Lady Elizabeth Mills by Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Art Detectives: The Mysterious Sir Thomas Mills and Lady Elizabeth

Sir Thomas Mills by Joshua Reynolds.
Sir Thomas Mills by Joshua Reynolds. McCord Museum

As you will probably be aware by now, we have been busy researching Dido Elizabeth Belle and as part of this, we have looked at those within the inner circle of her extended family. This has led us to look at Sir Thomas Mills, who was reputed to be the ‘nephew’ of Lord Mansfield. We have tried to find confirmation as to Mills actual connection to Lord Mansfield, but without any success so far. Some accounts record him as Lord Mansfield’s ‘nephew’, others as a ‘consanguineal relative’ and others that he was really Lord Mansfield’s ‘illegitimate son’. Neither appear to be true.

He seems to have appeared from nowhere and the only clue as to his identity is that he had a sister, Elizabeth, who died in Edinburgh according to the newspapers on May 9th 1775, however, there’s no obvious burial for her.

The Scots Magazine 01 May 1775
The Scots Magazine 01 May 1775

It appears that Mills was born in Scotland around 1736-1738 to a mother who never left her native country.  To date, we’re unable to place Lord Mansfield in Scotland, but who knows, maybe he nipped back across the border for a brief liaison and Mills was the result, but it does seem highly unlikely.

Whatever the relationship, Lord Mansfield was extremely fond of him. He regularly dined at Caenwood House. Sylvester Douglas (Lord Glenbervie), a prominent lawyer and diplomat wrote of Mills, that he was illiterate but frank, friendly and dashing and had served with ‘distinguished bravery’. Mills was given the post of Governor of Quebec after his military service, it appears that Lord Mansfield had a hand in arranging this position.

It is rare for us to take such an immediate dislike to someone we write about, but this character is one with very few redeeming qualities. He was a spendthrift and it appears a liar too; spent money like water, getting himself and his family into debt. Everything we’ve read about him seems to be negative, so it seems strange that Lord Mansfield had such a soft spot for him, unless there’s something we’re missing!

Lady Elizabeth Mills by Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Lady Elizabeth Mills by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Courtesy of Philip Mould Ltd

We then came across this beautiful miniature by Sir Joshua Reynolds, which is of a Lady Elizabeth Mills, née Moffatt, who was baptised 29th January 1756 at St Mary Woolnoth, London, the daughter of Andrew and Katherine (née Creighton) Moffatt. Her father, Andrew was a merchant and both he and his brothers were heavily involved with the East India Company.

Andrew Moffatt by Lemuel Francis Abbott Courtesy of Nick Cox at Period Portraits
Andrew Moffatt by Lemuel Francis Abbott Courtesy of Nick Cox at Period Portraits

The family lived at Cranbrook House in the extremely affluent area of Ilford, Essex, opposite Valentines and next to Highlands, an area where all the well-to-do families who were connected with the East India Company lived.

Valentine's, the seat of Charles Raymond Esq
Courtesy of Valentine Mansion.com

In November 1774, Elizabeth married Sir Thomas Mills, when she was just 18, a marriage which would prove to be an interesting one.

Caledonian Mercury 12 November 1774
Caledonian Mercury 12 November 1774

A marriage settlement was made by Elizabeth’s father of some £10,000 (just under one million today) but despite this large sum of money, Mills continued to spend more than he earned and even had to be bailed out by his father-in-law on more than one occasion, to the extent that Andrew Moffatt made provision in his will of 1780, for his siblings, daughters and grandchildren, but specifically mentioned that his son-in-law was indebted to him to the tune of £5,000, a debt which he wanted to be reimbursed to the estate as soon as possible, he was clearly not impressed by his son-in-law! It was slightly strange, as he also left Sir Thomas £100. Which seems to make little sense in light of his debt. Andrew also left 20 guineas to his good friend Lord Mansfield for him to buy a ring in memory of him and money for Elizabeth’s sole use, exclusive of her husband.

