Elizabeth Rookwood in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Elizabeth Rookwood in 1748 © Cambridge University Library

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is today releasing 25 new lives of early modern women, including my biography of Elizabeth Rookwood (1684-1759), who was a key figure in the Catholic community of eighteenth-century Suffolk. Rookwood was an estate manager, bibliographer and collector of objets d’art who was also largely responsible for founding a Jesuit mission in Bury St Edmunds in 1755 that would become the present-day parish of St Edmund, King and Martyr. However, she had a turbulent early life; her father was forced to flee the country when she was five years old on account of his Jacobite sympathies, and she was brought up in the English Convent, Bruges, only returning to England in 1705. Her writings show that she was fluent in French, Flemish and Latin. Back at her family home of Coldham Hall in Suffolk she fell in love with the son of a neighbouring Catholic family, John Gage, but her father forbade her marriage. She was forced to contract a secret marriage in 1718, which her father only discovered when she became pregnant.

I edited a number of documents written by her in my book Rookwood Family Papers (2016), in which she emerges as a towering figure both within her own family but also within the wider Catholic community of East Anglia. Her eldest son, Thomas Rookwood Gage, went on to inherit the patrimonies of both the Rookwood and Gage families. I am very pleased to see Elizabeth Rookwood’s achievements recognised by her inclusion in the ODNB.

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