Honora Sneyd was born the third daughter to Edward Sneyd who lived in Bishton, Staffordshire and Susanna Cook of Sible Hedingham, Essex, in Bath in 1751. Her father was a Major in the Royal Horse Guards, with an appointment at Court as a Gentleman Usher. her parents married in 1742 and she was one of eight children and the second surviving daughter of six, and only six years old when her mother died in 1757. Her father found himself unable to take care of all of his children and various friends and relations then offered to take them in.
Honora Sneyd, who was seven years younger than the thirteen-year-old Anna Seward, moved into the home of family friends, Canon Thomas Seward and his wife Elizabeth and their family at Lichfield, Staffordshire, where they lived in the Bishop’s Palace in the Cathedral Close.
On 17 March 1773, Edgeworth’s first wife Anna Maria Elers gave birth to their fifth child, Anna Maria Edgeworth, at the age of 29. Ten days later she died from puerperal fever.Edgeworth was still in Lyon to avoid temptation leaving his expectant wife in the care of Day. On learning of the death of his wife, Edgeworth travelled to London, where he consulted his friend Thomas Day as to Honora Sneyd’s situation. On learning that she remained in good health and unattached, he promptly headed to Lichfield to see Honora at the Sneyds, with the intention of proposing. His offer was accepted immediately, and there was no mention of the conventional waiting period before remarrying after widowhood. Although Mr. Sneyd was opposed to his daughter’s marriage, the couple were married at Lichfield Cathedral on 17 July 1773, officiated by Canon Thomas Seward, Anna Seward being a bridesmaid. After marrying, problems with the Edgeworth family estates in Ireland required the couple to immediately move to Edgeworthstown, County Longford in Ireland.
Through this marriage Sneyd became step-mother to Edgeworth’s four surviving children by his first wife On encountering her new family she observed that Maria, then aged five, was exhibiting behavioural problems, and expressed her views that speedy and consistent punishment were the keys to ensuring good behaviour in children, a view she proceeded to practice. However, she believed that such discipline needed to be imposed “before the age of 5 or 6”, and was therefore rather late in the case of the older children; however, she imposed a strict discipline. Following a period of ill health on Sneyd’s part, Maria Edgeworth was sent away to boarding school in Derby Similarly, her older brother Richard was sent to Charterhouse and then went to sea, and she never saw him again. Later Richard Edgeworth would comment on how difficult the first two years were for Sneyd in her new role as stepmother to undisciplined children, a role her relatives had advised her against.
Honora Sneyd was soon pregnant, giving birth to her daughter Honora on 30 May 1774, who died at the age of sixteen. Her second child, Lovell, who inherited the property, was born the following year on 30 June 1775.
The Edgeworths jointly developed the concept of “Practical Education”, a principle that would become a new paradigm by the 1820s. Having determined that after eight years, Richard Edgeworth’s attempt to raise his eldest son Richard according to the principles of Rousseau was a failure, he and Honora were determined to find better methods. After the birth of Honora’s first child the Edgeworths embarked on a plan, partly inspired by Anna Barbauld, to write a series of books for children. After trying many other methods, Barbauld’s Lessons for Children from two to three years old published in 1778, and the Edgeworths used it on Anna (5) and Honora (4), and were delighted to find that the girls learned to read in six weeks. Now back in England, at Northchurch the Edgeworths were in closer contact with the intellectuals of the Lunar society. Richard Edgeworth and Honora were determined to design a plan for the education of their children. They started by reviewing the existing literature on childhood education (including Locke, Hartley, Priestley in addition to Rousseau), and then proceeded to document their observations of the behaviour of children and then developed their own “practical” system.
Four years after returning to England Honora Sneyd died of consumption at six in the morning on 1 May 1780 at Bighterton, surrounded by her husband, her youngest sister, Charlotte and a servant. Honora Sneyd was buried in the nearby Weston church where a plaque on the wall (see box) bears witness to her life. On Honora Sneyd’s death, Edgeworth married her younger sister, Elizabeth Sneyd, stating that this had been the dying wish of Honora