Despite our view of Sir Thomas, Elizabeth must have felt something for him, as the couple produced three children – Andrew Moffatt Mills born just over 9 months after they wed; Elizabeth Finch Mills (1776) and finally Catherine Crichton Mills (1779).

According to the Oxford Journal of July 1772

When Sir Thomas was returning home in a chair, he was surrounded by four street robbers in Windmill Street, Haymarket, who stopped the chair, and one of them presented a pistol and demanded his money. Sir Thomas told them that he would not be robbed and endeavoured to seize the pistol, at this point one of the assailants fired, he missed Sir Thomas who burst open the chair door and attacked the robbers who then fled. There were no watchmen nearby and the chairmen didn’t even try to assist to apprehend the robbers.

Was this a ‘set-up’? It seems highly likely, in our opinion.

Sir Thomas Mills died 23 February 1793 and left no will and it appears with no money either to leave, but despite what the newspapers said, he was not named as a beneficiary of Lord Mansfield’s will, who died 20th March 1793.

Kentish Gazette 22 March 1793
Kentish Gazette 22 March 1793

His wife Elizabeth died in June 1816.

History tells us that the Moffatt family were plantation and slave owners in Jamaica, as the family went on to make claims in 1832 for monies owed for freed slaves.

Sources

Valentine’s Mansion and Gardens

Legacies of British Slave Ownerships

The Diary and Letters of His Excellency Thomas Hutchinson

The Westminster Magazine, Or, The Pantheon of Taste, Volume 8

Essex Parish Registers 1537-1997, Familysearch

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.

Dido Elizabeth Belle

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 – we reveal 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?

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.

 

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

Dido Elizabeth Belle, her portrait

For those of us who watched BBC’s Fake or Fortune which took a look at the stunning painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle and her cousin Lady Elizabeth, we were delighted that the team were finally been able to put a name to the artist which has been unknown for so long, and confirmed – as we suggested – that it was not painted by Zoffany.

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.

In our previous blog about the painting we did speculate that it may have been by David Martin but also offered ours and Etienne Daly (an expert in all things Dido)’s opinion that it was more likely to have been by Allan Ramsay given his familial connections. Well, we now have an answer – or do we?

As we’ve been asked whether our opinion has changed after viewing the programme, we decided to look at the evidence provided. This is quite a long post, so bear with us.

Our answer to the posed question is, in short, not totally, although we’re not and never have professed to be art experts. For us, there are still some questions which have remained unanswered.

If we’re trying to give Dido back her rightful place in society we need to start at the beginning of the programme and correct the first statement made about Dido.

Dido Elizabeth Belle was NOT born into slavery.  Whilst her mother had been a slave who was brought to England by Sir John Lindsay, Dido was born in England and not as a slave, but the natural daughter of an aristocrat. We know this from the snippet of information written by Thomas Hutchinson in his diary. Why would he fabricate this fact? He had nothing to gain and was merely repeating what he been told on previous occasions by Lord Mansfield.

I knew her history before, but my Lord mentioned it again. Sir John Lindsay having taken her mother prisoner in a Spanish vessel, brought her to England, where she was delivered of this girl.

Next, Dido’s freedom was technically given by Lord Mansfield on 17th April 1782 when he wrote his will and not upon his death in 1793; she would have been just coming up to her 21st birthday, so perfect timing.

Along with confirming her freedom, Lord Mansfield gave her £100 per year, after the death of his wife, which took place in April 1784, to which he subsequently added a further payment of £200 ‘to set out with‘, plus £300 in a later codicil, making an overall total of some £900. That seems a strange comment for him to have made, but, it could be argued that if he thought he was to die shortly, that Dido would need to be self-sufficient as she may no longer have been able to live at Kenwood after his death.

Although Dido had never been a slave, this document was important as it would legally have affirmed her social status so that there could be no possible misunderstanding after his death, whenever that should come, and to ensure that there was no possibility of her ever being regarded as a slave. After Lord Mansfield’s death, she became a free woman with status, an heiress in her own right, which showed a good deal of foresight on Lord Mansfield’s part and ensured that she was financially secure.

