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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Let’s Do Our Business in Bed

St. James Square was already beginning to pall as a fashionable area by the time of the Regency.  Yet the simple, classically styled No. 10 survived to become, by virtue of its occupants alone, a salon rivalling any in Kensington and Berkely Square.

No. 10 St. James Square

No. 10 was purchased by Sir William Heathcoate, a merchant elevated to the peerage.  He married the only daughter of his neighbor in no. 11, the Earl of Macclesfield and one-time Regent of Great Britain.   His family owned the house until 1890.

During that period, the house was leased to a variety of renters, the first being William Pitt the Elder.  When he was Secretary of State, he conducted government business in the house and one time from his bed when he was ill.  The Prime Minister at the time was the Duke of Newcastle.  He had gone to No. 10 to transact some business with Pitt.  The two did not get along.  Maybe that was why His Grace complained of the cold in Pitt’s bedroom.  When no sympathy was forthcoming, he cursed and climbed into the other bed in the room to finish his business with the Secretary.

Mr. Pitt moved out of the cold house in 1762 and No. 10 saw a number of tenants until it began service as a gaming hell.  Then it became known as a snug little place, “a low house, humorously called a pigeon hole.”  With expenses kept to a minimum, no. 10 was rumored to bring in 30,000 pounds in 1817.

unusually fine oak staircase with stucco work “to be done very well by an Italian” for 20 pounds sterling

Then in 1820, the house was let by one Charles John Gardiner, Earl of Blessington.  He had a new countess, and the house was ordered fitted up to her high expectations.

Society thought her bohemian before they knew where Bohemia was.