A Shrewd and Masculine Mind – No. 10 St. James Square (Part Two)

She was an Irish nobody, an outrage to the haute ton.  She had married a man who died during a drunken orgy when he fell out of a window at King’s Bench prison.  She had lived under the “protection” of another who received 10,000 pounds reimbursement for her upkeep.  She had snatched up a titled, rich husband.  Now she had come to make her mark upon society, not even troubling to hide her desire of becoming a posh London hostess.

Entrance Hall – No. 10 St. James Square

Her choice of house to accomplish this ambition was a scandal in and of itself.  No. 10 St. James Square had been the scene of grave deliberations by Prime Ministers.  Its walls had witnessed the re-drawing of Europe’s maps.  Now it was to house an empty-headed beauty and entertain a pack of frippery gentlemen.

When Lady Blessington stepped into its entrance hall, pausing to take in the “carved moulded architrave and rich pulvinated frieze and cornice,” did the house tremble in disgust?

No, indeed.  No. 10 was in alt.

It was Autumn of 1818 when Marguerite Gardiner, nee Power, took up residence in St. James Square.  Her husband, the Earl of Blessington, was seven years older than she, with children from a former marriage who conveniently remained behind in Ireland on their father’s estate, Mountjoy Forest.  Like Lady Holland, Marguerite was shunned by female callers.  But she had known adversity before and this snub in no way depressed one such as she.  Her husband knew all the great men of society and was pleased to introduce her to them.  Soon No. 10 was receiving those frippery gentlemen, the very ones other hostesses would give their eyeteeth to entertain.

It seemed that Holland House and yes, even that grande dame of Regency salons, Lansdowne House, would be destined to look to their laurels.  Fellow Irishman and noted diarist, the abolitionist Dr. Richard Robert Madden, made special note of the salon at No. 10:

Two Royal English dukes condescended not unfrequently to do homage at the new shrine of Irish beauty and intellect….Whig and Tory politicians and lawyers, forgetful of their party feuds and professional rivalries for the nonce, came there as gentle pilgrims.

Dr. Samuel Parr, noted Whig political writer and stern schoolmaster, also came under Lady Blessington’s spell, calling her “most gorgeous.”  He was the first to divine the intelligence behind the beauty, rightly predicting an unlikely development that would occur long after his death:

With her shrewd and masculine mind, she would be even more impressive in middle age than while in the lovely splendor of her youth. 

Lady Blessington would need that shrewd and masculine mind developed in the company of the Regency’s brilliant and distinguished.  It turned out that No. 10 served to be an incubator of developing intellect that would take the place of fading beauty.  After her husband died and No. 10 passed to another, Marguerite had to find a way to sustain herself, turning to writing.  Her works include Conversations with Lord Byron, Idler in Italy and Idler in France.  They were popular works that gave her the income she needed until she died in Paris in 1849, far from No. 10 St. James Square.

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The Princess Biographer – Holland House Part Three

In 1874 Macmillan & Col published a leather=bound set of memoirs on Holland House.  The author was the Princess Marie Leichtenstein.

Princess Marie Liechtenstein

“As it was, we must think its publication a mistake….It is impossible to say what is the central figure in it.  Holland House, Charles James Fox, the mutability of human fortune, Napoleon’s snuff-box, or the knights who dined round Holland House’s table.”–The North American Review, 1874Well, what can you expect from an American critic?Her Highness was brought up in Holland House when the 4th Baron Holland and his wife, Lady Mary Coventry, were in residence.  Lord Holland was the last of his line and the couple had no children.  They adopted a little girl and she was christened Marie “Mary” Henriette Adelaide Fox.  She was thought to be Lord Holland’s illegitimate daughter by another woman, but this circumstance seems to have posed no impediment.  After all, she married a prince.

“When ladies get hold of a little learning, they experience no sense of danger.” — Sketches (Holland House) by Abraham Hayward

Oh!  What an odious thing to say.

