Now for a closer look at this National Portrait Gallery retrospective… There are some surprising portraits here, not the least the paintings of the Waterloo generals, Wellington, et al., and an amazing capture on canvas of the saintly William Wilberforce, the great anti-slavery crusader. But although it is the beautiful, sensually painted women who draw the eye, it is the eye-stopping portrait of a young man who may hold a clue to the centuries-old puzzle of Thomas Lawrence’s sexuality.

In her review of the National Portrait Gallery exhibit in The Observer (October 24th, 2010), Laura Cumming asks the viewer to “consider Lord Mountstuart of Bute in Spanish costume, his manhood barely concealed in skin-tight trousers. Silhouetted against a stormy sunset in his Byronic black cloak (Lawrence arguably pioneered the look, Byron was only seven at this time), Mountstuart treads upon the toy landscape below. His body is wildly elongated, his face more or less Hispanicised and yet all these implausibilities are somehow swept aside by the sensuous conviction of the paint.”

That depiction of the young lord’s “manhood” caused quite a stir at the time. Lawrence thrusts Mountstuart’s thrusting hips and bulging thighs, encased in skin-tight trousers, right into the viewer’s face. It’s not subtle, not by any means, and this reproduction hardly does it justice, for seeing it up close and personal is an entirely different experience, one that stops the viewer dead in his tracks, and my feeling is that it is intentional, that Lawrence wanted the viewer’s face rubbed into that young buck’s manhood.

Or was it his own face that he wanted to rub into Mountstuart’s crotch? It’s unsettling. And it’s also revealing that the 1923 Grieg edition of Farington’s diaries censures what Farington said about this portrait in May of 1794. Luckily, the editors of the Yale edition had no such qualms.

Lord Mountstuart of Bute (1767-1794)

Farington wrote in his diary on the 5th of May, 1795, that King George III “started back with disgust” when he saw the portrait on display at the Royal Academy exhibition for that year. From the exhibition catalog (edited by A. Cassandra Albinson, Peter Funnell and Lucy Peltz), a comment and quote from an early 19th century book of anecdotes has more to say on this painting: The unbridled sexuality of this portrait, led another critic to sarcasm: ‘We wish he had been a Bishop, as then his Cassoc [sic] might hide those eccentricities…at which delicacy must blush, and modesty turn aside.”

The editors kindly enlarge that part of the portrait — “those eccentricities” in question — for the further edification of the reader on page 124 of the catalogue. Pretty blatant, this, and, to me, it’s significant that Lawrence was never so blatant in his painting of dashing young trousered men again.

In Lawrence’s later years one woman in particular appeared to provide him with companionship, Isabella Wolff, who first met him when she sat for her portrait in 1803. Isabella was the daughter of Norton Hutchinson, a prominent East India trader and the estranged wife of Jens Wolff. A merchant, shipbroker, merchant, and collector who served as the Danish Consul, Jens Wolff was of Anglo-Danish heritage.

The couple had separated after 18 years of marriage and had one son, Herman St. John Wolff, who may have been born any time between 1810 and 1814 (or perhaps before those dates). The lack of certainty as to the correct birth date of Herman Wolff has led to speculation that he was the son of Isabella and Thomas Lawrence. Is there anything to back this up? Lawrence did appear to be fond of the boy and went on trips to the continent with him, but is that enough to make a case for paternity? It is also possible that Herman was Wolff’s son by another woman, not his wife Isabella. The jury is still out on this one.

Lawrence and Isabella Wolff knew each other for at least twenty-six years. She’d sat for a portrait in 1803, while she was still married to Jens Wolff, and they’d become close, even intimate, friends. Indeed, the artist John Constable, writing to his wife in 1824, simply stated what was being said at the time in London art circles: “A Mrs. Wolfe came in the evening. She is very pretty; & talks incessantly of all the arts & sciences… She is quite an intimate of Sir Thomas Lawrence, who has often drawn her. Her husband, from whom she is parted, in the Danish consul & in every sense of the world a Wolfe.”

Very odd, that comment, that Jens Wolff is “in every sense of the world a Wolfe,” because there was gossip in a newspaper, the Literary Gazette, very shortly after Lawrence’s death that he had been involved with a “Mrs. W, the wife of a foreign minister, whose brutal treatment [had thrown] her upon the protection of Sir T. Lawrence.” Had Jens Wolff been a wife beater? Was that what Constable was alluding to?

They were definitely close, as evidenced by this letter to her that survives, written from Rome in late June of 1819, when Isabella was about 50 and Lawrence only a couple of years older. He wrote:

My Bed Room Window is so small that only one Person can conveniently look out of it, but it looks over the Pope’s garden and St. Peters, Monte Mario &c., and as sweet Even’g closes I often squeeze you into it tho’ it does hurt you a little by holding your arms so closely within mine.

It reads real. Real and affectionate. This is not the Lawrence so many described as a manipulative social climber, overly charming, out to seduce by the sweetness of his words and the timbre of his voice. Isabella Wolff and Lawrence were definitely close, but how close is still a matter for conjecture. The bulk of their correspondence, unfortunately, was apparently censured both by his first biographer and by Lawrence’s relatives. Richard Holmes, however, dismissed her role in the painter’s life as simply “maternal.”

Isabella Wolff, 1803-1815, now at the Art Institute of Chicago

Contemporaries agree that Isabella Wolff was a great source of inspiration for him; she seemed to serve him as a beloved muse. (As perhaps, Sarah Siddons had, so many years before?) The portrait above was one that Lawrence could not seem to give up. He worked on it for over twelve years. (He also drew her many times.) At the Royal Academy exhibit in 1815, this portrait held pride of place. It was his only painting at that exhibition of a female subject.

The philosopher and critic William Hazlitt called it “a chef d’oeuvre of style…enough to make the Ladies vow that they will never again look at themselves in their glasses, but only in his Canvasses.” The critical reaction at the time to the portrait of Isabella Wolff was uniformly positive.

Mrs. Wolff’s is a classical pose, Grecian inspired, and, indeed, she is shown studying a book open to an image of the Delphic Sibyl. There is something of the Greek priestess in her attitude, with her hand on her head, and critics have suggested that being cast as a sibyl, as one of those priestesses who looked into the future and passed judgments, may fit with the role she played as mentor and muse in Lawrence’s life. It is an eye-catching portrait fraught with feeling.

Isabella Wolff died in 1829; Thomas Lawrence died unexpectedly – he had not been ill — very soon thereafter, in 1830. Whether or not their relationship was sexual in nature – whether they might have had a child together – whether he was heterosexual, bisexual, or homosexual — is irrelevant to the obvious closeness of their friendship. I would not hesitate to say she most probably meant a great deal to him and that the shock of her death no doubt hastened his demise. And that, at the end, is what is important, that his life, as it neared its end, at long last, did have what anyone would not hesitate to call love. It was surely about time.

The End


Lawrence achieved a knighthood in the spring of 1815, thanks to Prinny’s patronage, and was sent by him to the continent to paint portraits of the heroes and distinguished others of the recent battle of Waterloo – which greatly enhanced his prestige and stature amongst his fellow artists — and he became president of the officially-sanctioned society of artists, the Royal Academy, in 1820, when Prinny ascended to the throne. (The artist arrived back in London in March of 1820 to find that he had succeeded Benjamin West.) Lawrence’s reign as head of the RA was to last only ten years, however; he passed away in 1830, only sixty years old, at the height of his powers.

