Dido Elizabeth Belle: Questions and Answers

Today I welcome back Etienne Daly, with whom I’ve been working for a while now, researching Dido Elizabeth Belle, her life and her family. Today, Etienne is going to provide a quick Q&A session about Dido Elizabeth Belle, to set the record straight about some of the misinformation that still circulates in the public domain. Also, if you want to read more about her, you might like to try using the search option on All Things Georgian which will take you to all the current articles about Dido. I’ll now hand over to Etienne:

Over the past few years, there’s has been growing interest in Dido who is often referred to as Great Britain’s first mixed-race aristocrat. This is partly true as her father, Sir John Lindsay K.B., was an aristocrat and she was raised from five years old in the ‘aristocratic’ environment of both Caenwood (Kenwood) House in Hampstead and Bloomsbury Square in London. Her great uncle and aunt were also part of the elite, with Lord Mansfield being the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales.

Dido received a special upbringing with the Mansfields, that which no person of colour in Western Europe of the time had. Even the Chevalier de St. Georges had to go to school whereas tutors came to the Mansfields to educate their great-nieces. Both cousins were educated equally and amongst their subjects, they were taught French – something that was to aid Dido very well in the future when she met John Louis Daviniere in the early 1790s. He was a Gentleman’s Steward.

Dido became an heiress in Lord Mansfield’s will of 1782 and whilst born in the era of slavery was never born as a slave herself, even though her mother Maria was. Maria was later freed from slavery by Dido’s father, Sir John Lindsay. A lot more interest in Dido would follow but the media has given the impression that there is no more knowledge of her to be found. This is wrong!

Here are some of the answers to most common questions raised about Dido, although I am sure there’s plenty more.

1. Where is the real painting of Dido & Elizabeth?

The real painting of the cousins is at Scone Palace, Perth in Scotland

Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, c.1778. Formerly attributed to Johann Zoffany.
Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, c.1778. Formerly attributed to Johann Zoffany.

2. How did Dido die and at what age?

Dido is said to have died of natural causes at the aged of 43, in Pimlico, London

3. Was John Daviniere French or of French descent?

John Louis Daviniere was French, from Ducey in Normandy, France. He came to England in the mid-1780s.

4. What was John Daviniere’s occupation?

Daviniere’s was a Gentleman’s Steward, above head-butler, unlike his occupation in the film, Belle.

Lauren Julien-Box as 'Young Dido' and Matthew Goode as 'Captain Sir John Lindsay' in Amma Asante's BELLE
Lauren Julien-Box as ‘Young Dido’ and Matthew Goode as ‘Captain Sir John Lindsay’ in Amma Asante’s BELLE

5. Was the film ‘Belle’ based on historic accuracy?

The film was based upon the book by Dr Paula Byrne and was very helpful in getting Dido known, but of course, being a film there was some creative licence and more information has emerged over time about her real life

6. Dido bore twins in 1795, one of the twins, John died in infancy – where is he buried?

Although no burial has been found so far, he was most likely buried at St George’s Field

7. What was the exact year and month Dido was born?

Dido was born on 29th June 1761 and in London. Confirmation that she was born in England was provided by Thomas Hutchinson.

The diary and letters of His Excellency Thomas Hutchinson. P276
The diary and letters of His Excellency Thomas Hutchinson. P276
8. Thomas Hutchinson remarked Dido’s hair didn’t match the larger curls now in fashion, did she ever try to relax her?
Most probably, as Hutchinson noted back in 1779 it was lengthened more than short curls. She most probably used pomade by the 1780s onwards to relax her hair finer still.

9. Was Dido really part of the Mansfield family and not a slave?

Dido was very much part of the family, fully educated by them and never raised or treated as a slave. This becomes clear when you read this newspaper article written in 1788 on the death of her father, Sir John Lindsay. It makes it clear how well respected Dido was by both family and visitors to the house.

