Mrs Bouverie and Mrs Crewe: two Whig hostesses from the 18th Century

Following on from our blog about women in 18th century politics  we found ourselves researching two of the women who have often been mentioned in connection with the Duchess of Devonshire in regard to the political campaign of 1784 where they all three were ardent supporters of Charles James Fox.  Our previous blog article on ladies in politics in the 18th Century briefly mentioned Mrs Bouverie and Mrs Crewe, but we thought they were worthy of a blog in their own right, giving a little biographical information about them.

NPG D42054; Harriet Bouverie (nÈe Fawkener, later Lady Robert Spencer); Edward Bouverie sold by James Watson, sold by Butler Clowes, after Sir Joshua Reynolds
Harriet Bouverie Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

Mrs Bouverie was born Harriet Fawkener in 1750, the daughter of Sir Everard Fawkener, silk merchant and diplomat, and Harriet, natural daughter of Lieutenant General Charles Churchill who was himself illegitimate and a nephew of the 1st Duke of Marlborough.  Sir Everard Fawkener is chiefly remembered to history as the great friend of the philosopher Voltaire.

On the 30th June, 1764, at St. George’s in Hanover Square, London, Harriet married the Honourable Edward Bouverie of Delapré Abbey in Northamptonshire who was to become Member of Parliament for Salisbury and Northampton.  The History of Parliament website describes him as ‘An habitué of Brooks’s Club, he regarded himself as a personal friend of Charles James Fox and aped his politics.

Mrs Bouverie was actively campaigning for the Whig party in 1784 and her connections carried on for many years.  She entertained lavishly at her house, her dinner guests Charles James Fox, Lord Robert Spencer, Colonel Fitzpatrick and many others.  She was also friends with Richard Brinsley Sheridan and particularly with Sheridan’s wife, Elizabeth Anne née Linley, another woman about whom we have written.  Mrs Sheridan once recalled sitting up without a fire together with Mrs Bouverie till six in the morning to hear the result of a parliamentary debate and falling ill in consequence.

The Bouverie’s had three daughters, Harriet Elizabeth, Jane and Diana Juliana Margaretta and three sons, Edward, John and Henry Frederick Bouverie.  The youngest child, Diana, born on the 19th September, 1786, although acknowledged as a Bouverie was, in fact, a Spencer.  Her mother Harriet had begun an affair with Lord Robert Spencer, youngest son of the 2nd Duke of Marlborough and Diana was his child.  She was referred to as the ‘tell-tale Bouverie’ as she looked so much like her natural father, and he left virtually everything he owned to her in his will.  There was also a rumoured love affair with Richard Brinsley Sheridan.

Lord Robert Spencer was, like Edward Bouverie, a Member of Parliament and a close friend and staunch supporter of Charles James Fox and the Whig party and, like Fox, a gambler, at one point having to sell his paintings to pay his debts.  The Prince of Wales and his brother the Duke of York were part of this circle.  Mrs Bouverie became the long-term mistress of Lord Robert Spencer, living in a mènage á trois with her husband and her lover.

Edward Bouverie died on the 3rd September, 1810, aged 72 years, leaving behind him a disorganized mess and debts which his family knew little about.  From his will he seems to bear no ill feelings towards his wife and asks that if he dies in Sussex he be buried at Woolbeding, where Lord Robert Spencer’s estate was.  Harriet suffered a year of mourning, for the sake of decency, before finally marrying Lord Robert Spencer on the 2nd October, 1811, at his estate of Woolbeding in Sussex.  The couple had no further children and Harriet died on the 17th November, 1825, survived by her 2nd husband. 

Devonshire
Duchess of Devonshire, Viscountess Duncannon and Mrs Crewe Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

 Mrs Bouverie’s great friend was the beautiful and witty Mrs Crewe, born Frances Anne Greville in 1748, the daughter of Fulke Greville, envoy extraordinary to the elector of Bavaria.  At the age of eighteen she married John Crewe of Crewe Hall in Cheshire in 1766 and subsequently entertained Charles James Fox and his circle in the same way that Mrs Bouverie did.

(c) National Trust, Calke Abbey; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Courtesy of BBC

 The two women shared many things, including the affections of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, but whilst Mrs Bouverie was reputed to be a passing fancy of his, Mrs Crewe embarked on a full blown affair with the playwright lasting around a decade from the mid 1770’s.  Sheridan’s School for Scandal was dedicated to her and he called her ‘Amoret,’ a name coined by his wife Elizabeth for Mrs Crewe, probably when she first became aware of the relationship.  He also dedicated another play The Critic to her mother Frances Greville née Macartney who years earlier had been an acquaintance of Sarah Lennox, Duchess of Richmond.

NPG D21354; Frances Anne Crewe (nÈe Greville), Lady Crewe by Thomas Watson, after Daniel Gardner
Frances Anne Crewe Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery

In 1785 Mrs Sheridan wrote to a friend, Mary Anne Canning, from Crewe Hall:

 S is in Town – and so is Mrs Crewe.  I am in the Country and so is Mr Crewe – a very convenient Arrangement, is it not?

While her husband idolized Fox and bankrolled him to a large extent, Mrs Crewe was one of the leading lights along with the Duchess of Devonshire in the parties of ladies who canvassed for Charles James Fox at the 1784 election in Westminster.  She hosted a party on the evening of his victory, 18th May, 1784, at her London townhouse, everyone wearing blue and buff which had been adopted as Fox’s colours.  The Prince of Wales was present and proposed a toast, “True blue and Mrs Crewe”.  Mrs Crewe raised her glass and famously replied, “True blue and all of you”.

mrs Crewe
Frances Anne Crewe as St. Genevieve by Joshua Reynolds Courtesy of the Government Art Collection

In 1806 John Crewe was raised to the Peerage by Fox, becoming Lord Crewe and making Frances Lady Crewe.  The couple had four children, two of whom survived infancy, a son named John (1772-1835) and a daughter, Elizabeth Emma (1780-1850).  Mrs Crewe died on the 23rd December, 1818.

Sources: www.historyofparliamentonline.org; The Gentleman’s Magazine, July-December, 1831, volume CI; Richard Brinsley Sheridan: A Life by Linda Kelly

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