The Violent Secret of Miss Scott

A future prime minister on the subject of love:

“…I’m pretty sure I am not born to die of love and I am quite sure I shall never be a lover.”

That was the impression George Canning (1770-1827) certainly gave, for he made little or no attempt to be agreeable to women. The patroness of his own party, Lady Elizabeth Leveson-Gower, Countess of Sutherland, ‘thoroughly disliked’ him. Canning believed all women of fashion were depraved and corrupt, as Lady Holland noted in her diary, July 4, 1799.

 

Canning was mean to her, Lady Bessborough complained to her lover Granville:

 

“What possible chance have I of escaping under the eye of a person who judges everyone with severity, women particularly and me perhaps more than any other woman?” — August 1798

 

George Canning by Hoppner. “Never was any human being less bent on falling in love than I was…”

That all changed when Canning attended a Tory gathering at Walmer Castle upon the invitation of his mentor, Pitt. There he met Miss Joan Scott, the heiress of a tremendous fortune in gambling proceeds (over £500,000) won by her father, General ‘Pawky’ Scott. Her sister had made a grand match, marrying the heir to the Duke of Portland and former prime minister. The same was expected of Miss Scott but so far she had rejected every suitor for her hand, including that handsome devil Sir Arthur Paget.

 

Contemptuous of the courtship business, Canning refused even the appearance of dangling after Miss Scott.

 

“Perhaps it was in some measure this very circumstance of having her so constantly in my thoughts as something to be avoided, perhaps it was an observation of something I cannot put into words..probably it was the observation which I could not but make of her beauty, and good sense, and quiet, interesting manners…” Canning to Granville Leveson Gower, August 1799

 

The Cottage at Walmer Castle via English Heritage. You can spend your holiday at the Castle and stay in the cottage!

‘Seized by a passion that would last the rest of his life,’ Canning sought out Miss Scott. Unfortunately, embarrassment overcame him and the master parliamentary orator was unable to Speak. He fled to Dover, trying to talk himself out of his infatuation, reasoning that he couldn’t offer for her hand. Their financial circumstances were too disparate. He shuddered to think he might appear as a fortune hunter, particularly when he didn’t have a proper job. She would reject him anyway, leaving him open to jeers and mockery, for Canning’s sharp wit had made him plenty of enemies.

 

Somehow he had to keep the ‘violent secret of Miss Scott’ to himself.

 

At Dover, Canning saw Lady Susan Ryder, his good friend Granville’s sister. Reluctantly, and in the strictest confidence, he told her about his predicament. Fortunately Lady Susan had a slight acquaintance with Miss Scott and volunteered to sound her out for him. Her response, ‘she found me so different from what she expected,’ threw him into a paroxysm of  doubt and perplexity.

 

What did that mean? He knew he had his detractors. Sometimes he carried a joke too far. He even made his own friends cry. That d—d Charles Greville, her relative, must have said something disparaging:

“…he amuses himself by representing me as a compound of satirical and ill-natured and insolent feelings and manners and particularly with stating himself to be an object of my contempt..”

 

‘The Gower Family,’ considered Romney’s masterpiece. Painted in 1776, it depicts the 2nd Earl Gower’s children, two of whom were Canning’s close friends. Lady Susan is in profile, her brother Granville peers around her, his gaze mischievous, his golden hair shining.

What did it matter, anyway? Miss Scott made it clear she didn’t want to marry a politician. So, Lady Susan advised Canning to give it up. He returned to Walmer anyway, unable to contemplate a future without Miss Scott. He reasoned that no objection was ‘sufficient to make it a matter of duty or delicacy in me to see her no more.’ He promised he wouldn’t harass or embarrass her but he had to have her definitive answer, to ‘learn his fate.’

 

That was when

 

“..I first touched my own Love’s hand–and put my arm ’round her, & drew her to me–and she was not very angry (!)–not very angry I think–though it was very saucy in me to do what I did.”

 

Nevertheless, on the question of marriage Miss Scott prevaricated. She would defer to her sister’s husband, Marquess Titchfield, a man who wasn’t her guardian but whom she relied upon for advice. Canning told her he would not retire from the field unless and until he had her repudiation–not something half-hearted and dependent on others.

 

She would remain ‘an object so dear to me.’

 

Meanwhile, the government offered him a real job–an ambassadorship to Holland. He agonized, knowing it was an opportunity he shouldn’t decline and yet if he left England Miss Scott would slip away forever. Then she fell dangerously ill, her life was despaired of. Perhaps her recovery was the catalyst for surrender. She agreed to marry him in the summer.

 

“It is the one Event most essential to my happiness that has ever yet occurred in the course of my life.” — Canning to Granville’s mother, Lady Stafford, May, 1800

 

The secret was out.

