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

Lady Elizabeth Mary Murray

To date, I have written quite a few articles about Dido Elizabeth Belle, along with guest posts by Etienne Daly, but suddenly realised that I have largely ignored the co-sitter in the famous portrait, her cousin, Lady Elizabeth Mary Murray, so it’s time to rectify this, but of course it wouldn’t be complete without a snippet of new information about Dido, so do read on!

If we think today’s families are complicated, this might give you a clue that little has really changed since the 1700s.

Lady Elizabeth Mary’s father was David, the 7th Viscount Stormont, later to become the 2nd Earl of Mansfield. It was whilst he was ambassador to the Elector of Saxony that he met his first wife, Henrietta Frederica, the daughter of Henry Graf Bunau. By the time they met, Henrietta was a  widow, her husband Frederik de Berregaard, having died two years previously.

The couple married on 16 August 1759 and almost nine months to the day, on 18 May 1760, Lady Elizabeth Mary was born in Warsaw, Poland.  The couple went on to have another daughter, Henrietta, born 16 October 1763, but sadly, she died  in Vienna, whilst an infant, closely followed by Henrietta herself, who died on 16 March 1766 also in Vienna, aged just 29.

Henrietta was interred at the Protestant churchyard in Vienna, with minimal fuss and ceremony, but her heart was removed, embalmed and taken to Scone at the request of her husband.

Henrietta daughter of Henry Graf Bunau. Painted by Marcello Bacciarelli in Warsaw in 1759. Countrylife June 10, 2013
Henrietta daughter of Henry Graf Bunau. Painted by Marcello Bacciarelli in Warsaw in 1759. Country Life June 10, 2013

This left David with a daughter to raise alone, a situation which would be almost impossible, so he did what he thought was for the best and brought Lady Elizabeth Mary  back to England in May 1766, and took her to Lord and Lady Mansfield at Kenwood House, who were able to give her a more stable upbringing, something that would have been extremely difficult given her father’s ambassadorial post.

Caenwood House 1786 European Magazine Volume 9 - January-June
Caenwood House 1786 European Magazine Volume 9 – January-June

On 6 May 1776 at St George’s Hanover Square, David married for a second time. His second wife being the Honourable Louisa Cathcart (1758-1843), thirty years his junior and just two years older than his daughter, Lady Elizabeth Mary who would have been just sixteen at this time.

They went on to have a further five children –David (1777-1840), George (1780-1848), Charles (1781-1859), Henry (1784-1860) and lastly, Caroline (1789-1867).

Their eldest son, David, Elizabeth Mary’s half-brother, would, in due course, become the 3rd Earl of Mansfield.

In September 1796, David, 2nd Earl of Mansfield, died suddenly in September 1796, whilst at Brighton, from a stomach spasm.

When the 2nd Earl of Mansfield was buried at Westminster Abbey, he specifically requested that his heart should be removed, embalmed and take to Scone to be reunited with that of his first wife. There is a memorial to both the earl and Henrietta at Scone. I do wonder how his second wife must have felt about that!

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

From the Hampshire Chronicle 17 September 1796 account it would appear that the 2nd Earl’s funeral didn’t go quite as planned. His remains were brought from Brighton where he died, to his residence in Portland Place and from there to Westminster Abbey with all the pomp and ceremony you would expect for such an eminent person.

Crowds of people gathered jostling to get a better view of the proceedings outside the abbey. The hearse door was opened, two of the bearers drew out the coffin, and had got it on their shoulders, but through the indecency of the multitude who pressed forward to teat off the ornaments, the horses took fright, and ran off before the other men were ready, consequently the corpse fell to the ground, and the coffin was shattered so much so that the foot part bulged, and a number of the nails and ornaments were forced out.

The concussion must have broken the leaden receptacle, as a large amount of water poured from it. It was all repaired as quickly as possible and his body was interred in the family vault. The former lord and his lady were the only two, beside his Lordship, who were buried in the tomb contiguous to the Earl of Chatham’s monument, on the north-west side of the chancel.

Louisa survived her husband by 47 years and didn’t waste much time in marrying again. On 19 October 1797, her second husband became Robert Fulke Greville (1751-1824), the son of Francis Greville, 1st Earl of Warwick. Robert was known to have been a favourite at court, initially an equerry to King George III, later becoming Groom of the Bedchamber.

Abbott, Lemuel Francis; The Honourable Robert Fulke Greville (1751-1797); National Trust, Calke Abbey

Louisa and Robert went on to have a further three children – Lady Georgiana (1798-1871), Lady Louisa (1800-1883) and finally, the Honourable Robert (1800-1867).

