Standard-Bearer to the Regency – Part Five

This is the final installment of a series examining the personality of Sarah Sophia Villiers, Countess of Jersey. For two centuries she has played a role in late Georgian-themed literature–a remarkable testament to her character’s powerful influence. Writers rely upon her time and again to establish a challenging setting for their plots because she is the symbol of an immovable, rigid society of unbending rules and top-of-the-trees elites.

To repeat: Sarah Sophia was–and still is–the Standard-Bearer to the Regency.

“The devil himself was not more handsome or seductive than this man who called himself Glenarvon. From the moment she met him, Calantha knew she was damned..” –from the back cover

As described in a previous post, Sarah Sophia makes her most significant appearance in the first of many works: Glenarvon (1816). Among the members of the Regency ton, there were plenty of society figures who possessed a penchant for talking excessively and interrupting ongoing conversations, or an obsession with secrets and frenetic socializing. As Lady Holland wrote to Mrs. Creevey1, the libel lay in the way such traits were so cleverly packaged. Future authors would emulate this unique method of characterization.

Lord Worth chides her: “Don’t talk, Sally, you interrupt Miss Crewe.”

Like the intrepid fox-hunting Corinthian in a Heyer romance, Caro showed us all the way.

Sarah Sophia, in the guise of Lady Augusta, deplores Glenarvon’s cruel seduction and expresses sympathy for Calantha, “dying alone, upbraided, despised and deserted.” She recognizes injustice done to another woman but does nothing about it.

It is a virulent portrait of an unfeeling creature, very like contemporary diarist Charles Greville’s2 description of Sarah Sophia–devoid of feminine softness.

“I am like a deer, and ever fly with the herd; there is no excuse..ever, for those who are wounded and bleeding and trodden upon.” — Lady Augusta Selwyn, Glenarvon

When Sarah Sophia was about sixty years of age, she made another appearance in literature, this time as Lady St Julians in Benjamin Disraeli’s Coningsby and Sybil.  Both works reflect the author’s dissatisfaction with established political parties, where members exist only to serve their own interests and not the people they represent.

Lady St. Julians is a creature of the system, ignoring the principle of the thing in favor of her family’s interests, constantly maintaining a network to promote them:

“..she made it a rule to go everywhere and visit everybody, provided they had power, wealth and fashion…” — Coningsby (1844)

Her efforts to influence Conservative politics reflect Sarah Sophia’s, and not in a complimentary way:

 “…driving distractedly about town, calling at clubs, closeted with red tapers*, making ingenuous combinations that would not work, by means of which some of her sons was to stand in coalition with some great parvenu, to pay none of the expenses, and yet come in first.” — Sybil (1845)

” ‘Oh, goodness me! Don’t, I implore you, give her vouchers for Almack’s. ..she presents such a very off-appearance, doesn’t she? ..she looks stupid. I’m persuaded she’s not awake upon any suit!’ “

Thirteen years after her death, Disraeli gave Sarah Sophia immortality as Zenobia in his  Endymion (1880). For all his fascination for her, his published correspondence rarely mentions Lady Jersey, apart from seeing her ablaze with jewels at Queen Victoria’s coronation, and observing her husband’s (bless him) flood of tears when their eldest son married Prime Minister Peel’s daughter.3

 Some have said Zenobia is a composite portrait of Disraeli’s Whig patronesses.4 This is unlikely given his masterful rendition of Lady Jersey’s political efforts–they are hers almost to the life. When Endymion’s Whigs are in the ascendant, Zenobia gnashes her teeth. And when the Whig government resigns, Zenobia triumphs.

Sarah Sophia’s every idiosyncrasy is recalled with exactitude:

“..to listen, among her many talents, was also her rarest…she liked flattery, and always said she did..she liked handsome people, and even handsome women, and persons who were dressed beautifully.. she never liked her male friends to marry..and it was her habit to impress upon her noble fellows of both sexes that there were relations of intimacy between herself and the royal houses of Europe, which were not shared by her class.” — Endymion (1880)

Georgette Heyer resurrected Sarah Sophia to become a powerful utility character in many a Regency romance novel. As Caro did in Glenarvon, Heyer makes Lady Jersey a source of external conflict (society’s strictures) for intrepid heroines to overcome. She is also a tool manipulated by Heyer’s heroes, frequently men she adores, to steer other characters into position for season after season of excellent plot maneuvers.

“Hero would have been astonished, and indeed indignant, had she been aware that she was the object of Lady Jersey’s sympathy.”

Beloved Cotillion mentions the queen of society only in passing, but a chance remark Sarah Sophia makes ‘off-camera’ is telling, putting a very special hero to the blush. Freddy’s sister Meg may proclaim him the best dancer in all London, but for Lady Jersey to add her tribute warrants an exquisite “By Jove!” from him.

