For regular readers, you will by now have probably gathered that as well as all the other research, I have also been investigating the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle. Dido, her life and family have become something of an obsession of late and hopefully this and other articles on All Things Georgian, will help to rectify some of the misinformation that currently exists.
Today’s post takes a look at what happened to the real Dido Elizabeth Belle, who, at the end of the film Belle, ‘walked off into the sunset’ with her man, the lawyer, John Davinière.
*SPOILER ALERT FOR THOSE WHO HAVE SEEN THE FILM BELLE*
To begin with, John Daviniere was not, the son of the local Reverend in Hampstead, nor was he a lawyer and as such would have had absolutely no involvement in the Zong massacre case. A little creative licence used with that one!
John Davinière, as he was known in England, was born Louis Jean Charles Davinière in the town of Ducey in the Normandy region of France and was one of several children born to Charles Davinière and his wife Madeleine Le Pelletier. He was baptised on 21 December 1768, making him several years Dido’s junior. His grandfather, we now know, was a peruke (wig) maker.
A massive thank you goes out to one of my lovely readers, who very kindly translated into English for me, John’s parents marriage entry, which states that John’s mother was a seamstress and on the baptism of one of their other children he has identified that John’s father, was a tailor.
John left his native France for England towards the end of the 1780s, so, just prior to the French Revolution which began 1789. The date of his departure from France is not quite clear as it appears in a couple of sources later in his life, at which time he gave differing years for his arrival into England.
However, on coming to England, he found work as a steward or valet, again the terminology of his occupation varies slightly in different sources, but on his marriage bond it merely described him as a servant of St Martin’s in the Fields (see image below).
It remains unknown as to how John would have met Dido, but it seems feasible that the Murray or Ramsay family would have been involved in some way. It is known that Allan Ramsay had painted a portrait of the 6th Earl of Coventry in the 1760s and Dido’s marriage entry provided a snippet of information in the shape of one of the witnesses, who, it seems possible could have been John Coventry, who was the second son of the 6th Earl of Coventry, who owned a townhouse on Piccadilly and for whom it’s feasible that John initially worked for. The other witness was Dido’s friend or possibly her servant, Martha Darnell. Martha may well have worked at Kenwood House as according to the accounts books, there was a housemaid there during Dido’s time, named Martha. Sadly no surname was given for this housemaid.
According to the Westminster rates books, not long after their marriage on 5 December 1793, at the fashionable church of St George’s, Hanover Square, the newly weds moved into a newly built house, 14, Ranelagh Street North, near St George’s Hanover Square.
It’s interesting to note that the happy couple married on the same day, at the same church, and by the same vicar, as the first Duke of Sussex and his bride Lady Augusta Murray, but that’s another story.
It should be mentioned that whilst St George’s, Hanover Square was regarded as ‘the‘ church to marry, for the elite, it also saw its fair share of marriage for of trades people and servants, who perhaps worked for the elite. The church was for everyone and there are plenty of entries which support this, including some marriages by couples who were only able to sign the register with an ‘X’ i.e. unable to write, but who also paid the fee to marry by licence.
The overwhelming number of marriages in the register were marriages via banns i.e. making a very public declaration of their union, but a handful were by Special Licence i.e. they married somewhere else, but their marriage was subsequently recorded in the register (these would be people from elite society who acquired special dispensation to do so, such as Viscount Stormont, who married in 1776 at the home of his bride, Hon. Louisa Cathcart), the marriage then being noted in the register of St George’s.
Dido and John however, were also part of small group, whose who were married by paying a small licence fee, usually just a few pounds. This type of marriage was usually for a specific reason, and this highlighted link explains more, but to date, there are no clues as to why they chose this option.
When they married, the marriage bond (which cost £200), confirms John’s occupation to be that of a servant, but as yet, who he worked for at that time remains unknown for certain.
£200 was a significant sum of money, and as John described himself as a ‘servant‘ at that time, would he have had that sort of money for the Bond, or did Dido pay it on his behalf, from her inheritance from Lord Mansfield?
They appear to have lived a happy life and with this union they saw the arrival of 3 sons, John, Charles and William Thomas, of which two, Charles (1795-1873) and William Thomas (1800-1867), survived into adulthood, John, who we now know survived until at least 1804.
John and Dido wouldn’t have started life short of money, as Dido received not only an inheritance from Lord Mansfield who died in 1793 of several hundred pounds, plus a regular annuity of £100 per annum, but also, in 1799 upon the death of Lady Margery Murray (Lord Mansfield’s niece), she received a further legacy of £100, as ‘a token of her regard for Dido’.