Returning to Lady Elizabeth Mary, she married into another long-established family, the Finch-Hattons. On 15 December 1785, at Lord Mansfield’s town house she married George Finch-Hatton by special licence, her fortune upon marriage was said to be £17,000 – £10,000 from Lord Mansfield plus £7,000 from her father (about 1.5 million pounds in today’s money).

Lady Elizabeth Murray marriage entry in parish register of St Gile's in the Fields, Holborn, confirming that they married in the home of Lord Mansfield
Lady Elizabeth Murray marriage entry in parish register of St Gile’s in the Fields, Holborn, confirming that they married at the home of Lord Mansfield

Following the service performed by the Archbishop of York, the couple set off for celebrations at Kenwood House. There is no indication as to whether Dido Elizabeth Belle would have attended the wedding itself, but she would almost certainly have been present for the celebrations at Kenwood.

Richardson the elder, Jonathan; Daniel Finch, 2nd Earl of Nottingham and 7th Earl of Winchilsea; National Portrait Gallery, London

Whether this marriage was a love match or arguably, more about ‘keeping it in the family’ who knows, as Lady Elizabeth’s husband George, was the son of Edward Finch-Hatton, who was the son of Daniel Finch, 2nd Earl of Nottingham and 7th Earl of Winchilsea. Daniel’s youngest daughter was, co-incidentally, also the father of Elizabeth Finch, wife of Lord Mansfield.

Most places seem to show that Elizabeth Mary and George had just three children, so let’s set this record straight – they had seven.

Their first child was a daughter, Louisa, who was born 12 November 1786. Louisa married the Honourable Charles Hope (1768-1828), the son of John Hope, 2nd Earl of Hopetoun (1704-1781) and his third wife, Lady Elizabeth Leslie. The couple married on 30 April 1807 at the church at St. Marylebone, although their marriage was also registered at Aberlady, Scotland.

27 October 1788 at Gretton, Northamptonshire, their second child, Anna Maria was born. Anna Maria never married and died on 2 December 1837 and was buried a few days later at All Saints, Leamington Priors, Warwickshire.

Most records seem to have written Anna Maria out of history, and yet she was mentioned by the author Jane Austen in somewhat less than flattering terms, in a letter to her sister Cassandra on 6 November 1813:

Lady Eliz. Hatton and Annamaria called here this morning. Yes, they called; but I do not think I can say anything more about them. They came, and they sat, and they went.

It would be two years after the birth of Anna Maria, that their third child was born, Elizabeth Henrietta, who was born on 19 January 1790. Elizabeth never married and died at the age of 30, in 1820. Elizabeth helpfully left a will, in which she left bequests for all her siblings.

George Finch Hatton 10th Earl. National Portrait Gallery
George Finch Hatton 10th Earl. National Portrait Gallery

Their fourth child was their son and heir, George, who was born on 19 May 1791. He attended Westminster school, then Cambridge university. He then went on to have a military career, before becoming a politician and became well known for a duel with the then Prime Minister, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington.

The field of Battersea. Duke of Wellington as a lobster. British Museum
The field of Battersea. Duke of Wellington as a lobster. British Museum

George married three times, his first wife being Georgiana Charlotte Graham (1791-1835), his second wife being Emily Georgiana Bagot, who died in 1848 and finally Fanny Margaretta Rice, who outlived George who died in 1858. George and his first two wives died at Haverholme Priory, near Sleaford, Lincolnshire.

Haverholme Priory in an 1826 sketch in The Gentleman's Magazine
Haverholme Priory in an 1826 sketch in The Gentleman’s Magazine, now a ruin

Today, in the neighbouring village of Ewerby, is a village pub named after the family, The Finch Hatton Arms, which was apparently used by the family as a hunting lodge.

Their fifth child and second son was Edward Frederick, who was baptised at Eastwell, Kent on 16 January 1793. Edward Frederick’s life was cut short, when he died at the age of just 20, and was buried 8 September 1813 at Eastwell. No cause of death was provided for Frederick, but the Kentish Gazette, 7 September 1813, reported that he was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and was much lamented by his family and friends.

