The Battle of Vimeiro, Revisited

I first wrote about Vimeiro when Zebra Regency Romances published my novel Least Likely Lovers in August 2005.  In the story, Major Jack Whitaker, formerly of the 22nd Foot, was severely injured in the Battle of Vimeiro, (21 August, 1808) and has come home to England to complete his recuperation, hoping to return to the front beside his comrades. However, in the meantime, Sir Arthur Wellesley (eventually to become the Duke of Wellington) has asked Jack to build support for the army among politicians and social leaders in London, an assignment that Jack finds impossibly frustrating. You won’t be surprised to find that Jack finds a lady with whom he falls in love.


The Battle of Vimeiro (also called Vimiero or Vimera) was the first major conflict of the Peninsular War, part of the greater continent-wide Napoleonic Wars. Up to Napoleon’s 1807 invasion of Portugal, Britain’s oldest ally, British participation in the European war had involved the navy, diplomacy, perhaps major scheming, but not many actual soldiers. When the Portuguese needed help, however, the government in London sent troops to oppose the French. They arrived in August 1808 under the leadership of Major General Sir Arthur Wellesley.

 

On a trip to Lisbon, my husband and I hired a car to take us to see the site of Battle of Vimeiro. We drove via multi-lane freeways north out of Lisbon, thinking about what a difference 200 years made in transportation. When we turned off the road, not far from Torres Vedras, we saw a primarily agricultural countryside filled with deep ravines, craggy rocks, rough pastures, and adorned with olive groves.

The village of Vimeiro is whitewashed, with its buildings right up against the road. We looked for the promised sign to the battle’s memorial but missed it. The driver had a solution to our dilemma: his friend who managed the Hotel Golf Mar on the coast, not far from the village. In fact, the hotel manager escorted us to the cliffs overlooking the Rio Maciera where the British troops landed on the sandy spits at either side of the river’s mouth. I could look out at the empty sea and imagine those tall ships anchoring and the troops in their red coats climbing down the rope ladders into small boats to be rowed to the beach.

Armed with better directions, we drove back into the village past the large barn-like structure which was used as a hospital during the battle and the church, near which some skirmishing took place.

 

With one or two deft turns, we found the park on the heights with its memorial and blue tile pictures of the battle, shown here. I walked around the park, looking out at the battle site, trying to visualize the British and French troops in their colorful uniforms, to hear the explosion of artillery and rattle of musket fire. A map of the battle overlooks the countryside from the heights. But aside from the memorial park, one would never guess this peaceful place had ever seen the deaths of hundreds of men or heard cries of the wounded.

Our driver said in his more than twenty years of experience taking tourists around Portugal, no one had ever asked to come here before. Why, he asked, was I eager to find the site of the Battle of Vimeiro? When I told him about my novels, I imagined he thought of war stories filled with blood and gore. It probably never occurred to him that I write gentle stories of love and lifelong commitment. I wished that I had a copy of one of my novels to give him.

Returning to events of 1808, Major General Wellesley had landed his troops in central Portugal, with the goal of moving south to take Lisbon from the French. They fought a battle at Rolija, August 17, 1808. After several hours of brutal combat, the French were forced back. Wellesley moved on to the Maceira River, just west of Vimeiro, where more British troops came ashore with their horses and equipment.

Four days later, about 16,000 British troops and 2,000 Portuguese defeated about 19,000 French under General Jean-Andoche Junot (1771-1813) at Vimeiro. Wellesley stationed his troops on ridges between the village and the beach on the night of August 20th. By dawn, they could see the French approaching. In the face of British fire, General Junot’s men repeatedly failed to take the heights, though in various skirmishes, there was hard combat, including hand-to-hand fighting in the village. To the north of town, the French fell prey to one of Wellesley’s favorite strategies: stationing his troops out of enemy sight behind the crest of a hill, then wiping out the enemy as they came over the top.

By midday, Junot was beaten and the newly arrived British generals called an end to the firing. Wellesley advocated continuing the rout, driving the enemy out of Portugal all the way to French soil. However, as the battle had progressed, Wellesley’s overly cautious superior officers came ashore; first, General Harry Burrard (1755-1813), then General Hew Dalrymple (1750-1830). They overruled Wellesley’s plans to chase after the French. Thus, by allowing the French time to regroup and bring in reinforcements, the British lost their advantage. Instead, over Wellesley’s objections, Burrard and Dalrymple organized a conference to negotiate with the French at Cintra (aka Sintra) several days later.

