John-Paul Flintoff

Who was Jonathan Swift?

Jonathan Swift, best known now as the author of Gulliver’s Travels, was a clergyman in the established Church of England, and a brilliant propagandist for his close friends in government.

He was very much an insider – part of a group, including some of those ministers and the fashionable poet Alexander Pope, who used to meet in the chambers of the Queen’s personal physician.

What Swift wanted more than anything was to be promoted to bishop in England, so that he would not have to go back to Ireland, where he was brought up – then regarded as the back of beyond.

Swift is believed by some to have been the illegitimate son of Sir William Temple, for whom he worked as secretary as a young man. In Temple’s household, Swift met one of the two women he was closest to, Esther Johnson (nicknamed Stella). The other (nicknamed Vanessa) was Esther Vanhomrigh. Before her death, Vanessa begged Swift to stop seeing Stella, and after a quarrel she destroyed the will she had made in his favour.

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