Elizabeth Fox, Baroness Holland, was the daughter of a Jamaican planter. Married off to Lord Webster, a man twenty years her senior, she gave birth to three children before falling in love with another man, bearing him a child out-of-wedlock. Not two days divorced, she married her lover Lord Holland.
The ton could not forget her scandalous past and so declined to receive her. No matter, Lord and Lady Holland did their own receiving, hosting the most influential men of the day at Holland House. The few women who came were fellow Whigs, the Duchess of Devonshire and that fashionable marchioness from Berkeley Square, Lady Lansdowne.
Baroness Holland was the complete opposite of her husband. She was gruff where he was affable, imperious when he would give way. Long, boring discourse was not tolerated at her table–her ladyship was known to dispatch her footman to admonish the offending guest.
Thomas Moore, which this blog christened Regency Poet of Wine and Love, once said, “poets inclined to a plethora of vanity would find a dose of Lady Holland now and then very good for their complaint.”
“I’m sorry you are going to publish a poem,” she said to Lord Portchester. “Can’t you suppress it?”
And to the great English poet, Samuel Rogers, she advised, “Your poetry is bad enough, so pray be sparing about your prose.”
Lady Holland reminds me of the Gosford Park character Constance, Countess of Trentham. There is something sinfully joyous about her acidic observations. This one she offers to the American film and radio star Ivor Novello:
LadyTrentham: It must be hard to know when it’s time to throw in the towel… What a pity about that last one of yours… what was it called? “The Dodger”? Novello: The Lodger. LadyTrentham: The Lodger. It must be so disappointing when something just flops like that.
Lady Holland lived to the age of seventy-four. When tentatively shown Byron’s memoirs, which were none too complimentary of his hostess at Holland House, she shrugged.
“Such things give me no uneasiness; I know perfectly my station in the world, and I know all that can be said of me. As long as the few friends I am really sure of speak kindly of me, all that the rest of the world can say is a matter of complete indifference to me.”