In July 1804, Dido was sadly to die, leaving John to raise the boys alone. It is now known that Lady Anne Murray who died in 1817, wrote her will after Dido died in 1804 and acknowledged that she knew Dido had died, but still left money to all 3 of her boys, however, banking records confirm that upon Lady Anne’s death her legacies of £50 each, were only paid to Charles and William Thomas.
The exact date of Dido’s burial remains unknown as there were many burials at St George’s Fields that month and most, unhelpfully, were not dated. Dido’s was number 56 out of 73, so it was probably towards the end of that month. A question many people have asked about is how Dido died. The answer is quite simply that it’s impossible to know, as death certificates, as we know them today, simply didn’t exist in 1804, so it was always remain a cause of speculation. Having checked the newspapers for that period, just in case her death was mentioned in there, sadly, to date, there is no mention of it.
It is believed that her remains were removed during the development of that site, but no conclusive evidence exists to substantiate this. The whole site was not redeveloped, so it is feasible that her remains may still be there, potentially buried some 10+ feet down as deep burials were thought to prevent grave robbers. Part of the redevelopment of that area now consists of dwellings.
Sometime after 1806 John and the boys left Ranelagh Street, and moved to live at 40 Mount Street, Grosvenor Square, but there is no record of him being there on the rates returns for that period, the only confirmation exists in the form of him taking out insurance on the property.
The next reference to him occurs in 1814, so some six years later, in the will of his employer, John Craufurd*, of Errol, Perth and Kinross ,who described John as his valet.
Craufurd, who died in 1814, left John a couple of bequests upon his death, one of which was £100. Craufurd also provided a reference for Davinière’s son, Charles when he joined the Madras Army, so he clearly thought quite highly of the family.
The boys were clearly educated, as confirmed by a letter written by Charles’ tutor, as Mr James Carver, who had a private school, Belgrave House in Pimlico, which first opened its doors back in July 1796 under the headmaster, Mr Perks.
They would have been taught, English, Greek, Latin and French, along with subjects such as accounts, land surveying, mathematics and drawing. Basically, all skills they would need to get a job in the military, finance or to go to university.
It appears that John didn’t remain single for very long, as he met and ultimately married his second wife, Jane Holland, who was some 14 years his junior.
The marriage took place in 1819 at St Martin in the Fields, but strangely this was not until some years after they had produced two children, Lavinia (1809-1888), who was born whilst they were living at 40 Mount Street, and Edward Henry (1812-1867).
This time the marriage was simply witnessed by two ‘serial marriage witnesses’, so no aristocracy present at this occasion.
It was to be shortly after the birth of Edward Henry that the couple moved again, this time to 31 Edgware Road where it appears they remained for several years, moving on to Portman Place around 1822.
Rates returns indicate that he and Jane left there about 1828 and moved to John’s home town of Ducey in France.
Their daughter, Lavinia was to marry Louis Henri Wohlegmuth, a naturalised Frenchman in 1843 and confirmed her father’s name on the marriage register, but neither John nor Jane were present at the marriage, as the newspaper confirmed that they were in Ducey, where John was to remain until his death on 31st March 1847.
Upon his death, he left his possessions to his wife Jane and named all four children – Charles, Guillame (William), Lavinia Amelia and Edward.
The lives of the Charles and Lavinia and to a lesser extent, William Thomas, are reasonably well documented. Certainly the boys were well-educated as a document dated 8th February 1811, relating to Charles confirms, but we know very little about Edward, except that he travelled between Le Havre and England on 24th August 1837.
It would seem highly likely that this was in order to be a witness at his half-brother, William Thomas’s marriage to Fanny Graham, which took place in September of that year and was clearly still alive when his father died. I have read online that Fanny Graham was a widow, so let’s just correct another mistake, as you can see here, she was a spinster.
As there is no sign of either John’s widow, Jane or Edward the most obvious conclusion is that they remained in France. The trail has, for now, gone cold on that front, but at least this adds a little new information to the story of Dido Belle and John Davinière.
UPDATE – Further information about their life can be found by following this link .
If you’d like to listen to a podcast about Dido recorded for English Heritage click the highlighted link.
If you’d like to know more about Dido Elizabeth Belle follow these links:
Dido Elizabeth Belle – an update
Dido Elizabeth Belle’s Descendants
Dido Elizabeth Belle – Ranelagh Street, Pimlico
The missing brother of Sir John Lindsay
Dido Elizabeth Belle portrait – BBC Fake or Fortune
Dido Elizabeth Belle – New information about her siblings
Dido Elizabeth Belle – A new perspective on her portrait
The Eighteenth-Century Fashion for Turbans
An Eighteenth-Century game of ‘Degrees of Separation’
Is Dido Elizabeth Belle still buried at St George’s burial ground in Bayswater Road?
