by Victoria Hinshaw

The story of Wentworth Woodhouse (WW) is intensely interesting — and convoluted.  Since I am a great devotee of all things British, and especially the great country houses and the people who lived in them, I was particularly excited to visit the estate with Number One London Tours 2017 Country House Tour.

Wentworth Woodhouse

WW has been open to the public for only a few years.  I was eager to see it, reputedly the largest private house in Europe, if perhaps one of the strangest.

The land has been in the hands of the family since the 13th century. The present structure was begun in the 1720’s by Thoms Watson Wentworth, 1st Marquess of Rockingham (1693-1750), on the site of a previous house.  The baroque style, in red brick, did not find favor with the Marquess and his friends among the Whig aristocracy.

West Facade

Almost as soon as it was completed, Rockingham built another house, facing West, this time in the Palladian style favored by his social set and political allies.  The two back-to-back wings are joined together in an area perhaps saved from an earlier 17th century house.  The estate and political influence both went to his son, Charles Watson Wentworth (1730-1782), 2nd Marquess of Rockingham, eventually Prime Minister and holder of numerous public offices.

2nd Marquess of Rockingham, after Sir Joshua Reynolds, oil on canvas (1766-1768)

The 2nd Marquess and his wife had no sons; therefore in 1782, the estate passed to his nephew, William Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, 4th Earl Fitzwilliam, and the marquess’s title, Rockingham, became extinct.

2nd Earl Fitzwilliam by William Owen, oil on canvas, exhibited 1817

If most of these names have a familiar ring, don’t be surprised. Refer instead to Janine Barchas’ book Matters of Fact in Jane Austen.

Matters of Fact in Jane Austen by Janine Barchas

I can’t resist posting the following picture which shows Dr. Barchas and me at a Chicago JASNA event.

Victoria (l) and Janine Barchas

Dr. Barchas traces the origin of many of the family names used by Jane Austen in her novels. Among relatives of the Fitzwilliams were the D’arcys, as used in Pride and Prejudice. Woodhouse is the family name of Emma. Wentworth is Captain Frederick’s family name in Persuasion. The Watsons is one of Austen’s two unfinished novels. Austen’s contemporary readers would have instantly recognized the names of these leading British families, though 200 years later, they come as a revelation. For the source of many other names used by Jane Austen, check the book by Dr Barchas.

East Facade

The Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust was established to preserve and restore the estate, after many years of problems and neglect.  Restoration will be a huge and expensive job, probably aided by the frequent use of the property for film and television dramas.  We saw it in Mr. Turner, the 2014 film about J. M. W. Turner, the celebrated and eccentric artist, where the Marble Hall was staged as the annual exhibition of the Royal of Arts — note that floor.

Mr. Turner, 2014

The film Darkest Hour has been highly praised.  WW stands in for Buckingham Palace where Churchill meets with His Majesty George VI.

WW as Buckingham Palace in Darkest House
Gary Oldman as Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour

Many scenes in the television series Victoria were filmed at WW, including the review of the regiment on the front lawn.

An ariel view of the adjacent houses shows how they are joined, and in that area where they meet are remnants of the earlier 17th-century structure. It is estimated that there are five miles of corridors inside.

Very little is left of the 1630 house but this garden gateway. Inigo Jones was probably the architect of this Wellgate. Below, compare it to the garden gate at Chiswick.

17th c. gate, reputedly by Inigo Jones


Chiswick House

The previous house built in 1608, of which only traces remain, was otherwise incorporated into one (or both?) of the present houses.

Improvements were well underway when we visited in the autumn of 2017. Simply fixing the roof–said to be nearly four acres in size–will take up most of the initial grant from the government of 6.6 million pounds.

The Fitzwilliam family was one of the richest and most powerful in Britain in the 19th century.  Coal mined on the estate supported them in near-regal style and employed thousands in nearby villages and as tenants on the land.

The Story of Wentworth Woodhouse and its families

The 2014 nonfiction book Black Diamonds by Catherine Bailey reads like a novel as it relates the dramatic ups and downs of the estate and its residents.  Highly recommended.

If you will permit another aside, the story of the last 8th Earl Fitzwilliam, has interesting features.

Joe, Kathleen and Jack Kennedy

His romance with Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy was frowned upon by the very Catholic Kennedy family, especially by her parents, who were none too pleased when Kick converted to the Church of England.