Their sixth child and third son was Daniel Heneage, who was born at the family home, Eastwell, Kent on 5 May 1795. Daniel went into the church and eventually married on 15 December 1825 at St George’s, Hanover Square and kept his marriage ‘in the family’ so to speak. As noted earlier, Daniel’s maternal step grandmother was Louisa, 2nd Lady Mansfield. On the death of Lady Elizabeth’s father, she married again. Her second husband being Robert Fulke Greville. Together they had three children. Daniel Heneage married the middle child, Lady Louisa Greville. Daniel died in 1866 at Weldon, Northamptonshire.

Emily was their seventh and youngest child and, who, like several of the others, appears to have been all but written out of history. Emily was born 12 Oct 1797 and baptised at Eastwell. In 18126, she married a vicar, Alfred Charnley Lawrence, who was the rector of Sandhurst, Kent.  The couple had three children and Emily died in 1868.

Lady Elizabeth Finch Hatton calling card British Museum
Lady Elizabeth Finch Hatton’s calling card British Museum

From the newspapers of the day you get the impression that Elizabeth Mary was something of a social butterfly, frequently paying visits to people within in her social circle, being seen in all the ‘right places’, attending and hosting balls, one of which that warrants mention, held for her three younger daughters:

Saint James Chronicle 10 May 1817

Lady Finch Hatton’s Ball – this elegant Lady opened Mansfield House, in Portland Place, on Thursday evening, with a ball and supper. It was a juvenile party, for the express purpose of introducing the three accomplished Misses Hatton into the fashionable world.

We must also remember that when Lady Anne Murray, Lady Elizabeth’s paternal aunt, died on 3 July 1817 at her Brighton home, leaving many bequests to faithful servants, she left the bulk of her estate to Lady Elizabeth Mary’s husband, George, along with bequests for all of their children.

Samuel Hieronymus Grimm’s 1787 depiction of Marlborough House, Brighton. Illustration: courtesy of the British Library. Previously owned, until his death by W G Hamilton MP (1729-1796)
Samuel Hieronymus Grimm’s 1787 depiction of Marlborough House, Brighton. Illustration: courtesy of the British Library. Previously owned, until his death by W G Hamilton MP (1729-1796) Shortly after it was purchased by Lady Anne Murray.

Lady Anne also left £50 to each of Dido Elizabeth’s 3 boys. This implies that in late 1804, when she wrote her will, that Dido’s son John, believed to have died in infancy was in fact still alive at that time. Lady Anne must have kept in touch with Dido’s family, as she knew Dido had died, but what became of her son John remains unsolved.

Lady Anne’s sister, Lady Margery, who died in 1799, was also clearly very fond of Dido as she too left her £100 in her will.

To the late Mrs Daviniere's three boys fifty pounds each
Click to enlarge. ‘To the late Mrs Daviniere’s three boys fifty pounds each’

George Finch Hatton died in 1823 and Lady Elizabeth Mary, just two years later in Edinburgh.

Old Parish Registers Deaths 685/1 1000 17 Edinburgh
Old Parish Registers Deaths 685/1 1000 17 Edinburgh

She left a very detailed will, ensuring that all her surviving children were well provided for. In her will, there is a lovely mention of her late mother, Henrietta when she specifically left Anna Maria a miniature portrait of her, a memory of her mother kept safe for almost 60 years.

Extract from Elizabeth's will re miniature of her mother for Anna Maria. Click to enlarge
Extract from Elizabeth’s will re miniature of her mother for Anna Maria. Click to enlarge

One final snippet of information, Lady Elizabeth Mary’s great grandson, Denys Finch Hatton (1887-1931) the son of Henry Stormont Finch-Hatton, 13th Earl of Winchilsea and 8th Earl of Nottingham (1852 – 1927), had a relationship with Karen Blixen, who wrote her autobiography – Out of Africa. The film of the same name was loosely based on her book.

As well

Sources

Paul. Sir James Balfour. The Scots peerage; founded on Wood’s edition of Sir Robert Douglas’s peerage of Scotland; containing an historical and genealogical account of the nobility of that kingdom. Volume 8. Page 208-209

Records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, Series PROB 11; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 1280

The Scots Magazine 7 November 1763

Caledonian Mercury 14 April 1766

Oxford Journal 31 May 1766

Dublin Evening Post – Tuesday 27 December 1785

Hereford Journal – Thursday 22 December 1785

Bolton Chronicle 9 December 1837

Edinburgh Sheriff Court Inventories SC70/1/33

Feltham, John. A Guide to all the watering and sea bathing places 1813. p87

HMS Dido

Today I once again welcome back Etienne Daly who has been using the ‘lockdown’ very productively continuing his research into Dido Elizabeth Belle and in particular his eye was drawn to the frigate HMS Dido. So, I’ll hand over to him tell you more about his findings:

The ‘lockdown’ and Covid-19 may have forced people to be at home, but for me it turned out to be advantageous because it allowed me time to read some books on admirals that I’d been meaning to do for a while now.