 

South Hill Park, the Cannings’ country residence, now an arts centre — photo by Garrick Hywel Darts

 

Postscript: Before his marriage, Canning mentioned to Granville an entanglement he had with a married lady, a relationship that seemed to demand some reluctant reciprocation on his part, for he planned to use the excuse of a pending marriage to escape it. The lady’s identity remains uncertain, but many believe she was Caroline of Brunswick, Princess of Wales. On the other hand, Lady Holland pointed to the Earl of Malmesbury’s wife who hosted her husband’s cadre of foreign affairs protégés, including Canning and another future prime minister, Lord Liverpool. Lady B begged Granville to reveal her identity, having just discovered ‘the violent secret of Miss Scott.’

 

Sources:

 

The Rise of George Canning by Dorothy Marshall (1938) – particularly his letters to Lady Susan Ryder and containing the quote in the photo of South Hill Park above.

 

George Canning: Three Biographical Studies by P. J. V. Rolo (1965)  — best for a glimpse of his devotion to his wife and children ‘if anything should happen to (Canning’s daughter) it would kill him on the spot.’

 

Private correspondence, 1781 – 1821 by Granville Leveson Gower, Earl Granville, et al and edited by Castalia Leveson-Gower, Countess Granville (1916) for all other quotes.

Standard Bearer to the Regency – Part Four

Sarah Sophia Child Villiers, Countess of Jersey, achieved everything she set out to do as a young woman. She married the Earl of Jersey in her own drawing room. She gave him an heir and a spare, besides three beautiful girls.

She convinced most of Regency-era society she was their de facto ruler.

Portrait of Sarah Sophia’s daughters via National Galleries of Scotland: Frederica (later Princess Esterhazy), Adela (eloped with her own ‘Mr. Wickham’) and Clementina (her face appeared in all the era’s Books of Beauty)

The streak of restlessness in her character did not subside as she headed into matronhood, nor her powerful motivation to lead. These traits found an outlet in politics–an activity to promote her deeply held Tory principles. Many criticized her for being headstrong, imperious and meddling. Such hurly-burly behavior was unbecoming in a female of rank.

I wager being a Tory wasn’t the problem. Being female was.

To supplement her husband’s modest political activities,* Sarah Sophia put on lavish parties. Her townhouse was filled to the brim for the triumphant celebration she put on after the (practical) nullification of the Marriage Act of 1754. Prominent Whig hostess Lady Holland bemoaned the fact her Tory rival’s gatherings were better attended than her own, by members of both parties.+

It seems the atmosphere in Berkeley Square was more relaxed than Holland House in Kensington. At No. 38, observers noted how even foreign diplomats, like the great Talleyrand, freely discussed policies that might otherwise be too sensitive to bandy about at a party.++

Gossip had it that Sarah Sophia did some of her politicking in other men’s arms.

Much of this speculation rests on an often cited misquote of a remark made by, oddly enough, Lord Jersey himself. When challenged to a duel, he refused to defend his wife’s honor.+++  Somehow the purpose for the challenge got lost in the translation. Sarah Sophia’s husband might fight a duel over sex, but not over vouchers to Almack’s.

“Lord Jersey replied in a very dignified manner, saying that if all persons who did not receive tickets from his wife were to call him to account for want of courtesy on her part, he should have to make up his mind to become a target for young officers, and he therefore declined the honor of a proposed meeting.”– Captain Gronow, by R. H. Gronow, 1794-1865

Mild-mannered Lord Jersey appears to have held Sarah Sophia’s affections throughout their long (55 year) marriage.

Marble bust of George Child-Villiers, 5th Earl of Jersey by Nollekens — photo via UK Government Art Collection — “Looking in great beauty” —Lady Bessborough observed.  I, too, am a fangirl.

In any event, one has to think Sarah Sophia’s forceful, talkative nature would have made it difficult for her to execute political maneuvers in such an intimate setting as the bedroom.

The strategy she did employ had a much better chance of success. It was far more efficient to carry the war straight to the combatants since she already attended a staggering round of social events. Of course, it put people in a bustle if one discussed politics at routs, turtle breakfasts, balls and so forth. Very bad ton.

Yet Sarah Sophia managed to carry the thing off.

Lady Holland’s son Henry Edward Fox recorded a wealth of society’s doings at this time, including Lady Jersey’s. To the vexation of his Whig parents, he greatly admired the leading Tory hostess, albeit with some qualifications:

‘There is no fine lady I love so much; she never tells what is not true yet talks more than anybody in England.’
–The Journal of Henry Edward Fox 1818 – 1830, by Baron Henry Edward Vassall Fox (1923)

Those aborted attempts to discourage her are among his best anecdotes.

One in particular blew up in a duke’s face. His Grace of Devonshire planned a Whig celebration for newly crowned George IV and was well aware the Countess of Jersey expected to attend. The problem arose when she came out in strong support of Queen Caroline, the estranged wife of the new king. The duke suddenly ‘took fright’ and against Lord Jersey’s advice, tried to rescind the invitation.