Portrait of Lady Marjory - screenshot from BBC Fake or Fortune
Portrait of Lady Marjory – screenshot from BBC Fake or Fortune

Now, moving on to the portrait itself, based upon the scientific findings of Philip Mould and his team it would certainly appear likely that the portrait above, in the family’s private collection, was painted by the same person who painted the portrait of Lady Marjory. However, the programme left us to accept that (a) it was a painting of Lady Marjory and (b) that it was painted by David Martin and (c) some ten years previously, without explaining how they knew these facts. From our perspective and for clarity, it might have been helpful if those explanations of the provenance were offered.

Assuming it was Lady Marjory (- 19th April 1799), niece to Lord Mansfield, the similarities in style between the paintings was clear to see – the face shape, the lips, the fingers on the cheek. We know that Lady Marjory and Dido were close as Dido was a beneficiary in Lady Marjory’s will, so perhaps the pose was Dido’s attempt to emulate Lady Marjory’s portrait, although Lady Marjory’s attitude looks pensive, whereas Dido’s is slightly mischievous.

Portrait of Lady Marjory and Dido and Lady Elizabeth together - screenshot from BBC Fake or Fortune
Portrait of Lady Marjory and Dido and Lady Elizabeth together – screenshot from BBC Fake or Fortune

Whilst the technology has confirmed that the portrait of Lady Marjory and Dido were painted using the same paint, for us, it doesn’t confirm that they were by the same artist. Surely it’s feasible that two artists could have used the same paint – after all Martin was Ramsay’s protégé, so perhaps both used the same supplier? Theoretical, of course.

The expert, at the end of the programme, was also able to confirm, based on the evidence, that it was by Martin, but equally, he acknowledged that Martin had been Ramsay’s protégé. So, again, although Martin was a respected artist by that time in his own right, couldn’t either he, Ramsay or both have worked on the painting of Dido as a favour to the family, especially as Allan Ramsay was her uncle? We still hold the opinion that, given the playful nature of the portrait, it was definitely painted by someone with whom the girls felt relaxed and comfortable with. Arguably, either artist would fit the bill.

It was very interesting to note that the portrait was unframed, according to the 1796 inventory. Had it been a commission you would have expected it to be presented in a frame or framed by the family shortly after and given her status within the family it seems desperately sad that so soon after her marriage it had been stored away along with broken furniture etc. We also wondered why it hadn’t been retained by Dido as a keepsake if the family no longer had it on display.

Payment made to David Martin in 1776 from Lord Mansfield's accounts. Screenshot from Fake or Fortune
Payment made to David Martin in 1776 from Lord Mansfield’s accounts. Screenshot from Fake or Fortune

As suggested by that record in the accounts book, if the payment to David Martin was for the portrait of Dido,  then at best, Dido would have only been 15 years old; she does not look like a girl of 15, she looks to be late teens in our humble opinion.

The date of the painting has long been regarded as 1779 when it was attributed to Zoffany. We don’t think it is likely to have been painted much before that given that Dido was born in 1761; if dated to 1779 she would be about 18 at the time of it originally being painted. We do know that in 1779 her father, Sir John Lindsay was in England, so maybe he was aware of the painting and rather than being a commissioned piece is struck us that it was more likely to have been a keepsake or memento which, it could be argued would explain why there was no obvious payment for it.

Captain Sir John Lindsay (1737-1788 by Allan Ramsay)
Captain Sir John Lindsay (1737-1788 by Allan Ramsay); Glasgow Museums

Also, it was on the 19th October 1776 that Lord Mansfield was raised from Baron to Earl, following which several copies of an earlier portrait by David Martin were produced, showing his elevated status.

Martin, David; William Murray (1705-1793), 1st Earl of Mansfield, Lord Chief Justice; National Galleries of Scotland

The original portrait at Kenwood is of Lord Mansfield prior to becoming an earl and dated 1775 (on Art UK) – note the difference between that and the one held at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, dated 1777 (below) and painted after his elevation.

Was the 1776 payment for completion of the earlier portrait, or for the copies made subsequently rather than for the portrait featuring Dido?