The Convention of Cintra was signed August 30, 1808, nine days after the Battle of Vimeiro. It obligated the Royal Navy to carry 26,000 French soldiers to France, with their weapons and whatever spoils they had acquired. There was no restriction against their return to fight again in Portugal. Sir Arthur Wellesley voiced his objections, but, in the end, signed the Convention. The reaction in Britain was dramatic, led by the opposition to the government and their allies in the press. Scathing articles, mocking cartoons and contemptuous speeches condemned the terms of the convention. Wellesley, along with Generals Burrard and Dalrymple, was ordered back to London. The three generals faced a hearing before a Board of Inquiry at Horseguards, beginning November 15, 1808.

 

After extensive deliberations, the board voted on December 22, 1808, to accept the convention. The generals were officially exonerated, but neither Burrard nor Dalrymple ever saw military action again. Unofficially, all of London knew of Wellesley’s reluctance, and most probably knew the story of how his plan to continue the battle and push the French back to Lisbon and out of Portugal forever was thwarted.

The command in Portugal was taken over by General Sir John Moore  (l). Moore died after the Battle of Corunna when French commanders chased the British troops through the mountains. Six thousand British troops, including Moore, were killed in January 1809. For more details, see this blog of May 10, 2011.

The British government in London sent Sir Arthur Wellesley back to Portugal in April 1809 with 20,000 troops to join the remaining 9,000 still there. The war continued in Portugal and Spain for another five years, ending in 1814 with Napoleon’s first abdication. British troops, by then, had fought their way through Spain and into southern France. Wellesley was honored with the title of Duke of Wellington, a tribute he enhanced with his victory at Waterloo in June, 1815.

Give `Em The Wellie – An Introduction to Bootmaker George Hoby

George Hoby was not only the greatest and most fashionable bootmaker in London, but, in spite of the old adage, “ne sutor ultra crepidam,” he employed his spare time with considerable success as a Methodist preacher at Islington. He was said to have in his employment three hundred workmen; and he was so great a man in his own estimation that he was apt to take rather an insolent tone with his customers. He was, however, tolerated as a sort of privileged person, and his impertinence was not only overlooked, but was considered as rather a good joke. He was a pompous fellow, with a considerable vein of sarcastic humour, as evidenced in the following anecdotes handed down to us by Captain Gronow –

I remember Horace Churchill, (afterwards killed in India with the rank of major-general,) who was then an ensign in the Guards, entering Hoby’s shop in a great passion, saying that his boots were so ill made that he should never employ Hoby for the future. Hoby, putting on a pathetic cast of countenance, called to his shopman, “John, close the shutters. It is all over with us. I must shut up shop; Ensign Churchill withdraws his custom from me.” Churchill’s fury can be better imagined than described. On another occasion the late Sir John Shelley came into Hoby’s shop to complain that his topboots had split in several places. Hoby quietly said, “How did that happen, Sir John?” “Why, in walking to my stable.” “Walking to your stable!” said Hoby, with a sneer. ” I made the boots for riding, not walking.”

Hoby was bootmaker to George III, the Prince of Wales, the royal dukes, Beau Brummell, most of the aristocracy and many officers in the army and navy. His shop was situated at the top of St James’s Street, at the corner of Piccadilly, next to the old Guards Club. Hoby was the first man who drove about London in a tilbury. It was painted black, and drawn by a beautiful black cob. This vehicle was built by the inventor, Mr Tilbury, whose manufactory was in a street leading from South Audley Street into Park Street.

No doubt Mr. Hoby had patterns for all manner of desirable boots, evidenced not in the least by his impressive client list. However, he will forever be linked to a boot design not of his making. Of course I refer to the Wellington boot, a pair of the Duke’s own boots of this design are pictured at left. Hoby had been bootmaker to the Duke of Wellington from his boyhood, and received innumerable orders in the Duke’s handwriting, both from the Peninsula and France, which he always religiously preserved. The Duke asked Hoby to modify the 18th-century Hessian boot to a height below the knee, in order to make them more practical for walking and riding. The resulting  boot was made of softer calfskin leather, had no trim, boasted heels one inch high and fit more closely around the leg, making it more practical and hard-wearing for battle, yet comfortable for the evening. The boot was dubbed the Wellington and was quickly adopted by Hoby’s other customers.