John Jervis, Earl of St Vincent. National Portrait Gallery

John Jervis, Earl of St Vincent. National Portrait Gallery

It was whilst I was reading a book on Earl St. Vincent, known, many years earlier to Sir John Lindsay, simply as John Jervis, that I discovered the frigate HMS Dido. I never knew such a ship existed so was keen to find out more.

I was already aware that both Lord and Lady Mansfield had ships named after them, with Lord Mansfield attending the launch of his, one of the largest of the East Indiamen ships, in 1777 at Rotherhithe and it was this which made me wonder whether HMS Dido could have any connection to Dido Elizabeth Belle and with that, the research began.

HMS 'Dido' and 'Lowestoft' in action with 'Minerve' and 'Artemise', 24 June 1795. National Maritime Museum
HMS ‘Dido’ and ‘Lowestoft’ in action with ‘Minerve’ and ‘Artemise’, 24 June 1795. National Maritime Museum

Sensing this could be linked to Dido Elizabeth Belle, the first thing I needed to establish was whether any ship been given this name in the past, if there was it meant this was not the case and merely a new ship named carrying an older name of Dido. There wasn’t any such ship named in the past and prior to checking this I noted that timeline as being perfect  for the naming of the frigate, notably 1782, 1784, 1785  finally 1787 – all in the ‘catchment time zone’ that I will go on to explain shortly.

Before I do, it’s best to explain first that in the 18th century to progress in life you needed one or all of these: patronage, privilege, grace and favours and if possible, a sprinkling of nepotism from an influential relative or three  this was especially the case in the Royal Navy and the army (during his years of First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Sandwich kept a patronage book). Three lords had to sign an admiralty order(and/or request)to get things in motion and Sir John would have been well acquainted with all of them.

Just a point of interest worth mentioning, in August 1779, there was a ship launched named HMS Montagu during the tenure of Lord Sandwich, which, being the first lord of the admiralty was almost certainly named in his honour.

Naval Triumph, or Favours Confer'd. 13 Nov 1780 Royal Collection Trust
Naval Triumph, or Favours Confer’d. 13 Nov 1780 Royal Collection Trust

At the time of the new incoming government of April 1782, the Whig government, headed by the 2nd Marquess of Rockingham all of these elements were in place, in fact Lord Rockingham was a relative of Lord and Lady Mansfield by marriage and this made him Dido’s uncle. To add to this the marquis was a regular visitor to the Mansfield’s at Caenwood House, Hampstead. He in turn would know Dido’s father, Sir John Lindsay, very well.

Portrait of Charles Watson-Wentworth (1730–1782)
Portrait of Charles Watson-Wentworth (1730–1782)

The next influential person was the new First Lord of the Admiralty, Admiral  Augustus Keppel, who knew Rockingham well and Sir John Lindsay even more so, both being in service during the Seven Years War (1756-1763), in the Caribbean, and to make things even  more ‘pally’ was the fact that prior to 1782 they lived only ten minutes from each other in Mayfair. Keppel Keppel also left Sir John his sword, walking stick and a Richard Paton naval painting in his will.

Sir John Lindsay
Sir John Lindsay

Next you have to understand that if the admiralty was the right arm of  the senior service, then the navy board was the left, and in there as surveyor and designer to the Royal Navy was Sir John Williams, who knew all mentioned quite well over the years, he designed the 28-un frigate that was going to be called HMS Dido. Not here, the ship was not named HMS Queen Dido nor HMS Dido, Queen of Carthage, but simply HMS Dido. This name would have been vague had it not been named that way because it was named after a living person, and not named after a mythical queen. This living person was Dido Elizabeth Belle who, when the ship was ordered on 5th June 1782 would turn 21 years old just over three weeks later.

Dido Elizabeth Belle
Dido Elizabeth Belle

It was said that, when Lord Sandwich was in office, he would flick through the pages of Lemprière’s Classical Dictionary, looking for names to give ships. This was very much the sort of method used in the 18th century as names were plucked and agreed upon by arbitration, it wasn’t until the 19th century that a department was formed to name ships.

Prior to ordering the frigate relative paperwork, and by no means fully detailed as explained, would have landed on the desk of Admiral Keppel for his approval, perhaps cursory signature followed, but the naming of this frigate would have been fully agreed well in advance. Sir John would have known this.