Derby Mercury - Thursday 12 June 1788
Derby Mercury – Thursday 12 June 1788

10. Did Dido have any siblings?

No, but she did have several half-siblings. Sir John had 4 other children, all by different mothers and all born in Jamaica, one of whom died in infancy. The two who are best known to history were John and Elizabeth.

11. Where was Dido married and in what year?

Dido was married at St. George’s Church, Hanover Square – 5th December 1793, on the same day and at the same church as the 1st Duke of Sussex

The marriage Dido Elizabeth Belle to John Daviniere
The marriage Dido Elizabeth Belle to John Daviniere

12. As she was married by licence who paid for it?

As part of her inheritance, she had her licence paid for by her uncle, 2nd Earl Mansfield. The cost was £200.00. The cost of the licence would have bought you a 3-bedroom property with garden outside the city of London at that time. 

13. It is said her grave was moved along with others to make way for a housing development, is this correct?

The main site was developed, but part of the 1st class plot was not excavated. There’s a blog showing my calculations

14. She is often referred to as black and sometimes mixed race, which one is she?

Dido was mixed race and not black. She had a white father, Sir John Lindsay and a black mother, Maria Bell

A View of Kenwood, the Seat of the Earl of Mansfield, in the county of Middlesex
A View of Kenwood, the Seat of the Earl of Mansfield, in the county of Middlesex. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

15. Was Dido financially secure after she left Caenwood House?

Dido was very secure financially when she left Caenwood House in early April 1793. In fact, she had her own bank account with one of London’s oldest and respected private banks

16. Where did she live after she got married? and for how long?

Dido went to live in Pimlico in a ‘new build’ Georgian house which would of have at least 3 bedrooms, a cook and housemaid. She lived there from 1794 until her death in 1804 

Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, c.1778. Formerly attributed to Johann Zoffany.
Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray, c.1778.

17. Was Dido well educated like her cousin Elizabeth?

Yes. She was educated in all ladylike pursuits of the era including horse riding and had the same education as her cousin, Elizabeth

18. If Dido was found at St.George’s Fields Burial Ground how could you identify her for sure?

As per question 11, if found she could be identified firstly by DNA, and secondly, in 1791 there remains proof of her having dental work, she had two teeth removed from her lower jaw by a visiting dentist. She could also have been wearing a dress – more of which another time.

19. Was Dido’s father, Sir Lindsay, wealthy?

Yes, definitely. Apart from a naval salary, Sir John made good prize money with his captures in the Caribbean. Also, for example, we know from a newspaper of 1772 that when he returned from India he came back significantly more wealthy than when he left to the tune of around £100,000 (which in today’s money is in the region of 9 million pounds), of course, this may well be a slight exaggeration on the part of the media, but either way it was a significant sum. 

20. What happened to Dido’s mother?

Maria Bell(e) remained in England until around 1774, Sir John purchased land for her in Pensacola where a house was built, No 6 Western Bayfront.

Capture of Minerve off Toulon (wiki)
Capture of Minerve off Toulon (wiki)

21. There was a ship launched in 1784, named HMS Dido, did it have any connection to Dido Elizabeth Belle?

Watch this space as more research into the possibility that it was named after her is in progress, especially as it tied in nicely with it being commissioned  in 1782, around her 21st birthday and her father’s place in high society and his royal connections. 

8 thoughts on “Dido Elizabeth Belle: Questions and Answers

  1. Amanda

    Can you shed any light on why Dido’s mother not only did not raise her but apparently had no further contact with her once she went to live with the Mansfield’s?


    1. Sarah Murden

      Response from Etienne Daly:

      The answer is simply we don’t know at this stage how long Maria Bell(a) mothered her daughter but as we know she was born in U.K.
      and most likely London, but could’ve been Edinburgh where Sir John had contacts, she would have raised her at least to the age of 5yrs old before
      Dido was handed over for a special upbringing with the Mansfields.

      Whilst I’ve found no proof to date that Maria visited or lived at CaenWood House this can’t be fully ruled out. My feeling is both Dido and mother were raised with the Ramsays in Soho Square——they being close relatives to Sir John.