Hoby was also bootmaker to the Duke of Kent; and as he was calling on H.R.H. to try on some boots, the news arrived that Lord Wellington had gained a great victory over the French army at Vittoria. The duke was kind enough to mention the glorious news to Hoby, who coolly said, “If Lord Wellington had had any other bootmaker than myself, he never would have had his great and constant successes; for my boots and prayers bring his lordship out of all his difficulties.”

Hoby may have had a penchant for sarcasm and a high opinion of himself (and his own influence upon British military history) but he knew how to run a business – Hoby died worth a hundred and twenty thousand pounds.

THE WELLINGTON CONNECTION: MADAME TUSSAUD

The Duke of Wellington visiting the Effigy and Personal Relics of Napoleon
at Madame Tussaud’s by James Scott, after Sir George Hayter – National Portrait Gallery

Generally speaking, when one thinks about the Duke of Wellington, one seldom thinks of him in connection with trivial amusements. Rather, the formidable soldier and stern politician come to mind. However, the Duke was occasionally up for a jolly time and he had a great interest in new inventions and various amusements of the day. When the Great Exhibition of 1851 opened, the Duke went to see it nearly every day.

In Struggles and Triumphs: or, Forty Years’ Recollections of P. T. Barnum by Phineas Taylor Barnum (1871), Mr. Barnum relates the following anecdote about the Duke:

“On my first return visit to America from Europe, I engaged Mr. Faber, an elderly and ingenious German, who had constructed an automaton speaker. It was of life-size, and when worked with keys similar to those of a piano, it really articulated words and sentences with surprising distinctness. My agent exhibited it for several months in Egyptian Hall, London, and also in the provinces. This was a marvellous piece of mechanism, though for some unaccountable reason it did not prove a success. The Duke of Wellington visited it several times, and at first he thought that the `voice’ proceeded from the exhibitor, whom he assumed to be a skillful ventriloquist. He was asked to touch the keys with his own fingers, and after some instruction in the method of operating, he was able to make the machine speak, not only in English but also in German, with which language the Duke seemed familiar. Thereafter, he entered his name on the exhibitor’s autograph book, and certified that the `Automaton Speaker’ was an extraordinary production of mechanical genius.”

The Duke of Wellington was also a great fan of Madame Tussaud’s and visited her waxworks often to see the exhibits and/or to take tea with Madame herself. He left standing instructions that he was to be told whenever a new addition to the rooms was installed.  As executor of the will of George IV, Wellington was responsible for giving Madame Tussaud the monarch’s coronation robes for her exhibit. Surprisingly, the Duke’s favorite exhibit at the Wax Work was that of Napoleon. From a contemporary book titled The Curiosities of London, we learn that Madame Tussaud’s Napoleon exhibit contained the following:

“Napoleon Relics. — The camp-bedstead on which Napoleon died; the counterpane stained with his blood. Cloak worn at Marengo. Three eagles taken at Waterloo. Cradle of the King of Rome. Bronze posthumous cast of Napoleon, and hat worn by him. Whole-length portrait of the Emperor, from Fontainebleau; Marie Louis and Josephine, and other portraits of the Bonaparte family. Bust of Napoleon, by Canon. Isabey’s portrait Table of the Marshals. Napoleon’s three carriages: two from Waterloo, and a landau from St. Helena. His garden chair and drawing-room chair. “The flag of Elba.” Napoleon’s sword, diamond, tooth-brush, and table-knife; dessert knife, fork, and spoons; coffee-cup; a piece of willow-tree from St. Helena; shoe-sock and handkerchiefs, shirt, &c. Model figure of Napoleon in the clothes he wore at Longwood; and porcelain dessert-service used by him. Napoleon’s hair and tooth, etc.”