For whilst Dido’s father was no longer on active service since April 1779, the same time as his close friend Keppel resigned his services, Sir  John was since the August of the previous year, 1781, a ‘Colonel of Marines’ a sinecure given to those deemed  worthy of such a role by their past naval service, this position was offered to him by the king himself, who I’ll  mention, as a patron and influence to Sir John a little later.

For now, Keppel drew up a list of naval officers he wished to employ with immediate effect and on that list at the top for captains/commodores was the name of Sir John Lindsay KB and other names followed after. It hasn’t been fully discovered yet why Sir John didn’t take up this offer but the whole list was presented to the First Lord of the Treasury, Lord Rockingham, who would have seen this familiar name on the list  – it’s safe to say that Lindsay could have had the job that April 1782 rather than a year later as a lord of the admiralty in 1783. Being a wealthy man perhaps Lindsay was content for the time being as Colonel of Marines, but Keppel and Sir John would definitely have been in regular contact in those early days of a new Whig government.

Lord Mansfield, whilst a Tory would have been contact with his relative the new premier, as mentioned Rockingham often dined at Caenwood House, ad certainly would have met his niece Dido there.  When seeing the approval of the name HMS Dido for a small ship by Keppel with Sir John’s instigation, it would have been immediately sanctioned and passed. All parties involved would have agreed by arbitration leaving nobody else to challenge the decision save jeopardising their career and patronage.

George III in 1781 Johann Hurter Royal Collection Trust.jpg
George III in 1781 Johann Hurter Royal Collection Trust.jpg

Back now to the king, he was Commander in Chief of the Royal Navy and whilst not getting involved in everyday events at the admiralty he would certainly be aware of the naming of ships a well as promoting officers of the rank. The king was a regular visitor to the Mansfield’s at Caenwood House as Lord Mansfield was to the king at St. James’s Palace, the Queen’s House and at Kew Palace.

The king and queen would probably have met Dido on their visits to the Mansfield’s, so her name wouldn’t sound strange in 1782 when a frigate is passed and ordered by the admiralty lords called HMS Dido. It’s also worth noting that the king’s governess, Lady Charlotte Finch, was related to the Countess Mansfield by marriage, having married Lady Betty’s brother William.

Lady Charlotte Finch. Royal Collection Trust
Lady Charlotte Finch. Royal Collection Trust

Lady Charlotte was governess to the princes/princesses for 30 years, so she too would have visited the Mansfield’s with her husband, so you can see now where the patronage is coming from and why there would have been no obstacles in the way of naming a ship, in this case HMS Dido and on the month of her 21st birthday and no longer a minor.

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

The king and queen would, most likely have been aware of the ship’s naming  and who requested it, this brings them to Sir John Lindsay whom the king himself knighted in 1764, made a Knight of the Bath in 1770 and commodore with full command of  the East India Station and Gulf of Persia the previous year. If that wasn’t enough, he was also representing the king as ‘ambassador’ to India with his dealings with both the crown prince of Arcot and the Honourable East India Company. He was also given full command of all marines stationed at Madras. Now this should tell you of the patronage, privilege, grace and favours bestowed upon Sir John Lindsay by the king and the nepotism of his uncle the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Mansfield. By now you should be able to see the people of influence involved of the initial influencer, Sir John and why all would agree upon the name choice.

Just the following year as the frigate was under construction in 1783, and through Admiral Keppel, Sir John accepted the role of commodore and commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean Fleet, which greatly pleased the king. Was this in return for the king’s support in the naming of the vessel? We will never fully know, but we do know that the king often met with Sir John.

William Bentinck,3rd Duke of Portland, a Whig, became premier in April 1783 and was also a close friend of Sir John and had rented out his house in Mansfield Street to Sir John from June 1782 prior to him joining the administration in 1783 as an admiralty lord. As a close contact of Sir John he wouldn’t question his frigate request and would pass it unchallenged, leaving as mentioned no one else to question the final decision.

It’s also noting that Margaret, Dowager Duchess of Portland, William’s mother, was a very close friend of the Mansfield’s, especially Lady Betty, again showing influence in the right places. She would have most likely have met Dido often on her visits to Caenwood House.