Billy and Kathleen Cavendish with Joe Kennedy

Nevertheless, they married in May 1944. Only her older brother Joe attended the wartime wedding. Just four months later, Billy was killed in action in Belgium. Joe, eldest of the Kennedy brothers, died in August 1944.  The widowed Kathleen later began a relationship with Peter Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, 8th Earl Fitzwilliam, who was married and the father of a daughter. Kick and Peter died together in a plane crash on their way to the Riviera in 1948.

Peter Wentworth-Fitzwilliam 1910-1948

She is buried near Chatsworth in the churchyard at Edensor, another of the ill-fated Kennedy children whose lives have been so tragic.

grave of Kathleen Kennedy Cavendish

Upon the death of Billy, Andrew Cavendish, second son of the 10th Duke, became the Marquess of Huntington and eventually the 11th Duke of Devonshire. His Duchess, Deborah, nee Mitford, was particularly instrumental in making the family estate of Chatsworth in Derbyshire, into one of Britain’s premier stately homes. Deborah, or Debo as she was familiarly known, was the author of many books, died in 2014 at age 94.

stones placed on her grave

The complex story of Wentworth Woodhouse is far from over.  At the death of Peter Fitzwilliam, the estate was undergoing extensive strip coal mining, sometimes right up to the door, which weakened the house foundations as well as ruining the gardens. Postwar austerity and crippling death duties required putting the house on the market, and who, pray tell, might want to own such a white elephant?  Most of the furnishings were auctioned and eventually the property was leased to Lady Mabel College for the training of female physical education students.

Entering Wentworth Woodhouse, September 2017

After several decades of changing ownership and sporadic attempts to halt deterioration, in 2017 the WW Preservation Trust acquired the property and a grant for the renovation of the house. They have a daunting task at hand.  When we visited, only a few rooms had furniture, and evidence of sinking accompanied general decline.

Pillared Hall
Pillared Hall

This forest of pillars on the ground floor supports the Marble Saloon above.

Mercury, one of many sculptures in the alcoves
Diana or Venus?
Staircase to Marble Saloon

Upstairs, the room is magnificent, particularly the patterned floor.
Marble Saloon from the Balcony
Our guide

Most of the rooms are without furnishings or temporarily provided with furniture for meetings, parties, and conferences, by which the Trust hopes to help fund restorations.

Marble decor

But the remaining features of the house are stunning, as in the details of this fireplace surround.

The Van Dyck Room

The Van Dyck Room boasts a magnificent chandelier.

The Whistlejacket Room continues the white and gilt decor; it is named for the painting above (though it is a copy) by George Stubbs , c. 1762, of a famous racing stallion owned by the family, Whistlejacket, winner of many races. The original Stubbs work was acquired by the National Gallery in London, where the original now hangs, for £11 million in 1997.


Upstairs, most of the attractive decor came to an abrupt halt.  One room was preserved as it would have been for a student at Lady Mabel College in the 1950’s, but I am sorry to say I missed taking a shot there.  Most of the upper floor was in need of considerable restoration.

After touring the chapel, we went outside to see where and how the two houses were combined with remnants of the original house built a century earlier.

By this time, I believe our tour participants were gob-smacked by the size and condition of the estate. But even more was ahead.

The Wellgate

The gateway, reputedly by architect Inigo Jones, remains from the old house.

The South Terrace

The Gardens are in need of considerable restoration also, but the land itself is interesting and worth seeing.  Some garden decorations remain.

At last we were far enough away to achieve a perspective on the lovely West facade, the baroque house.

If you have managed to stay with us for this long, I will reward you with the other side of the Inigo Jones Gate:


Would you like a first-hand view of some of England’s most beloved stately homes? We’d love to have you along on the 2019 Country House Tour –

The Country House Tour



This is the first of a series of Waterloo related posts we’ll be running in honour of the upcoming anniversary of the Battle on June 18th.  We hope these posts will demonstrate how the Battle affected those in all walks of life, including the British ex-pats who, like Fanny Burney, were resident in Brussels at the time of the Battle.

A version of this post appeared in the Burney Letter, Vol. 21, No. 1, a publication of The Burney Society, Spring 2015; by Victoria Hinshaw.


Frances Burney, Madame d’Arblay

“Upon reflection, I will write no account of these great events, which have been detailed so many hundred times, and so many hundred ways, as I have nothing new to offer upon them; I will simply write the narrative of my own history at that awful period.”

With this modest declaration, Frances Burney, Madame D’Arblay, describes her famous account of Brussels during time leading up to, during, and after the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. In vivid terms, she chronicles the tension and anxiety felt by the helpless people waiting for their fate to be decided.

