Jane Francesca Agnes, Lady Wilde (27 December 1821 – 3 February 1896) (born Jane Francesca Elgee in Dublin) was an Irish poet and supporter of the nationalist movement; had a special interest on Irish Fairy Tales, which she helped to gather. She married Sir William Wilde on 12 November 1851, and they had three children: William ‘Willie’ Charles Kingsbury Wilde (1852 – 1899), Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900), and Isola Francesca Emily Wilde (1857 – 1867).
Jane was the last of the four children of Charles Elgee (1783 – 1824) of Wexford, a solicitor, and his wife, Sarah (née Kingsbury, d. 1851). Her great-grandfather was an Italian who had come to Wexford in the 18th century. Lady Wilde, who was the niece of Charles Maturin, wrote for the Young Ireland movement of the 1840s, publishing poems in The Nation under the pseudonym of Speranza. Her works included pro-Irish independence and anti-British writing; she was sometimes known as “Speranza of the Nation”. Charles Gavan Duffy was the editor when “Speranza” wrote commentary calling for armed revolution in Ireland. The British authorities at Dublin Castle shut down the paper and brought the editor to court. Duffy refused to name who had written the offending article. “Speranza” reputedly stood up in court and claimed responsibility for the article. The confession was ignored by the State authorities. But in any event the newspaper was permanently shut down by the British authorities.
She was an early advocate of women’s rights, and campaigned for better education for women. She invited the suffragist Millicent Fawcett to her home to speak on female liberty. She praised the passing of the Married Women’s Property Act of 1883, preventing women from having to enter marriage ‘as a bond slave, disenfranchised of all rights over her for-tune’
Scandals and death:
William Wilde was knighted in January 1864, but the family celebrations were short-lived, for in the same year Sir William and Lady Wilde were at the centre of a sensational Dublin court case regarding a young woman called Mary Travers, the daughter of a colleague of Sir William’s, who claimed that he had seduced her and who then brought an action against Lady Wilde for libel. Mary Travers won the case and costs of £2,000 were awarded against Lady Wilde. Then, in 1867, their daughter, Isola, died of fever at the age of nine. In 1871 the two illegitimate daughters of Sir William were burnt to death and in 1876 Sir William himself died. The family discovered that he was virtually bankrupt.
Lady Jane left Dublin for London in 1879, where she joined her two sons, ‘Willie’, a journalist, and Oscar, who was making a name for himself in literary circles. She lived with her elder son in poverty, supplementing their meagre income by writing for fashionable magazines and books based on the researches of her late husband into Irish folklore. Lady Wilde contracted bronchitis in January 1896 and, dying, asked for permission to see Oscar, who was in prison. Her request was refused. She died at her home, 146 Oakley Street, Chelsea, on 3 February 1896. ‘Willie’ Wilde, her eldest son, was penniless, and Oscar paid for her funeral, which was held on 5 February at Kensal Green Cemetery in London. A headstone proved too expensive and she was buried anonymously in common ground.
Lady Jane Wilde was the grandmother of Cyril and Vyvyan Holland, the sons of Oscar Wilde, and of Dorothy Wilde, the daughter of ‘Willie’.
Photo: Jane Francesca Wilde (nee Elgee), Oscar’s mother, at the age of thirty-eight, by Bernanrd Mulrenin, RHA.