An Eighteenth Century game of ‘Degrees of Separation’

In this post, we thought we would play a quick game of ‘six degrees of separation’. For anyone who is unaware of the concept, you will no doubt be familiar with the phrase ‘it’s a small world’ and it so it is. It’s been quite surprising that throughout our research, we’ve noticed just how relatively small London was in the 18th century. Everyone who was anyone knew each other and this has become quite obvious whilst exploring the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle.

So, in today’s game we show the close connection between Prince George (later George IV) and Dido Elizabeth Belle. On the face of it, they would appear to be poles apart, George, the then-future monarch and Dido the daughter of a ‘mulatto slave’. But the distance between them is only a few steps.

George IV when Prince of Wales by Richard Cosway, watercolour on ivory, circa 1780-1782
by Richard Cosway, watercolour on ivory, circa 1780-1782

We begin the game with Prinny, who, in the early 1780s had a relationship with our lovely courtesan, Grace Dalrymple Elliott, who gave birth to a daughter who, Grace claimed was his. Georgina was the only illegitimate child that Prinny made payments to, so perhaps that was his way of acknowledging that she was his.

Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough.
Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough.
The Frick, New York.

Now, Grace counted amongst her closest friends, Lady Seymour Worsley, for those who haven’t come across her before, she’s the one who found herself in court in February 1782, for criminal conversation, a euphemism for sex.

Amongst the men with whom Lady Worsley allegedly had an affair, was George, Viscount Deerhurst, later to become the 7th Earl of Coventry.  Deerhurst was a bit of a ‘player’ and had previously eloped to Gretna Green with Lady Catherine Henley.

George, 6th Earl of Coventry. National Trust.
George, 6th Earl of Coventry. National Trust.

His father the then, 6th Earl of Coventry, totally disapproved of his son’s behaviour and banished him from the family home, so George took himself off to stay on the Isle of Wight, at Appuldurcombe, the home of Sir Richard Worsley and his wife, Lady Seymour Worsley – big mistake! He apparently ended up having a relationship with Lady Worsley (he was one of many, she was rumoured to have had well in excess of 20 lovers), but it was her infidelity with George Maurice Bisset that was the final nail in her coffin and she found herself in court, but George, Viscount Deerhurst, also found his name on this list of people with whom she had allegedly had ‘criminal conversation’.

Lord Mansfield was the trial judge in the case of Crim. Con. and he was also the guardian of Dido Elizabeth Belle. The trial took place in February 1782, so no doubt Dido, aged 20 would have been fully aware of it.

Dido Elizabeth Belle. Scone Palace.
Dido Elizabeth Belle. Scone Palace.

To add to the royal connection, Lord Mansfield, counted George III amongst his friends and a regular visitor to Caenwood (Kenwood) House, so it’s perfectly feasible that the royal family would have met or at least seen Dido.  So it really was a small world.

William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield by Jean Baptiste van Loo
William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield by Jean Baptiste van Loo. © National Portrait Gallery, London

Try this game for yourselves and if you can make connections like this from people in the 18th century we would love to hear from you as there must be plenty more out there.

5 thoughts on “An Eighteenth Century game of ‘Degrees of Separation’

  1. I’ve been enjoying all the recent posts and meant to say so. This is a fun one to think about. I keep coming across Charles James Fox as I research Wedgwood, and Fox seems to have been quite the connector among the Whig society.

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    1. Sarah Murden

      Aww thank you so much Sophie. It was such a small world in Georgian London, it makes absolute sense that Fox would have been a connector!

      Like

  2. Hendel

    Hello I Am curious. I read a comment on blog I forgot what is was called but it was about dido and her father. The comment said captain sir Lindsay’s was not necessarily her father is this true?
    Also belle was born in 1961 so did Maria belle get pregnant is the same year. In one of your blog it said a Spanish ship was captured and Maria belle was in there in 1962.

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