Now to the timeline of events from that order in June 1782 for the frigate named HMS Dido. To start, by June 1782 peace overtures were in their early stages of ending the American War of Independence, but in the March, Dido’s aunt Margaret Ramsay died, starting off a cycle of deaths within the family. In July 1782, the Marquess of Rockingham died. Margaret’s husband Allan Ramsay, the renowned artist, being Dido’s uncle would have been aware of the naming of the frigate.

HMS 'Dido' and 'Lowestoft' in action with 'Minerve' and 'Artemise', 24 June 1795 Royal Museums Greenwich
HMS ‘Dido’ and ‘Lowestoft’ in action with ‘Minerve’ and ‘Artemise’, 24 June 1795. Royal Museums Greenwich

The year 1783 saw Sir John made both Lord of the Admiralty and a commodore who by October that year headed off as Commander in Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet. In the meantime, in the previous 12 months the keel went down for the ship at Sandgate, Kent and construction was on the way. 1784 saw the death of Countess Mansfield in the April and Allan Ramsay in the August, so both would have been aware of the forthcoming frigate’s launch later that year but never got to experience it. 1785 saw the ship completed in the main and it was sent up to Royal Deptford dockyard for final finishing and coppering. That year was also the last year Lord Mansfield was in full office, as the following year he began working part-time from home, with Dido’s assistance until a new chief justice was found. He resigned office in June 1788.

Sir John Lindsay. Scone Palace
Sir John Lindsay. Scone Palace

Whilst Sir John returned from his command in late October 1784, he would have heard of the launching of HMS Dido on 27th November 1784 and have been kept aware of that ship’s progress well into 1787 when the frigate was now based at Portsmouth. On 24th September 1787 HMS dido was commissioned by the Royal Navy for service, and note, the very day that Sir John was promoted by the king to Rear Admiral of the Red – the highest promotion for a rear admiral whilst suffering from severe gout, Sir John remained in service albeit on terra firma, until his death on 4th June 1788, when returning from Bath after taking the waters.

Based upon my findings it was no coincidence that both the commissioning and Sir John’s promotion took places on the same day – in my opinion, it was planned that way.

There were 27 Enterprise frigates designed and built over the years, in batches but note the last batch of 3 frigates covered the period 1782-1783, just the very years that the Whigs were in power in government and all known or related to Sir John, (later an admiralty lord himself) and his daughter Dido. All had an input in the naming, launching and the commissioning of the first ship ever named Dido in the Royal Navy to date.

John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich after Johan Joseph Zoffany. National Portrait Gallery
John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich after Johan Joseph Zoffany. National Portrait Gallery

It’s also worth noting that prior to the naming of the newly designed frigate by Sir John Williams, then to the request of naming, building, launching and commissioning was a certain recently retired first lord that knew all about it and knew it was patronage from start to finish was John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich. During his career he was 3 times First Lord of the Admiralty and kept a personal ‘patronage book’ himself – I bet Sir John was in it, because he wrote to Lord Mansfield in November 1780 requesting Sir John rejoin the navy (after his resignation in 1779), as he was a naval officer of merit.

Oddly, Lord Sandwich came to live at Sir John’s house in Hertford Street after the North administration fell in March 1782 and stayed there till his death in 1792.

I doubt any paperwork exists that can fully confirm the order of the frigate and as names were plucked or discussed arbitrarily in the 18th century the latter was more the case. There are too many coincidences in my findings overall, and many influential persons to be found with close links to Sir John and his quest to name a ship after his daughter in her 21st year, a year when she was no longer a minor. It was also in 1782 that Dido was included in Lord Mansfield’s will, freeing her of any slavery in the future. So, Dido received two very good birthday presents for her 21st birthday.

Just one final items which demonstrates that Dido was not hidden away, but was known to Lord Mansfields family and friends comes in the form a newspaper report about the death of Sir John Lindsay, from 1788:

Public Advertiser. June 10, 1788
Public Advertiser. June 10, 1788
As a final point of interest, Queen Victoria’s goddaughter, Sarah Forbes Bonetta (1843-1880) was given her surname Bonetta by Captain James Forbes, who liberated her from slavery and who was the captain of HMS Bonetta.

Charlotte Howe of Thames Ditton

Captain Tyringham Howe, the son of Millicent Philips and William Howe. Tyringham was one of five children. His siblings being – Millicent who married Thomas Wilkinson in 1796 at Harwich, Essex; William Howe, a naval captain, who remained unmarried until his death in 1760; Stephen, who was a lieutenant colonel and aide-de-camp to the King, who died 1796; Captain Philip who lived with his wife Mary Anne Tongue (?-1826), prior to his death at Warblington, Hampshire in 1815 and finally Grace, about whom nothing appears to be known.