Like a number of other 18th-century artists, Lawrence’s popularity waned during the Victorian era, but his reputation has revived in the 20th century. The lack of public access to most of his work might have been one of the reasons for his lack of recognition. Nonetheless, several striking portraits have since firmed up his reputation. One of them is of the actress Elizabeth Farren (a full-length portrait in the collection of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, seen below). Farren was a cold and calculating woman of low origins who parlayed her looks and popularity as an actress into aristocratic gold, snagging the wealthy Earl of Derby as her prize. The portrait is stunning; it’s difficult to take one’s eyes away from the tall, willowy woman commanding the space on that canvas.

Elizabeth Farren, later the Countess of Derby, circa 1790
Sarah Barrett Moulton aka Pinkie, 1794, at California’s Huntington Library

Arguably his most famous portrait – in terms of recognition by the general art-loving public – is probably the one dubbed Pinkie, which, along with Gainsborough’s Blue Boy, has been much reproduced. (Indeed, they could be veritable bookends, that boy in blue, this girl in pink.) The iconic portrait of this young girl, Sarah Barrett Moulton, was painted in 1794, when Lawrence was in his mid-thirties.

Jonathan Buttal (or Buttall) aka The Blue Boy, circa 1770, was painted by Gainsborough and is also in the collection of the Huntington Library

Lawrence was a wonderful painter of very small children as well as of adolescents like Sarah Moulton. One painting many people recognize – though they probably would not be able to identify the artist – is The Calmady Children, painted in 1823, seven years before his death. A charming image much reproduced in greeting cards, it is in this current exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.

The Calmady Children, 1823, Metropolitan Museum of Art



Part Four Coming Soon!


As to the mystery of his debts, critics have laid Lawrence’s money problems to the demands of his large family, whom he supported. He’d supported them for a very long time, beginning at the age of 10. (He was 13 when the ad put in by his father in the Bath Chronicle ran.) His Royal Academy colleague Joseph Farington, the painter famous for his rich gossipy diary of the Georgian art world covering the years 1793 until his death in 1821, supports this widely-documented view. (Note: Yale University recently updated and enlarged the standard 1923 edition of the Farington Diary.)

Lawrence, R.A., allows his Father for the support of his family near £300 a year. He pays for his own lodgings in Bond-street 200 guineas a year. His price for his portraits is 40 guineas for a three-quarter, 80 guineas for a half-length, and 160 guineas for a whole-length. –October 28, 1793

Bear in mind that in today’s currency, we are talking some 70 to 80 times that £300. In today’s values, it’s almost $50,000+ a year, an enormous, enormous amount for those times. (A guinea = one pound and one shilling.) Lawrence’s family would have lived high off the hog indeed!

A further comment on Farington and his diaries is appropriate here. Joseph Farington (1747-1821) was an inveterate gossip and social climber who made much of his marriage to a cousin of the prestigious Walpole family. Although purporting to be a friend of many of his RA colleagues he was envious of most of them and often nasty when commenting about them in the diary he kept for many years. He played politics and was a major manipulator of the other RA members and not to be trusted. (He was, frankly, a snake.) The diary only surfaced a hundred years after his death, in 1921, when the volumes were auctioned off by his family. None of his long-deceased colleagues and those whom he called friends was privy to the intimate details in these pages.

Lawrence’s father was a failure in every business he’d attempted and, as we can see, had lived off his son’s earnings as a young artist from the time he was a mere child. But, even with having to support this family of parasites, it’s hard to imagine, with the prices Lawrence charged for a painting, that he could ever have fallen into such deep debt. On what else could he squander so much money? He lived in well-appointed homes, yet there’s no report he lived extravagantly, kept expensive mistresses, or that he gambled (the latter the downfall of many a Regency gentleman). So, on what, then, could he have spent his money?

One possibility was his ever-growing collection of Old Master paintings and sculptures. He did amass a very large collection – some 4,000 works! — as did his fellow artists Reynolds and Romney, among others, but not to the extent of his. (The collection was auctioned off at his death to pay off debts.) The possibility that intrigued me, though, was that perhaps someone was blackmailing him to keep his clandestine activities – such as a double life in London’s gay underworld — quiet.

Although there’s is no hard proof, the critic Richard Holmes, in his essay for Thomas Lawrence Portraits for the National Gallery, does suggest he was quite possibly bisexual. I do believe Lawrence was super-charged, sexually – some might say over-sexed – and if he were indeed bisexual it could explain his personality and his inability to commit to one person. His so-called friend, Farington, who called him “a male coquet,” noted he was overly intimate with his female sitters, subjecting them to long, close sittings that might not have been necessary; could he have been thus with male sitters as well? That, however, seems not to have attracted notice.

James Northcote, the pupil of Reynolds and his first biographer, made another interesting remark about Lawrence that is cited in David Piper’s The English Face (1957). Piper says, “Northcote called him ‘a sort of man-milliner painter – a meteor of fashion’.” The term “man-milliner” is 18th century slang for homosexual, and Piper goes on to say, “Northcote was biased and extremely jealous, but his criticism is not entirely unjust.”

Indeed, Lawrence’s sexuality, his possible gender confusion, could have been a destabilizing force that went on to affect all facets of his personality and may well have been connected to his monetary woes.


Mary Darby Robinson, by Hoppner

Leaving these speculations aside for the time being, the other references I found of note concerned the deep, often bitter rivalry between John Hoppner and Lawrence. Hoppner was a successful artist with great ambition, but he was too soon eclipsed professionally by the younger man and it did not sit well with him. (Though Hoppner was a skilled portraitist, his heart was not in painting portraits but in landscape painting. In the late Georgian era, however, painting portraits paid the bills.)

Hoppner’s most well-known portrait is probably that of Mary Robinson aka Perdita, first mistress of King George IV when he was the Prince of Wales. (The painting is now owned by the Chawton House Library.) Hoppner, whose parents were German and whose mother was in service to Queen Charlotte, had nursed the ambition of being named court painter — perhaps counting on these German connections to be appointed — but it never happened.

Farington noted that the rivalry would often revolve around petty incidents but was not the less vicious for all that. In the spring of 1801, the two artists squabbled over the placement of canvases at an RA exhibit, which resulted in Lawrence’s portrait of the Princess of Wales not being shown.

Hoppner will not exhibit on account of Lawrence monopolizing a center place by sending canvasses & figures of an uncommon size. —April 6, 1801

A dispute brought to trial in Sheriffs Court over a payment owing to Stubbs, the era’s most renowned painter of horses, from one of his patrons had Lawrence as witness on Stubbs’s side and Hoppner on the other. Farington remarked that Hoppner “was very violent against the claim of Stubbs,” but that a full judgment was made in Stubbs’s favor over his testimony. It appeared that nothing was too small over which they locked horns, such was their rabid dislike one for the other.

One almost has to feel sorry for Hoppner, for no other artist really had much of a chance against Lawrence, who, in addition to being immensely talented and personally charming, became a favorite of the royal family. The charm was innate; it was said that he had a seductive voice which he used to great effect and that he spoke in a “low, soft whisper…calculated to please.” Nancy Frazier, in the Penguin Concise Dictionary of Art History (2000), on those who were not so taken with Lawrence’s charm and even less with his talent, commented that: To some critics, he never seems to have gone beyond virtuoso flattery and an ability to give pleasure…[and that he was obsessed with] …charming his way through cosmopolitan society.

But charm worked for him. Though early in his career he’d painted a portrait of Queen Charlotte that King George III was said not to have cared much for, his son the Prince of Wales – popularly known as Prinny and later King George IV –championed him. (That George did not get along with his father also probably helped his relationship with Thomas Lawrence.)