Despite these naysayers, Her Highness’ biography of Holland House was well-received.  By reason of her ties to the family, she had access to Holland House’s records which she used to bring it back to life long after its heyday during the Regency:

“The circle of Holland House was a cosmopolitan one, and Holland House was among houses what England is among nations–a common ground, where all opinions could freely breathe.”

On her grandmother, the indomitable Lady Elizabeth Holland:

“It is easy for some natures to say a disagreeable thing, but it is not always easy to carry a disagreeable thing off cleverly.  This Lady Holland could do.”

Her grandfather, Lord Holland:

“..while he enjoyed and preferred the society of choice spirits, while with him absence could not extinguish friendship, his benevolence and courtesy made him extend a kind reception to all who came to Holland House.”

And others, famous and in many cases, foreign:

“Talleyrand, the diplomatic wit and witty diplomatist, who cared not which party he supported, provided it was the stronger.”

“Madame de Stael, who in graceful French painted Italy, and in solid French digested German literature.”

“Whishaw (the Pope of Holland House), whose sense made his opinions valuable to have and difficult to obtain.”

We are lucky even princesses were moved to record the past.  Places like Holland House tended to be done away with in rapidly developing, expanding London.  And the old house had reason to tremble at the time of its biography.  Great Northumberland House was being pulled down and there was movement afoot to do the same in Kensington where this rival to Lansdowne House still remained.

“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.”

Holland House – A Rival to Lansdowne House (part one)

Its turrets and gables lacked the elegance of London’s newer, Palladian town homes.  Its “relics and curios” were dusty books and historic English papers.  Its location was staid Kensington, not fashionable Mayfair.  Its mistress was not even received at court.  But this Regency seat of influence was nontheless a formidable rival to glittering Lansdowne House:

Holland House

Yet great things were done at Holland House–reforms planned and accomplished, literary lions fed with appreciation and encouragement.  All the great names of that period may be found on the lists of the Holland House entertainments.

—  Charles Dickens, “Holland House,” All the Year Round, A Weekly Journal, Vol. 66, 1890

With the Regency barely on the horizon, the house was known as Cope Castle and practically a ruin when it came into the possession of Lord Henry Richard Fox, third Baron Holland.  He was a mere baby and presumably not ready to take on any renovations even though the house had an illustrious history.  Its best days, it seemed, were behind it.

Those days began when Queen Elizabeth I granted a part of Kensington Manor to one Walter Cope–that part that once belonged to the Abbot of Abingdon–and built a multi-turreted Jacobean mansion that others mockingly called Cope’s Castle.  The Renaissance had penetrated English architecture by the time of its construction in 1607 but classical features like columns, arcades, parapets and the like were applied in a more freeform style rather than with any strict order that characterized the later Palladian movement.  Cope Castle, unlike Lansdowne House, was more like a free spirit.

the haunted Gilt Room

Cope’s daughter inherited the house and it became greatly enlarged upon her union with the Rich family, also grown wealthy on confiscated church property when its patriarch had prosecuted Sir Thomas More on Henry VIII’s behalf.  Her husband was Henry Rich, Earl of Holland, from whom the house takes its present name.   He negotiated the marriage of Henrietta Maria to Charles I and built the house’s famous gilt-room in expectation of entertaining the new Queen there.  This did not come to pass, nor was the Earl to survive the coming storm.  His ghost was said to be seen in that very room, richly dressed as he had been on the scaffold, holding his head in his hands.

After the Restoration of Charles II, the house was sold to Henry Fox, whose sire had the distinction of fathering this first of three sons at the age of seventy-three.  Fox eloped with one of the famous Lennox sisters and it was his grandson, also named Henry, third Baron Holland, who made Holland House a rival in Regency gatherings, as we shall soon see.  Today, Holland House is a ruin, destroyed by a fire-bomb in World War II.

Holland House library – World War II