As to Wellington’s visits to the Exhibit, we have the following passage from The History Of Madame Tussaud’s ( Originally Published 1920 ) –
Early one morning, soon after the Exhibition had been opened for the day, Joseph, Madame Tussaud’s son, who had been wandering through the rooms, as was his habit, perceived an elderly gentleman in front of the tableau representing the lying-in-state of Napoleon I. The model of the dead exile rested—as it does down to this very day—on the camp bedstead used by Napoleon at St. Helena, and was dressed in the favourite green uniform, the cloak worn at Marengo (bequeathed by Napoleon to his son) lying across the feet. In the hands, crossed upon the chest, was a crucifix. In those days it was the custom to lower at night the curtains that enclosed the bed, in order to exclude the dust, whereas now the whole scene is encased in glass.
Observing that the visitor was desirous of seeing the effigy, and no attendant being at hand, Joseph Tussaud raised the hangings, whereupon the visitor removed his hat, and, to his great surprise, Joseph saw that he was face to face with none other than the great Duke of Wellington himself.
There stood his Grace, contemplating with feelings of mixed emotions the strange and suggestive scene before him. On the camp bed lay the mere presentment of the man who, seven-and-thirty years before, had given him so much trouble to subdue. No feeling of triumph passed through the conqueror’s mind as he looked upon the poor waxen image, too true in its aspect of death; he rather thought upon the vanity of earthly triumphs, of the levelling hand of time, and how soon he, like his great contemporary, might be stretched upon his own bier.

Mr. Joseph Tussaud used frequently to recall this dramatic meeting between the Iron Duke and the effigy of his erstwhile foe, and to imagine the feelings of the old General as he gazed upon the couch. It was probably the first of the Duke’s many visits to the Exhibition.

A few days after this most interesting visit Mr. Tussaud, who was an old friend of Sir George Hayter, related the incident to that artist. Hayter was immediately struck with the potential value of the event for the production of a painting of the historic scene, and the Tussaud brothers at once commissioned him to execute the work for them. Sir George thereupon communicated the idea to the Duke, who readily responded, and offered to give the necessary sittings. We have the sketches made by Hayter in preparation for the work, and among them appears a drawing of Joseph Tussaud himself, although he does not enter the actual picture. Hearing that the artist was making progress with the painting, the Duke visited his studio, and, having expressed himself warmly in appreciation of the picture (the figures had been but lightly limned in at the time), said: “Well, I suppose you’ll want me to sit for my picture here?”
Hayter has given us a most characteristic portrait of Wellington as he then appeared. He is dressed in his usual blue frock-coat, white trousers, and white cravat, fastened with the familiar steel buckle. He stoops a little as was his wont, his head is lightly covered with snow-white hair, and his manly features are marked with an expression of mingled curiosity and sadness as, hat in hand, he looks upon the recumbent Napoleon. The picture was completed early in December, 1852, and has been on view in the Napoleon Rooms at the Exhibition ever since.

The engravings of the picture have been circulated in thousands throughout the world, and, strange to say, they are exceedingly popular in Austria. It is an interesting fact that the painting in question was the last portrait for which the Duke ever sat. When the Duke himself died, Madame Tussaud’s advertised “A full length model of the Great Duke, taken from Life during his frequent visits to the Napoleon Relics.”

Wellington himself would have been least surprised to learn that Madame Tussaud had added his likeness to her collection upon his death. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to find an engraving of the Duke’s tableaux, but we do have the following description found in Our Young Folks: An Illustrated Magazine for Boys and Girls, Volume 8 (1872) By John Townsend Trowbridge:

“In a side room adjoining the long gallery lies the great Duke of Wellington in state. An awful feeling came over me, as if I were in the presence of the dead, as I looked upon that noble form, lying still and cold, with all the “pride of heraldry and pomp of power” around him, insensible alike to both. As he lay there on his tented couch of velvet and gold, it seemed as if that must be the “Great Duke,” and not a waxen image only, that never lived nor spoke. Among the numerous portraits which adorn the walls is a very fine one of the duke visiting the relics of Napoleon, which are shown in another room.”