The artist also squeaked by with another possible problem that might have affected his relation
ship with the royals. As Richard Holmes writes, “[In 1806] Lawrence is implicated in the ‘Delicate Investigation’ into alleged impropriety with the Princess of Wales [Prinny’s wife, Caroline] and has to give testimony defending his name against imputations of improper behavior.” The allegations grew out of malicious gossip from a former page at Montague House, according to the biographer Flora Fraser, during the time that Lawrence was painting Princess Caroline’s portrait.

Given his seductive approach to his sitters, however, and the natural flirtatiousness of the Princess Caroline, it’s not difficult to see how his attentions could have been misread and misunderstood. He could not, however, have been so foolish as to hit on Prinny’s wife, even given that gentleman’s abhorrence of her. He would have been signing his own death sentence.


Detail from a Thomas Lawrence portrait of Princess Caroline of Brunswick, the rejected wife of the Prince of Wales


To quote Fraser, “Lawrence stayed several nights at Montague House in the winter of 1800, so as to lose no time when Princess Charlotte [the daughter of the Prince and Princess who also sat for him] came from Shrewsbury House in the morning.” In his defense when he was accused of improper behavior, along with another man, a Captain Manby, Fraser says:

“Perceval had shown to Mr. Thomas Lawrence and to Captain Manby the examinations which incriminated them as possibly guilty of high treason. Manby and Lawrence made depositions indignantly countering the charges against them… Lawrence rebutted…testimony that he had stayed behind a locked door with the Princess. [He declared that] ‘nothing passed between her Royal Highness and myself which I could have had the least objection for all the world to have seen and heard.’ “

(Note: Perceval was Spencer Perceval, at that time attorney general, later chancellor of the exchequer, and then prime minister, who holds the not-so-wonderful distinction of having been the only prime minister ever assassinated. He was murdered in 1812; Princess Caroline underwent the humiliation of a public trial in the summer of 1820, sans Perceval.)


Part Three Coming Soon!


On this day, the anniversary of the death of artist Sir Thomas Lawrence RA in 1830,  we begin a series by guest blogger Jo Manning that originally appeared in 2010 entitlted –

The Wretched Love Life of Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), extraordinary painter, elusive personality…


Master Lawrence takes very striking likenesses of ladies and gentlemen

for a charge of one guinea for an oval crayon. —Bath Chronicle, 1782

There is an exhibition currently at the National Portrait Gallery in London: Thomas Lawrence, Regency Power and Brilliance. Only 54 paintings, but they are choice. Most of his work is held privately and several of the paintings in this exhibition are lent by owners who prefer to remain anonymous. (I met such an owner – his painting is not in this show – when researching My Lady Scandalous; he kindly allowed me to use a Lawrence painting on the condition that I not identify him.)

Actress Sarah Siddons by J. Dickinson

I came across the name of Thomas Lawrence for the second time when I was researching the life of Anna Foldsone (sometimes spelled Foldstone or Foltson, but later known as Anne Mee), a talented miniaturist, for a possible collective biography (tentatively titled Artists In Love) of six 18th century female artists. (That project, alas, is currently hanging fire.)

Lawrence, a friend of Anna’s journeyman painter father Joseph Foldsone, was cited as one of her teachers, and, later, after the death of her father when she was a teenager, as her fiancé. Apparently, nothing happened – as nothing seemed to happen with any of Lawrence’s relationships with women – he never married — and I could find little more on the subject of him and this very lovely artist.

Anna Foldsone, shortly after what did or did not happen with Lawrence, married an Irish barrister named Joseph Mee; it was not a happy marriage and she could have been on the rebound from Lawrence. Here’s a self-portrait of her below; she was known for her glorious, thick, curly blonde hair.

Anne Mee, by Anne Mee
There was, however, a good deal of speculation on his relationships with the Siddons women, Sarah, the mother, arguably the most famous actress of the time, and her two daughters, Sally and Maria. What exactly transpired is unknown, but there was enough gossip at the time to indicate he behaved like an utter cad, first wooing Sally and then dumping her for Maria; then he dumped Maria and went back to Sally! There was also speculation he was involved with their mother Sarah. Tragically, both sisters died young, probably of consumption, Maria in 1798 and Sally in 1803. Around 1904, Oswald Knapp exploited this scandal in his biography of Lawrence, An Artist’s Love Story. For the most part, biographers of Lawrence have tended to ignore his love life, which is readily understandable because it was such a mess, but it seems to me that the time seems ripe for a full-blown, warts-and-all biography of this talented, complicated man.

What’s so interesting in this sordid story of the Siddons daughters is that Sarah Siddons reportedly stayed friendly with the artist, who went on to paint a number of portraits of her, despite his questionable behavior with the two girls. Many years later, the writer Andre Maurois weighed in on this in a novel, remarking that it was the mother Lawrence was “in thrall” to, that she, not Sally, not Maria, was the object of his heated pursuits.

After the females in the Siddons family, Lawrence’s name was most closely linked with Isabella Wolff, with whom he might have fathered a son – though I doubt it — but more about that later, when I discuss the paintings in this current exhibition.

In addition to the great mystery of his love life there was the mystery of where all his money went; he had great financial problems despite his very successful career and his estate at his death was mired in debt. The first mystery leads me to wonder if the problem was that he may have been attracted to his own gender but felt he had to play the game of pursuing women. He was unable to commit to any one woman, yet he was an odd kind of womanizer; he appeared to show great, passionate, intense interest … and then it more or less fizzled out. His behavior was strange, erratic, immature, confused. I’ve yet to find any speculation – much less evidence — that Lawrence might have been gay, but closeted gay men were not that uncommon in Georgian England. Sodomy was punishable by hanging, however, so overt behavior carried the threat of death. One painting in particular in this exhibition set me onto this course of thought.

Part Two Coming Soon!


By Guest Blogger Jo Manning

This sumptuous accompaniment – replete with gorgeous full-color and some black and white images — to the exhibition currently showing at The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich (until April 17th) comprises essays by Quintin Colville; Vic Gatrell; Christine Riding; Jason M. Kelly; Gillian Russell; Margarette Lincoln; Hannah Greig; and Kate Williams on different aspects of the controversial Emma Hamilton’s life, legend, and times.

I’ve been to two previous art shows that featured Emma Hamilton and other Georgian celebrities:  Joshua Reynolds And The Creation of Celebrity (at the Tate Britain in 2005), and the George Romney exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery in 2002. Both were exemplary, dedicated to these superb portraitists and their famous subjects. These sitters became instant celebrities owing to the prints of the portraits becoming widely disseminated. (These prints generated a bit of nice income for the painters, as well.) The caricaturist Gillray illustrated the popularity of these prints in his well-known “Very Slippy Weather,”showing Londoners entranced by the latest prints for sale at stationers’ shops.
Emma Hamilton (born 1765-died 1815) was also variously known as Amy/Amey/Emy/Emily Lyon and Emma Hart until she married Sir William Hamilton, British envoy (ambassador) to the Court of Naples, thus becoming Lady Hamilton. She was one of the most controversial – and, yes, notorious — women of her time. Much has been written about her but there remains a good deal of speculation, as well. (Among the best-written biographies and novels of her, in my opinion, are these:  Williams, Kate, England’s Mistress: The Infamous Life of Emma Hamilton, 2006; Fraser, FloraBeloved Emma: The Life of Emma, Lady Hamilton, 2004; and Susan Sontag, The Volcano Lover: A Romance, 1992.)

For starters, she was an unqualified beauty: a perfect oval of a face; thick, wavy, cascading auburn tresses; big-eyed; a rosebud mouth; and a complexion described by one besotted writer as a “velvet skin of lilies and roses”.  Surprisingly tall, with good, square shoulders and a substantial bosom, she defied the “pocket Venus” model prized by prevailing18th century aesthetic standards. A killer combination, this, that pouting baby face and a curvy, womanly figure. Who would not want to paint her? More to the point, who would not want to be her lover?