In Arabella, Lady Jersey fans the flames of internal conflict. “Vivacious, restless and scintillating,” Sarah Sophia enjoys the hero’s company, rousing jealousy in the breast of a heroine who has just rejected the hero’s marriage proposal out of hand.

One last observation of her character, before we leave her, comes from Henry Edward Fox, son of the aforementioned Lady Holland, appearing in a previous installment of this series. Of all the writers who have described Sarah Sophia, whether in fact or fiction, he is the most eloquent. He gives us the real woman, with all her faults, by the very reason he deeply admired her:

Dined tête-à-tête with Lady Jersey, whose wonderful garrulity does not bore me. I have such an affection for her and feel such perfect confidence in her sincerity that I like what many people cannot endure.” June 30, 1823

The Journal of Henry Edward Fox 1818 – 1830

“Lady Buxted remembered impertinent little Sally Fane, a wretched schoolroom miss to whom she had administered a number of well-deserved setdowns..”

 

*red Toryism – conservative with a small (c)

1 The Creevey Papers Vol I by Thomas Creevey (1904) Sarah Sophia’s Whig rival uses the term amplisagge to describe Caro’s clever rendering.

2 The Greville Memoirs, Charles C.F. Greville, Esq (1875)

3 Lord Beaconsfield’s correspondence with his sister, 1832-1852 by Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881); edited by Ralph Disraeli

4“Endymion, A Review,” Tullidge’s Quarterly, by Edward Tullidge, editor (1881). Tullidge was a Mormon who emigrated from England to Utah. He wrote extensively on a variety of topics and ran several magazines. Known as the Mormon feminist historian, it is ironic that his widow was said to have died penniless from his bankruptcy, her body found on the cold ground with scarcely a blanket to cover her.

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 Anglesley loudly warned those nearby to avoid talking politics around her because she might carry tales to the newspapers.

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

It didn’t help that Anglesley 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)

 

 

 

Regency Brothers – The Soldier

Richard, the second oldest brother, was a military man for most of his adult life.

“Well, to own the truth, I’ve never cared for military life above half,” confided Endymion. “But the thing is, Cousin Alverstoke will very likely cut off my allowance, if I sell out, and then, you know, we shall find ourselves obliged to bite on the bridle. Should you object to being a trifle cucumberish? Though I daresay if I took up farming, or breeding horses, or something of that nature, we should find ourselves full of juice.”

another old cover of a marvelous Regency

another old cover of a marvelous Regency

I?” she exclaimed. “Oh, no, indeed! Why, I’ve been cucumberish, as you call it, all my life! But for you it is a different matter! You must not ruin yourself for my sake.”

“It won’t be as bad as that,” he assured her. “My fortune ain’t handsome, but I wasn’t born without a shirt. And if I was to sell out, my cousin couldn’t have me sent abroad.”

“But could he do so now?” she asked anxiously. “Harry says the Life Guards never go abroad, except in time of war.”

Frederica by Georgette Heyer

Endymion was the cousin and heir to the Marquis of Alverstoke, the elegant peer who amused us earlier with his sally about a Baluchistan hound in Regency Dogs. His heir is a young man who feels he is ill-used, despite having a commission in the army purchased for him.

Richard Martin’s family could never hope to have the money to purchase a commission for him. Moreover, he was not well-placed to become a member of the romantic Life Guards Heyer wrote much about:

With white crests and horses’ manes flying, the Life Guards came up at full gallop and crashed upon the cuirassiers in flank. The earth seemed to shudder beneath the shock. The Hyde Park soldiers never drew rein, but swept the cuirassiers from the bank, and across the hollow road in the irresistible impetus of their charge.

An Infamous Army: A Novel of Love, War, Wellington and Waterloo by Georgette Heyer

Richard settled in the enlisted ranks of the First Foot Guards. His regiment was not as prestigious as the Life, but it performed with the greatest distinction in the Peninsular War, as reported in the Grenadier Guards website:

Sir John Moore - "you know I always wished to die this way."

Sir John Moore – “you know I always wished to die this way.”

In the autumn and winter of 1808 they took part in Sir John Moore’s classic march and counter-march against Napoleon in Northern Spain and, when under the terrible hardships encountered on the retreat across the wild Galician mountains the tattered, footsore troops, tested almost beyond endurance, showed signs of collapse, the 1st Foot Guards, with their splendid marching discipline, lost fewer men by sickness and desertion than any other unit in the Army.

Subsequently they took part in the battle of Corunna and when Sir John Moore fell mortally wounded in the hour of victory it was men of the 1st Foot Guards who bore him, dying, from the field.