Where are Dido Elizabeth Belle’s sons buried?
Who lived in these houses on Hertford Street, Mayfair?
Dido Elizabeth Belle: Questions and Answers
One of guides at Kenwood House, Ian Trackman, has very generously made available online, details of Lord Mansfield’s Household Accounts 1785-1793, which is freely available to download. The accounts do make for fascinating reading.
Ian has carried out some amazing work in transcribing Lord Mansfield’s extremely detailed will, along with its 19 codicils. Again, this is freely available to download, by clicking the highlighted link above.
* History of Parliament Online (See John Craufurd)
John Craufurd’s will (1814) – The National Archives; Kew, Surrey, England; Records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, Series PROB 11; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 1557
Piccadilly from Hyde Park Corner Turnpike, from Ackermann’s Repository, 1810
17 thoughts on “Dido Elizabeth Belle and John Davinière, what became of them?”
Do we know what she died of? I thought it was interesting that there is a long space between births.
No, unfortunately, we don’t know as yet, unlike death certificates today the cause of death at that time was not often recorded, we’re quite often reliant upon information either in the press or in correspondence, but so far we haven’t found anything, it would be fascinating to know though. Maybe something will turn up one day to answer that one.
Would be nice if you acknowledged that most of the research into Dido was done by me for a BBC programme 10 years ago!
Many thanks for your message, but we did not acknowledge your research as we were only aware of the reference to your name on Wikipedia regarding the baptism of Dido & John’s three children. The Wikipedia reference cited History Today magazine which we were not able to read as it is not accessible online. We obtained copies of the baptisms from the archives for checking purposes. The baptisms for John and Jane’s two children are readily available online.
We are not aware of the information about John and Jane’s later life being common knowledge, so we felt our readers would be interested in it knowing more, hence our article.
As you may be aware we are both genealogists and historians and undertake our own research using the relevant archival material and online genealogy sources. Since the book and film about Dido, much of her life is now in the public domain. However, we have checked all the facts for ourselves where possible in the primary source and are pleased that we have been able to add to what was already known in our series of blogs on Dido.
If you haven’t already read it, you might also be interested in our other article about Dido’s siblings, again our wish being to share new information. There will also be an update to this article shortly as some more new information has just come to light.
Hello Miss Minney, hope all is well. Thank you very, very much for all your research on Miss Dido Elizabeth Belle. If you had not done what you did no one would have known about her. So thanks. Do you have any information on her mother Maria Elizabeth Belle? Do you know which country she was from and which she was taken to as a slave?
Do you have any information about whether Charles or William had any children, legitimate or illegitimate?
Yes. William Thomas married Fanny Graham and they had one daughter. Charles married Hannah Nash and they had three children.
As to ‘Dido’, is there a bloodline, to anyone, living today.
No, her great great grandson died in 1975 in South Africa. It is feasible that some of her half siblings may have living descendants but so far we haven’t traced them – work in progress.
Hi, I just watched ‘Belle’ on Maori Television, New Zealand Aotearoa and it was a fascinating and very moving account of life for not only women, but a mixed race woman in the 18th century. As soon as the film finished I searched Dido online and found your blog. Interesting and informative insight. Keen to learn more about Dido and John. Sad to learn Dido died so young with young children too. Loved the film by the way.
I would love to see the movie/picture show of “Belle” if anyone knows of anyway I could see it, please let me know by leaving an answer on this site.
Thank you in advance,
It might be worth checking where you live, as it available on DVD/Blue Ray in many countries. It’s a beautiful film, even though not quite the true story 🙂
Yes, I’m interested to learn more about Dido and John too. Wished there was a sequel that continues their love story, e.g. marriage.
We’re so pleased that you’ve enjoyed our blog post and we’re still seeking further information about Dido, no doubt more will turn up eventually. The film was excellent if not strictly accurate, as you can see, more is now known about her life since it was made. In case you hadn’t checked there are links towards the end of this blog which will take you directly to other articles we’ve written about her, including new information about her half siblings. A follow up film would be amazing – maybe one day someone will make one 🙂
Am I being stupid and have missed something? Please correct me if I am wrong. I am actually quite shocked that her grave was not protected 100% when the church (the church!) sold the land for redevelopment. I am also certain I must have missed the fact that there doesn’t appear to be any campaign to locate/memorialise the remains. I must have missed this as I cannot believe this is the case, she was so inspiring and influential.
No, you’re not being stupid at all, nor have you missed anything! – You might find this guest post by Etienne Daly, who has also been researching Dido’s life for several years interesting – https://wp.me/p3JTNy-4fo
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