Many a person has recorded his or her feelings about the Duke of Wellington’s funeral carriage, above, a great monstrosity of a thing weighing 18 tons and made from the French guns taken in battle and designed by Prince Albert himself in a misguided attempt to pay a fitting tribute to the Duke. All agree that it was pretty much a hideous object. Charles Dickens wrote, “For form of ugliness, horrible combination of colour, hideous motion, and general failure, there never was such a work achieved as the Car.” After the funeral, there was a general debate as to what to do with the thing. The question even made its way to Parliament, as mentioned in a book called Stray Papers, published in 1876 –

During a Parliamentary debate, Mr. Layard said, that there was a hideous piece of upholstery under cover opposite Marlborough House at the disposal of anybody who would take it; but, as nobody would take it, they were now asked to vote £840 for its removal to St. Paul’s, where it would be placed beneath one of the crypts. He alluded to the car used at the funeral of the late Duke of Wellington, and that which nothing more hideous had ever been invented. The best thing would be to give it to Madame Tussaud, or, if she would not take it, to burn it.

The carriage now rests at Stratfield Saye. But, the same book goes on to tell us that:

Several years ago, a figure of the late Duke of Wellington stood under one of the skylights in the principal room (at Madame Tussaud’s.) By some unaccountable oversight, the attendant omitted to draw the blinds on one occasion when shutting up for the night, and next morning the hot rays of a July sun fell on the Duke’s countenance with such fervour that his Grace’s nose began to run, and, by the time the doors were opened, had disappeared completely. So much of the figure being destroyed, restoration to its original form was found to be impossible.

There used to be a figure of the Duke of Wellington, and Napoleon, on display at Madame Tussaud’s in London, but when I was there recently I didn’t see it. Then again, the place was so crowded I might have missed it. It’s good to think that the Duke is still around, even in storage, and might be brought out again soon.

Since this post was originally published several years ago, Geri Walton has written an excellent blog post on Madame Tussaud’s Napoleon Relics. You’ll find it here.

The Ill Fated Marriage of The Duke of Wellington

Originally published in 2011
The marriage of Arthur Wellesley to Catherine Sarah Dorothea Pakenham, third daughter of the Earl of Longford, took place on 10 April, 1796 and may be the strangest marriage I’ve come across in the annals of Georgian, Regency and Victorian alliances. No two people were ever more ill suited to spend their lives together (unless it be the Prince of Wales and Princess Caroline) and no other couple had less in common, either in the way of interests or personality. So marked was the disparity between them that many of their contemporaries wondered at the alliance. That Wellington, a man so careful in his actions and attitudes, should have willingly made such a bad match for himself beggars belief. In fact, as we shall see, Wellington himself could hardly credit it.

 

On 7 March 1787, Wellesley was gazetted ensign in the 73rd Regiment of Foot. In October, with the assistance of his brother, he was assigned as aide-de-camp, on ten shillings a day (twice his pay as an ensign), to the new Lord Lieutenant of Ireland Lord Buckingham. He was also transferred to the new 76th Regiment forming in Ireland and on Christmas Day, 1787, was promoted to Lieutenant. During his time in Dublin his duties were mainly social; attending balls, entertaining guests and providing advice to Buckingham. While in Ireland, he over extended himself in borrowing due to his occasional gambling, but in his defence stated that “I have often known what it was to be in want of money, but I have never got helplessly into debt.”

Two years later, in June 1789, he transferred to the 12th Light Dragoons, still as a lieutenant and according to his biographer, Richard Holmes, he also dipped a reluctant toe into politics becoming an MP for Trim in the Irish House of Commons and in 1791 he became a Captain and was transferred to the 18th Light Dragoons. During this time, he met and wooed Catherine (Kitty) Pakenham, the daughter of Edward Pakenham, 2nd Baron Longford, who was described as being full of ‘gaiety and charm.’ Wellington offered for her hand in marriage in 1793 and was summarily refused by Kitty’s brother Thomas, Earl of Longford, who saw nothing very much in the young Wellesley to recommend him to the family, as he had a number of debts, poor professional prospects and no sign hung round his neck that read, “Future Duke of Wellington, Incredibly Wealthy, In Charge of Everything.”