Emma Hart as a Bacchante, circa 1785
Biographies and other writings on Emma find more ample material in the second and last third of her life than in the first. Yes, she grew up poor; yes, she worked in menial positions as a young teen; yes, she moved to London at one point; yes, men began to notice her. What is uncertain is when and how she became a sex worker. Did her mother actually pimp her out at the age of fourteen? Did she work the streets or was she in a brothel? At any rate, we are on more solid ground when she is taken up by Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh (this name is pronounced “Fanshawe”), a wealthy, dissolute rake who nonetheless has her take up the ladylike sport of horse-riding (“To hounds!”) and teaches her more genteel manners.  (She was said to have a vulgar speaking voice and bad diction; her spelling, from letters that remain, show her bad spelling, but many people then were bad spellers.)
He dumps her, however, when she becomes pregnant. She is about sixteen when she is sent away – and the record is not clear whether or not this child was Fetherstonhaugh’s or Greville’s or another man in their set, Jack Payne — and gives birth to a girl, said to be named Emma Carew. (She was also known as Emma Hartley; after years as a teacher/governess she died alone in Florence and is buried in the English Cemetery. It appears she’d had a sad life.)
After giving birth, she left the child to be raised by a relative in the country and took up with this man in Fetherstonhaugh’s set, Charles Greville, who refused to have another to do with the baby and further set about further “improving” Emma in manners, diction, et cetera. Greville,
who was the nephew of the very wealthy Lord Hamilton, but not well-off himself, was a bit of a control freak, from all I have read about him and which these essays confirm. It was Greville who introduced her to the portrait painter George Romney….and thereby hangs quite a tale.  And here is Romney looking his moodiest, in an unfinished self-portrait (circa 1781/2):
I myself have researched and written about Romney’s obsession with Emma, whom he painted at least sixty times and sketched many more times. At his death, notebooks were found filled with drawings – many unfinished — of his muse Emma Hart – as she was then known. Romney was a strange old cuss. Extremely talented – he became one of the most renowned portraitists in England – but he was prone to serious bouts of depression (it apparently ran in his family). He was a very moody man. Emma Hart enriched his life, and when she was gone from it, he went even more downhill mentally. 
Emma Hart In A Straw Hat
The only quibble I have with the uniformly excellent essays making up this book is in the Christine Riding piece. Emma Hart sat for George Romney some nine years. Nowhere in all the background reading and research I did for my guest blog for Number One London did I find any evidence that there was anyone else in that studio save Romney and Emma. I never saw mention of a “chaperone” nor of any friends/acquaintances of Greville or Emma dropping in. And this is telling, because sittings for artists were social occasions; observers sat and gossiped and were served tea, etc. This was the norm. One sitting could take up to an hour; these sittings were longer. Again, never, ever, did I find any of this normal way of conducting sittings followed by Romney with Emma. Greville, to my knowledge, simply would not allow this.
Emma Hart as Circe, painted by George Romney c1782… Exquisite!
Charles Greville was an extremely jealous and controlling man, possessive to a rather sickening degree, in my opinion. Emma Hart was his possession; he did not want to share her with anyone, even in the benign setting of sitting for a portrait. All I read led me to believe that those two, artist and subject, were alone…together. For NINE years! And I wondered, did they become lovers? It’s tantalizing to imagine this, but there is no solid proof. What seems to be evident, however, is that Emma opened up to Romney as she was posing and entertained him by singing and dancing and having fun. (I reckon she did not have much fun in her relationship with Greville, given his rigid personality.)
And, although over the years people have made fun of Emma and her “Attitudes” – i.e., the dramatic poses she struck to entertain guests – there needs to be, I think, an objective re-examination of her talents, both with these poses and with her singing. (She did hang out with theatre people when she was younger and may even have appeared onstage.) Apparently she wasn’t as untalented as so many reported over the years. I found that re-appraisal fascinating…and it confirmed to me that so much of what was written at the time and subsequently thereafter – much of it simply repeating the same anecdotes — was not to be trusted. (I found this to be true when I was writing the biography of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, My Lady Scandalous. There is a lot of misinformation/misinterpretation out there and one has to be cautious.)
Perhaps my favorite portrait of Emma Hart by George Romney
When Emma Hart was given to Lord Hamilton by his nephew (yes, she was a gift, as she was, after all, his possession), she was eagerly received. Greville was reportedly tired of her and, assiduously searching for a wealthy woman to marry, Emma was in his way. By sending her to Naples on a ruse (oh, yeah, go on ahead, I’ll be joining you directly!), he accomplished his purpose. The much older, lonely man, besotted by her beauty, took her in and eventually proposed marriage to her. (She was 21 when Greville rid himself of her; Hamilton was about 56. They married when Hamilton was 61 years old; his first wife, an heiress, had died before Emma appeared on the scene and he’d been alone for some years.)
Gillray caricature making fun of Lord Hamilton’s interest in Classical antiquities and volcanoes (he was a renowned amateur volcanologist), with images of Emma and Lord Nelson in the upper left corner, indicating he’d been made a cuckold
Most of you may know the rest of this celebrated story. Emma – now Lady Hamilton and ensconced in luxury far beyond her imagination whe
n she was walking the London streets and/or working in a brothel – met Lord Nelson, the famed British admiral and hero of Trafalgar, and Lord Hamilton – bless his heart – was toast.
The details can be found in the essays, but a last word about Emma’s child(ren) with Nelson is perhaps appropriate here. She had Horatia, who lived to a ripe old age, the wife of a minister and the mother of a slew of children, whose maternity Emma never acknowledged publicly, and possibly one or two other children, one of whom was said to have died very young or at birth.  One or two sources I read in my research implied that there were twin girls, one of whom was sent to an orphanage, the other having died or disappeared. Sadly, it did not appear that Emma was much of a mother (though some sources said she was close to Emma Carew, her first daughter), but there is not much to go on to substantiate what happened to these later, mysterious twins…if they indeed ever existed at all, poor lost babes.
Lord Nelson, Hero of the Battle of the Nile and of Trafalgar
This is quite a wonderful compilation with superb illustrations, fast reading, and an excellent introduction to the life and loves of a singular woman. Enjoy the reading and perhaps shed a tear or two for Emma Hamilton’s last tawdry years. So many women like her wound up in France, dying there, forgotten. (My biography subject died there, as did the actress mistress of King William IV, Dorothy Jordan, along with other discarded women.) Nelson wanted Emma taken care of by the country he’d served so well; well, she wasn’t.
And, if you can, visit the exhibit at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London before it closes. As you can tell from the few sample images here, it is a feast for the eyes.
Quinton Colville’s introductory essay, “Re-imagining Emma Hamilton,” gives an excellent overview of the mythology and reality surrounding this woman; he is the Curator of Naval History at the National Maritime Museum in London. There are six full and informative articles in this companion to the exhibition at the National Maritime Museum, starting with historian Vic Gattrell, who teaches at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge; his essay is “Sexual Exploitation And The Lure Of London,” a subject on which he has written extensively. Christine Riding holds the position of Head of Arts and Curator of the Queen’s House at the National Maritime Museum; she was previously at the Tate Britain, where she curated 18th and 19thcentury British art; her essay is “Romney’s Muse: A Creative Partnership In Portraiture”.
Jason M. Kelly takes us to the middle part of Emma Hamilton’s career, to Naples, where, as the wife of the British ambassador, she moves in very different circles and we take a look at “A Classical Education: Naples And The Heart of European Culture.” Kelly is an associate professor at Indiana University-Purdue and directs the Arts and Humanities Institute there. Gillian Russell penned “International Celebrity: An Artist On Her Own Terms”; Russell writes on fashionable women and on theatre in Georgian London.
Rounding out these essays are Margarette Lincoln (“Emma And Nelson: Icon And Mistress Of The Nation’s Hero” and Hannah Grieg on Emma’s last sad years with “Decline And Fall: Social Insecurity And Financial Ruin.” ) Lincoln is a specialist in English naval history and served as Deputy Director of the National Maritime Museum for several years; she is now a visiting professor at the University of London. Grieg is an academic who is now at the University of York, lecturing on 18thcentury British social, cultural, and political history; much of her research centers on the lives of the elite class in that society.
A special treat at the end of this fascinating book is biographer Kate Williams’ take on “Emma Hamilton In Fiction And Film.” Williams is a professor of history at the University of Reading and author of England’s Mistress.
Poster for Vivien Leigh/Laurence Oliver biopic That Hamilton Woman!