Sarah Sophia vowed to go anyway–if only because His Grace didn’t want her there.

After proceedings in the House of Lords, the gallery spectators were permitted to descend to the floor and mingle. Queen Sarah’s place was (naturally) on the throne steps, where she could easily listen in on post-debate conversations. Other ladies inhabited the throne area as well, but it was Lady Jersey’s presence that some men found objectionable. On one occasion Lord Anglesey loudly warned those nearby to avoid talking politics around her because she might carry tales to the newspapers.

Anglesey apologized but the incident shows Sarah Sophia knew enough to be dangerous.

It didn’t help that Anglesey left Sarah Sophia’s sister-in-law for another woman (landing him in the basket not only with Sarah Sophia but Wellington as well). Lady Caroline Villiers (pictured here with her eldest son) later married the Duke of Argyll, a union that moved her to declare she never knew marriage could be so blissful. Portrait by Hoppner, via National Trust

Another diarist of the time, Henry Greville, thought Sarah Sophia a self-delusional know-it-all:

“Lady Jersey affects to be entirely in the Duke (of Wellington’s) confidence. She said to Lord Granville at Madame de Lieven’s the other night that ‘she made it a rule never to talk to the Duke about affairs in public.” ..I doubt whether he tells her much of anything.”
— Leaves from the Diary of Henry Greville, edited by Viscountess Enfield (1883)

Greville preferred Mrs. Arbuthnot, her cousin and a close confidant of the rising political star Lord Wellington. Of all the Fane women, she got the lion’s share of discretion and good sense, in his opinion. He admired how calm she remained in times of crisis. In Sarah Sophia’s defense, anyone with sense would be upset if Wellington were to die in a stupid duel. Not only would that destroy the Tory government, it would throw the country into economic and political turmoil.

Sarah Sophia was among the first to hear the Duke of Cumberland tried to assault Lady Lyndhurst in her own house. She mentioned it to Greville. Perhaps she already knew what a dreadful gossip he was (Queen Victoria tried to sensor his diary). As expected, he set about discovering all the salacious details of His Highness’ bad behavior. These he took care to share with others, while making sure Lady Jersey would be the last he informed. Suddenly and without warning he found himself in hot water, having to explain why he was spreading slanderous gossip concerning the brother of the King!

Oops.

Bust, marble, of a Lady (probably Sarah Sophia Child-Villiers, Countess of Jersey), by William Behnes, English, signed and dated 1827 — photo via the V&A Collection

It seems Sarah Sophia put Regency-era correspondent and Lord Brougham supporter Thomas Creevey in a quake. Why else would he be paranoid about committing to paper his candid impressions of her?

“Shall I tell you what Lady Jersey is like? She is like one of her many gold and silver musical dickey birds..On the merits of her songs I shall say nothing until we meet.”
–The Creevey Papers Vol II, by Thomas Creevey (1904)

He grew bolder in a subsequent letter, expressing great satisfaction over the clever way Lady Brougham gave Sarah Sophia a smart set-down. To paraphrase: No, her ladyship told Lady Jersey, my husband cannot attend your party in Berkeley Square to meet Prince d’Arenberg. He is attending Lady King’s dinner with me,and I NEVER go anywhere without him!

Both Creevey and Lady Brougham had to eat crow. The evening of Lady King’s dinner, the Brougham carriage arrived–minus Lord Brougham. It was an awkward business for his wife:

“..she made Lord Brougham’s apologies to Lady King for his unavoidable absence on account of business.”

Sarah Sophia’s dust-up with Lady Brougham was mild compared to the epic battles she waged against Lord Brougham. Simply put, he was a great advocate for reform and she decidedly was not. Creevey disapproved, and not just because he was a supporter of his lordship. He deplored the way Lady Jersey gave the vulgar press fodder by interfering in men’s affairs, particularly because such conduct gave females unnatural ideas.

Sarah Sophia may have been on the wrong side of history, but she was on the right side of the war between the sexes. She didn’t let gender stop her from advocating what she thought was right. Creevey remain unimpressed.

Sarah Sophia, he declared, was ‘going to the devil as fast as she can.’

“What I hate more than anything is a liar, a charlatan, someone who doesn’t believe in what they say.”  —–  Lucifer Morningstar (aka the Devil) via Netflix

 

 

*George Villiers, 5th Earl of Jersey did hold important Tory offices throughout his adult life. It is telling, however, that he was content with whatever scraps remained after the other peers fought over appointments in the new King George IV’s household.

+ The Creevey Papers Vol II, by Thomas Creevey (1904)

++The Journal of Henry Edward Fox 1818 – 1830, by Baron Henry Edward Vassall Fox (1923)

+++ The award-winning biography Palmerston, by Jasper Ridley (2008)

 

 

 

“The Hostess from Hell” – Holland House Part Two

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.

Lady Holland with her son – Louis Gauffier

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, “You’re 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.”