Coursers Taking the Field at Hatfield Park, Hertfordshire, the Seat of the Marquess of Salisbury by James Pollard, exhibited 1824. The Marchioness, in the blue livery of the hunt, is in the forefront of the scene, at the age of 73, peering through an eye glass attached to her whip.

An Unconventional Marchioness: The Life of Lady Salisbury

In our earlier blog, looking at entertainments in Regency London, it was remarked that the Marchioness of Salisbury was unusual in opening her house to guests upon a Sunday. She always held a musical conversazione upon that day during the London season, attended by those of high rank and the best musicians.

The Pic-Nic Orchestra. © The Trustees of the British Museum The Marchioness of Salisbury is depicted blowing a french horn while the Earl of Cholmondeley plays the flute.
The Pic-Nic Orchestra. © The Trustees of the British Museum
The Marchioness of Salisbury is depicted blowing a french horn while the Earl of Cholmondeley plays the flute.

Mary Amelia Hill (known as Emily Mary) was born in 1750, the daughter of Wills Hill, 2nd Viscount Hillsborough (later 1st Earl of Hillsborough and 1st Marquess of Downshire). In 1773 she married James Cecil, Viscount Cranborn of Hatfield House, Hertfordshire. Her new husband was the only son and heir of the 6th Earl of Salisbury and, just seven years after their marriage, James became the 7th earl and Emily Mary his countess (the couple were later elevated in the peerage to the 1st Marquess and Marchioness of Salisbury). Lady Salisbury was known as a prominent political hostess (a Tory and a fervent supporter of the monarchy) and was also a keen and talented sportswoman.  It is perhaps unkind to describe her as eccentric, but she certainly paid little heed to many conventional norms as she determinedly walked her own path.

The south east view of Hatfield House, the seat of the Marquess of Salisbury, 1812.
The south east view of Hatfield House, the seat of the Marquess of Salisbury, 1812. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Lady Salisbury was seen as the political opposite to the Whig supporting Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and noted as a model female canvasser.

Her proceedings have been marked with such delicacy and dignity, as to shame the mobbing conduct of her rivals.

A trendsetter rather than a follower, Lady Salisbury was often to be seen in clothes of her own design and she rode enthusiastically to hounds well into her dotage, dressed in a sky blue riding habit with black collar and cuffs, a hunting cap on her head. Her slight frame belied her strength and she had an almost limitless energy. She took over the ownership of the Hertfordshire hounds in 1793 when her husband was forced by ill-health to resign his mastership and moved the kennels lock, stock and barrel to Hatfield House; they were subsequently known as the Hatfield hounds.

The Marchioness of Salisbury (Diana return'd from the Chace) by James Gillray.
The Marchioness of Salisbury (Diana return’d from the Chace) by James Gillray. © National Portrait Gallery, London

Archery was another of Lady Salisbury’s passions and she was also a talented artist.

The Misses Van by Lady Salisbury, 1791.
The Misses Van by Lady Salisbury, 1791. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Described as pretty, witty, intelligent and outspoken, she was married – reasonably happily it would seem – for thirteen years before having four children in quick succession, Georgiana Charlotte Augusta (1786), Emily (1789), James Brownlow William (1792) and Caroline (1793). Sadly, the youngest, Caroline, died in childhood and Lady Salisbury was widowed in 1823.

Mary Amelia 'Emily Mary' Cecil, 1st Machioness of Salisbury (1750 – 1835) by Sir Joshua Reynolds.
Mary Amelia ‘Emily Mary’ Cecil, 1st Marchioness of Salisbury (1750 – 1835) by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Wikimedia Commons

As the years passed and, well into her 70s, Lady Salisbury continued to run rings around people half her age; she was affectionately known as ‘Old Sally’. Even when her eyesight was failing and she had to be tied into her saddle, she still rode with the hunt.

Coursers Taking the Field at Hatfield Park, Hertfordshire, the Seat of the Marquess of Salisbury by James Pollard, exhibited 1824. The Marchioness, in the blue livery of the hunt, is in the forefront of the scene, at the age of 73, peering through an eye glass attached to her whip.
Coursers Taking the Field at Hatfield Park, Hertfordshire, the Seat of the Marquess of Salisbury by James Pollard, exhibited 1824. The Tate.
The Marchioness, in the blue livery of the hunt, is in the forefront of the scene, at the age of 73, peering through an eye glass attached to her whip.