EMMA HAMILTON:  SEDUCTION & CELEBRITY, edited by Quintin Colville with Kate Williams, Thames & Hudson/Royal Museums Greenwich, 2016, 280 pages


On day four, Diane and I met our pal author Jo Manning in Covent Garden and went along on a London Walk of the area. I adore London Walks, the company has engaging guides and enough walks on a variety of topics so wide ranging that absolutely everyone who visits London can find a walk that will not only interest, but also delight. Because the Covent Garden area will feature on a few upcoming Number One London Tours, I wanted to make sure that my knowledge of the area was up to snuff. 

Covent Garden has a fascinating history, spanning centuries, and there is so much to see, if one knows where to look, point in fact the surviving herbalist’s sign below. From flower markets a la My Fair Lady to Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies, the mind boggles at all who have trod here. 

If you’re in the area, do make time to explore the garden behind St. Paul’s Church, 
also known as The Actor’s Church

The tour included areas outside of Covent Garden, including the Strand, where we saw the Coal Hole.  I was first introduced to the Coal Hole decades ago by Dr. David Parker, then curator of the Dicken’s House Museum. Tip – don’t visit right at five o’clock as the place is packed then with City types wanting their well earned cocktail at the end of the day. The place is packed with atmosphere, like something right out of a Dicken’s novel, so it really is worth a visit. 

We also passed The Savoy Hotel, which has been on my “to do” list for the past five or six trips to London, but which I still haven’t found the time to visit. I’m dying to suss out the place and to have at least one cocktail at their bar. 

The tour also included a stop into Simpson’s in the Strand, the venerable restaurant venue which has figured large in both London and Royal history. But more on that later . . . . . 

The tour did provide me with a new shortcut from the Strand through to Covent Garden, 
so that’s alright. If only I remember where it is. 

We took in the Oscar Wilde memorial beside St. Martin’s in the Field on our walk. The statue is entitled A Conversation With Oscar Wilde. You can read about it here

When the walking tour ended, Jo, Diane and I went for lunch to the Duke of Wellington Pub in the Strand. You may recall that Victoria and I had lunch there during the Duke of Wellington Tour with Marilyn, Diane’s sister. And I’ve posted about my meal there with with Hubby – delicious lamb shanks. I realize that it all sounds rather incestuous, but the important bit is that the food is wonderful. 

A grand time was had by all!

ONCE AGAIN WEDNESDAY: Mary Anne Clark by Jo Manning – Part Four

Mrs M.A.Clarke, as drawn & engraved by C.Williams, published Feb 25, 1809
by S.W.Fores, 50 Piccadilly

In the above print, titled “Committee of Inquiry” (available for £180 @Grosvenor Prints in Hampton, Middlesex), the descriptive text from Grosvenor Prints has Mrs. Clarke “standing in the lobby of the House of Commons, a section of which is seen through the partly open door: the corner of three tiers of empty benches and the gallery, with a strip of the Speaker’s chair, showing his right elbow.” Mrs. Clarke wears a blue pelisse over a simple white dress; on her head rests a straw bonnet with a lace veil. With her left hand she raises the hat’s veil from her face. The very, very large object on her right hand is a fur muff. Again, as per the description, “She is elegant, alluring, and assured.”
But where was Mary Anne Clarke during the period of the trial and through 1813, when, under the terms of her annuity from the Duke of York, she had to leave England for the Continent?
In her questioning at the 1809 trial she stated that she was a widow living in “Loughton Lodge, in the county of Essex.” So, apparently – or, according to her – her husband, Joseph Clarke, the philandering drunkard, is deceased. But was she actually living where she said she was? The truth and Mary Anne Clarke were never friends, so some skepticism is in order.
According to an article by one Richard Morris in the March/April 2008 newsletter of the Loughton Historical Society, there are some doubts as to her residence in the area at all, though Morris, covering his bases, does write at the end of his piece:
“I am, however, convinced that there must be some truth in the story, if only because of Daphne du Maurier’s relationship to Mary Anne Clarke, her reputation as a novelist, the research she did for her book, and the many references in it to Loughton and Loughton Lodge.”
Bless the man, to have such faith in an author’s research! But we know from what Du Maurier said in the preface to her novel Mary Anne that she relied on someone’s “notes” and on the library research of two others. Dicey. So, here’s the dubious part:
“There are in total nine references to Loughton in [the] novel, and one refers to Mary Anne Clarke looking out of the window at Loughton Lodge: ‘at the neat box-garden, the gravel drive, the trim smug Essex landscape’. This can only considered as author’s licence as Loughton Lodge stands on top of Woodbury Hill with its front facing what is now Steeds Way…in 1809 [it] would have given clear views over the Roding Valley and beyond, and the rear which overlooks an attractive part of the Forest.”
The reference in the last line is to Epping Forest, a considerable parcel of wooded area. Hard to overlook.
Morris goes on to say that he can find no specific evidence of Mary Anne Clarke’s time in Loughton, even though a local street – in acknowledgement of her supposed time in the town — was changed from Mutton Row to York Hill in 1850. When Mary Anne was supposedly in residence at Loughton Lodge, though, it belonged to a family named Shiers. True, she could have been a lodger at the Lodge, but lodging in someone else’s digs was never Mary Anne’s style.
And what of this Loughton Lodge today? Turned into an old folks’ home after World War II, it was subsequently divided into two separate houses. I have not been able to find an image of it, either as it was then, or as it is today. Nor was I able to verify that “a blue plaque” was affixed to the building in April of 2009.

In 1811, wherever Mary Anne was, she did one other thing for posterity, that is, she commissioned the Irish-born sculptor Lawrence Gahagan to sculpt a marble bust of her (now in London’s National Portrait Gallery). It’s very beautiful.

