Hester Thrale

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Hester Thrale Piozzi
Hester Thrale in 1786
Hester Lynch Salusbury

(1741-01-27)27 January 1741
Died2 May 1821(1821-05-02) (aged 80)
Clifton, Bristol, England
Other namesHester Salusbury,
Hester Piozzi
  • Henry Thrale (m. 1763),
Gabriel Mario Piozzi
(m. 1784)

Hester Lynch Thrale Piozzi (née Salusbury; later Piozzi; 27 January 1741 or 16 January 1740 – 2 May 1821),[Note 1] a Welsh-born diarist, author, socialite and patron of the arts, is an important source on Samuel Johnson and 18th-century English life. She belonged to the prominent Salusbury family, Anglo-Welsh landowners, and married first a wealthy brewer, Henry Thrale, with whom she had 12 children, then a music teacher, Gabriel Mario Piozzi. Her Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson (1786) and her diary Thraliana, published posthumously in 1942, are the main works for which she is remembered. She also wrote a popular history book, a travel book, and a dictionary. She has been seen as a protofeminist.

Early years[edit]

Sir Joshua Reynolds, Portrait of Hester Thrale and her daughter Hester (c. 1777), Beaverbrook Art Gallery, New Brunswick, Canada

Hester Lynch Salusbury was born at Bodvel Hall, Caernarvonshire, Wales, the only daughter of Hester Lynch Cotton and Sir John Salusbury. As a member of the powerful Salusbury family, she belonged to one of the most illustrious Welsh land-owning dynasties of the Georgian era. Through her father's line, she was a direct descendant of Katheryn of Berain.[citation needed] Hester enjoyed the devoted attention of her uncles and was educated to a high level for a young woman. She would later describe that "they had taught me to read and speak and think and translate from the French, till I was half a prodigy."[1]


Streatham Park

First marriage[edit]

After her father had gone bankrupt in an attempt to invest in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Hester married the rich brewer Henry Thrale on 11 October 1763, at St Anne's Chapel, Soho, London. They had twelve children and lived at Streatham Park. However, the marriage was often strained: her husband frequently felt slighted by members of the court and may well have married to improve his social status. The Thrales' eldest daughter, Hester, became a viscountess as the wife of George Elphinstone, 1st Viscount Keith.[2]

After her marriage, Thrale was free to associate with whom she pleased. Due to her husband's financial status, she was able to enter London society, as a result of which she met Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, Bishop Thomas Percy, Oliver Goldsmith, and other literary figures, including the young Frances Burney, whom she took with her to Gay Street, Bath.[3]

In July 1774 Johnson visited Wales in Thrale's company,[4] during which time they visited Hester's uncle Sir Lynch Cotton at Combermere in Denbighshire.[5] Frances, the wife of Sir Lynch's son Robert "found Johnson, despite his rudeness, at times delightful, having a manner peculiar to himself in relating anecdotes that could not fail to attract old and young. Her impression was that Thrale was very vexatious in wishing to engross all his attention, which annoyed him much."[6]

Johnson wrote two verses for Thrale in 1775, the first to celebrate her 35th birthday,[7] and another in Latin to honour her.[8]

Frances Burney, in her diary, describes the conversations at several of Thrale's soirées, including one in 1779 about a young woman named Sophy Streatfeild (1755–1835), a daughter of Henry Streatfeild,[9] who was a favourite of Mr Johnson and Mr Thrale, rather to the chagrin of Hester, who commented that Sophy "had a power of captivation that was irresistible... her beauty joined to her softness, her caressing manners, her tearful eyes, and alluring looks, would insinuate her into the heart of any man she thought worth attacking."[10] The touch of jealousy here is further revealed in Thrale's remarking (after another of her male guests had professed devotion to Miss Streatfeild and the desire to "soothe" her): "I would ensure her power of crying herself into any of your hearts she pleased. I made her cry to Miss Burney, to show how beautiful she looked in tears" and (on being rebuked about this) "Oh but she liked it ... Miss Burney would have run away but she came forward on purpose to show herself. Sophy Streatfeild is never happier than when tears trickle down from her fine eyes in company."[11]