William Murray (1705-1793), Baron Mansfield and Lord Chief Justice by David Martin; English Heritage, Kenwood (hint: look closely at his ermine)

Following the programme, Philip Mould has now added some exciting news which didn’t make it into the programme; the portrait we see today is not the original, as such, but rather it was added to at a later date by a different artist. The change to the portrait really does make a huge difference to the perception of Dido and her position within the painting and society in general.

And finally, Etienne Daly has visited Kenwood House frequently and has been trying to work out whereabouts the painting was done within the ground.

Could this be the very spot where the portrait was painted (the bare patch in the foreground)?

© Sylvia & Etienne Daly
© Sylvia & Etienne Daly

We are still trying to piece together the life of David Martin, but this is proving tricky. If we’re able together to do so, we will write another post in due course.

There is also a Youtube video about Dido and Elizabeth dressing for the painting that we know you’l love.

To find out more about what became about Dido Belle follow the links below.

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

Dido Elizabeth Belle – we reveal NEW information about her siblings

The missing brother of Sir John Lindsay

The Eighteenth Century Fashion for Turbans

An Eighteenth Century game of ‘Degrees of Separation’

 

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

For our regular readers, you will by now have probably gathered that as well as all the other research we usually do, we have also been investigating the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle.  Dido, her life and family have become something of an obsession for us of late and we have been busy piecing it together and trying to rectify some of the misinformation that currently exists.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dido Elizabeth Belle & Sam Reid as John Davinieré
Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dido Elizabeth Belle & Sam Reid as John Davinière

We have recently shared with you new information about Dido’s siblings who were born in Jamaica, but in today’s post we are taking a look at what happened to the real Dido Belle, who, at the end of the film Bellewalked off into the sunset’ with her man, the lawyer, John Davinière.

*SPOILER ALERT FOR THOSE WHO HAVE SEEN THE FILM BELLE*

 Ducey as it looks today. Courtesy of Wikipedia
Ducey as it looks today. Courtesy of Wikipedia

John 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 Jean Louis 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 Sellier. He was baptised on 16th November 1768, and so was several years Dido’s junior.

He left his native France for England towards the end of the 1780s, so, just prior to the French Revolution; the date of his departure from France is not quite clear as it appears in a couple of places later in his life at which time he gave differing years for his arrival into England. However, on coming to the country, he found work as a steward or valet, again the terminology of his occupation varies slightly.

No-one knows how he would have met Dido, but it seems likely that the Murray or Ramsay family would have been involved in some way. We do know that Allan Ramsay had painted a portrait of the 6th Earl of Coventry in the 1760s and Dido’s marriage entry provided us with a snippet of information in the shape of one of the witnesses – John Coventry, who was the third son of the 6th Earl of Coventry who owned a townhouse on Piccadilly so it seems quite likely that this would have been who John initially worked for as a steward. The other witness was Dido’s close friend, Martha Darnell.

St George's, Hanover Square by T. Malton, 1787
St George’s, Hanover Square by T. Malton, 1787

According to the Westminster rates books, not long after their marriage on 5th December 1793, at St George’s, Hanover Square, the couple 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 n the same day and at the same church as the first Duke of Sussex and his bride Lady Augusta Murray.

Click to see enlarged image
Click to see enlarged image

They appear to have lived a happy life and with it, the arrival of 3 sons, of which two, Charles (1795-1873) and William Thomas (1800-1867) survived into adulthood, John, Charles’s twin brother, did not survive. They wouldn’t exactly have been destitute as Dido received not only an inheritance from Lord Mansfield who died in 1793, but also, in 1799 upon the death of Lady Margery Murray, she received a further legacy as ‘a token of her regard for Dido’.

John Crauford. National Portrait Gallery.
John Craufurd. National Portrait Gallery.

In July 1804, Dido was sadly to die, leaving John to raise the two young boys alone.

The actual date of her burial remains unknown as there were many burials at St George’s Fields that month and most unhelpfully there were not dated. Dido’s was number 56 out of  73, so it was probably towards the end of that month.

The entry in the burial register for Dido July 1804

The entry in the burial register for Dido July 1804. 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 quite 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.