Mary Anne Clarke rises from the open petals of a sunflower. She’s thought to represent Clytie, the abandoned lover of the sun god, Helios, changed into a sunflower so that she could follow her perfidious lover’s progress across the sky each day

So, we come to the question… Do all old English courtesans die impoverished – and disgraced — in France? Grace Dalrymple Elliott died there, in the village of Meudon, and, if not in poverty, close to it; Dorothy Jordan definitely died in awful poverty in Saint-Cloud; Mary Robinson didn’t die in France – she died at home, in England — but she died as poor as it was possible to be; likewise Emma Hamilton, who met her sad demise in Calais.
And then there’s Mary Anne Clarke. Yes, she died in France – after extensive travels through Italy and Belgium — in Boulogne-sur-Mer, but decidedly not in poverty. That generous annuity from the Duke of York saw her through, as it did her daughter Ellen Clarke Busson du Maurier, who raised her family on it.
The irony – there’s always the irony – is that poor Ellen Clarke (said to be as unattractive as her mother was beautiful, with sallow skin and sharp features) apparently was under the illusion for years that she was the by-blow of the Duke of York, but though she was probably not the daughter of her mother’s husband Joseph Clarke, neither could she have been the daughter of Frederick. Her mother – though she certainly knew many men intimately between Clarke and Frederick – did not meet the Duke of York until Ellen was at least six years old. Her biological father is a mystery.
Ellen, so unlike her mother in every way – save perhaps for the sharpness of her tongue — married the inventor Louis-Mathurin Busson du Maurier, a charming, talented dreamer (said to have a beautiful singing voice) who never amounted to anything and was prone, as were others in his family, to depression. His so-called inventions were laughable and he was forever in debt. Although it appeared to have been a love-match, it was disastrous. Ellen had to borrow from her mother and her sister-in-law Louise all her married life. When she came into the annuity in 1852 – either in whole or in part — upon the death of Mary Anne Clarke, she still found it difficult to make ends meet, as her children seemed to have a hard time making decent livings.

George Du Maurier, author of Trilby

Late in his life, however, her eldest child, and her favorite, George Du Maurier, became a successful cartoonist for Punch and other political publications of the day, and, at age sixty, he wrote a bestselling novel, Trilby, inspired by his experiences as an art student in Paris. His son, Gerald Du Maurier, the well-known actor-manager, was the father of Daphne Du Maurier. (There is a marked resemblance in the image above between George and Daphne. Look at their noses.)

Gerald Du Maurier, respected actor-manager and father of Daphne Du Maurier, by Augustus John

Quite a legacy, this of the Busson du Mauriers and the Clarkes. It was a spirited one, for sure, thanks largely to Mary Anne. Daphne Du Maurier, whose attitude towards her ancestor I find somewhat ambivalent, summed up this legacy in The Du Mauriers:
“The pleasant, sweet-natured, melancholy Bussons of Sarthe had not such fortitude. These fighting qualities were bequeathed…by a woman, a woman without morals, without honour, without virtue, a woman who had known exactly what she wanted at fifteen years of age, and, gutter-born and gutter-bred, treading on sensibility and courtesy with her exquisite feet, had achieved it laughing – her thumb to her nose.”
As for the blog post by Kristine comparing Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, to Mary Anne Clarke? Mary Anne could have taught her a thing or two, methinks. Yes, Mary Anne was as greedy as they come, but she was a whole lot smarter and a good deal more conniving. The greed and love of luxury ultimately brought her down – as, indeed, it appears to have brought down this 21st century Duchess – but, while Mary Anne was down, dear readers, she was never really out. The spunky baggage was a survivor, as so many of her courtesan sisters were not. A dreadful woman, but one has to admire her survival skills. I think that, in the end, her great-great-grand-daughter surely did.
Her last words to her son and daughter-in-law were said to be, “It is high time we had another party.”

The novelist Daphne Du Maurier as a young woman

The End

Originally published on October 28, 2010


ONCE AGAIN WEDNESDAY: Mary Anne Clark by Jo Manning – Part Three

The Duke of York set Mary Anne up in lavish accommodations in a mini-palace at 18 Gloucester Place, and by 1805, as his official mistress, she was entertaining, as one source put it, “sumptuously”. She was said to have had twenty servants, which included a housekeeper, five/six maids, two butlers, six or more other male servants (probably footmen and coachmen), and three/four chefs. She had two coaches and at least ten horses. There was also “an elegant mansion at Weybridge” for her sole use.
‘The York-minuet’ (Frederica Charlotte Ulrica Catherina, Duchess of York; Frederick, Duke of York and Albany) by James Gillray (1791)
The prince was married. He was the first of King George II’s children to get married. He’d wed his cousin, Princess Frederica of Prussia, a woman noted for her extremely tiny feet, in 1791. Frederica was petite, very short, not at all attractive, and said to have bad teeth. The duke was no prize himself, described as “a giant of a man…with [a] great bluff red face…bulging eyes…ponderous belly [and a] prominent nose.” Even more detailed is this from another source: “a red, blotched face…a great paunch…a purple, bulbous nose”.
Though Frederica, known as Freddie, was lively, praised for her “neatness”, and considered to be a sensible woman, the couple did not mesh and the marriage was not a success. They lived apart, she at Oatlands Park in Surrey, with eighteen dogs; she had many friends, among them the famous Beau Brummell. (Romance novelist Rosemary Stevens, a few years back, played with Freddie and the Beau’s relationship in a series of mysteries with Brummell as a kind of Regency Sherlock Holmes. Check them out, they’re fun to read!)
At Gloucester Place, Mary Anne Clarke was said to have eaten off exquisite china plates that once belonged to the family of the Duc de Bern, and to drink from crystal wine glasses that had cost upwards of “two guineas a-piece.” (A guinea is a pound plus a shilling.) How much did all this cost to maintain? Mary Anne was never one to stay within a budget, as her past so well illustrates. Her talent – or one of them, at any rate – lay in extravagance.
According to Mary Anne, she received from £1,000 to £1,200 annually from the Duke of York, in monthly allotments, for the maintenance of this enormous household. (Bear in mind that, at that time, one pound was worth seventy to eighty times what it is worth today.) This is at odds with the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the 1809 trial that she was actually paid £6,000 yearly. Mary Anne countered that her payments from the Duke were irregularly doled out. (It is interesting to note here that the royal brothers received many complaints from their ladybirds over the years that payments were not always forthcoming; this has been documented by the experiences of Mary Robinson and Grace Dalrymple Elliott, among others.)
So, to supplement her income, the avaricious, luxury-loving Mary Anne Clarke hit upon a scheme. She would take the lists of army men up for promotions that were sent to her lover and add the names of soldiers who would pay her for the surreptitious promotions. Only a few each time, added at the very end of the lists to which she was privy, thanks to Frederick — who carelessly kept them lying around — so as not to arouse suspicion. But she got much too greedy…and she was caught. By 1809, the jig was up.
The Bishop And His Clarke Or A Peep Into Paradise… The Duke of York, Commander-in-Chief of the army (and titular Bishop of Osnabruck, as per this reference) being solicited by Mary Anne Clarke to obtain promotions for her paying clients and friends. The caricature is by Rowlandson, printed by Tegg, 1809.
In January 1809, a little-known Welsh MP, Colonel Gwyllym Lloyd Wardle, alleged in the House of Commons that Frederick, as Duke of York — the “spare” after his brother the heir to the throne — and Commander-in-Chief of the Army, “had sanctioned, facilitated, and personally profited from the illicit trafficking in army commissions that his former mistress, Mary Anne Clarke, had engaged in while under his ‘protection’.” (The Duke of York Affair, Philip Harling, The Historical Journal, 39, 4 (1996), page 963.)
Captain Gronow, in his gossipy memoirs, states that Wardle got wind of Mary Anne’s dealings owing to becoming “intimately acquainted with her… [and was] so great a personal favourite that …he wormed out all her secret history, of which he availed himself to obtain a fleeting popularity.” Interesting, but, as with anything Gronow says, one has to have the salt shaker handy.
The modern Circe or a sequel to the petticoat”, caricature of Mary Anne Clarke by Isaac Cruikshank, 15 March 1809. Her lover Frederick, Duke of York resigned from his post at the head of the British Army ten days after the caricature’s publication.
Nevertheless, the charge was sensational, leading to not one but three trials from 1809 to 1813. The first one was the major trial; the subsequent ones were libel suits brought against Mary Anne Clarke and some pamphleteers. Eight specific – and serious — cases of selling commissions were brought out in the 1809 trial, and are examined minutely in the AAIM, for those who want the sordid (and fascinating) details, but, briefly, it came down to Mary Anne Clarke letting it be known that she would use her influence over the duke to secure commissions and preferments, whether deserved by the petitioners or not, and if this was done with the full knowledge and/or encouragement of the Duke of York. The prices for her intervention into this Army business ranged from £2,600 for promotion to Major to £400 for a mere Ensign. (In the drawing above of the Bishop and his Clarke, the army lists are shown pinned to the almost-conjugal bed shared by Frederick and Mary Anne.) The caricaturists had a field day!
As noted in the caption above, Prince Frederick was forced to resign as Commander-in-Chief of the Army owing to the scandal, but he was reinstated shortly after he was found to be innocent of all the charges brought against him. Another widely circulated caricature was this, attributed to C. Williams and showing Mary Anne with the infamous promotion list in her hand standing before the “York Commission Warehouse”:
Colored etching, published 1809, shortly after Colonel Wardle had exposed the army commissions scandal in the House of Commons, this satire shows Mrs Clarke with a price list for the sale of commissions. On the right is her intermediary, Domenico Corri, a music master; above him hangs upside down the Duke of York’s portrait. Mary Anne is saying that she has bargains for sale but they have to be taken advantage of now because her partnership is dissolving!
The manner in which Mary Anne carried on at the trial was said to have been a tour de force worthy of any seasoned stage performance; her quick wit parried and thrust all questions sent her way and impressed spectators. But her reputation – such as it was – was forever ruined. The Duke of York was able to come back; she wasn’t. It was not a good thing to be identified from thence forward as a friend of Mary Anne Clarke’s; she became a pariah, shunned by the society she in which she’d once played such a large part.
Gillray got into the act, too:
Pandora Opening Her Box, colored aquatint by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey, 1809
After the trial, undaunted, Mary Anne let it be known that she intended to publish Frederick’s love letters. Like his brother George in the case of his mistress Mary Robinson, Frederick had been indiscreet. The boys made too many negative remarks about their family members, the royal family. Sir Herbert Taylor was engaged to enter into negotiations with Mary Anne’s lawyers for the purchase of the letters and the destruction of all other papers still in her hands.
Mary Anne received an enormous annuity – on top of an immediate £7,000 cash settlement — her son George’s schooling and subsequent Army commission was paid for, and the annuity would pass on to Ellen Clarke, Mary Anne’s daughter, at her death. (Similar to the arrangement with Mary Robinson and the Prince of Wales, but Mary and her daughter got nothing in comparison with the monies paid out to Mary Anne Clarke.)
The terms of the annuity also insisted that Mary Anne quit England and reside on the Continent. She was not to publish anything about the royal family, nor was she to say anything that could be deemed disrespectful about them. Though, much later, she once attempted to break the terms of the arrangement, having been approached by a publisher who promised her many thousands of pounds, her lawyers persuaded her to keep the fat bird in her hand rather than seek ephemeral birds in the bush.
The MP who made the initial allegations against the Duke of York, Colonel Wardle, did bring suit against Mary Anne and two pamphleteers for libel – her name was attached to one of the pamphlets – but they were all acquitted. In 1813, however, Mary Anne again went too far and was once again sued, this time for libel of a powerful politician; she was unable to talk her way out of the predicament – the evidence was too strong against her – and she was convicted, spending nine months in prison, supposedly in solitary confinement.
Part Four Coming Soon!

