Elopement and the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball

ELOPEMENT IN HIGH LIFE – A young married Lady of rank, and highly distinguished in the fashionable circles by her personal attractions, absconded from the neighbourhood of Berkeley-square, a few days since, in order to throw herself into the arms of a noble gallant, the brother of an English Duke. The fair inconstant had shown a restless disposition for some time before her indiscreet departure, which took place by her going out immediately after breakfast, and walking to a street adjoining the New Road, where Lord ____ awaited her arrival in his gig, ascending which, she was instantly driven off to their amorous retreat, which the afflicted husband, Sir ____, has not yet been able to discover. Lady ____, either from hurry or singular design, went off without a single article of apparel besides the dress she wore. Her Ladyship is only in her 25th year, and in the full bloom of beauty; and the only palliation that can be offered for this indiscreet transfer of her charms, is, that “her mother did so before her!

This salacious titbit of gossip was located in a provincial newspaper, the Bristol Mirror, on the 16th September 1815, on page 4.

Berkeley Square, 1813.
Berkeley Square, 1813. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Page 2 of the same issue had a refutation of the allegation, interestingly above one which related to the Duchess of Richmond’s ball held on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo. The two claims, one spurious and one all too true, had something in common which would have been all too obvious to London high society. They both had a link to the Duke of Wellington.

LIES. – The statement of an elopement in high life, inserted in our fourth page (from a London paper) turns out to be UTTERLY FALSE. – The statement of a Female Conspiracy at Brussels, which has appeared in all the papers, and the object of which was said to be to make prisoners of the Duke of Wellington and his staff, at a ball given by the Duchess of Richmond, – is also a COMPLETE FICTION.

While the rumours of a conspiracy at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball might have been false, the former claim was, in fact, all too true. Let’s fill in the blanks on the names.

Lord ____ was Lord Charles Bentinck, younger brother of the 4th Duke of Portland. He was a widower with a young daughter (his first wife had been the former Miss Georgiana Seymour, daughter of the infamous eighteenth-century courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott and – reputedly – the Prince of Wales, later George IV).

The Rt Hon Lord Charles Bentinck as Treasurer of the Royal Household at the coronation of George IV.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

The afflicted husband, Sir ____ was Sir William Abdy, Baronet, reckoned as the richest commoner in England but rumoured to be impotent and unable to satisfy his gregarious young wife. And what of that wife? Lady ___ was, therefore, Lady Anne Abdy, née Wellesley, the daughter of Richard Colley Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley and his Parisian wife, Hyacinthe Gabrielle née Rolland. Although Anne was not exactly doing what ‘her mother [had done] before her’, Hyacinthe Gabrielle had been Wellesley’s mistress for many years before their marriage, and all their children had been born illegitimate. Hyacinthe Gabrielle might, in 1815, have been a marchioness but popular gossip still remembered her reputation as a courtesan.

Portrait of Lady Charles Bentinck (née Wellesley) by Sir Thomas Lawrence c.1825. Philip Mould
Portrait of Lady Charles Bentinck (née Wellesley) by Sir Thomas Lawrence c.1825. Philip Mould Historical Portraits.

Anne was the niece of the great Duke of Wellington who had been at the Duchess of Richmond’s ball in Brussels on the 15th June 1815, when the news that Napoleon Bonaparte was on the march had reached him. He later victoriously commanded the allied forces at the Battle of Waterloo on the 18th June where some of the officers, having not had time to change, fought in the clothes they had been attired in for the Duchess’ ball, and many young men never returned to waltz in a ballroom again.

The Duchess of Richmond's Ball by Robert Hillingford (via Wikimedia).
The Duchess of Richmond’s Ball by Robert Hillingford (via Wikimedia).

Brussels was known to be sympathetic to Bonaparte; a story had spread that Bonaparte suggested to the ladies of Brussels that they should encourage the Duchess of Richmond to hold her ball. It was even rumoured that he had men hidden outside waiting for his arrival only for one of the ladies to give the plot away. These rumours were totally false, the duchess had actually applied to the Duke of Wellington himself, asking his permission to hold her ball as it was known that the French were drawing close to the Belgian capital city.

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence, displayed in the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle. The Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence, displayed in the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle.
The Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Charles and Anne’s elopement, just weeks after the great battle, caused a scandal which set the gossip’s tongues wagging; they had been discussing Wellington’s great victory, now instead they tattled about the marital indiscretions of his niece.

