Wingfield, Theodosia (1800–36), Viscountess Powerscourt , evangelical religious writer, was a daughter of the Hon. Hugh Howard , gentleman landowner, and Catherine Howard (née Bligh), of Co. Wicklow. The Howards were one of a small group of closely related gentry families in Co. Wicklow, known for their religious piety in the early 1800s. As a child Theodosia Howard would have come into regular contact with the Rev. Robert Daly (qv), who held evangelical views and became rector of Powerscourt in 1815, as well as members of the Wingfield family who owned the Powerscourt estate. The first wife of Richard Wingfield, 5th Viscount Powerscourt, died aged 25 in 1820. Theodosia seems to have been deeply affected by this tragic death and it may have contributed to her early intense spirituality. Her earliest printed letters from 1821 show that she agonised daily over the issues raised in sermons and felt pangs of guilt when she did not pray regularly. Her piety must have struck a chord with Richard Wingfield, for in June 1822 they married. Tragically the viscount died in August 1823, aged 32. For the next thirteen years of her life Theodosia – who earned the epithet ‘good Lady Powerscourt’ – buried herself in letter-writing and organising religious meetings at her large country house.
Her correspondence from the 1820s reveals a tortured soul who found it difficult to contemplate ‘living three times as long as I have lived yet’ (Letters and papers, 9). Though her personal conduct as a Christian appears to have been exemplary, she still felt ‘unworthy’ and wanted to suffer more like Christ. She was depressed by the worldliness of the established church and troubled by the demands of catholics for emancipation. In the mid 1820s she found some solace in the fact that there was a growing number of anglican worshippers in England, in Scotland, and on the Continent who held similar evangelical beliefs. She attended the first meetings of the Albury Prophetic Conference held in London and frequently attended lectures given by Edward Irving, the influential preacher and academic. This inspired her to organise at Powerscourt from 1827 her own conferences on the meaning of prophecy. From the late 1820s her letters reveal an intense interest in the idea of Christ's second coming and in charismatic manifestations. She would have known John Nelson Darby (qv), who left the Church of Ireland in 1828 to set up separatist gatherings of ‘brethren’ in Dublin, but it is unclear whether she accepted his radical views. She probably attended some of the early meetings of the ‘Dublin Brethren’ in Fitzwilliam Square and then Aungier St., Dublin, from c.1826. In the late 1820s there was constant interaction between the Brethren in Dublin, Plymouth, London, Edinburgh, and on the Continent. In 1829 and 1830 she journeyed to Brussels and Paris to meet noted evangelical preachers, and made regular trips to London until her death in 1836.
Wingfield was an influential figure among evangelical Christians in Ireland during the 1820s and 1830s, and unusual on account of her gender and social status. Her piety became more widely known after her death, when the Rev. Robert Daly published some of her letters and papers (1838). However, Daly edited out all personal details and the names of correspondents. One also suspects that he tried to tone down her interest in prophecy and remove any suggestion that she wanted to leave the established church. Although Daly chaired at least one of the Powerscourt conferences, it is clear that he did not share the views of the more ardent evangelicals and would have been shaken by the idea that anglicans needed to secede from the Church of Ireland and join separate communities if they were to express their true beliefs. Daly (who became bishop of Cashel in 1842) was a forceful and ambitious personality and his presence at Powerscourt probably curtailed Wingfield's participation in what was to become the Plymouth Brethren. Unlike Daly she wanted no glory for herself on earth and felt that the ‘bustle of life should be no more to us than the buzzing of flies round a corpse’ (Letters and papers, 195). Wingfield died 31 December 1836, aged 36, in Dublin and was buried in Powerscourt. She was survived by her stepson, Richard Wingfield (1815–44), 6th Viscount Powerscourt, and her stepdaughter, Catherine.