Originally published on October 26, 2010

ONCE AGAIN WEDNESDAY: Mary Anne Clark by Jo Manning – Part Two

Mary Anne Clarke was a beautiful woman. Not all courtesans were beautiful – some relied on wit more than beauty — but she was amongst the beauties. Her features – the wealth of soft, dark, curly hair, the changeable eyes (probably hazel), tip-tilted nose, red lips, dimpled chin, the superb white neck and shoulders and a full bosom — were admirably painted in the miniature on ivory by Adam Buck at the beginning of this piece. Her figure was petite, her feet tiny, and her smile (and laugh) as described by her great-great-grand-daughter, above, infectious and memorable. She was also said to be intelligent and quick-witted, known for her skill at repartee and the sharpness of her remarks.
Mrs Clarke the York Magnet”, hand-colored aquatint by unknown artist, published 1809
But she was a vulgar piece of work, this girl from the mean streets of London, often coarse in language and behavior, impudent, provocative, feisty, tough, possessing a “gutter loveliness,” Du Maurier noted, that was perhaps all “the more alluring because it was ill-bred.” Those not taken in by her smile described her as being “an actress…completely unscrupulous in every way.”
From the 1809 source Authentic And Interesting Memoirs of Mrs Clarke, From Her Infamy To The Present Time, Likewise A Brief Account of Mr Wardle’s Charges Relative To His Royal Highness The Duke of York: Together With The Minutes of Evidence As Taken In The House Of Commons From Authentic Documents… anonymously published in England (and abroad), there is much biographical information…most of it dubious. (I will abbreviate this source as AAIM.) The unverifiable nature of most of this material, however, has not kept it from being repeated as fact in articles relating to the life of Mary Anne Clarke.
From the AAIM, we are told that she was born circa 1776, in an area of London called Ball-and-Pin Alley, near White’s Alley, Chancery Lane (it’s sometimes cited as Bowling Inn Alley or Bowling Pin Alley). It was a humble upbringing, to be sure, a place of ill-kept and dirty lodging-houses, where poverty reigned. Her maiden name is given as Thompson, and we are told that her father was a tradesman who died when she was young. There was a stepfather named Farquhar who’s described as a compositor/corrector at a print-shop owned by a Mr. Hughs in Fleet Street.
The narrative of this so-called memoir relates that Mary Anne would go daily to the print-shop to collect her stepfather’s work, and that she’d undertake the necessary correcting, thus becoming the mainstay of her struggling family. This assumes, of course, that she’d been taught to read and write – and did both well — before she took this upon herself. The narrative goes on to say that a Mr. Day, the overseer of the print-shop — attracted by her vivacity and charm, no doubt — sends her to a school at Ham, in Essex, to be educated. His motive, we are told, is that he had “a view of making her his wife at some future period,” but when she returns, after supposedly spending two years in Ham, things do not work out for Mr. Day. Wedding off! (And, really, it is hard to believe this sending-away-to-school scenario ever happened.)
At this juncture, the Thompson/Farquhar family moves to Black Raven Passage, Cursitor-street, in Holborn, and the narrative goes on to tell of her dealings with a pawnbroker, a Mr F—ll–d, who gives her exorbitant sums of money, to the extent that she eventually ruins him and his business. Undaunted, Mary Anne then sets her sights on another man, Joseph Clarke, the second son of a wealthy bricklayer in Angel-Court, Snowhill, with whom she elopes to Pentonville. She is probably about seventeen years old; they supposedly married in 1794. Clarke’s father sets him up in a business, a stone yard in Golden-lane. (Captain Gronow, in his memoirs, says that Clarke was “a captain in a marching regiment” which has no substantiation whatsoever; Gronow’s memoirs are a wealth of information on the Regency period, but he is often careless with his facts.)
In two years, however, Joseph Clarke is bankrupt and there are tales of philandering (“amours”), and that he is “careless and drunken.” There is no money, but there are, according to the narrative, four children, which is at odds with everything else I have seen that says Mary Anne only had two children, George and Ellen, with Clarke. (A recent article by a writer who was comparing Fergie, the divorced Duchess of York, to Mary Anne Clark – an interesting comparison, but one that can go only so far — stated there were three children. George and Ellen, however, are the only two names that come up consistently. I’ve never seen a reference to a third or fourth child.)
And – are you ready for this? — now we have Mary Anne on the stage, supposedly playing a Shakespearian role, Portia (!), in The Merchant Of Venice, at the Haymarket Theatre. That is extremely hard to believe! There are some asides to her as an actress, character-wise, but verifying that she was indeed on stage – and in a leading role, yet — is problematic. (It should be kept in mind, too, that many streetwalkers and courtesans falsely claimed to be actresses.)
What’s more likely is that she took to the streets after breaking up with Clarke. She had to support her children, after all. Below is a cartoon that speculates on this premise. This contemporary cartoon I saw had what appeared to be penciled in scribbling that might be “M— A—? Clarke”; it shows an ugly old bawd sending a beautiful young streetwalker (who doesn’t look all that much like Mary Anne), out to work; it is undated but bears the caption, Launching A Frigate.
Image is by Rowlandson
So, while any career on the streets is difficult to confirm, what is known is that she soon climbed up the well-trodden whore’s ladder and began to consort with eminent and wealthy men. Among the men named in the AAIM narrative are: Sir Charles M—ln—r; Sir James B.; and an army agent, a Mr. O.; a ne’er do well from Bayswater who’d supposedly seen her on stage, Mr. M—l—y; and a high-roller named Mr. Dowler who takes her to Brighton. The dates don’t add up at all, but this bit is priceless:
“At Brighton under the protection of Mr. Dowler, it is said that she distinguished herself as an excellent swimmer, and occasionally to float on the liquid element to the great astonishment and admiration of the spectators.”
The bathing beauty dumps Mr. Dowler – no doubt after bankrupting him, too – and flees to London with Mr. O – now referred to as Mr. O—l—e, the army agent. They set up house in Tavistock Place. Again, the dates don’t make sense, because the attachments mentioned are all up to 1808, and by 1803/4, she’d already met the Duke of York.
The house below is said to be where she was living before meeting Prince Frederick; it is not Tavistock Place. It’s Chester House, formerly called Manchester House, in Exmouth. The lack of verifiable facts abound, as can be seen in the blue plaque put up on the house by the local historical society:
The blue plaque can be seen to the right of the front door. Note that it is not one of the famous – and usually a bit more accurate! — blue plaques put up by English Heritage. This one states that Mary Anne Clarke “died in disgrace and poverty in Paris in 1813.” Au contraire, as we shall see, for she died in her dotage — quite well off, despite her many extravagances — in Boulogne, in 1852 or 1853. (Daphne Du Maurier, despite having cited the use of three researchers, has her death date one way in The Du Mauriers and the other way in Mary Anne. In the recent Christine Hand article contrasting Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York to Mary Anne, gives the latter’s date of death as 1882, which would have made her 106! She was actually about seventy-six.)
Chester House (Manchester House) with the blue plaque at the side of the front door
So, circa 1803/1804, Mary Anne Clarke, after quite a whirl with quite a large number of men, begins a relationship with Prince Frederick, Duke of York, the brother of Prince George (later King George IV), the Prince of Wales. Frederick was the Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, hence the nursery rhyme of “the grand old Duke of York” (The origins of this ditty actually pre-dated this particular Duke of York, possibly going back to the 14th century, but it has been associated solely with him in recent memory.)
The undated print below shows the two princely sibs with their father, the king.
Part Three Coming Soon!