Image courtesy of Etienne Daly who believes that Dido's grave may well be located in the area of the red dots (just above the square), which is outside of the property development therefore potentially still in situ
Image courtesy of Etienne Daly who believes that Dido’s grave may well be located in the area of the red dots (just above the square), which is outside of the property development therefore potentially still in situ

Shortly after Dido’s death John left Ranelagh Street and moved to live at 40 Mount Street, Grosvenor Square, then nothing until we came across him being mentioned in the will of his employer, John Craufurd*, of Errol, Perth and Kinross who described John as his valet, leaving him a couple of bequests upon his death. 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, in Pimlico

It appears that John didn’t remain single for very long, as he met and ultimately married his second wife, Jane Holland. The marriage took place in 1819 at St Martin in the Fields, but not until some years after they had produced a couple of children, Lavinia (1809-1888), who was born whilst they lived at Mount Street and Edward Henry (born 1812). This time the marriage was simply witnessed by two ‘serial marriage witnesses’, so no aristocracy present on this occasion.

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 had returned to John’s native town of Ducey, France, where John was to remain until his death on 31st March 1847.

From La Manche Archives

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 first three children are reasonably well documented, they 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 which was quite possibly in order to be a witness at his half-brother, William Thomas’s marriage which took place in September of that year and was clearly still alive when his father died, but then seems to have vanished into the mists of time, but if anyone knows what became of him, we’d love to hear from you.

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 we are briefly able to add a little new information to the story of Dido Belle and John Davinière. (UPDATE – we have now found out some more about their life, so if you’d like to read our latest findings follow this link ).

To find out more about the painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle that first sparked our interest in her follow the highlighted link.

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.

* History of Parliament Online (See John Craufurd)

Featured Image

Piccadilly from Hyde Park Corner Turnpike, from Ackermann’s Repository, 1810

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

Dido Elizabeth Belle – A new perspective on her portrait

In our previous blog about the turban that Dido Elizabeth Belle was wearing in the portrait of her with her cousin, the Honourable Lady Elizabeth Murray, we mentioned that the portrait was reputed to have been painted by Johann Zoffany and we promised to give you an update with some new information.

We now know more about the turban, courtesy of one of our lovely readers, Etienne Daly, who has been diligently researching Dido for some considerable years now and believes that the turban that Dido was wearing was not merely a fashion statement but was a gift to her from her father, Sir John Lindsay, so it was not part of a portrait ‘costume’ as had been assumed.

Sir John was invested as a Knight of the Bath in an extravagant ceremony in India on 11th March 1771.

A sketch of Sir John Lindsay KB, Prince Of Arcot (and father of Dido Elizabeth Belle), as he would have looked around the time of his investiture at the Chepauk Palace, Madras, India on 11th March 1771 when he was the King's ambassador to India. By Ian Sciacaluga.
A sketch of Sir John Lindsay KB, Prince Of Arcot (and father of Dido Elizabeth Belle), as he would have looked around the time of his investiture at the Chepauk Palace, Madras, India on 11th March 1771 when he was the King’s ambassador to India.

At that time he was presented with ‘a very rich dress of gold brocade, made after the European manner with the star upon the left breast,’ a ring with several titles engraved on it in Persian and a turban, all given by Nawab Muhammed Ali Khan Wallajah.

Muhammad Ali Khan, Nawab of Arcot by Tilly Kettle, c.1772-1776. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Muhammad Ali Khan, Nawab of Arcot by Tilly Kettle, c.1772-1776. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

We think it seems a lovely gesture that she would wear it as a ‘nod’ to her father, in the only known portrait of her. 

Dido Elizabeth Belle

If you look closely at the turban you will notice that it sparkles; it seems highly likely that it would have been studded with gold and diamonds. You will also note the presence of a black ostrich feather at the back of the turban. Now, this was a fashion statement! It is also worth mentioning that the fashion of the day was to wear rouge and Dido was no exception to this.

Ostrich feathers were all the rage in the mid-1770s and Dido’s uncle, Viscount Stormont bought some back from Paris in 1774. Perhaps he gave one to Dido and following the fashion, she added it to the turban?