Frances Burney, 1782

General Alexandre d’Arblay (1748-1818), Burney’s beloved husband, even at the age of 66, served King Louis XVIII in his personal Guard. The d’Arblays occupied a residence in Paris, and had an active life there. But when Napoleon escaped from Elba in March 1815 and headed for Paris, assembling a powerful army as he came, Louis fled. He had been restored to the throne for just over a year and now abandoned Paris and crossed Belgian border to the relative safety of the United Netherlands. d’Arblay had to accompany the King, but he insisted his wife should accompany their friend the Princess d’Heinin into Belgium as well, not a simple task it turned out. Many British families lived in Brussels at the time, having taken advantage of the Peace of 1814 to enjoy a stay on the continent, which they had been unable to visit during the Napoleonic Wars. Like most of the world, they were shocked when Napoleon Bonaparte suddenly returned to France; Paris was about 160 miles from Brussels.

Once she reached Brussels, Madame d’Arblay found many friends among the French evacuees and the ex-pat English as well. When her husband was able to join her for several weeks, she was blissful.  They even got to travel a bit and sightsee at the Palace of Lachen: “my dearest friend (the General, her husband) indulged in one morning’s recreation, which proved as agreeable as anything at such a period could be to a mind oppressed like mine. He determined that we should visit the Palais de Lachen, which had been the dwelling assigned as the palace for the Empress Josephine by Bonaparte at the time of his divorce. My dearest husband drove me in his cabriolet, and the three gentlemen whom he invited to be of the party accompanied us on horseback. The drive, the day, the road, the views, our new horses-all were delightful, and procured me a short relaxation from the foresight of evil.

Joséphine de Beauharnais Bonaparte

“The Palace of Lachen was at this moment wholly uninhabited, and shown to us by some common servant. It is situated in a delicious park d’Anglaise, and with a taste, a polish, and an elegance that clears it from the charge of frippery or gaudiness, though its ornaments and embellishments are all of the liveliest gaiety. There is in some of the apartments some Gobelin tapestry, of which there are here and there parts and details so exquisitely worked that I could have ‘hung over them enamoured.”

“Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington” c.1815 by Sir Thomas Lawrence

While together, the couple also had the opportunity of attending a concert at which they observed the Duke of Wellington, Commander of the Allied Armies. “Our last entertainment here was a concert in the public and fine room appropriated for music or dancing. The celebrated Madame Catalani had a benefit, at which the Queen of the Netherlands was present, not, however, in state, though not incognita; and the king of warriors, Marshal Lord Wellington, surrounded by his staff and all the officers and first persons here, whether Belgians, Prussians, Hanoverians, or English.

Madame Angelica Catalani

I looked at Lord Wellington watchfully, and was charmed with every turn of his countenance, with his noble and singular physiognomy and his eagle eye. He was gay even to sportiveness all the evening, conversing with the officers around him. He never was seated, not even a moment, though I saw seats vacated to offer to him frequently. He seemed enthusiastically charmed with Catalani, ardently applauding whatsoever she sung, except the “Rule Britannia”; and there, with sagacious reserve, he listened in utter Silence. Who ordered it I know not, but he felt it was injudicious in every country but our own to give out a chorus of ‘Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves!’ “And when an encore began to be vociferated from his officers, he instantly crushed it by a commanding air of disapprobation, and thus offered me an opportunity of seeing how magnificently he could quit his convivial familiarity for imperious dominion when occasion might call for the transformation.”

General Alexandre d’Arbly

The d’Arblay’s idyll ended when the General was sent off to Luxembourg to recruit soldiers for the royal cause. Frances was left alone to worry and share the concerns of her friends, some bordering on hysteria, as tension steadily increased in the next few weeks. Everyone knew the battle was approaching.

“May 13, 1815. My best friend left me to begin his campaign; left me, by melancholy chance, upon his birthday (67th). I could not that day see a human being — I could but consecrate it to thoughts of him who had just quitted me yet who from me never was, never can be, mentally absent, and to our poor Alexander (their son), thus inevitably, yet severely cast upon himself.”

For the month following his departure, she visited with friends, strolled in the park, attended church, and observed everything with her keen eye for detail. She also spent many hours alone, writing and worrying about her son, not doing as well at Cambridge as his parents expected, and particularly about her husband. One of Burney’s most fascinating observations was her view of the Belgian people, for the most part stoic and phlegmatic. As she observed, they had been traded back and forth between warring factions for centuries, spending most of the last decade as part of Napoleon’s Empire. How indeed could they get excited about another change in status? They seemed placidly to accept their fate, to Frances’s incredulity and sometimes consternation. “But even in the midst of the unconcerned populace, tensions rose as the streets were crowded with military vehicles horses and soldiers everywhere.”

