Originally published in 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Warwick Castle

From the Journal of Mrs. Arbuthnot, November 8, 1823

      We returned home on the 4th to receive the Duke of Wellington, who staid with us till the 7th, yesterday, when we came to Warwick Castle to a ball given last night by Lady W. It was very magnificent. The old Towers were lighted up, but unfortunately there was such a fog it was hardly visible. We have spent the morning in walking round the walls and shewing the Castle to the Duke, who has never been here before. It is quite provoking to see the little interest the owners of this fine old relique of Baronial splendour and power take in it. The Castle is full of fine old family pictures, and they don’t know one of them; they scarcely know their way about the walls; and Lord Warwick, instead of shewing it to the Duke, told Mr. Arbuthnot he should wait till every body was gone out and then go and poke about by himself!


Strawberry Hill

From the Journal of Mrs. Arbuthnot, July 8, 1822

            Went to see Strawberry Hill with the Duke of Wellington, Lady G. Fane, my two girls and some men; it is a curious place, very much in the state in which it was left by Horace Walpole, very dull and shews a good deal of bad taste; but still I should have liked to have had more time to examine it. There are some curious pictures and statues in the house, the grounds are not particularly pretty and not well kept. We returned to Richmond to dinner and came back, as we went, by water. The day was beautiful and the banks of the river between Richmond and Twickenham are like fairy land.

Vicky has also visited and there are several posts on Strawberry Hill from the past; you can find them using the Search This Blog box located in the left hand sidebar.


From the Journal of Mrs. Arbuthnot, May 26, 1821

      I took a long ride into the country with Mr. Arbuthnot and the Duke of Wellington. The ladies and dandies have taken to ride in the Mall in St. James’s Park in such numbers as to be quite a nuisance. Yesterday I am sure there must have been above 100, and in that narrow road it is really dangerous. I have therefore taken to ride into the country, and we went today over the Vauxhall Bridge, by Brixton and Tooting round to Wandsworth and home by Chelsea, a beautiful ride thro’ a pretty part of Surrey, all looking right and happy, altho’ we are told every day that we are ruined and starving . . . . . 

Gossip Between Lady Shelley and Mrs. Arbuthnot

Harriette, Mrs. Arbuthnot by Richard Cosway

Mrs. Arbuthnot to Lady Shelley

Woodford, Wednesday [no date].
“My Dear Lady Shelley,
What an age it is since I have written to you! but my house has been so full; and I have been so full of regret at not being in the north hearing all the speeches and witnessing all the applause with which the Duke was received everywhere. Lady Bathurst and Sir Henry Harding have written me long accounts of it, all which is lucky for the Duke (of Wellington), as I should (very unjustly) be in a fury with him, for he enters into no details. To be sure one could not expect him to plume himself on his success; and, as I have heard it from others, I am satisfied. They are all enchanted with him, and he has done everything quite right, as he always does. I have Lord and Lady Francis Gower here and Mr. Greville and Lady Charlotte. Do you not think Mr. Greville the most agreeable man you know? I do; he has so much gossip, and tells a story so well. He has just been saying, God forgive me! but I wish Canning had lived to undergo the mortification of this visit of the Duke’s to the north; it would have been a good lesson to him, and would have killed him.’ He is in very good humour, and bears with my small house with the greatest fortitude. I am quite sorry they are going, which they do tomorrow for Chatsworth. Lady Charlotte is grown fearfully old and wrinkled. Lord Westmorland comes here to-morrow and stays till Saturday, on which day we go to Drayton.

We go to Apethorpe (pictured above) on Wednesday next. How all the ladies seem to be increasing in these days of over-population; it is quite surprising, and Mrs. Griffiths is in despair, for I understand they all come together. Lady Jersey, you know, always publishes it immediately. I did not know the Duke had been so sly about his visit there, but I am greatly amused at your not daring to quiz him; I did not think you had been so shy! especially with him. Do you know any news of our wise Ministers? what they mean to do with Turkey and Portugal? Never was such a condition as they have placed us in, I think, but they may thank the master mind for that. Poor Lord Dudley must be at his wits’ end, I think, with these perpetual conferences and interviews that one reads of. Pray write and tell me the London news, for I hear none of the Newmarket news. I see Sir John has a match. Ever, my dear Lady Shelley,

“Yours very affly.,
“H. A.”
George Canning
August 10, 1827.
“My Dear Lady Shelley,
“Thank you for sending me an account of the Duke. I am very glad you think he looks well. He writes me word he is quite well again. I got both your letters the same day, as he did not frank your Monday one till Tuesday. Poor Mr. Canning! I daresay you will not agree with me, but I am really very sorry for him. In the first place I had much rather have had a fight with him next session, and beat him in that way, and secondly, I hate to have anybody die. I cannot feel rancour against the dead; and, fatally mischievous as he has been to us, I cannot help pitying him. He has suffered so horribly, mind as well as body! depend upon it his has been a bed of thorns; nothing can have been more humiliating and degrading than all he has endured in the last four months. He was the vainest man that ever lived, with the quickest and most irritable feelings, and I know he felt his position most acutely. I have quite longed to write to Planta, to enquire after him; but I have not, for I should very likely have been accused of hypocrisy. I only hope our newspapers will not abuse him, tho’ to be sure the abuse heaped upon us just now by the Times is quite laughable. One thing I do rather enjoy, and that is the consternation in which our rats must be, such as your friend Sir George Clerk, etc., etc., etc. I have no guess what will happen, but I do not expect the King will send for any of us now. It will be, to use his own words, poor man, a curious coincidence if he dies the same day as Queen Caroline! Metternich’s remark about our luck is certainly just; but how he made out that the new parliament in South America could have anything to do with the Berlin Decrees I don’t understand. I am delighted to hear Mr. Peel has taken Maresfield; he cannot fail to like it, and the joy of getting it off your hands will help to restore you. I have been reading ‘Falkland.’ I like it very much, all but the ghost. 1 don’t suppose it is very moral, but I think it is natural and well written. Have you read it? I have also read ‘Judge Jeffreys,’ which I don’t like at all, and think it very ill done; I have no patience with the author who apologises for such an inhuman beast. I am now reading General Foy, who puts me in a rage with his fulsome praise of French soldiers and their mildness and kindneartedness! I had a letter from the Duke of Rutland to-day. Lady C. Powlett had been there for a night; she went from here. I think I shall put her nose, and Mrs. Foxs’, out of joint in that quarter, and yours too; His Grace writes so very tenderly. I don’t know how I shall manage them in Derbyshire; I shall have to sing the old song ‘ How happy could I be with either, were t’other dear Duke but away’—but that would be a copy of my countenance; there is but one Duke worth thinking about in the world, in my opinion. But do not show up that I joke about the other; it is only to amuse you, and he is very goodnatured and kind to me, and I like him, and would not laugh about him on any account, but you know he has a sentimental way with him. I shall write to the Duke about Mr. L. Wellesley, for a madman is never to be despised. I hope nothing fresh has happened?
Ever, my dear Lady Shelley, Yours affly.,
“H. A.”