The preposterous head dress, or the featherd lady, 1776.
The preposterous headdress, or the featherd lady, 1776. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Viscount Stormont also presented one to the Duchess of Devonshire on his return, and being the fashion doyenne of the day, she sent the fashion world into a spin by adding it to her hat. This sparked the caricaturists into a frenzy, creating the most elaborate caricatures with the largest of plumes, as you can see above.

The Duchess of Devonshire by Joshua Reynolds.
The Duchess of Devonshire by Joshua Reynolds.

It has to be said that the Duchess of Devonshire was mocked mercilessly and according to the British Museum:

Lady Louisa Stuart wrote in her old age of “the outrageous zeal manifested against the first introduction of ostrich feathers as a headdress. This fashion was not attacked as fantastic or unbecoming or inconvenient or expensive, but as seriously wrong or immoral. The unfortunate feathers were insulted mobbed burned almost pelted…”. 

Massachusetts colonial governor Thomas Hutchinson by Edward Truman
Massachusetts colonial governor Thomas Hutchinson by Edward Truman. Massachusetts Historical Society

When Thomas Hutchinson, Governor of Massachusetts, dined with Lord Mansfield in 1779 he met Dido and recorded the following in his diary:

A black came in after dinner and sat with the ladies, and after coffee, walked with the company in the gardens, one of the young ladies having her arm within the other. She had a very high cap and her wool was much frizzled in her neck, but not enough to answer the large curls now in fashion. She is neither handsome nor genteel – pert enough.

We now move on to look at the artist of the portrait. It has long been reputed to have been painted by Johann (John) Zoffany, but this is now disputed, and to this day it remains ‘artist unknown’.

It is acknowledged that Zoffany went to Europe for several years, finally returning to England at some stage in 1779 the very year that the portrait was reputed to have been painted.

From the account of his life, John Zoffany, R.A. his life and works: 1735-1810, it tells us that he remained in Coblenz well into the summer of 1779. Although not impossible, it certainly would have given him little time to have painted Dido on his return. So, if we discount Zoffany that leaves only a few other possible artists, two of whom we think were feasible. One would be Allan Ramsay’s protégé, David Martin (1737-1797), who was known to the family as he painted the stunning portrait of Lord Mansfield.

William Murray (1705-1793), 1st Earl of Mansfield; David Martin
William Murray (1705-1793), 1st Earl of Mansfield; David Martin; English Heritage, Kenwood

The slight difficulty we have with the portrait of Dido and Lady Elizabeth Murray being painted by Martin is that again there is a question as to whether he was still living in England in 1779 or if he had returned to his native Scotland (although he retained his property in Dartford until 1782). Certainly, we know that in 1780 Martin was in Scotland when he was admitted to the Royal Company of Archers. Again, the dates are tight!

David Martin self-portrait. National Galleries of Scotland
David Martin self-portrait. National Galleries of Scotland

If it was definitively painted in 1779, then it is feasible that he could have at least had some input into the work, especially as Ramsay had severely injured his hand a few years previously which stopped him taking on any major projects.

The other difficulty we have with Martin is that Etienne has checked Lord Mansfield’s accounts. These proved inconclusive.

So, that leaves only the principal painter to the King (George III), Allan Ramsay, and although we don’t have the expertise to validate this, with the research we have done it would appear far more likely that it was painted by him. Why? Well, there are several reasons to suppose this.

Allan Ramsay, self portrait c.1755-1756.
Allan Ramsay, self-portrait c.1755-1756. National Galleries Scotland.

Firstly, we understand that the portrait was commissioned by Lord Mansfield, but there is no record in his accounts of him paying for any such portraiture.

Secondly, given the socially precarious position Dido held in Georgian society, then why not ‘keep it in the family’? Especially when you have an extremely distinguished portrait artist as an uncle to call upon, in the guise of none other than the Scottish portrait painter, Allan Ramsay who was married to Margaret Lindsay, the sister of Sir John Lindsay.