The Thrales were in Bath in 1780 at the time of the Gordon Riots, when a Roman Catholic chapel was set on fire,[12] although the greater worry for them was whether Thrale's brewery in Southwark would escape being ransacked, which it narrowly did.[13]

Burney records Thrale's distress on losing her husband (4 April 1781), referring to her as "sweet Mrs. Thrale" and sympathising with the "agitation" she was under in having to sell the brewery and wind up his affairs. Burney was there to congratulate and cheer Thrale when the business was concluded.[14]

At this time, 1781, Thrale was socialising with Whig members of parliament such as William Smith, the abolitionist, Benjamin Vaughan and writers, including Helen Maria Williams and Anna Laetitia Barbauld at Southhampton Row in Bloomsbury, London.[15]

Second marriage[edit]

During the ensuing years, Thrale fell in love with Gabriel Mario Piozzi, an Italian music teacher who had taught the Thrale's children,[16] and married him on 25 July 1784. She complained: "I see the English newspapers are full of gross Insolence towards me," with one commenting how Thrale could not have imagined "his wife's disgrace, by eventually raising an obscure and penniless Fiddler into sudden Wealth."[16] This caused a rift with Johnson, which was only perfunctorily mended shortly before his death. The levelling marriage also earned her the disapproval of Burney (who would herself marry in 1793 the impoverished, Catholic émigré Alexandre D'Arblay) and her cousins the Cottons. Thrale and Piozzi subsequently left England to travel in Europe for three years, especially in Italy and often following traditional routes of the Grand Tour.[17]

Thrale retired to Brynbella, a newly built country house on her Bach y Graig estate in the Vale of Clwyd, near Tremeirchion in north Wales in 1795.[18] She and her husband eventually adopted his nephew, John Salusbury Piozzi Salusbury, who arrived in Britain in 1798, moved to Brynbella after his marriage in 1814, which she gifted to him, and eventually became heir to the Salusbury family properties and name.[19]

Written works[edit]

After Johnson's death, she published Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson (1786) and their letters to each other (1788).[18]

Frances Burney, who considered both Johnson and Thrale to be among her dearest friends, read the unpublished manuscript with much interest, but disapproved of the decision to publish, noting, "She has given all – every word – and thinks that, perhaps, a justice to Dr Johnson, which, in fact, is the greatest injury to his memory."[20]

Together with Thrale's diaries, which were known as Thraliana and not published until 1942, these sources help to fill out the biased picture of Johnson often presented in James Boswell's Life of Samuel Johnson. Johnson often stayed with the Thrale household and had his own room above the library at Streatham, in which he worked. The friendship between Johnson and Thrale was emotionally intimate, and after her husband died in 1781 "Johnson's circle took it for granted that he would marry Hester."[16]

Based upon two letters Johnson wrote to Thrale in French and a passage in Thrale's Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson, Thrale's biographer Ian McIntyre and Johnson's biographers Peter Martin and Jeffrey Meyers have suggested that Thrale and Johnson had a sadomasochistic relationship in which Thrale whipped Johnson.[16]

Thrale also wrote Observations and Reflections made in the Course of a Journey through France, Italy, and Germany (1789), which describes her travels during her honeymoon with Piozzi. The book mostly focuses on their travel in Italy. Notably, it was one of the first travelogues written by a British woman that was written in prose rather than in letters.[21] Although there was only one edition, it was famous enough that Queen Charlotte read it.[22] She was also the author of two plays, both unproduced.[18]

Her Retrospection... (1801)[23] was an attempt at a popular history of that period, but was not received well by critics, some of whom patently resented female intrusion into what was then the male preserve of history. Reviewers also coupled sexism with ageism in dismissing her work. One reviewer called it "a series of dreams by an old lady."[24]