Lady Caroline Lamb by Thomas Phillips

She had a near-encounter with the notorious Lady Caroline Lamb*, whose affair with Byron had shocked London. Burney writes,  “… I just missed meeting the famous Lady Caroline Lamb … whom I saw crossing the Place Royale,… dressed, Or rather not dressed, so as to excite universal attention, and authorise every boldness of staring, from the general to the lowest soldier, among the military groups then constantly parading the Place, — for she had one shoulder, half her back, and all her throat and neck, displayed as if at the call of some statuary for modelling a heathen goddess. A slight scarf hung over the other shoulder, and the rest of the attire was of accordant lightness. As her ladyship had not then written, and was not, therefore, considered as one apart, from being known as an eccentric authoress, this conduct and demeanour excited something beyond surprise, and in an English lady provoked censure, if not derision, upon the whole English nation.”

Aside from amusement at Burney’s disapproval of the attire, it is interesting to speculate about whether she thought of herself as an ‘eccentric author’ and thus ‘beyond surprise.’ This was a time of considerable unease for her. “During this melancholy period when leisure, till now a delight, became a burthen to me, I could not call my faculties into any species of intellectual service; all was sunk, was annihilated in the overpowering predominance of anxiety for the coming event.”

We take up Burney’s account of Brussels again on the day of the Battle of Quatre Bras. “I was again awakened at about five o’clock in the morning Friday, 16th June, by the sound of a bugle in the March aux Bois: I started up and opened the window. But I only perceived some straggling soldiers, hurrying in different directions, and saw lights gleaming from so many of the chambers in the neighbourhood: all again was soon still, and my own dwelling in profound silence, and therefore I concluded there had been some disturbance in exchanging sentinels at the various posts, which was already appeased: and I retired once more to my pillow, and remained till my usual hour… ”

Continuing, she writes, “my ears were alarmed by the sound of military music, and my eyes equally struck with the sight of a body of troops marching to its measured time. But I soon found that what I had supposed to be an occasionally passing troop, was a complete corps; infantry, cavalry artillery, bag and baggage, with all its officers in full uniform, and that uniform was black…. I learned it was the army of Brunswick. How much deeper yet had been my heartache had I foreknown that nearly all those brave men, thus marching on in gallant though dark array, with their valiant royal chief at their head, the nephew** of my own king, George III., were amongst the first destined victims to this dreadful contest, and that neither the chief, nor the greater part of his warlike associates, would within a few short hours, breathe again the vital air!”

Frederick William, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel

“What a day of confusion and alarm did we all spend on the 17th!…That day, and June 18th, I passed in hearing the cannon! Good heaven! what indescribable horror to be so near the field of slaughter! such I call it, for the preparation to the ear by the tremendous sound was soon followed by its fullest effect, in the view of the wounded, the bleeding martyrs to the formidable contention that was soon to terminate the history of the war. And hardly more afflicting was this disabled return from the battle, than the sight of the continually pouring forth ready-armed and vigorous victims that marched past my windows to meet similar destruction.”

Burney writes that they had received “Many offers of escort out of Brussels were discussed and several attempted but none were successful. The military had confiscated all vehicles and barges destined for the roads and canals to Antwerp or Ostend.” Amidst reports on her conversations with those trying to escape, she wrote: “I found upon again going my rounds for information, that though news was arriving incessantly from the scene of action, and with details always varying, Bonaparte was always advancing…Yet no clamour, no wrangling, nor even debate was intermixed with either question or answer; curiosity, though incessant, was serene; the faces were all monotony, though the tidings were all variety. I could attribute this only to the length of time during which the inhabitants had been habituated to change both of masters and measures, and to their finding that, upon an average, they neither lost nor gained by such successive revolutions…No love of liberty buoyed up resistance; no views of independence brightened their imagination; and they bore even suspense with the calm of apparent philosophy, and an exterior of placid indifference.”

These are just a few of her observations, but I have attempted to choose the most relevant ones. At last, we come to the day of the main battle.”But what a day was the next — June 18 — the greatest, perhaps, in its result, in the annals of Great Britain!…” Despite the streets full of people, “when every other hour changed the current of expectation, no one could be inquisitive without the risk of passing for a spy, nor communicative without the hazard of being suspected as a traitor.” Her friend Mr. Boyd “…feared all was lost-that Bonaparte was advancing-that his point was decidedly Brussels-and that the Duke of Wellington had sent orders that all the magazines, the artillery, and the warlike stores of every description, and all the wounded, the maimed, and the sick, should be immediately removed to Antwerp. For this purpose he had issued directions that every barge, every boat should be seized.