The Grenadiers got their name when they defeated the Grenadiers of the French Imperial Guard, the best and brightest of Napoleon’s troops, flung as a last-ditch effort into the fray at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Back in England, Richard retired and published a volume of poetry and some pamphlets. His only daughter made what was considered a brilliant marriage, bringing the Keeper of Printed Books of the British Museum up to scratch.

We don’t know much beyond that, besides John’s bitter account that Richard was always applying to him for money.

This must have come as a severe disappointment. When he was in the army, Richard had risen through the ranks to become Quartermaster Sargeant, a non-commissioned officer. It was largely a ceremonious position, but John was confounded as to why his brother had been appointed to watch over the Government’s assets when he could scarcely keep track of his own.

Regency dogs

Jane Austen’s World and Regency Ramble both give comprehensive discussions on dogs of the early nineteenth century.

In this post, however, I would like to draw attention to the changing nature of how persons viewed their dogs during the Regency.

Of course one valued his canine friend for his practical traits which aided such pursuits like hunting.  But the dog was also becoming prized for those qualities that were lauded in the romantic literature of the period–noble characteristics that were always evident in Man’s best friend, but never appreciated fully until now:  bravery, loyalty, humility, etc.

Boatwain’s Monument – licensed by Johnson Camerface

Byron wrote a poem eulogizing his own Newfoundland, which had contracted rabies and died in 1808.  The poet nursed his dog throughout the illness, never minding that he himself might contract the disease.  Boatswain was buried on his lordship’s estate at Newstead Abbey.  His monument is larger than that of his owner.

The last line of the Epitaph for a Dog are particularly affecting:

“To mark a friend’s remains these stones arise; I never knew but one – and here he lies.”

Regency owners also saw their dogs as an extension of their own personality and their tastes in the exotic.  It became particularly fashionable among the ton to own a dog with a background that inspires one to think of faraway places in the Orient.

The author Georgette Heyer demonstrated just this very aspect in her delightful Frederica.

In this novel, the jaded hero makes an elaborate representation to an irate cowman, two park-rangers and one hatchet-faced lady that the heroine’s family pet, which had caused some riot and rumpus, is actually a rare speciman from Asia.  He succeeded in fooling me as well.  There is no such thing as a Baluchistan hound.  What manner of breed Lufra was is up to conjecture, but the Marquis of Alverstoke demonstrates an insightful perspective into Man’s best friend in the early nineteenth century.

1967 Edition -- blame the gay nineties look on Avon!

1967 Edition — blame the gay nineties look on Avon!

You see, all except for the hatchet-faced lady were only too ready to believe that a nobleman had taken a fancy to owning an exotic dog.  In the Regency, anything attached to one’s person that spoke of the Orient gave a fellow distinction.

I also was unaware that persons under royal license were allowed to graze cattle in London’s Green Park.  That famous Regency denizan Beau Brummel had the distinction of being related to two aunts who held such a license to graze their milch cows in the park.

I love dogs and I love Regency romance.  This passage combines the best of both:

“Really, Cousin, you are too shatterbrained.  He is a hound, not a collie; and what I told you was not Barcelona, but Baluchistan!  Baluchistan, Frederica!”

“Oh, dear!  So you did.  How–how stupid of me!” she replied unsteadily.

Neither of the park-keepers seemed to find his lordship’s explanation unacceptable.  The elder said wisely that that would account for it; and the younger reminded the company that he had known all along that the dog wasn’t Spanish.  But the cowman was plainly dissatisfied; and the hatchet-faced lady said sharply:  “I don’t believe there is such a place!”

“Oh, yes!” replied his lordship, walking towards the window and giving one of the two globes which stood there a twist.  “Come and see for youself!”

Everyone obeyed this invitation; and Frederica said reproachfully:  “If you had only told me it was in Asia, Cousin!”

“Oh, Asia!” said the elder park-keeper, glad to be enlightened.  “A kind of Indian dog, I daresay.”

“Well, not precisely,” said Frederica.  “At least, I don’t think so.  It’s this bit, you see.  It’s a very wild place, and the dog had to be smuggled out, because the natives are hostile.  And that’s why I said he was very rare.  Indeed, he is the only Baluchistan dog in this country, isn’t he, Cousin?”

“I devoutly hope he may be,” returned his lordship dryly.

“Well, all I have to say it that it makes it so much the worse!” declared the hatchet-faced lady.  “The idea of bringing wild foreign animals into the park!  Smuggled, too!  I don’t scruple to tell you, my lord, that I very much disapprove of such practices and I have a very good mind to report it to the Customs!…I am speaking of the English Customs, my lord!” she said, glaring at him.

“Oh, that wouldn’t be of the least use!  I didn’t smuggle the dog into the country; I mrerely caused him to be smuggled out of Baluchistan.”