According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, "it has since been seen as a feminist history, concerned to show changes in manners and mores in so far as they affected women; it has also been judged to anticipate Marxian history in its keen apprehension of reification: 'machines imitated mortals to unhoped perfection, and men found out they were themselves machines.'"[18]

A lexicographer in her own right, Mrs Piozzi's British synonymy, or, An attempt at regulating the choice of words in familiar conversation was published in 1794 by G. G. & J. Robinson of London, ten years after Dr Johnson's death.[25]

Death and legacy[edit]

Hester Piozzi died at No. 10 (now 20) Sion Row, Clifton, Bristol, of complications after a fall, and was buried on 16 May 1821 near Brynbella in the churchyard of Corpus Christi Church, Tremeirchion, next to Piozzi.[18] A marble plaque inside the church was erected in 1909:

Near this place are interred the remains of

Hester Lynch Piozzi.
"Doctor Johnson's Mrs Thrale"
Born 1741. Died 1821.
Witty. Vivacious and Charming. In an Age of Genius
She Ever Held a Foremost Place
This Tablet is Erected by Orlando Butler Fellowes
Grand-Son of Sir James Fellowes. The Intimate Friend of
Mrs. Piozzi and her Executor.
Assisted by Subscriptions

28th April 1909.[26]

Frances Burney eulogised her, going so far as to make a comparison with Germaine de Staël.[27]

From the time of her death almost up to the present, she was referred to by scholars as Johnson had done, as Mrs Thrale or Hester Thrale. Nowadays she is often referred to as Hester Lynch Piozzi or Mrs Piozzi.

Samuel Beckett drew on Thrale's diaries and Anecdotes to dramatize her and Johnson's relationship in one of his earliest plays, Human Wishes. However, he abandoned the play after completing the first act.

Author Lillian de la Torre featured Thrale in the story "The Stolen Christmas Box", part of a series featuring Johnson as a detective.

A three-act opera, Johnson Preserv'd, was written by the English composer Richard Stoker, with a libretto by Jill Watt. The characters are Dr Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, Hester Thrale, Gabriel Piozzi, and Mrs Thrale's maid Polly (the only fictitious character). The opera was performed by Opera Piccola at St Pancras Town Hall, London, in July 1967, with the tenor Philip Langridge performing the role of Piozzi. It was conducted by Vilem Tausky and directed by Anthony Sharp. The vocal score was published by Peters Edition in 1971.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Beryl Bainbridge, According to Queeney, Little Brown & Co., 2001 (novel)
  • Boswell, James (1851). The life of Samuel Johnson. [Followed by] The journal of a tour to the Hebrides.
  • Clifford, James L. (1987). Hester Lynch Piozzi (Mrs. Thrale). New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-06389-X.
  • Marianna D'Ezio, "The Advantages of Demi-Naturalization": Hester Piozzi's "Observations and Reflections Made in the Course of a Journey Through France, Italy and Germany" (1789), Journal for Eighteenth Century Studies 33:2 (2010), pp. 165–180
  • Marianna D'Ezio, Hester Lynch Thrale Piozzi. A Taste for Eccentricity. Newcastle upon Tyne. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2010
  • McIntyre, Ian (2008). Hester: The Remarkable Life of Dr Johnson's 'dear Mistress'. Constable. ISBN 978-1-84529-449-6.
  • Looser, Devoney (2008). Women Writers and Old Age in Great Britain, 1750-1850. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 97–117.
  • H. L. Piozzi, E. A. Bloom and L. D. Bloom, The Piozzi letters: Correspondence of Hester Lynch Piozzi, 1784-1821 (formerly Mrs. Thrale). Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1989
  • C. E. Vulliamy, Mrs. Thrale of Streatham. London: Cape, 1936
  • Stapleton Cotton, Mary Woolley; Stapleton Cotton, Stapleton; Knollys, William Wallingford (1866). Memoirs and Correspondence of Field-marshal Viscount Combermere, from his family papers, by Mary Viscountess Combermere and W. W. Knollys.