Originally published October 24, 2010

ONCE AGAIN WEDNESDAY: Mary Anne Clarke by Jo Manning – Part One

”Mary Anne, Mary Anne,
Cook the slut in a frying-pan”
— Sung in the streets of London following the fall from grace of the courtesan Mary Anne Clarke
The Grand old Duke of York he had ten thousand men

He marched them up to the top of the hill

And he marched them down again.

When they were up, they were up

And when they were down, they were down

And when they were only halfway up

They were neither up nor down
— Old children’s nursery rhyme associated with Prince Frederick, Duke of York, in the early 19th century
When I was researching My Lady Scandalous, the biography I was to write of the royal courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott, I came across tales of many other royal (and non-royal) courtesans of the era. One of the most colorful and controversial was the mistress of King George III’s brother, Prince Frederick Augustus, the grand old Duke of York. Her name was Mary Anne Clarke.
Portrait of Mary Anne Clarke, by Adam Buck, 1803. Though not widely known these days, the Irish-born Buck was an accomplished miniaturist painter and a favorite of the aristocracy. He had a studio in Soho at the time this was painted.

What fascinated me was not just that Mary Anne Clarke was involved in one of the major political scandals of the late 18th-early 19th centuries, involving the sale of army commissions for her private gain, but that she was the direct ancestor of the popular novelist Daphne Du Maurier. She was Du Maurier’s great-great-grandmother!
Du Maurier has always been one of my favorite popular writers. The woman was a brilliant storyteller, as evidenced by the remarkable novels Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel, Jamaica Inn, Frenchman’s Creek, and the short stories The Birds and Don’t Look Back.
All of these have been made into excellent, classic films; my particular favorite the most recent retelling of the uber-romantic Frenchman’s Creek, starring Tara Fitzgerald and Anthony Delon. Sorry, I have to digress with this photograph:
I’ve been here! The Frenchman’s Creek of the book title, on the Helford River, near the town of Helford, Cornwall, at low tide
And who among us can forget the evocative opening line of the suspenseful gothic novel Rebecca: “Last night I dreamed of Manderley again…” as the camera lingers on the ruins of a once-gorgeous mansion shrouded in the flowing mists of sad remembrance and regret. Unforgettable.
But did you know that Daphne Du Maurier also wrote biographies? She wrote a biography of her father, the acclaimed actor-manager Gerald Du Maurier, Gerald: A Portrait, shortly after his death in 1934. Her 1937 family biography, The Du Mauriers, tells the story of a famously talented and eccentric group of actors, novelists, and artists who were descended from Mary Anne Clarke and, on the other side, from the marriage of her daughter Ellen into a family of French émigré glassblowers, the Busson du Mauriers. (She also wrote separately about this French family in The Glass-Blowers, published in 1963.)
In 1954, the fictionalized biography of Mary Anne Clarke, simply titled Mary Anne, was published. The opening pages of this novel immediately draw the reader into the story. It is good fictional writing at its best. Though the opening below is a long passage, not one word is wasted, and the reader immediately learns all one needs to know about the flamboyant creature Mary Anne Clarke:
“Years later, when she had gone and was no longer part of their lives, the thing they remembered about her was her smile. Coloring and features were indistinct, hazy in memory. The eyes, surely, were blue – but they could have been green or grey. And the hair, knotted in the Grecian fashion piled high on top of the head in curls, might have been chestnut or light brown. The nose was anything but Grecian – that was a certainty, for it pointed to heaven; and the actual shape of the mouth had never seemed important – not at the time, or now.
“The essence of what had been lay in the smile. It began at the left corner of the mouth and hovered momentarily, mocking without discrimination those she loved most – including her own family – and those she despised. And, while they waited uneasily, expexting a blast of sarcasm or the snub direct, the smile spread to the eyes, transfiguring the whole face, lighting it to gaiety. Reprieved, they basked in the warmth and shared the folly, and there was no intellectual pose in the laugh that followed, ribald, riotous, cockney, straight from the belly.
“This was what they remembered in after years. The rest was forgotten. Forgotten the lies, the deceit, the sudden bursts of temper. Forgotten the wild extravagance, the absurd generosity, the vitriolic tongue. Only the warmth re
mained, and the love of living.”
Part Two Coming Soon!

Originally published on October 22, 2010