We were absolutely thrilled to be contacted by Faber and Faber to ask if we would like to review Stephen Taylor’s latest book which is due for release today, Defiance: The Life and Choices of Lady Anne Barnard. We jumped at the chance as Lady Anne Barnard and her sister, Margaret will make an albeit brief appearance in our third book, so the chance to find out more about what their lives would have been like was an opportunity too good to miss, but we would like to point out that this is an independent review.
Many of our readers will probably have heard of Lady Anne Barnard or at least be familiar with her name as a writer and Georgian socialite who was acquainted with the ‘great and the good’ of the time including the likes of William Windham, Edmund Burke, plus our favourite courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliot’s lovers – the Marquess of Cholmondeley and the Prince of Wales. Some of you may also be aware of her as being the author of the ballad Auld Robin Gray, but few will be aware of much more than the brief outline of her life.
Stephen has written this factual account of her life from the immense wealth of archive material held by her descendants. The book clearly demonstrates his attention to detail and provides the reader with a carefully crafted, but beautifully told account of Lady Anne’s life with a surprise or two along the way that you most certainly won’t have come across before! A family tree might have been an added bonus, but the lack of one most certainly didn’t detract in any way.
We don’t want to spoil the story but we would highly recommend reading it, we’re sure it’s one that we’ll back dipping into again, so for now we’ll stick to providing a few basic facts about Anne and leave you to find out so much more in Stephen’s book.
Anne was born 1750, the daughter of James, Earl of Balcarres and Anne Lindsay née Dalrymple, so around the same sort of time as our very own Grace Dalrymple Elliott and there’s a distinct possibility the families knew of each other. Like Grace, Anne spent time in Paris during the French Revolution and when returning to England she married Andrew Barnard, a military man, some 12 years her junior.
Andrew took a posting to Cape Town, where they spent five years together from 1797, with Anne returning to England alone at the beginning of 1802. Throughout her time there she wrote lengthy tomes to, amongst others, Henry Dundas (1st Viscount Melville).
There is one lovely self-description in the book, in a letter she wrote to Elizabeth Harcourt, in which she described herself as ‘a sort of Ladyship Jack of all Trades, a housekeeper, botanist, collector, paintress, upholsterer, Lady Bountiful, cook, dairy maid – everything but a politician and that I do not touch’.
Andrew returned to England briefly, but then went back to South Africa where his health failed and he was to die in 1807. It was upon Andrew’s death that she found out a secret that he had been keeping (we won’t say more about that!). Anne spent the remainder of her life in London until her death on May 6th 1825.
All in all, this is a fabulous book that we are pleased to recommend to our readers, full of detail to anyone interested in the Georgian era as well as those who are interested in the life of Lady Anne Barnard.