Back to Captain Tyringham Howe though, like his siblings he was a naval man through and through, serving from 1765 on a variety of ships, all over the world, becoming a captain on 11 May 1775. In December 1780, he was promoted to commander of HMS Thames, but just before that, the same year, he found the time to marry the widow, Elizabeth Stein at Ross, County Cork, Ireland. The couple had no children, nor it would seem did any of his siblings.

Source - Familysearch
Source – Familysearch – Click to enlarge image

There has been much written about the story of Charlotte Howe, but so much of it remains annoyingly vague. Tyringham returned to England at some time during 1781 bringing with him a black slave girl, believed to be around 15 years old at the time, whom he had purchased whilst in America, to live with Tyringham and his wife at Thames Ditton.

Just a couple of years later Tyringham’s life was cut short, as he died in June 1783 and was buried in the parish church of St Nicholas in Thames Ditton, aged just 38, thus leaving his widow Elizabeth with the girl, along with another servant.

He clearly knew that his life was coming to an end having written his will he added a codicil to it, appointing a Mr Alington Hodges of Middle Temple to be joint executor, along with his ‘dear wife, Elizabeth’ who became the sole beneficiary, but he made with no mention of the girl who was living with them or in fact of any other servants who may have been resident in the household at the time.

On 17 December 1783, the girl was presented for baptism at the same parish church and from then on she was known to history, as Charlotte Howe.

Click to enlarge image
Click to enlarge image

It was perhaps about a year later that Elizabeth took a property on Sloane Street, Mayfair in the parish of St Luke, taking Charlotte with her, along with another servant; both of whom it appears were unpaid workers.

It appears that something occurred in 1784, causing Charlotte to leave the house, presumably with no money or belongings and no husband to support her, thereby making herself free and no longer a slave, but of course, this equally meant that she had no money or possessions.

It would appear that Charlotte must have somehow returned to Thames Ditton, where, with no money, she found it necessary to apply to Thames Ditton for poor relief. There seems no explanation as to why she would have returned there rather than remaining in London, which seems somewhat strange. What was the appeal of Thames Ditton? A question for which there appears no answer.

However, as she had been living in the parish of St Luke’s she was deemed ineligible to receive parish relief in Thames Ditton and as such, they returned her to St Luke’s where she was admitted to the parish workhouse on 25 October 1784, although Thames Ditton agreed to fund her relief for three months.

St Luke’s appealed against the decision to keep her there, as they didn’t want to fund her and eventually it took a court judgement to resolve the situation. The parishes played a game of ‘ping pong’ with poor Charlotte, with neither wishing to take responsibility for her.

This process went on from late summer 1784. St Luke’s won its appeal against Thames Ditton and Charlotte was returned from St Luke’s to Thames Ditton on 20 January 1785.

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

At the end of January however, the vestrymen sought the opinion of the King’s Bench regarding the costs and Charlotte’s case was put before the highest judge in the land, Lord Mansfield which is interesting given his familial connection with Dido Elizabeth Belle, who would no doubt have been aware of this situation and it would be fascinating to have known her view of this case, especially as the two women would have been the same sort of age and with Dido’s mother having been a slave.

The argument being that Charlotte had worked in the role of servant and according to the attorneys, she understood the nature of her obligation and that she never thought of leaving until after the death of her master and that before she could benefit from parish relief she would need to prove that she had worked for forty days within the parish, which of course she could not, as she had been living and working in St Luke’s parish for Elizabeth Howe, prior to returning to Thames Ditton. Lord Mansfield ruled that Charlotte neither qualified for relief in neither St Luke nor Thames Ditton as she was not receiving payment for the work carried out for Captain and Mrs Howe. She was therefore homeless and penniless.

There are several things which are unclear about this story, firstly whilst Elizabeth Howe appears on the rates return for 1786 i.e. just prior to her death and she also specifically gave her address as being ‘of Sloane Street‘, in her will, but there is no sign of her being there prior to that time and no explanation as to exactly where she was living nor why she was not involved in Charlotte’s court case to provide evidence.

Elizabeth died 29th December 1785, and as requested in her will she wished for her funeral to consist of a hearse and four horses, a mourning coach and four, and for her body to be buried with her late husband at Thames Ditton. In her will, she named various beneficiaries including a servant, but no mention was made of Charlotte. It was as if this girl had suddenly appeared, then just as quickly disappeared from any records.

