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Elizabeth Elstob (1683-1756)

Elizabeth Elstob, the first known woman scholar of Anglo-Saxon, was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne on 29 September 1683, the daughter of an old, established, north-of-England family. Her father, Ralph Elstob, was a merchantclothier of the city and her mother, Jane Hall, the daughter of a merchant. Elizabeth Elstob died on 3 June 1756 in London, having spent her last years in the household of the duchess of Portland, where she was employed as governess. She was buried in St. Margaret's Church, Westminster. Elstob's life assumes an almost novelistic determination and has persistently been interpreted in a romantic light by her biographers. As the young companion and pupil of her older brother, the Saxonist William Elstob (1673-1715), she was celebrated and even nurtured by the male academy as something of a prodigya learned woman. She established for herself at an early age a reputation as a formidable linguist and scholar of Old English-the first female Saxonist. But by the time she was thirty-four, the acclaim and the security were lost, and she spent the next twenty years in obscurity and sometimes extreme poverty until she was "rediscovered" and in a manner socially reclaimed by the amateur antiquary George Ballard. Through his dedication to her cause, and the good offices of a network of literary and philanthropic women, Elstob's final years were made secure, though she never resumed her scholarly career.