Arthur Wellesley, or Wesley, as he then styled himself, then left Dublin for active service in the Netherlands and apparently did not look back on his lost love.  Nowhere in his correspondence for the interceding 12 year interval does he make any reference to Catherine Pakenham, or does a letter to or from her exist. Then, we are to believe that Wellesley went to spend his leave at Cheltenham and met a mutual friend, the  busybody and yenta Lady Olivia Sparrow, who twitted him with heartlessness to her bosom friend “Kitty Pakenham,” and assured him that his ladylove had never changed.

“What!” Wellesley was purported to exclaim, “does she still remember me ? Do you think I ought to renew my offer? I’m ready to do it.”

Supposedly, he then wrote at once to Miss Pakenham, renewing his proposal of marriage. She replied that, as it was so long since they had met, he had better come over and see her before committing himself, lest he should find her aged and altered. Sir Arthur replied that minds, at all events, did not change with years and  hastened over to Ireland. Though, upon again laying eyes on Kitty, he was said to have exclaimed,  “She has grown ugly, by Jove!” they were married by Wellesley’s clergyman brother Gerald  in Lady Longford’s drawing room in Dublin.

Whilst the Duke possessed many laudable qualities, the ability to be a great husband and father was not amongst them. He treated Kitty rather coldly beginning very early in their marriage. Some say it was because he found out after the fact that Kitty had engaged herself to another suitor prior to Wellington’s return, and had thrown that young man over in favour of Wellington who, by this time, had fair amount of fame, a growing fortune, a title and glittering prospects. Supposedly, Wellington found the fact that Kitty herself did not disclose the engagement to him deceitful. His great good friend Lady Shelley wrote of Wellington at the end of her life, “As he never deviated from the truth himself, he scorned deceit or equivocation in others. Whenever he caught any one out in telling him an untruth, he was extremely harsh and severe.”

However, there is evidence (still being pursued by Kristine and Victoria) that some great bruhaha took place early in their marriage involving something to do with Kitty’s family; something along the lines of her having lent them a goodly amount of money and hiding the fact from Wellington. In fact, Wellington thenafter forbade Kitty’s ever taking their sons to Ireland with her again. She was free to visit her family whenever she wished – the boys were not. Exactly what the fracas was about is still shrouded in mystery, but the fact remains that Wellington was a cold and distant husband to Kitty.

Wellington’s close friends found it difficult to conceive that he’d ever married Kitty, who was naturally shy and further inhibited by the hero worship she felt for her husband. At least one of his intimate friends, Harriet Arbuthnot, questioned him about the odd match, as we read in The Journal of Mrs. Arbuthnot, Volume I –

“He assured me he had repeatedly tried to live in a friendly manner with her . . but that it was impossible, that she did not understand him, that she could not enter with him into consideration of all the important concerns which are continually occupying his mind and that he found he might as well talk to a child . . . . she made his house so dull that nobody wd go to it while, whenever he was in town alone . . . everybody was so fond of his house that he could not keep them out of it . . . .

“. . . I could not at last help saying to him that the more I knew him the more was I unable to recover from my astonishment at his having married such a person . . . He said, “Is it not the most extraordinary thing you ever heard of! Would you have believed that anybody could have been such a d —–d fool?”

Now, Reader, here is the part in which the mystery lies  – Mrs. Arbuthnot relates the story of Lady Olivia Sparrow’s interference, of Wellington telling her that at that time he “did not care a pin about any one else or what became of himself” and his going to Ireland and marrying Kitty and then Mrs. A. continues: “I told him that in all my life I had never heard of anybody doing so absurd a thing, that there could be but one justification, his having been desperately in love with someone who had ill-used him and being in a state of desperation at the time, and even for that he was too old. He agreed cordially in my abuse of him and said I could not think him a greater fool than he did himself.”

So . . . . with whom had Wellington been in love? Who had broken his heart? Victoria and Kristine continue to pursue this burning question, as well . . . . It should be noted that the Duchess of Wellington died in the Duke’s London residence, Apsley House, on 24 April 1831. In the days before her death, the Duke was devoted to her needs and never left her side. In the end, he regretted that they were able to achieve a meeting of minds only at the end of her life.

