Lady Elizabeth Hamilton was the daughter of Henry Belasyse, the 2nd Earl Fauconberg, and the wife of Bernard Howard, heir to the Dukedom of Norfolk, who she had married on the 23rd April, 1789. The couple had one son, Henry Charles Howard born on the 12th August, 1791. But in 1793 she eloped with the man who had been her first love, whom she had wanted to marry originally but had been stopped from doing so by her family.
That man was Richard Bingham, son and heir to the 1st Earl of Lucan.
Lady Elizabeth was a minor when she married The Right Honourable Bernard Edward Howard, Esquire, in her father’s house in George Street, Hanover Square, the marriage witnessed by her father, her new father-in-law and a man who merely signed Petre (probably Robert Edward Petre the future 10th Baron Petre who had married Bernard Howard’s sister Lady Mary Bridget Howard three years earlier).
Lady Elizabeth had told her unsuspecting husband that she was going to travel to visit her father, who was in the north of England, and Howard agreed to visit his sister rather than travel with her. He accordingly left for his sister’s house, his wife telling him she planned to leave for her own visit the next day. On the evening of her husband’s departure, 24th July, 1793, Lady Elizabeth took her carriage to a jeweller’s shop near Piccadilly where she bought some trinkets before sending the carriage home with her infant son, his nurse and a letter to her husband which the nurse was to leave on her master’s table.
But the nurse was suspicious and sent a footman back to the jeweller’s to enquire for Lady Elizabeth. When the footman arrived back to say that the jeweller had reported that Lady Elizabeth left his shop around half an hour earlier with Mr Bingham, hasty despatches were sent to both her husband and father, but to no avail for the runaway couple had gone to ground.
The criminal conversation case was heard before the House of Lords on 7th April, 1794; Lady Elizabeth was represented by Mr Garrow and Mr Erskine. With all parties wanting a divorce the sticking points were the 12,000l. which Lady Elizabeth had brought to her marriage (Mr Garrow argued that some provision should be made for her) and a proposed clause which would bastardize any child born to her. Lady Elizabeth was heavily pregnant, about to lie in, and Mr Garrow argued on her behalf that “it was not in the nature of evidence to prove that the infant was not Mr Howard’s”.
Mr Erskine observed that the marriage contract between the lady and Bernard Howard was made in opposition to her desires and that she was involuntarily taken to the altar.
A divorce was granted and she married her first love on 26th May, 1794, becoming the Countess of Lucan when her husband ascended to his Earldom, but this second marriage didn’t last either, the couple separating ten years later.
Lady Elizabeth Bingham, Countess of Lucan, died on the 24th March, 1819, aged 49 years.
Caledonian Mercury, 8th August, 1793
Caledonian Mercury, 12th April, 1794
Header image: The Stolen Kiss, Jean-Honore Fragonard