Our book, A Right Royal Scandal: two marriages that changed history, documents the elopement and the ensuing Criminal Conversation trial and divorce. It follows the family through to the next generation when Charles and Anne’s eldest son made a marriage which was equally scandalous, if for different reasons.

And why a Right Royal Scandal? Because this is a branch of the British royal family’s tree, ancestors of Queen Elizabeth II, one which has not been researched in-depth before.

A Right Royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Right-Royal-Scandal-Marriages-Changed/dp/1473863422

 

 

Wellington’s Dearest Georgy: a review

For today’s blog we are going to review a new book by Alice Marie Crossland, Wellington’s Dearest Georgy, which explores the life of Lady Georgiana Lennox and sheds new light on the Duke of Wellington’s character. Alice previously wrote a guest post for us about her new book which you can also read by clicking here.

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Our first impression of Wellington’s Dearest Georgy is that it is, quite simply, a beautiful book. From the cover to the clear way the text is laid out inside, and the illuminated manuscripts similar to ones done by Georgy on the inside book flaps, it is clear that a lot of care to attention and detail has gone into this biography and expectations are therefore set high. We’re delighted to say that the book more than met them.

Lady Georgiana Lennox, known to her family as Georgy and to Wellington as his ‘dearest Georgy’, was a younger daughter of the 4th Duke of Richmond. Her mother, the Duchess of Richmond, is perhaps best known to history as the hostess of the famous ball held in Brussels on the 15th June 1815, where Wellington received notice that the French forces were advancing. The officers at the ball hurried away, some of them not even having time to change out of their dancing clothes before battle, and many never survived to enjoy another ball.

The Duchess of Richmond's Ball by Robert Hillingford (via Wikimedia).
The Duchess of Richmond’s Ball by Robert Hillingford (via Wikimedia).

The 19 year old Georgy was present at this ball and witnessed history in the making. Wellington was a great friend to her family and the young Lennox children had grown up knowing the duke; Georgy in particular was to remain a great favourite of his and she somewhat hero-worshipped the great man. Through his affection for and correspondence with Georgy we are able to view Wellington in a much different light from that in which he is usually seen, a kindly and, at times, even a playful man, ever the gentleman but always ready to offer words of advice or comfort to his young friend. There is never any suggestion of impropriety in the relationship between Georgy and the duke, although Georgy, as a young woman, was clearly a little in love with him.

One of our favourite anecdotes in Wellington’s Dearest Georgy, which perfectly illustrates the playful side of the duke, is a game played by the guests at Wellington’s house in Cambray in the months following the Battle of Waterloo, possibly a game of Wellington’s invention and called ‘Riding the Coach’. The gentlemen, including an enthusiastic Wellington, harnessed themselves and dragged the squealing ladies down the corridors on rugs. On at least one occasion goats were involved! We shall say no more but leave you to discover the rest from Alice’s book…

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence, displayed in the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle. The Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington by Sir Thomas Lawrence, displayed in the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle.
The Royal Collection © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Georgy’s life is documented in full, and what a long and adventurous life she led for she lived to a grand old age, marrying for love and becoming Baroness de Ros. But it was her ‘unique and special friendship’ with the duke, which endured for the whole of his life, which defined her life. Through Georgy we are able to see the duke not just as a military hero and strategist, but simply as a man.

Using a wealth of unpublished material, this beautifully illustrated book celebrates Georgiana’s and Wellington’s friendship which evolved over time. Together they shared scandals, family tragedies and celebrations as Britain left the excesses of the Regency period behind and embraced the Victorian age. Providing a fascinating insight into the personal life of this most public of figures, Georgy remained, until the end, Wellington’s ‘Dearest Georgy’.

We whole-heartedly recommend Wellington’s Dearest Georgy. It is a fascinating biography of an aristocratic lady but it is more than that. It is the story of one of the most interesting periods in our history told from a different perspective than that usually given and, therefore, one which sheds new light on the events and characters of the age.

 

Wellington’s Dearest Georgy

We are delighted to welcome Alice Marie Crossland to our blog to talk about the story behind her new book, Wellington’s Dearest Georgy, which highlights a little seen side to the famous duke (we’ll also be reviewing Alice’s book in a later blog post, suffice to say for now that it’s one we highly recommend). To find out more, please visit Alice’s fantastic website or find her on Twitter. So, without further ado, over to Alice.