THE TWO LADY JERSEYS

Originally published in 2010

There were two Lady Jerseys during the Regency, Frances, Lady Jersey and her daughter-in-law, Sarah, Lady Jersey, who became one of the Lady Patronesses at Almack’s Assembly Rooms. The elder, and more infamous, Lady Jersey was Frances Twysden, the posthumously born daughter of Rev.Philip Twysden, Bishop of Raphoe (1746–1752) who was allegedly shot while attempting to rob a stagecoach in London(!), and his second wife Frances Carter, daughter of Thomas Carter of Robertstown, Master of the Rolls. Her disreputable father was the third son of Sir William Twysden, 5th Bart of Roydon Hall, by his wife and distant cousin Jane Twisden.

When Frances was seventeen, she married George Villiers, 4th Earl of Jersey, son and heir of William Villiers, 3rd Earl of Jersey and his wife, Lady Anne Egerton. Frances’s husband was nearly twenty years older than she and was Master of Horse to the Prince of Wales and a Lord of the Bedchamber. The reason for the marriage of Lord Jersey to the daughter of a disreputable Irish bishop has not been explained in contemporary accounts. However, her husband’s position within the Royal household soon placed Lady Jersey in close proximity to the Prince of Wales and led to Lady Jersey being well placed for undertaking future mischief.

George IV began his affair with Frances, Lady Jersey, in 1782, although she would also become romantically involved with various members of the English aristocracy. It was not until 1794 that Lady Jersey managed to lure the Prince of Wales away from his illegal wife, Maria Fitzherbert, although he would continue to be romantically involved with Maria until 1811. Having helped to encourage the Prince of Wales to marry his first cousin, Caroline of Brunswick, Lady Jersey nevertheless set out to make Caroline’s life difficult, perpetrating what vies to be the greatest piece of cheek in Regency history, Lady Jersey had herself appointed as Lady-in-Waiting to Princess Caroline. Losing no time in stirring the pot, Lady Jersey met Princess Caroline when she landed at Greenwich on April 5th, 1795 – arrivng late. She then proceeded to usurp the Princess’s rightful place in the Royal carriage by plead motion sickness whenever she rode backwards, thus forcing the Princess to give up her seat in the place of honour.

However Caroline, the potential Queen Consort, saw through the intrigues of her husband’s mistress and, there being no love lost between Caroline and the Prince of Wales, soon cared very little about the matter. In fact, after the birth of their child together, Caroline lived abroad for most of her 25 year marriage to him, taking other lovers, and therefore leaving a void Frances could fill. Because Lady Jersey enjoyed the favour of Queen Charlotte, even the displeasure of George III was not enough to threaten Lady Jersey’s position, and she continued to run the prince’s life and household for some time.

It might be said that Lady Jersey’s reputation for intrigue and malice led to her downfall. The following contemporary letters offer further insight into her personality.

On July 6, 1803, diarist Joseph Farrington wrote: “Lady Jersey is now quite out of favour with the Prince of Wales. She told Hoppner that she met the Prince upon the stairs at the Opera House, & in such a situation as to render it necessary to make room for him to pass which not instantly noticing him she did not do as she wished, which caused Her after He had passed to say a few words of apology. He went forward, and the next day Col. McMahon called upon her to signify to Her `that it was the desire of the Prince that she would not speak to him.’ She spoke bitterly of McMahon for having submitted to carry such a message. She says there is a popish combination against her. (McMahon was Private Secretary and Keeper of the Privy Purse to the Prince of Wales, as well as being a Privy Councilor. He was created a Baronet on August 7, 1817).

Frances, Lady Jersey, died on July 23, 1821, in Cheltenham. Her daughter-in-law, Sarah, Lady Jersey, was much more beloved by society. Sarah, Lady  Jersey, the Lady Patroness who introduced the Quadrille to Almack’s Assembly Rooms and who is Zenobia in Disraeli’s Endymion, was the daughter of John Fane, the 10th Earl of Westmorland, who had scandalously eloped with her mother, the heiress Sarah Ann Child, a member of the Child’s banking family. Born Lady Sarah Sophia Fane, the younger Lady Jersey married George Villiers, the 5th Earl of Jersey, then Viscount Villiers, on 23 May 1804. He succeeded to the title in 1805 and until her death in 1867, Lady Jersey, who lived in Berkeley Square, was the undisputed Queen of London Society, being called, in fact, “Queen Sarah,” although she styled herself as Sally.