“The dearth of any positive news from the field of battle, even in the heart of Brussels, at this crisis, when everything that was dear and valuable to either party was at stake, was at one instant nearly distracting in its torturing suspense to the wrung nerves, and at another insensibly blunted them into a kind of amalgamation with the Belgic philosophy. At certain houses, as well as at public offices, news, I doubt not, arrived; but no means were taken to — promulgate it — no gazettes, as in London, no bulletins, as in Paris, were cried about the streets; we were all left at once to our conjectures and our destinies. What a dreadful day did I pass! dreadful in the midst of its glory! for it was not during those operations that sent details partially to our ears that we could judge of the positive state of affairs, or build upon any permanency of success. Yet here I soon recovered from all alarm for personal safety, and lost the horrible apprehension of being in the midst of a city that was taken, sword in hand, by an enemy — an apprehension that, while it lasted, robbed me of breath, chilled my blood, and gave me a shuddering ague that even now in fancy returns as I seek to commit it to paper.”

Eventually Burney heard an account from a witness to the battle; “Mr. Saumarez’s narration was all triumphant and his account of the Duke of Wellington might almost have seemed an exaggerated panegyric if it had painted some warrior in a chivalresque romance. . . . I could not but be proud of this account: independent from its glory; my revived imagination hung the blessed laurels of peace. But though Hope was all alive, Ease and Serenity were not her companions: Mr. Saumarez could not disguise that there was still much to do, and consequently to apprehend; and he had never, he said, amongst the many he had viewed, seen a field of battle in such excessive disorder. Military carriages of all sorts, and multitudes of groups unemployed, occupied spaces that ought to have been left for manoeuvring or observation. I attribute this to the various nations who bore arms on that great day in their own manner; though the towering generalissimo of all cleared the ground, and dispersed what was unnecessary at every moment that was not absorbed by the fight.”

As she returned to her lodging, “Three or four shocking sights intervened during my passage, of officers of high rank, either English or Belge, and either dying or dead, extended upon biers, carried by soldiers. The view of their gay and costly attire, with the conviction of their suffering, or fatal state, joined to the profound silence of their bearers and attendants, was truly saddening; and if my reflections were morally dejecting, what, oh what were my personal feelings and fears, in the utter uncertainty whether this victory were more than a passing triumph!”

Though confident of victory, no one knew at the moment that for all practical purposes, Napoleon’s reign was over and peace would soon be restored to Europe.

William II (1792–1849), King of Holland, when Prince of Orange

“It was not till Tuesday, the 20th, I had certain and satisfactory assurances how complete was the victory. At the house of Madame de Maurville I heard confirmed and detailed the matchless triumph of the matchless Wellington, interspersed with descriptions of scenes of slaughter on the field of battle to freeze the blood, and tales of woe amongst mourning survivors in Brussels to rend the heart. While listening with speechless avidity to these relations, we were joined by M. de la Tour du Pin, who is a cousin of Madame de Maurville, and who said the Duke of Wellington had galloped to Brussels from Wavre to see the Prince of Orange and inquire in person after his wounds. Prince Blucher was in close pursuit of Bonaparte, who was totally defeated, his baggage all taken, even his private equipage and personals, and who was a fugitive himself, and in disguise! The duke considered the battle to be so decisive, that while Prince Blucher was posting after the remnant of the Bonapartian army, he determined to follow himself as convoy to Louis XVIII.”

Even so, the ordeal of Brussels and its inhabitants was not finished. Burney writes, “the duke now ordered that the hospitals, invalids, magazines, etc., should all be stationed at Brussels, which he regarded as saved from invasion and completely secure. It is not near the scene of battle that war, even with victory, wears an aspect of felicity-no, not even in the midst of its highest resplendence of glory…For more than a week from this time I never approached my window but to witness sights of wretchedness. Maimed, wounded, bleeding, mutilated, tortured victims of this exterminating contest passed by every minute: the fainting, the sick, the dying and the dead, on brancards, in carts, in waggons, succeeded one another without intermission. There seemed to be a whole and a large army of disabled or lifeless soldiers! All that was intermingled with them bore an aspect of still more poignant horror; for the Bonapartian Prisoners who were now poured into the city by hundreds.

