Dido Elizabeth Belle – an update

As many of our readers are aware, over the past few months we have been researching the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle and her family in addition to our usual eclectic mix of posts. Some information about her life has now been in the public domain for a number of years, including the film made about her life, ‘Belle’, but since we began we have uncovered some new pieces of information about her life, that of her siblings and her husband and of course, there’s been renewed interest in her since the BBC programme about the painting itself.

Today we want to share some more information that we have received from one of our lovely readers, Chris Goddard, about John Davinière.*

In one of our earlier posts we gave the witness to Dido’s marriage as being John Coventry, Chris however, has suggested that it might have been a John Courtoy, a peruke-maker and one of the wealthiest men in London at that time. Both men’s signatures being extremely similar. If this is the case, quite what Courtoy’s connection to Davinière was we’re really not sure as yet, apart from them both being French. That mystery is still ‘work in progress’.

With the help of Chris, we have also pieced together a little more of what became of the Davinière family when they returned to France, after the death of Dido.

The town of Ducey where John Daviniere and his wife Jane lived
The town of Ducey where John Daviniere and his wife Jane lived

We know that John, his second wife Jane Holland and their son Edward returned to John’s place of birth, Ducey, France and that Edward returned to England for a brief spell to witness his brother’s marriage in London.

The newspapers in France confirm that their son, Edward was involved in an incident. It was reported that Edward Henry Davinière, aged 30, described as a medical student at the time, was forcibly committed to an asylum in Dinan, as he had threated to ‘blow out the brain’ of the mayor of Ducey and that he made threats against the mayor’s wife and her servant, following arguments with his father. Was Edward Henry unstable, was that possibly their reason for leaving England in the first place? This new piece of information brings with it its own questions for which more research is still required.

It would appear that perhaps in light of this incident, John felt it was time for a move, so advertised his beautiful house for sale.

Beautiful property for sale presently. It consists of a superb mansion, with kitchen, dining room, living room, three bedrooms, three closets and an attic; it is freshly parqueted, panelled, painted and carpeted – a laundry, cellars, shed, stable, wine press, vault and latrine; a garden, fruit and vegetable garden and an orchard; in total about eighty acres, is closed by beautiful hedges of bleached thorns, and is located near the village of Ducey, a very small distance from the departmental road of Alençon to St Malo. The house is furnished with a rich new furniture, that will be sold with the house if the purchaser wishes. To visit this property and discuss the price, contact Davinière who occupies it.

We know that John died in 1847 (his 9 page inventory is still a work in progress), leaving his widow Jane, a landowner/annuitant (le rentière) and their son Edward in France and that their daughter Lavinia Amelia was living with her husband family in London, but until now we didn’t know for certain whether mother and son remained in France. It appears that they did, as we have found Jane in January 1851, listed on a type of ‘census’ for Avranches, just a few miles from Ducey, no further information provided, just her name as the widow of Davinière.

Jane (or Jeanne-Marie Holland), as she was referred to, died at her home on Rue Ormont, Avranches, France in March 1851 at which time all her household belongings were sold off. The death notice gave her age as 53, this can’t possibly have been correct given the ages of her children though, Lavinia being 39 and Edward, 41. Perhaps a lady never tells her true age would be a wise assumption in this case and that 63 would appear much closer to the truth.

On 21st April 1851, the late Jeanne-Marie Holland, widow of Louis Jean Charles Davinière’s house and possessions were sold off. After his mother’s death, Edward was placed in the asylum in Pontorson during which time there was a guardianship case involving his sister who lived in England.

Pontorson Asylum
Pontorson Asylum

Edward Henry died at Pontorson on 29th May 1867.

From La Manche Archives
From La Manche Archives
The death of Edward with his parents clearly named
The death of Edward with his parents clearly named

At this stage, with the continued interest in the life of Dido, we thought it might be a good idea to provide links to all the individual articles under one roof. This will no doubt be added to as more information comes to light, so please do feel free to check back from time to time.

The missing brother of Sir John Lindsay

Dido Elizabeth Belle portrait – BBC Fake or Fortune

Dido Elizabeth Belle and John Davinière, what became of them?

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?

Other articles/books that have been written about Dido and/or her family in the past that you might find interesting.

Adams, Gene.  Dido Elizabeth Belle: a black girl at Kenwood: an account of a protégée of the 1st Lord Mansfield

Byrne, Paula. Belle: The True Story of Dido Belle

Gerzina, Gretchen. Black London: Life before Emancipation

Minney, Sarah. Inside Out: Abolition of the British Slave Trade special

Stringfield, Margo. Real Story of ‘Belle’ has Pensacola Connections

There are also numerous blogs and books in addition to ours that have told part of Dido’s story which we’re sure you will find with by a quick online search.

If you have any questions or any additional information about Dido we would love to hear from you. New snippets of information seem to be appearing almost daily, which is great news and they are enabling us to piece together unknown bits of her life.

* We should also like to acknowledge Judy Jerkins who started the ball rolling with her research into the life of Courtoy and David Godson who has written an account of Courtoy’s life.


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