Wellington’s Dearest Georgy recounts the life and adventures of Lady Georgiana Lennox, daughter of the 4th Duke of Richmond, and the friendship that she cherished with the 1st Duke of Wellington. Georgy first met Wellington when he was known as Sir Arthur Wellesley, in 1806 when he had returned from India and was made Chief Secretary in Ireland. He was living close to the Lennox family as he was working with Georgy’s father who was then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Despite their twenty-six year age gap, they became close friends and Georgy developed her first teenage crush on Sir Arthur.

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Georgy was one of fourteen children, a large and extremely unruly family. They were also plagued by money troubles, often struggling to keep up appearances as one of the greatest aristocratic families of the time. In an attempt to save money, the Lennox family went to live in Brussels in 1814 as living was cheap and a strong ex-pat community was flourishing there. Europe was at the time enjoying a short period of peace whilst Napoleon languished in exile on the Isle of Elba. Little did anyone know that the following year Brussels would play host to the most important and significant battles of the nineteenth century: the Battle of Waterloo. It was Georgy’s mother, the Duchess of Richmond, who threw the now legendary ball the night before the battle, where news that Napoleon had invaded was brought into the event by a messenger who had galloped through the night to reach Wellington. Georgy, one of the belles of the ball, had been privileged that evening to be given the seat of honour next to Wellington. As a sign of his affection for her, he now gave her a beautiful miniature of himself recently finished by the Belgian artist Simon-Jacques Rochard. It was a moment, and a gift, which Georgy would cherish for the rest of her life. As the news of war now spread throughout the partygoers, men dashed away in their dancing clothes, anxious to return to their regiments at the front. Many would never return over the course of the following days.

During the battle as the Allied forces clashed with the might of Napoleon’s army, Georgy and her sisters waited anxiously for news. They tended the wounded, bringing them cherry water to drink and making bandages for the many wounded men they saw returned to Brussels. After victory was declared on the third day, Georgy and her father the Duke of Richmond met with Wellington in the park near his house. Wellington was devastated at the number of lives it had taken to beat Napoleon, and he said to them ‘It is a dearly brought victory. We have lost so many fine fellows’. Despite his sadness, he had managed to secure a lasting peace for Europe, and France henceforth became Britain’s ally.

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Wellington and Georgy remained friends for the rest of the Duke’s life, and afterwards, she carried with her the happy memories of her youth and the special position she had enjoyed in Wellington’s inner circle. Through her relationship with Wellington new aspects to his character are revealed which have not been explored in any previous biography of this great hero of his generation. Through the Duke’s letters to Georgy we see a more playful, fun and flirtatious man revealed, quite at odds with his reputation as a rather humourless disciplinarian. The Duke always referred to Georgy as ‘My Dearest Georgy’ in all his letters to her. He never once called her by her formal title, as was customary in all his correspondence with others; even family. This simple gesture shows the intimacy of their friendship, which stretched over some forty-six years.

Throughout her adult life Georgy, of course, had to contend with rumours that her friendship with the Duke was more, and certainly, if Wellington had not already been married things might have turned out differently. Yet Georgy did enjoy her own fair share of youthful love affairs, and her love of partying took her from Brussels to Paris, then Wellington’s headquarters in Cambrai, then London. She did not marry until she was twenty-nine, which was very late for the time, and when she did she married for love. Her chosen partner was William Fitzgerald de Ros, who later became Baron de Ros, the Premier Baron in England due to the fact that he held the oldest title in existence. Georgy and William had three children and lived between London and the family estate in Ireland. Wellington’s Dearest Georgy tracks the de Ros family through highs and lows, always retaining their friendship with the Duke, now an old man.  Wellington was godfather to Georgy’s youngest daughter Blanche, and enjoyed having the family to stay regularly at his Hampshire estate at Stratfield Saye, and his seaside retreat at Walmer Castle. It was at Walmer where the Duke finally died on 14th September 1852 at the age of eighty-three, leaving Georgy bereft of a man she had loved and venerated for almost fifty years.

Credit for images used: Alice Achache.

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‘Wellington’s Dearest Georgy: The Life & Loves of Lady Georgiana Lennox’

By Alice Marie Crossland

Published by: Unicorn Press
Released: 16th September 2016

Author Alice Marie Crossland specialised in 19th Century British Art at University College London. She worked with the Wellington family on the catalogue of portraits Wellington Portrayed, published in 2014. She has since worked at the National Gallery London and Royal Academy of Arts whilst pursuing her own research projects.