“Everybody was wandering from home; all Brussels seemed living in the streets. The danger to the city, which had imprisoned all its inhabitants except the rabble or the military, once completely passed, the pride of feeling and showing their freedom seemed to stimulate their curiosity in seeking details on what had passed and was passing. But neither the pride nor the joy of victory was anywhere of an exulting nature.” She heard stories from participants, but nothing could quell her horror. “I met at the embassy an old English officer who gave me most interesting and curious information, assuring me that in the carriage of Bonaparte, which had been seized, there were proclamations ready printed, and even dated from the palace of Lachen, announcing the downfall of the Allies and the triumph of Bonaparte ! But no satisfaction could make me hear without deadly dismay and shuddering his description of the field of battle. Piles of dead! — Heaps, masses, hills of dead bestrewed the plains.

“Thousands, I believe I may say without exaggeration, were employed voluntarily at this time in Brussels in dressing wounds and attending the sick beds of the wounded. Humanity could be carried no further; for not alone the Belgians and English were thus nursed and assisted, nor yet the Allies, but the prisoners also; and this, notwithstanding the greatest apprehensions being prevalent that the sufferers, from their multitude, would bring pestilence into the heart of the city.”

Frances Burney, Madame d’Arbly, remained in Brussels for almost a month after the battle. She learned that the wars were over on June 26. “We were all at work more or less in making lint. For me, I was about amongst the wounded half the day, the British, s’entend! The rising in France for the honour of the nation now, and for its safety in independence hereafter, was brilliant and delightful. On the following Sunday I had the gratification of hearing, at the Protestant chapel, the Te Deum for the grand victory, in presence of the King and Queen of the Low Countries — or Holland, and of the Dowager Princess of Orange, and the young warrior her grandson. This prince looked so ill, so meagre, so weak, from his half-cured wounds, that to appear on this occasion seemed another, and perhaps not less dangerous effort of heroism, added to those which had so recently distinguished him in the field.”

These are only a portion of Frances Burney’s memoirs of the period.  They were chosen from the on-line version of the Diary and Letters of Madame d’Arblay edited by her Niece Charlotte Barrett, Volume IV, available on Google Books.  Also used was Fanny Burney: Selected letters and Journals edited by Joyce Hemlow, published in 1986. A postscript to her time in Belgium was Madame d‘Arblay’s audacious journey to reach her husband in July, 1815. While still in the King’s service, he had been injured by the kick of a horse, a wound to his leg from which he never fully recovered. Alone and without complete papers and passports, she set out from Brussels, determined to get to him. Traveling conditions in the region were disrupted and confusing, but she was intrepid and eventually, she was reunited with “her best friend.” Over the next few weeks, while she nursed him, they assembled their belongings in Paris, secured his release from the King’s service, and returned to England.

*Lady Caroline Lamb (1785-1828) was the daughter of the 3rd Earl of Bessborough and his wife Harriet/Henrietta; niece of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire; wife of Frederick Lamb, future Lord Melbourne and future Prime Minister. Lady Caroline‘s brother Frederick Ponsonby of the 12thLight Dragoons, was severely wounded in the Battle of Waterloo. She published her first novel, a roman a clef about Byron, in 1816.

**Frederick William, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel (1771-16 June 1815), known as The Black Duke, was also the brother of the Prince Regent’s wife Caroline of Brunswick; he died at the Battle of Quatre Bras.

Frances Burney (1752-1840) wrote four novels, many plays, and her renowned Journals, currently being re-issued. For more information on Fanny and her family, visit the website of The Burney Centre at McGill University, Montreal, here.


by Victoria Hinshaw
Originally published in 2010

Sarah Biffen (1784-1850) was born without arms or legs, a condition known as phocomelia, and survived infancy only by the intervention of a clergyman who protected her. In her family she was known as a pixie child, and she was even feared by some in her West Country village.

Self portrait by Sarah Biffen, painted in 1830, holding the brush in her teeth.

At age 12, Sarah became a phenomenon at circuses and fairs, displayed painting or sewing with her teeth and was known as “The Limbless Wonder.” A few years later, the Earl of Morton arranged for her to study with William Craig, a Royal Academician who was also drawing master to Princess Charlotte of Wales.

She became a professional miniaturist and did work for George IV, William IV, and Queen Victoria. She is mentioned in novels by William Makepeace Thackeray and Charles Dickens, and her paintings were accepted for exhibition by the Royal Academy. She received a silver medal from the Society of Arts in 1821.

This is a miniature of Edward, Duke of Kent (1767-1820), a waterclour on ivory, painted by Sarah Biffen in 1839 and purchased by the Duke’s daughter, Queen Victoria. It is part of the Royal Collection.

