Category Archives: courtship & marriage

A Most Scandalous Lady

When I was researching Knightsbridge for my last post I came to Kingston House (shown below in a Victorian print) and read about its extraordinary first owner, Elizabeth Chudleigh. I write historical romances, but I would never dare attempt a plot with anything like the story of her romantic life – no-one would believe it for a moment!

Kingston House

Elizabeth (c1720-1788) was the daughter of Colonel Sir Thomas Chudleigh who had a number of influential friends, including the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole. Perhaps it was due to his good offices that she became a maid of honour to the Princess of Wales, wife of Frederick, Prince of Wales and mother to George III.

At court she met and became engaged to the Duke of Hamilton who promptly departed on the Grand Tour. While he was away Elizabeth met Captain Augustus John Hervey, a son of the Earl of Bristol who fell passionately in love with her. At first Elizabeth did not return his feelings,  but her aunt who favoured the match intercepted the duke’s letters from the continent and eventually Elizabeth, piqued at his apparent neglect, secretly married Hervey in 1744.

Incredibly the couple managed to keep their marriage a secret from the court and their families, even though it soon became apparent that it was not a success. Elizabeth was unfaithful to Hervey, and he probably was to her, and they effectively parted in 1749.

The Duke of Hamilton returned to England from his Grand Tour, still assuming they were engaged and pressed for a marriage date, only to be astounded by Elizabeth’s refusal. However much she might have wanted to marry a duke, she was not, at this point, ready to commit bigamy. Hamilton finally gave up and married one of the beautiful Gunnings sisters.

NPG D1106; Elizabeth Chudleigh, Countess of Bristol after Unknown artist

Elizabeth’s family were furious with her for apparently refusing a duke on a whim, and she left the country for to the court of Frederick the Great where she was very popular. On her return to London the vivacious “Miss Chudleigh” was equally in demand, and enjoyed a very lively social life as the portrait of her in the role of Iphegeia at a masque suggests! (Unknown artist 1749)

“… it has been asserted this lady appeared [at a masquerade] in a shape of flesh-coloured silk so nicely and closely fitted to her body as to produce a perfect review of the unadorned mother of mankind, and that this fair representative of frailty, … had contrived a method of giving as evident tokens of modesty, by binding her loins with a partial covering, or zone, of fig-leaves.” (The Life and Memoirs of Elizabeth Chudleigh. 1788)

But Elizabeth was still stuck with her secret husband and it is said that she eventually tore the leaf out of the church register where the marriage was recorded and bribed the clerk to say nothing. At which point her husband unexpectedly became Earl of Bristol so she bribed the clerk again and returned the page to the register!
At this crucial point she fell in love with the Duke of Kingston and became his mistress. Kingston and Bristol agreed between them that Bristol would relinquish all claims to Elizabeth and a marriage was performed on March 6th 1769 between the Duke of Kingston and Elizabeth – despite her first husband being very much alive and no divorce having taken place.
For years they lived as man and wife at Kingston House. Elizabeth became a leader of fashion, but in 1773 the duke died and she travelled to Italy. While she was away a Mrs Craddock, a witness to the true marriage, turned up at her solicitors and proceeded to blackmail the “Duchess”. When no money was forthcoming Mrs Craddock went to the Duke of Kingston’s family and all hell broke loose.

L0023717 Elizabeth Chudleigh, Duchess of Kingston, attending her tria

[Elizabeth Chudleigh, Duchess of Kingston, attending her trial. Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org. Etching 1776 by John Hamilton Mortimer. Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/ ]

Proceedings were brought and Elizabeth returned home to face trial for bigamy. The case began on April 15th 1776 and she was, unsurprisingly, found guilty. At the time the penalty for bigamy was transportation or imprisonment, but Elizabeth claimed the privileges of a peeress and was discharged without sentence.
But her “in-laws” were still in hot pursuit of the property she had acquired from the duke on his death and she knew she had to leave the country. She kept her planned flight a secret, even going to the lengths of inviting a large number of people to a dinner party on the night in question. They arrived to find Kingston House empty.
Elizabeth lived in Calais for a while, then moved to Paris under the protection of the king’s brother. She was residing there when her lawyers told her that a suit concerning an estate she had bought with the duke’s money had been found against her. She flew into such a furious fit of temper that she burst a blood vessel and died on August 26th, 1796. Perhaps a fitting end to such a tumultuous life!