      It cannot be said that Maria had no more contact with her daughter once with the Mansfields as she stayed in the U.K. till late 1774 before moving
      back to Pensacola, Florida to a house given her on a peppercorn rent of 6d per annum. That is sixpence in the old money, note.

      Also note, but not fully proven yet is the possibility she saw her mother off at Portsmouth or Plymouth on a frigate that Sir John could easily have arranged for her passage.

      It is most likely Dido was given the opportunity to go with her but declined! proof here is she did stay in London for the rest of her life’s obviously she preferred living in the country she knew well and amongst aristocrats. Given that choice I would do the same.


  2. samanthaa

    why did Lord Mansfield left upon his death gave dido only mere £500 while he gave Lady Elizabeth Murray £10000

    isn’t this incredibly ironic considering Lady Elizabeth Murray’s father is to inherit all the Earl’s estate which means she will get even more money as if her father the Viscount isn’t rich enough…, also Lady Elizabeth mother, daughter of count probably has a huge dowry also given to her only daughter Lady Elizabeth (the Viscount remarries)

    Lady Elizabeth Murray dowry now could be as high as £20000-30000

    how did this happen also all source said Sir Lindsay only left £1000 upon his death to be divided among his illegitimate child.

    all in all dido only accumulated less than 1000 to her name, not to mention she married a servant


    1. Sarah Murden

      The response from Etienne Daly who wrote the article is:

      It has to be remembered that Lady Elizabeth Mary Murray was the legitimate daughter of a viscount and so an aristocrat, she in turn was bred to marry into the right social circle which involved a dowry, therefore someone who had a lot of money to contribute to a Society wedding. Money would be put away for the son or daughter from which to start out with in keeping to their aristocratic background and upbringing.

      Dido, was different as she was the natural, but illegitimate daughter of Sir John Lindsay, KB as he was not married at the time, but he wanted his daughter raised in polite society and being a career naval officer meant he could not do this himself and as such asked his uncle, First Lord Mansfield if he could raise her as part of the family – of which she was, she had Sir John’s blood—so she was by part aristocratic, enough to be taken in and educated by the Mansfield’s.

      The introduction of a mixed-race person into the family, and that meant living with them, had never been done before, but because it was a family request, a nephew in this instance, it was agreed upon particularly at this same time her cousin was being raised with the Mansfield’s, Elizabeth, daughter of 7thViscountStormont.It made sense that they should be raised together as both had aristocratic parents. Dido was well looked after and later financially by Lord Mansfield in his will, but as cousin Elizabeth was a legitimate birth she was bound to inherit a better financial package than a relative that was not and also her responsibilities would be more when married, for example running an estate, staff, security, entertaining etc. all requiring proper management of finances. Those same finances had to be passed down the line for the next generation in order to keep everything ongoing within their named aristocracy.
      Finally, please do read all the other posts on Dido and you’ll see she was not a poor relative but an upper-middleclass woman of means. Look out for HMS. Dido, with her father’s naval influence even a ship was named after her.


  3. samanthaa

    but how does it justify leaving his grand niece $500 that’s less than Bennet sister $1000 each, while the other grandniece $10000 who will inherit money left and right and also was married to George finch hatton (the countess’s nephew, next inline to Earl of winchilsea, their son become the earl). George finch hatton was rich and succeeded to 2 large lavish mansion eastwall park and kirby hall

    upon further research, George and Lady Elizabeth reside in eastwell park but she gave birth to their son future earl of winchilsea in kirby hall. Kirby hall was one of the finest if not the finest renaissance architecture built by the richest Queen Elizabeth’s subject, but Eastwell park was bigger and newer built.


    how can Lady Elizabeth lives like king and queen in her 2 palace-esque domains and didn’t help dido who lives in 3 bedroom house, did she even visit dido after her marriage or invited dido to visit her 2 mansion or back to now her father’s kenwood house


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