Charlotte simply vanished from any records found to date, but it would seem likely that she remained around the Thames Ditton area, why else would she have returned there after leaving Elizabeth? Did she feel more comfortable living there, rather than in London, could that have been why she headed there when she left Elizabeth? So many unanswered questions.

I came across is a very curious entry, however, dated 22 August 1852 in the parish burial register of Hersham, a village just three miles away from Thames Ditton.

The Charlotte Howe named on the entry would have been born about 1763,  which looks to have been about the right sort of age. Of course, there is no way of confirming this that this entry was for the same person or just purely coincidence, but it seems feasible that Charlotte remained close to Thames Ditton for the remainder of her exceptionally long life, but doing what, who knows.

I searched for a Charlotte Howe and variations of that name on the 1851 census and for nearby Walton on Thames, there was in fact, a Charlotte Howes, she was recorded as visiting a William Hobbs, a rail labourer and his wife Mary Ann. The surname is slightly different with the addition of an ‘s’, and she was recorded as being a widow from Hampshire, so on the face of it could it be the same person or simply a coincidence and she was also the person buried at Hersham? But given that Hersham is only two miles from Walton on Thames it seems tantalisingly likely and that she had made up a story about her origins.

I tried to find her on the 1841 census in Thames Ditton, Walton and Hersham but with no luck, especially as the census for Thames Ditton is no longer available.

Sadly it appears likely that we will never really know what became of her, but it would be good to think that she had a good life and that it was the Charlotte Howe buried at Hersham.

UPDATE

Thanks to a lovely reader, Bernadette, we have solved the mystery of the Charlotte buried at Hersham. Bernadette was able to confirm her as being the wife of Henry Howe, a gamekeeper. With this I managed to find a marriage entry for her in Hampshire, which is where she said she was from on the 1851 census and she was a Miss  Charlotte Keene. Sadly, the hunt for the other Charlotte Howe will have to continue.

Sources

London, England, Land Tax Records, 1692-1932. Call Number: MR/PLT/4612

An Alphabetical List of the commissions of His Majesty’s fleet: with the dates of their first commissions.

The Will of Tyringham Howe, late commander of His Majesty’s ship, Thames of Thames Ditton, 9 July 1783. PROB 11/1106/110

The Will of Elizabeth Howe, Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 1142

Surrey History Centre; Woking, Surrey, England; Surrey Church of England Parish Registers; Reference: 2568/1/4

Surrey History Centre; Woking, Surrey, England; Surrey Church of England Parish Registers; Reference: 2843/1/26

1851 census – Class: HO107; Piece: 1593; Folio: 77; Page: 10; GSU roll: 193490

The Times. 29 April 1785

London Lives. St Luke’s Workhouse Registers: Workhouse Admission and Discharge Registers 25 October 1784 – 20 January 1785

 Featured Image

King’s Bench. Rudolph Microcosm of London. British Library

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, I 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 my research, I’ve noticed just how relatively small London was in the 18th century. Everyone who was anyone knew each other and this has become especially obvious whilst exploring the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle.

So, in today’s game I 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 the 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 the case.

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 I 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 – 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.

 

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.

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 on the same day, at the same church and by the same vicar 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, who we now know survived until at least 1804, then seems to have completely vanished. 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 of £100, 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 boys alone. We now know that Lady Anne Murray who died in 1817, wrote her will after Dido died in 1804, in which she acknowledged that she knew Dido had left, but still left money to all 3 of her boys.

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 PimlicoThey would have been taught, English, Greek, Latin and French, along with subjects such as accounts, land surveying, mathematics and drawing. Basically, all skills they would need to get a job in the military, finance or to go to university.  

charles Dainiere school

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.

It was to be shortly after the birth of Edward Henry that the couple moved again, this time to 31 Edgware Road where it appears they remained for several years.

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 Charles and Lavinia and to a lesser extent, William Thomas, are reasonably well documented. Certainly the boys 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 to Fanny Graham, which took place in September of that year and was clearly still alive when his father died. I have read online that Fanny Graham was a widow, so let’s just correct another mistake, as you can see here, she was a spinster.william

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.

If you’d like to listen to a podcast about Dido recorded for English Heritage click 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.

If you’d like to know more about Dido Elizabeth Belle follow these links:

Dido Elizabeth Belle’s Descendants

The missing brother of Sir John Lindsay

Dido Elizabeth Belle portrait – BBC Fake or Fortune

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?

HMS Dido

Lady Elizabeth Mary Murray

* 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.