  1. ^ Piozzi, Hester Lynch (1942). Thraliana [electronic resource] : the diary of Mrs. Hester Lynch Thrale (later Mrs. Piozzi) 1776-1809. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  2. ^ "Elphinstone [née Thrale], Hester Maria, Viscountess Keith". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/8743. Retrieved 16 November 2021. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^ Frances Burney, pp. 45–56.
  4. ^ Boswell 1851, p. 185.
  5. ^ Broadley 1909, p. 176.
  6. ^ Stapleton Cotton, Stapleton Cotton & Knollys 1866, p. 22.
  7. ^ "Mrs Thrale at 35 verses". Thrale.com. Retrieved 13 January 2022.
  8. ^ "The Donald & Mary Hyde Collection of Dr. Samuel Johnson - Houghton Library". Harvard College Library. Retrieved 16 November 2021.
  9. ^ "The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/45505. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  10. ^ Frances Burney, p. 32.
  11. ^ Frances Burney, p. 33.
  12. ^ Frances Burney, pp. 54–56.
  13. ^ Frances Burney, p. 59.
  14. ^ Frances Burney, pp. 60–62.
  15. ^ Williams, Helen Maria (2001). Fraistat, N. (ed.). Letters Written in France. Broadview Press Ltd. p. 18. ISBN 9781551112558. Retrieved 4 July 2023.
  16. ^ a b c d Gopnik 2008.
  17. ^ Wachowich, Angela. "Hester Thrale Piozzi's Observations and Reflections made in the Course of a Journey through France, Italy, and Germany (1789)". Women's Print History Project. Spotlights on Titles. Retrieved 12 June 2023.
  18. ^ a b c d e Michael J. Franklin, "Piozzi , Hester Lynch (1741–1821)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, UK: OUP, 2004) Retrieved 25 April 2017.
  19. ^ "John Salusbury Piozzi", Orlando Project: Women's Writing in the British Isles from the Beginnings to the Present (2022)
  20. ^ Frances Burney, p. 187.
  21. ^ D'Ezio, Marianna (June 2010). "The Advantages of 'Demi-Naturalization': Mutual Perceptions of Britain and Italy in Hester Lynch Piozzi's Observations and Reflections Made in the Course of a Journey through France, Italy and Germany". Journal for Eighteenth Century Studies. 33 (2): 168. doi:10.1111/j.1754-0208.2010.00275.x.
  22. ^ Wachowich, Angela. "Hester Thrale Piozzi's Observations and Reflections made in the Course of a Journey through France, Italy, and Germany (1789)". Women's Print History Project. Spotlights on Titles. Retrieved 12 June 2023.
  23. ^ Hester Thrale Piozzi, Retrospection, or a review of the most striking and important events, characters, situations, and their consequences which the last eighteen hundred years have presented to the view of mankind, 2 vols, London: John Stockdale, 1801.
  24. ^ Looser, Devoney (2008). Women Writers and Old Age in Great Britain, 1750-1850. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 97–117. ISBN 9780801887055.
  25. ^ "Piozzi, Hester Lynch (1741-1821) - British synonymy, or, an attempt at regulating the choice of words in familiar conversation... ; v. 2 / By Hester Lynch Piozzi".
  26. ^ Broadley 1909, p. 154.
  27. ^ The Journals and Letters of Fanny Burney (Madame D'Arblay, ed. Joyce Hemlow et al., 12 vols (London: OUP, 1972–1984), IX, pp. 208–209.


  1. ^ Contemporary records, which used the Julian calendar and the Annunciation Style of enumerating years, recorded her birth as 16 January 1740. The provisions of the British Calendar (New Style) Act 1750, implemented in 1752, altered the official British dating method to the Gregorian calendar with the start of the year on 1 January (it had been 25 March). These changes resulted in dates being moved forward 11 days, and for those between 1 January and 25 March, an advance of one year. For further explanation, see: Old Style and New Style dates.


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