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Filed under courtship & marriage, Crime, High Society, Love and Marriage, Sex & scandal, Women

A Flutter of Fans – A Very British Romance?

mid 18thcWatching the first episode of Lucy Worsley’s fascinating A Very British Romance last night I was inspired to look at my collection of 18th and early 19th century fans to see how they treat romantic love.

Fans were not only a practical necessity at hot and over-crowded balls and receptions, but they were also items of high fashion, conversation pieces and even sources of satire. And, of course, what better aid to romance for a strictly-chaperoned young lady who could deploy an entire range of flirtatious gestures with her fan – peeping over the top of it; hiding, then revealing her face; gesturing an invitation or snapping it shut sharply in rejection.

mid 18thcThe earliest – perhaps 1770s – is a simple fan with widely spaced black and white sticks. The leaf is painted on one side only in black, white and grey, with tiny silver sequins sewn through the pattern. The man and woman in the centre have delicate touches of pink on their cheeks, hands and on her bosom. This is a very informal outdoor scene. She is playing a guitar and perhaps singing a romantic song. He is sitting with his legs astride the bank, and raising a small bird to his lips, apparently to kiss its beak. A love bird? From their intense exchange of looks it is quite clear that hers are the lips they would both wish he was kissing.

parkThe most modern (c1818?) is also outdoors. It is a detailed hand-painted and gilded scene set in the parkland surrounding a large country house. The young lady in the centre is gathering flowers which she is collecting in the bonnet which she has casually hung from a bush – perhaps an indication that she would like to shed a few more items of clothing if the right circumstances arose. parkOn the other hand, a lamb, a symbol of innocence, is sitting by her side. A young man, his gun over his shoulder and his ammunition pouch at his side, strides off on the other side of the lake with his dog at his heels. He is off hunting – but what or who? He is certainly very aware of the young lady and I would hazard a guess that she is just as aware of him. No doubt she set out early to compose herself into just this charming and innocent pose for his benefit.

lotteryNow for a fan which I found in circumstances which I can only call romantic, if not downright spooky. I was writing The Piratical Miss Ravenhurst, the last of my Scandalous Ravenhurst series. My heroine was called Clemence – not the most common of English names. I was halfway through the book when I visited an antiques auction and spotted the handle of a fan poking out of a mixed lot of odds and ends. It had no loop on it – an almost infallible sign of an early fan – so I took a quick look and put it back before anyone else saw me taking an interest! In the event I got the whole lot for under £20 and when I had a good look at the fan I could tell it was not only late 18th century, but also French. The scene shows six young women in a lottery for love. The cupids draw a description of the virtues the lover of each will possess, described in very difficult old French in verses around the edge. (I have to thank fellow author Joanna Maitland for the translations!)  Poor Isis is in a hurry to receive her prediction – but her lover will have no virtues whatsoever. The next girl, “Aglaé, le coeur palpitant” – “her heart beating” – is destined for a lover who is articulate, but weak in spirit. Each girl in turn is told of a lover with two, then three, then four virtues. The final young woman is Clémence – my heroine’s name! And not only is her lover going to be handsome but he will surpass her hopes in every way.

Enfin il n’en reste plus qu’en
Il est pour la belle Clémence
Son sort est beau, mais peu commun
Il surpasse son espérence
Dons du Coeur, et dons l’esprit
Vertu, courage et bonne mine
Son amant les a réunit
Elle a gagné le quine.

maximsTo counter all that intense romance I’ll end with a rather more cynical view of life and love with a fan produced in 1797. It was doubtless intended to be a conversation piece. The central text, shown on a fan held up by a fat little Cupid, explains that this is:

“The LADY’S ADVISER, PHYSICIAN & MORALIST: Or, Half an Hours Entertainment at the Expense of Nobody”

It has six scenes around the edge. The four not visible in this view show how to “Catch The Spleen” – devote yourself to cats rather than people and seek out unpleasantness; “How to Avoid It” – enjoy life with a virtuous disposition, honour and moderation; “How to Plague Every-Body” – be dissatisfied with everything, declare war against the whole world and finally “How to Please Most Folks” – “Be just to your Enemy, Sincere to Your Friend, Constant to Your Mistress.”