The Artist's Wife: Margaret Lindsay of Evelick, c 1726 - 1782 by Allan Ramsay.
The Artist’s Wife: Margaret Lindsay of Evelick, c 1726 – 1782 by Allan Ramsay. National Galleries Scotland

Thirdly, despite an earlier family ‘falling out’ over Ramsay being not regarded as a suitable match for Sir John’s sister, Margaret, we know that the family had been reconciled and Ramsay was, at this time, close to Dido’s extended family. Amongst his paintings, there was one, if not two portraits of Sir John Lindsay himself, so again, it would seem natural for him to paint his illegitimate daughter. Ramsay also named Lord Mansfield and Sir John Lindsay in his will, another sign of the close familial ties.

Captain Sir John Lindsay (1737-1788) by Allan Ramsay
Captain Sir John Lindsay (1737-1788) by Allan Ramsay; Glasgow Museums

Finally, the posing of the subjects in the painting appears very relaxed and informal as if being painted by someone the girls knew well and were comfortable with.

Hopefully one day someone will be able to validate the artist and settle that unanswered question once and for all, perhaps one for the BBC’s Fake or Fortune to investigate!

To see the portrait of Dido and Lady Elizabeth in situ, it would be well worth a visit to Scone Palace, Perth, Scotland or to the home, where she spent many of her years, Kenwood  House (Caenwood as it was formerly known as), Hampstead.

During our research into the life of Dido, we have also discovered NEW information about Sir John Lindsay’s other illegitimate children and  NEW information about what became of Dido and her husband John Davinière. To find out more follow the highlighted links.

UPDATE

Following the BBC’s programme Fake or Fortune, you might be interested to read our thoughts on the findings.

Sources:

The History of the Royal Company of Archers: The Queen’s Bodyguard for Scotland by Sir James Balfour Paul

General Evening Post, September 14, 1771 – September 17, 1771

English Common Law in the Age of Mansfield, by James Oldham

John Zoffany, R.A. his life and works: 1735-1810

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

The 18th Century fashion for Turbans

It’s been a while since we wrote a fashion post, so to make up for that we’re going to take a look at a piece of headgear – the turban, a piece of headwear that according to Vogue is making a comeback for this Spring and Summer.

We were inspired to write this post having watched Amber Butchart’s fascinating programme on BBC4, ‘A Stitch In Time’, during which she looked at the outfit worn by Miss Dido Elizabeth Belle. Nina Mikhaila, historical costumier and her team recreated the outfit including the turban, which proved to be quite a challenge, trying to find the correct fabric and to recreate the style itself.

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.

Amber speculated that the turban was perhaps worn as part of a fancy-dress costume and made Dido appear even more exotic; whilst in part she is correct, there is something a little more significant about the origin of Dido’s turban which Amber  wasn’t aware of at the time making the programme (she does now, however, but we can’t spill the beans on that one yet, so it will be a story for another time!). To find out more see our follow up blog – Art Detectives: a new perspective on the portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle

Dido Elizabeth Belle

 

The portrait of Dido is so unusual in so much as that Dido was not a servant but the daughter of Sir John Lindsay. The painting depicts her with her cousin Miss Elizabeth Murray was reputed to have been painted by Zoffany c.1778. Whilst the turban had been worn by men in the UK during the earlier parts of the eighteenth-century, along with oriental-inspired banyans or wrapping gowns, it was not yet a common sight as a fashion accessory for women. There were, as always, a few exceptions, with the likes of Margaret Kemble Gage, sporting a turban in this portrait by John Singleton Copley c.1771, but examples like this were unusual.

Mrs Thomas Gage by John Singleton Copley, 1771.
Mrs Thomas Gage by John Singleton Copley, 1771. Timken Museum of Art, San Diego.

Turbans didn’t take centre stage until towards the end of the century as wigs and ‘high hair’ had been the predominant fashion statement – a turban plonked on top of one of those wigs wouldn’t really have worked!