Sarah married William S. Wright in 1824, but the marriage was unsuccessful. After she moved to Liverpool, her work gradually went out of fashion and her ability to paint faded as well. Obviously the incredible muscle control in her mouth and neck would have been reduced as she aged. She was supported in her last years by a pension from the Queen and funds donated by her friends and colleagues.

In the words of the National Gallery of Scotland’s description of her self-portrait, “This remarkable self-portrait reveals something of Sarah’s dignity and strong character, as well as showing the determination and skill of a woman who rose from being a side-show exhibit to a celebrated royal portrait painter.”

I discovered her work when I attended the exhibition The Intimate Portrait: Drawings, miniatures and pastels from Ramsay to Lawrence at the British Museum in 2009. I fnd her one of the most amazing women I have ever heard of. Almost beyond belief!


Victoria H here: I have always had a special feeling for Queen Victoria, obviously because it was the name my father — with his entirely British heritage — chose for me.
The above view of the Queen in 1838 is one of my favorite portraits.
Above, the Queen in her 1838 coronation robes by American artist Thomas Sully (1783–1872). The painting hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City though it has been copied many times and can be found in various configurations many places.

Above, Artist Sir George Hayter (1792-1871) also painted Victoria in her coronation robes.  The ceremony took place on June 28, 1938, about a year after Victoria became Queen at age 18 after the death of her uncle, William IV (1765-1937).

Victoria was Queen until her death in 1901, the longest reign in English history at the time. The Hayter painting is in the National Collection in Britain and a copy of it hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Victoria’s name became the title of an age characterized by a revolution in industry, transportation, communication, medicine, culture, and, perhaps, family relationships and sexual behavior. At the beginning of her reign, horses and sailing ships provided transportation. At the end of her life, we had dirigibles and the Wright Brothers first flew just a couple of years later.  Wonder what Victoria would have thought of blogging?

In celebration of the 200th Anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birth this year, Number One London Tour will be exploring all aspects of the Queen’s life, from her birth at Kensington Palace to her death in 1901 at Osborn House on the Isle of Wight, on our 2019 Queen Victoria Tour. Full details and Tour itinerary can be found here.


Spencer Perceval (1762-1812) had been Prime Minister for three years when he was shot in the lobby of the House of Commons, May 11, 1812. He is the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated.

The following is an excerpt from John Ashton’s Social England Under the Regency, Chapter  6:

