living adjacent to the Co. Antrim estate, where he settled in 1658. Conway himself sailed to France in 1656 in order to join his wife, only to be captured at sea. He had to be ransomed to regain his freedom.
Conway's steadfastness in the royalist interest earned its rewards after 1660. He was immediately given the captaincy of a horse troop in the Irish army and added to the Irish privy council in December 1660. He continued thereafter to divide his time between Warwickshire, London, and Ireland. In England he was consulted regularly about Irish matters. When intermittently in Ireland (as in 1662–4, 1666, 1669, 1672–4 and 1678–9), he attended the council and parliament of 1661–6, as well as offering informal advice to the lord lieutenant. At Portmore he inaugurated ambitious building works, consistent with his position as one of the principal landowners in Ulster. Some of the same craftsmen and designers whom he had employed at Ragley worked in Ireland. His opinions on local issues and appointments were actively canvassed by the governments in Dublin and London. In 1672 he was given the government of Charlemont fort and Counties Armagh, Tyrone, Monaghan, and part of Down. Later he admitted that he had concerned himself little with Tyrone and Monaghan. This new prominence, together with an extended stay in Ireland (1672–4), coincided with the viceroyalty of the earl of Essex (qv). Further signs of Conway's enhanced importance were his employment as a commissioner for the Irish customs and (in 1674) lieutenant-general of horse in Ireland. He returned to Ireland in 1678, in part to prepare for the projected Irish parliament.
In the event, the climax of his career occurred in England. His untarnished royalist and anglican credentials secured his advance in the wake of the exclusion crisis. On 3 December 1679 he was promoted to the English earldom of Conway; added to the privy council (2 February 1681); commissioned as lord lieutenant of Warwickshire in 1681; and (February 1681) appointed secretary of state for the northern department. In 1681 he was regarded as one of the triumvirate that controlled English affairs. Rumours that he aspired to the Irish lord lieutenancy as the candidate of Lord Ranelagh (qv), if not implausible, never resulted in such an Irish posting. Moreover, in the febrile world of English court politics, his blaze of glory was short-lived, for in January 1683 he was dismissed as secretary. On 11 August 1683 he died at Ragley.
His first wife, Anne (d. 1679), a martyr to poor health, shared many of his intellectual interests, some of which he had probably inherited from his bookish father. Conway himself was elected FRS in 1668 and, like his friends the Boyles, he interested himself in a variety of cultural and scholarly matters. In the quest for a cure for his wife's illnesses, he and Lady Conway patronised the faith healer from Affane, Co. Waterford, Valentine Greatrakes (qv), thereby attracting contemporary fame. In 1680 Conway married again. His bride, Elizabeth, daughter of George Booth, Lord Delamere, died (with her son) in childbirth. In 1681 he married for a third time: Ursula, daughter of Baron Stawell. She survived him and married (1686) the future duke of Buckingham. The rapid death of Conway's heir prevented the family from exercising the influence within Ulster and Ireland to which their estates destined them. The Irish property passed eventually to descendants of Conway's mother, who acquired the titles of earl (1750) and marquess (1793) of Hertford. Conway's own career – especially after 1660 – suggested how, as one of the largest proprietors in the north of Ireland, he could represent the interests of his family, of other settlers in the neighbourhood, and of protestant Ireland both in Dublin and London. As well as evincing unswerving loyalty to the Stuarts he maintained amicable relations with the varied politicians concerned with Ireland, from Ormond and Essex to Ranelagh.
Letters to Conway from his Irish agents are scattered through PRO, SP 63, many of which are calendared in CSPI, and a selection published in E. Berwick (ed.), The Rawdon papers (1819). Much material relating to his first wife is printed in M. H. Nicolson (ed.), Conway letters: the correspondence of Anne, Viscountess Conway, Henry More and their friends, 1642–1684 (1930; reprinted 1992). Documents relating to the works at Ragley were edited by M. Batten and published in ‘The architecture of Dr Robert Hooke’, Walpole Society, xxv (1936–7). More estate correspondence is among the Hastings MSS in the Huntington Library, California. A letter-book of Conway as secretary of state is BL, Add. MS 35104.