Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Harley, Brilliana

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HARLEY, BRILLIANA, Lady (1600?–1643), letter-writer, was second daughter of Sir Edward (afterwards Viscount) Conway [q. v.], by Dorothy, daughter of Sir John Tracy and widow of Edward Bray. She was born about 1600 at the Brill in the Netherlands, of which place her father was at the time lieutenant-governor. Coming to England with her family early in 1606, she was naturalised by act of parliament in April of that year. On 22 July 1623 she became the third wife of Sir Robert Harley [q. v.], and lived chiefly at his country seat, Brampton Bryan Castle, Herefordshire. She devoted herself there to the care of her children, three sons and four daughters. Of a deeply religious temperament, she gathered round her puritan preachers, and, like her husband, sided with the parliament in the civil war. In 1643 she was dwelling, according to her wont, with her youngest children at Brampton while Sir Robert was in London, and her avowed sympathy with the roundheads soon led the royalists, under Sir William Vavasour and Colonel, Lingen, to lay siege to the castle. The siege began on 25 July 1643 and lasted for six weeks, till the end of the following August, when the royalists retired to Gloucester. Much damage was done by the besieging force in the neighbouring village. Lady Brilliana's religious faith enabled her to bear the trial with much fortitude, but the anxieties of her position injured her health. In October her castle was again threatened, and she died before the end of the month. The registers at Brampton are lost, and the exact date is not recoverable.

Two hundred and five letters written by Lady Brilliana between 30 Sept. 1625 and 9 Oct. 1643 are extant at Brampton Bryan, and were published by the Camden Society, under the editorship of the Rev. T. T. Lewis, in 1854. The first eight (1625-33) are addressed to her husband; the rest, with three exceptions, are addressed to her eldest son, Edward (afterwards Sir Edward) Harley [q. v.], during his residence at Oxford. The letters are chiefly remarkable for their proofs of maternal affection. They abound in domestic gossip, religious reflections, and sound homely advice.

[Letters of the Lady Brilliana Harley (Camd. Soc.), 1854; cf. art. Harley, Sir Egbert.]

S. L. L.