Perceval by George Francis Joseph, NPG
One of the principal social events of the year was the Murder of the Right Hon. Spencer Perceval, Chancellor of the Exchequer, First Lord of the Treasury, and Prime Minister of England, who was shot by the hand of an assassin, John Bellingham, on the 11th of May, whilst passing through the lobby of the House of Commons. He was born November 1, 1762, so that, when he fell, he was in the prime of life. He was of very good family, being the second son of John, Earl of Egmont, in Ireland, and Baron Lovel and Holland in England.  His family was one of the very few that really came over with the Conqueror, for Robert, the second son of Eudes, sovereign Duke of Brittany, settled in Normandy, and there became possessed of the lordships of Brewehal and Ivery. As stated, he came over in the Norman filibuster’s suite, and in the course of two or three generations the name of Brewehal, became changed into Perceval-and ever afterwards so remained.
            Spencer Perceval, studied for, and practiced at, the Bar, being made King’s Counsel in 1796. In the same year, his first cousin, Lord Compton, who was a member for Northampton, succeeded to his father’s title of Earl of Northampton; and Perceval, offering himself for the vacant seat, was elected without opposition. His rise was rapid, and in 1801, being then in his 39th year, he joined Lord Addington’s Government as Solicitor-General. In 1802 he was made Attorney-General. When Pitt resumed the government, he retained his appointment, but resigned it at Pitt’s death.
            In Lord Portland’s Ministry of 1807, he undertook the duties of Chancellor and Under Treasurer of the Exchequer, and also Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. In October, 1809, he was First Lord of the Treasury, and Prime Minister, and so continued until his sad end.
             One may well ask why did Bellingham shoot Perceval? To this day I cannot tell. In the year 1804, a Mr. John Bellingham-who had been brought up in a Counting House in London, and, afterwards, lived three years as clerk with a Russian Merchant at Archangel, whence he had returned to England-went back to Russia on Mercantile business-was there twice imprisoned-he said falsely-and treated, according to his own account, with very great indignity. He complained to the British Ambassador at Petersburg, and also to the Secretary of Legation, but did not obtain his desired redress. He returned to England in 1809, as he said, ruined in health and fortune. But the British Ambassador, Lord Gower, declared that he used all the influence he possessed (with propriety) in Bellingham’s favour; but that he was legally imprisoned for debt, upon the award of four arbitrators, two of them British Merchants chosen by himself, and the other two Russians; that his confinement was far from severe; that he was allowed to walk at large, only under the inspection of a police officer; and that he had received help in money from the Secretary of Legation.
            But he was “a man with a grievance,” and went about to different branches of the Government, detailing the laches of Lord Gower and the Secretary, for their culpable neglect in not looking properly after the interests of a British subject. He then determined to bring his case before Parliament, and asked General Gascoyne to back his petition, and the General promised to do so, provided it had the countenance of Mr. Perceval, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which was considered necessary in all cases which involved a pecuniary grant.
            He wrote to poor Perceval for leave to bring in a petition, but was answered that Mr. Perceval thought that his petition “was not of a nature for the consideration of Parliament.” Then he went to the Regent and the Privy Council, but to no purpose: made applications all round, but met with no good, except a reference to the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but here he had been refused help. Then he wrote a letter to the Bow Street Magistrates, stating his case-saying that he would, once more solicit his Majesty’s Ministers, through them, and failing redress from that, he continued, “I shall then feel justified in executing justice myself; in which case, I shall be ready to argue the merits of so reluctant a measure, with his Majesty’s Attorney-General, wherever, and whenever I may be called upon to do so. In the hopes of averting so abhorrent but compulsive an alternative,–I have the honour to be &c&c.” The Magistrates communicated the contents of this packet to the Secretary of state, but it only resulted in a fresh disappointment.
            He still kept on trying, and his idea of taking vengeance on some one, increased, until it not only became fixed, but he planned its carrying out. He had a pocket made in his coat of a peculiar size and shape, in order to carry a pistol; and on the fatal 11th of May, he hid himself behind one of the folding doors of the lobby of the House of Commons; and when, about a quarter past five, the ill-fated Chancellor made his appearance, Bellingham shot him through the heart. Poor Perceval only reeled a pace or two, faintly called out, that he was murdered, and then fell. . . .
            He was equally calm when brought before the bar of the House, acknowledging the fact, and even attempting to justify it. He was committed to Newgate, where two men were constantly with him in his cell, to prevent any attempt at self-destruction. He was brought up for trial at the Old Bailey on the 15th of May. The facts against him were concisely and clearly stated, even to that of his having his pockets specially made to hold the pistols; and he conducted his own defence. He gave an account of his sufferings for the past eight years, laying the blame principally on Lord Leveson Gower, whom he regretted he had not killed in place of Mr. Perceval. “He as obliged to the Attorney-General and the Court for setting aside the plea of insanity urged by his counsel, and could assure them, whenever he should appear before the tribunal of God, he should be adjudged innocent of the willful murder of Mr. Perceval. That he perished by his hand he admitted; but, to constitute felony, there must be malice prepense, the willful intention, which had not been proved. In this case, he had been robbed of his property, his family ruined, and his mind tortured through the conduct of Government Agents; and he was now to answer for his life, because Mr. Perceval chose to patronize iniquity, and refuse him redress.”
            Of course, this style of argument availed him nothing with the jury, who, after a very brief consultation, brought him in “Guilty.” Sentence of death was passed upon him, and as there was very little sickly sentimentality in those days, as to carrying out the penalty of the law, he was duly hanged on the 18th of May; his body being given over to the surgeons for dissection. It is said that after his body was opened, his heart continued its functions for four hours; in other words that he was living for that time.
            The day after Mr. Perceval’s assassination, the Prince Regent sent a Message to Parliament recommending a provision being made for Mrs. Perceval and her family, and an annuity of 2,000 pounds was granted her, together with a sum of 30,000 pounds to her family. These were voted unanimously, and two other votes were passed by large majorities-one to provide a monument to his memory in Westminster Abbey, the other granting to his eldest son, Spencer Perceval, who was just about to go to College, an annuity of 1,000 pounds, from the day of his father’s death, and an additional 1,000 yearly, on the decease of his mother.
Perceval by George Francis Joseph


            One would have thought that there could have been but one feeling throughout the nation, that of horror, at this dastardly murder, but one town was the base exception. When the news of his murder reached Nottingham, a numerous crowd publicly testified their joy by shouts, huzzas, drums beating, flags flying, bells ringing, and bonfires blazing. The Military being called out, and the Riot Act read, peace was restored.