On the left above is “How To Fall Violently In Love”: “Look upon or listen to an object which is agreeable to your mind & if you have the least sensibility you will most probably be completely over head and ears in pickle.”

On the right is “A Gentle Cure For It”. The young couple are  married now and have been interrupted at the breakfast table by a woman with a child in a basket. The scene has the caption “The Unwelcome Present” and from the expression on the man’s face, and his body language, one assumes this child is a bye-blow of his. The text reads:

“Look upon the Changeableness & natural inconstancy of Mankind, and you will find a Certain remedy, for the cure of your delusion.” Really rather a scandalous scene for a lady’s fan!

maxims

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Filed under courtship & marriage, Entertainment, Fashions, High Society, Historical Romance, Love, Love and Marriage

Travelling The Great North Road With The Georgians

The Great North Road – the ancient route from London to Edinburgh – must have seen the foot prints, hoof prints or wheel tracks of virtually every Georgian of note. Part of the fun of tracing the historic route under today’s roads and motorways for my book Following the Great North Road: a guide for the modern traveller was bumping into Georgian characters at every bend in the road. Here I will take a dozen, almost at random, and travel north with them from London.
The great clown Joseph Grimaldi was an early commuter and would travel from his home in the village of Highgate to the London theatres. Just south of Islington on the first stage out of the city the road passes Sadler’s Wells theatre and Grimaldi often appeared there. One night in 1807, on his way back home, he was stopped by footpads on Highgate Hill, but when he showed them his watch, engraved with him in costume, they recognised him and let him go. (The print on Archway early 1the left shows the foot of Highgate Hill).
Beyond Highgate lies Finchley Common, one of the most notorious haunts of highwaymen on the entire Great North Road. Amongst the infamous men who haunted it were Jack Shepherd who led a life of dangerous celebrity and was caught on the Common in 1724 after his fifth, and final, breakout from Newgate prison. He was hanged in November at Tyburn. Dick Turpin, whose violent exploits were romanticised by the Victorians, also haunted the Common. The so-called Turpin’s Oak tree stood just before the road reaches the modern North Circular Road and was said to be peppered with musket balls from hold-ups. The enclosure of the common began in 1816 and put an end to the dangers. We meet Turpin all along the road north, at least in the imagination of the Victorians who thrilled to Alfred Noyes’s Ballard of Dick Turpin. dickturpin
Charles Dickens was a frequent traveller along the Great North Road, right from his early days as a young journalist, and he writes feelingly about the discomforts of stage coach travel. (You can find more of Dickens’ travels in my book Stagecoach Travel. )
He certainly described the towns he passed through with an acid pen – poor Eaton Socon, 55 miles north of the capital was, in his opinion, so dull and backward that he called it Eaton Slocombe.
Another 40 or so miles north stands the oddly-named Ram Jam Inn, named, so the story goes, for the mysterious liquor that the landlord, returning from India, sold there. It was pointed out to travellers as the lodging of Molyneux, the black bare knuckle boxing champion, on the night before he met the equally great Tom Cribb at Thistleton Gap nearby on 28th September 1811. Cribb, who was the winner, stayed at the Blue Bull (99 miles), which was a small inn further north.    (The image at the foot of this post is the final one in Henry Alken’s series ‘The Road to a Fight. 1821)
Sir Walter Scott was a regular traveller from his Scottish home to London and he used the Great North Road in his novels. He described Gonerby Hill, a long and difficult hill 112 miles north of London, in Heart of Midlothian (1818) where Jeanie Deans walks from Edinburgh to London and encounters thieves and murderers at its foot. Harrison Ainsworth mentions it in his novel Rookwood (1838) where Dick Turpin crests the hill only to be faced, prophetically, with a gibbet holding two mouldering corpses.
Newark, 125 miles north of London, has a dramatic castle and a fine market square surrounded by coaching inns. Lord Byron often stayed at the Clinton Arms, then called the Kingston Arms, and mentions it in a letter of 1807. His first publisher, Ridge, had offices at number 39 on the corner of the market and Bridge Street and you can still see the handsome door-case and the knocker Byron would have used.
The Prince Regent travelled the Great North Road, and would visit Doncaster races. The racecourse is still there, 161 miles from London, and so are the handsome Georgian houses of South Parade, including the one where the Regent lodged. The print below shows the grandstand on Doncaster racecourse in 1804.

