The Birthday of Jane Digby el Mezrab

Today, in the midst of turbulent international events, we have a great deal of  curiosity and concern about the middle east.  So did the British of the 19th century, dealing as they did with the Ottoman Empire and its 600-year rule over a large part of the world.  By the 19th century, its eventual disintegration was well underway…think of Byron fighting for Greek independence, for example. Though trade and commerce continued, the middle east was not an area familiar to most of 19th century Britain. The stories of intrepid women travelers who went there to live are particularly fascinating.   
Mary S. Lovell has written the story of our birthday girl’s adventurous life, published in 1998, and titled in the U.S. Rebel Heart.  
BBC Photo

Lovell is the author of many biographies: Bess of Hardwick, Beryl Markham, the Mitford Sisters, and Amelia Earhart. 
 Her book about the Churchills will be released this month in the UK and in May in the US.
For her website, click here.
Jane Elizabeth Digby, Lady Ellenborough (1807-1881), moved to Damascus in the early 1850’s,  following a path forged by Lady Hester Stanhope  (1776-1839) after the death of her uncle, Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger in 1805.  Lady Hester’s story will be forthcoming on this blog in the future.
 Jane Digby was exceptionally beautiful but apparently unlucky at finding enduring  love for many years.  She was raised in the wealthy and aristocratic household of her father, Admiral Sir Henry Digby, and her mother  Mary Coke, daughter of the lst Earl of Leicester. Before she was 20 years old, Jane married Edward Law, second Baron Ellenborough, later the Earl of Ellenborough, who was Governor General of India 1842-44.  Jane was Ellenborough’s second  wife and bore him (supposedly) one son who lived only two years.  They were divorced in 1830, after undergoing the almost-impossible process of ending a marriage in those days, proving her adultery through several through several decisions of legal and ecclesiastical courts and culminating in an act of the House of Lords.
1831 Painting of Jane Digby, Lady Ellenborough
by Joseph Karl Stieler

Jane had many affairs, often with very prominent men, including (but not limited to) King Ludwig I of Bavaria, King Otto of Greece (son of Ludwig), Austrian statesman Prince Schwarzenberg, and her cousin, George Anson. In all she married four times and had several children, most of whom died very young. Her daughter by Schwarzenberg was raised by the Prince’s sister in Basel.

To follow the progress of her many affairs and marriages is like reading a scandalous travelogue She finally settled in Syria with her fourth husband, Sheikh Medjuel el Mezrab, who was two decades younger than she was. She wore Arab dress and spent part of each year living a nomadic life in the desert with her husband’s tribe. In Damascus, they lived in an elegant villa and entertained many Europeans, including the famous traveler, explorer and author Richard Burton and his wife.

It is often noted in connection with Jane Digby that her great great grandniece was Pamela Churchill Harriman, nee Digby (1920-1997), U. S. Ambassador to France 1993-1997, whose life of romance with world statesmen could be considered a 20th century version of Jane’s own story. Her three husbands were Randolph Churchill, Leland Hayward, and Averill Harriman.

She was also linked in the popular press with many other prominent men, among them Edward R. Murrow, Prince Aly Khan, Baron Elie de Rothschild, William S. Paley, Gianni Agnelli, and Stavros Niarchos. 

Though we might, while wishing her happy birthday, call Jane Digby “one of a kind,” but she obviously left a legacy to her descendants.

2 thoughts on “The Birthday of Jane Digby el Mezrab”

  1. I can't help but express admiration for Lady Jane as she lived life on her own terms. I've read a number of articles on her life and she really was a fascinating person!

    I had no idea one of her female descendents had followed in her footsteps!

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