A lady in a fine room dressed in macaroni style with high hair standing in profile to left looks directly out with her fan held open. January or February 1773.
A lady in a fine room dressed in macaroni style with high hair standing in profile to left looks directly out with her fan held open. January or February 1773. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

The turban presented an image of Turkey and the exotic east; it was something worn at a fancy-dress ball rather than everyday wear, as you can see from this extract in the Stamford Mercury of 1773 which was attended by one of Lord Mansfield’s nieces.

Lord Chief Baron’s daughters, Miss Nancy a Sultana, with a turban quite brilliant with a profusion of diamonds and Miss Betsey, a country girl selling eggs and the other two also in pretty attire. Hon. Miss Kitty MacKenzie, sister to the Earl of Seaforth, a milkmaid; Miss Fletcher, a Sultana; Miss Lindsay, niece to Lord Mansfield, a shepherdess.

Portrait of a woman, traditionally identified as Lady Hervey by Angelica Kauffmann c1770. Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art
Portrait of a woman, traditionally identified as Lady Hervey by Angelica Kauffmann c1770. Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art

Just a few years later, however, an advert in the Ipswich Journal September 1778, implied that the turban was the latest fashion statement when attending a ball and was linked to the artist, Johann Zoffany.

Loiacon, Ladies Hair Dresser, begs leave to acquaint his customers and those ladies that will honour him with their commands, that he has with him an assortment of powders and pomatums, at 15 shillings each, French powder at 1 shilling. During the fair, he intends to dress ladies’ hair on a ball day, at 2 shilling and 6 pence.  The Zoffany with Rubin, as the newest fashion, like a turban (he likewise differs various ways in dress or undress) which appear neater than any cap whatever.

We move on to January 1787 when the turban was very much the headgear to be seen wearing for balls as we found at this account.

The ball on Thursday night, in honour of her Majesty’s birthday, fell nothing short of general expectation. The number and brilliancy of the company attending having never been equalled in this country upon any similar occasion. The Ladies were dressed with great neatness and elegance. Many of the Ladies of fashion in different coloured satins, ornamented with festoons of flowers, crepe, foil etc. A very prevailing headdress was the turban cap, decorated with feathers, cut steel, pearls and diamonds.

Over in Paris by 1790, the turban was all the rage:

The caterers of fashion in Paris, have availed themselves of the late grand spectacle at the Champs de Mars by introducing a new head-dress for the ladies, called the ‘Confederation Turban’ and the volatile beaux of fashion have just introduced the national colours in their striped silk stockings, which are termed the ‘National Gaitars’.

Lady Henrietta Cavendish-Bentinck (1737-1827), Countess of Stamford by George Romney
Lady Henrietta Cavendish-Bentinck (1737-1827), Countess of Stamford by George Romney; National Trust, Dunham Massey.

In 1795 newspapers offered helpful, detailed guides as to the correct items of fashion to be worn and for what occasion, just so that you didn’t get it wrong.

An Evening Dress

The hair dressed in light curls and ringlets, Turban of light blue crepe; bandeau of gold foil, set with diamonds and pearls; the hair turned up, mixed with the turban, and the ends returned in ringlets. Jacket and petticoat, of muslin; four plaits across the petticoat; the jacket turned on the back with lace; Sash of blue satin ribband; three strings of pearls round the neck; pearly ear-rings; blue satin shoes; white gloves; Swandown muff.

Mrs Mary Chatfield by John Opie
Mrs Mary Chatfield by John Opie; Brighton and Hove Museums and Art Galleries

At the turn of the century, we find that turbans are no longer the domain of evening dress but are now entering everyday wear from around 1802 onwards.

We finish with this self-portrait of the artist Marie-Elizabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun who also followed the turban fashion as we see in this self-portrait of 1800.

Self portrait of Marie-Elizabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1800. Courtesy of the State Hermitage Museum
Self-portrait of Marie-Elizabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, 1800. Courtesy of the State Hermitage Museum

To discover more, we recommend the book by Paula Byrne, Belle: The True Story of Dido Elizabeth Belle.

If stories about women whose lives didn’t conform to the norm of the day interest you, then you might enjoy two of our biographies:  An Infamous Mistress and A Georgian Heroine.