Doncaster_0001
Daniel Defoe was another Great North Road “regular”, viewing it with an eye even more jaundiced than Dickens’. The village of Croft on the River Tees (237 miles north of London) was a flourishing little Georgian spa, long since decayed into a village. On the north bank of the river is one of those features that provided scope for local legends and stories to entertain bored coach passengers. The road follows the bend of the river over the tributary River Skerne and in a pasture to the right are two deep pools known as Hell’s Kettles. Unfortunately they are no longer visible from the road so the modern traveller cannot peer into their depths and see the impious farmer and his plough team who were swallowed up for working on St Barnabas’s Day. Daniel Defoe would have none of it, observing, “’Tis evident they are nothing but old coal-pits, filled with water by the River Tees.”
In an earlier post I wrote about the Regent’s Lord Chancellor, Lord Eldon, who enjoyed regular holidays at the Wheatsheaf Inn in Rushyford, 250 miles from London. The inn is now the Eden Arms and the once pretty little brook-side spot has a large roundabout in the middle of it. In his reckless youth the Chancellor was one of the numerous young men who chose the Great North Road as his route to elope to the Scottish border. We meet him again in Newcastle in 1772, armed with a ladder and assisting pretty Bessy Surtees to climb down from a window in her father’s fine half-timbered house on the corner of Sandhill and the steep hill called Side. The house and window are still there.SONY DSC
The road is into Northumberland now and passes through the town of Alnwick (308 miles north). Its ancient castle was drastically ‘modernised’ in the later 18th century by the first Duke of Northumberland, a man who married well and who changed his name to Percy from Smithson on acquiring the castle through his wife. He asked George III for the Order of the Garter, pointing out that he would be the first Percy to have been refused it. The king, who apparently did not take to the ex-apothecary, retorted, “You forget, you are the first Smithson who ever asked for it.”
Thirty miles further north and the road enters Berwick on Tweed and the eloping couples were almost on safe Scottish ground. Finally, 341 miles from London the road enters Scotland at Lamberton Bar. The famous toll house, which used to have a notice in the window reading, “Ginger beer sold here and marriages performed on the most reasonable terms”, is no longer there, alas.
East Linton (370½ miles), where the road crosses the River Tyne on a red sandstone bridge, was the birthplace in 1761 of John Rennie, the pioneering engineer and builder of London Bridge.
Only three miles from Holyrood House in Edinburgh the Great North Road enters Portobello, now a coastal suburb, but once a salt-producing fishing village with a flourishing china industry. The sands were excellent for exercising cavalry horses and it was here that the quartermaster of the Edinburgh Light Horse, Sir Walter Scott, was kicked in the head during a drill. Enforced bed-rest allowed him to finish the Lay of the Last Minstrel.
The traveller now entered Edinburgh, although if they were expecting a comfortable hotel, or even a coaching inn, they were disappointed. Until James Dun opened the first Edinburgh hotel in the New Town in 1774 accommodation was very rough indeed. Perhaps we should end with an image of Dr Johnson, whose unflattering views on Scotland are well known. He put up at the White Horse in Boyd’s Close and Boswell visited him there to find him in a towering rage because the waiter had sweetened his lemonade using his fingers, not the tongs, to add the sugar.

boxing

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Filed under courtship & marriage, Prince Regent, Transport and travel