Sir William Fraser described her thusly in later life, “Lady Jersey was never a beauty. She had a grand figure to the last; never became the least corpulent, and, to use a common term, there was obviously no “make up” about her. A considerable mass of grey hair; dressed, not as a young woman, but as a middle-aged one. Entirely in this, as in other things, without affectation, her appearance was always pleasant. No trace of rouge nor dye could ever be seen about her. She seemed to take her sovereignty as a matter of course; to be neither vain of it, nor, indeed, to think much about it. Very quick and intelligent, with the strongest sense of humour that I have ever seen in a woman; taking the keenest delight in a good joke, and having, I should say, great physical enjoyment of life.”

After her parents had eloped, Lady Sarah’s grandfather, Robert Child, sought to confound the newlyweds by preventing any of his fortune from going directly to his daughter or the Westmorland family, which he disliked intensely. He made a will leaving the whole of it to any daughter that might be born to the couple. Sarah became an heiress upon his death, inheriting not only his banking fortune, but Osterley Park as well.

On July 6th, 1825, Mrs. Arbuthnot wrote the following complaint about Lady Jersey: “I was very cross at the King’s ball, I was so provoked with Lady Jersey. In the first place, she was chaperone to Miss Ponsonby, who is just come out & very shy & who she left entirely to herself & took no notice of, while she went about flirting with every man she could get hold of. Miss Ponsonby came & staid with me & protested she would never go to a ball again with Lady Jersey.

Perhaps one of Lady Jersey’s most constant adversaries was Princess Lieven, who wrote of one of their many skirmishes on August 23, 1823: “I see that you like Lady Georgina Wellesley (Lady Cowley, sister-in-law to the Duke of Wellington); I can imagine that you would. She has plenty of good sense. We have never been very intimate but we were always good friends. She is said to like gossip. I have never found out if she deserves the reputation. I am so far from having that fault, and generally I am so quickly bored with trivialities, that it s rare for anyone who is endowed with a little tact not to realize immediately that this is the kind of conversation I like least. So she might well be a gossip without my knowing it. She has given you a garbled and abridged version of the mischievous stories Lady Jersey tired to spread about me; and Lady Jersey has the most dangerous tongue I know. I will not bore you, and myself, with the whole truth; but I cannot leave you under a false impression. Here is what happened in the end. She wanted to have it out. There was no way of escaping. She talked and wept for an hour on end. The sound of her voice and her vulgar way of talking upset me so much that I felt almost sea-sick; incidentally, I was quite incapable of understanding what she was trying to say. So, to be done with it, I said: “Tell me, in a word, if you have come to make peace. If so, I am ready; if you have come to declare war, I accept the challenge.” That brought on a fit of hysterics and frightful reproaches for my coldness. “Is it possible to say such freezing things to one’s friend?” In the end, I really believe I drove her out, for I was beside myself. So here we are friends or enemies, just as she likes; for, once again, it doesn’t matter to me, so long as I am left in peace.”

Perhaps Lady Jersey’s greatest misstep was to draw the displeasure of the Duke of Wellington. On March 9th, 1832, Lady Holland wrote to her son: “You know that he (the Duke of Wellington) never goes near Ly Jersey, a complete alienation.” And again on August 2nd, 1845, Lady Holland writes to him: “Yesterday the Beauforts gave a dinner to the King of Holland, quite one of form and etiquette. The D. of Wellington was to take out according to precedence, Ly G. Coddington as a Duke’s daughter. Lady Jersey bustled up, shoved her off, and said to the Duke, “Which will you take?” He very gravely and properly kept to his destined lady, without answering Lady Jersey. They say she is really too impudent and pushing.”

A prime example of the manner in which the Duke of Wellington dealt with those with whom he had no patience is demonstrated by the following anecdote I found on the Villiers family website, The Jersey Cup . On one occasion, the Duke had been invited to Lady Jersey’s home at 28 Berkeley Square and arrived to find the ante-room littered with gifts. Realizing that he’d  forgotten the occasion of the party and had brought nothing with him for his hostess, the Duke picked up a China Vase as he made his way through the reception rooms and presented it to his hostess with due solemnity. “Oh, how delightful” said Sarah, “the Duchess of So-and-So gave me one just like it. I must go and put them together and make a pair.”