The manner of Old Sally’s death was just as unconventional as her life had been. She had remained at Hatfield House after her husband’s death, living with her son, his wife and her grandchildren in her own apartments consisting of two suites of rooms. At 6 o’clock on the evening of the 27th November 1835, Lady Salisbury, after dressing for dinner, sat down at her writing desk. It is thought that some item of her clothing, perhaps the feathers she was wearing in her hair, caught alight from the three candles burning beside her but, whatever the cause, an intense fire broke out in her suite. By the time it was discovered (by a needlewoman named Brown who noticed the passageway was full of smoke), the room in which Lady Salisbury had been sitting was a mass of flames and so densely filled with smoke that it was impossible for anyone to enter.

A female servant, and one of old Lady Salisbury’s men-servants, attempted to do so; but the man fell down stupefied by the smoke, as soon as he had crossed the threshold, and was with difficulty saved. It appears certain that the fire must have commenced about twenty minutes before it was discovered; and the apartments being all wainscoted, its progress was terrifically rapid. No vestige of the Marchioness was discovered by any one; nor was a sound heard by those who first approached the room, except the moaning of an old favourite dog who was shut up with her.

Lord Salisbury arrived on the scene and had to be forcibly held back from attempts to rush into the flames and save his mother. The west wing of Hatfield House was destroyed and all that remained of the dowager marchioness were a few fragments of bone.

Sources:

Spectator, 5th December 1835

Cecil [née Hill], Mary Amelia [Emily Mary], marchioness of Salisbury by E H Chalus, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Tales of English Eccentrics, Tony Grumley-Grennan

Her First Dance, William Quiller Orchardson

A guide to entertaining in Regency London

Social Meetings

The social meetings of the fashionable world consist of balls, musical parties, and routs. The latter appear to be formed on the model of the Italian conversaziones; except that they are in general so crowded, as entirely to preclude conversation. Cards, upon these occasions, are usually provided for the senior part of the company.

An evening party, George Cruikshank.
An evening party, George Cruikshank. The Met

General Expense of these Entertainments

The expense attendant on these entertainments depends entirely on the species of amusement which is provided. If balls are given, the expense is very considerable, as it is usual to give a supper to the company; and if in the early part of the season, April and May, the fruit is necessarily very scarce, and of high price. It is said, that a ball given by the Marquess of Anglesea [sic] cost 1,500l. These repasts are generally provided by some confectioner of repute, at a stipulated sum, (from 400l. to 1,000l.) who also provides chairs, glasses, and plates. The most celebrated of these are Gunter and Grange.

Elegant Company Dancing by Thomas Rowlandson.
Elegant Company Dancing by Thomas Rowlandson. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

General Time of Assembling

The time for assembling is generally from ten to twelve o’clock, or even later, as many persons visit several of these places in one evening. The hours of departure are various and uncertain; but from balls, the latest being sometimes seven or eight o’clock in the morning before the whole have separated. In this case, it is usual to cause coffee, tea, &c. to be handed to the company.

The Next Dance, George Goodwin Kilburne,
The Next Dance, George Goodwin Kilburne, Wikimedia Commons

Dress

The dress for these entertainments is that of the most reigning fashion. The persons who provide most fashionable for ladies on these occasions, are Mrs Gill, Cork Street; Mrs Griffiths, Little Ryder Street; Mrs Lacon, Albermarle Street; Miss Steward, &c. &c. The principal hairdressers and perfumers are, Woodman, in Piccadilly; Marshall, Wynne, Smyth, Rigge, &c.

Her First Dance, William Quiller Orchardson
Her First Dance, William Quiller Orchardson; Tate

Sunday Parties

Parties on Sundays are not very common. The Marchioness of Salisbury, however, has always a conversazione during the season on that day. It is usually attended by great numbers of persons of rank and distinction, and frequently some eminent musical professors are attendant on the occasion. The Countess St Antonio also sometimes gives musical parties on Sundays.

The Rehearsal, George Goodwin Kilburne
The Rehearsal, George Goodwin Kilburne

Sunday Dinners

Many grand dinners are constantly given on this day.

Regency dinner table.
Image sourced via Pinterest.

Source:

Leigh’s New Picture of London: or, a view of the political, religious, medical, literary, municipal, commercial, and moral state of the British Metropolis: presenting a brief and luminous guide to the stranger, on all subjects connected with general information, business, or amusement. 1818