The Marchioness of Londonderry

I found the following story in Diana Scarisbrick’s Ancestral Jewels (1990).

“One of society’s greatest amusements was the impersonation of historical characters at costume balls. Frances Anne Vane-Tempest-Stewart, wife of the third Marquess of Londonderry, had the jewels, the style and the audacity to turn such an opportunity into a personal triumph.

“It was at a costume ball at the Hanover Square Rooms in 1825 that the young Benjamin Disraeli first met her, ‘dressed as Cleopatra in a dress literally embroidered with emeralds and diamonds from top to toe. It looked like armour and she like a rhinocerous’ . . . . While in Vienna she was introduced to the Emperor Alexander of Russia. He told her that in 1818 he had seen her portrait in the studio of Sir Thomas Lawrence and had ‘felt a sort of foreboding that the person whose picture was before him was fated to have an influence over his destiny and cause him much disquiet.’ His intuition proved correct. Having lived like a hermit for the previous ten years, he was seized with a romantic passion and continually sought her company. Immensely flattered by the Emperor’s attentions, she nonetheless did not lose her head” (73).


“Oh, sweetheart. I don’t care if you are Emperor of all the Russias. I wouldn’t get into bed with just anyone. I’ll rub it in by making my third child with another man your god-daughter.”

Here are a few more cool things I learned about her:

1.) Her mother was a countess in her own right. When her father, the 1st Earl of Antrim, died without male issue, their line received special permission for a one-time inheritance of the earldom by a female heir, making her the 2nd Countess of Antrim. That is a really rare thing to happen in the British aristocracy.

2.) She had a rough, weird childhood. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:

She was “the only child of Sir Henry (Harry) Vane-Tempest, baronet (1771–1813), and his wife, Anne Catherine MacDonnell . . . . Disappointed in their hopes of a son, her parents neglected Lady Frances Anne: she recalled in 1848 that ‘Never was any child so harshly treated as I was by my Father, Mother, and Governess. I met with nothing but cuffs and abuse’. At the same time the child had impressed upon her by servants and other relations, particularly her aunt Frances Taylor, a sense of her position as the heir to the family fortunes of some £60,000 a year. The mixture of flattery and abuse, fawning and neglect, inevitably damaged her character, and she became by her own account ‘sly, artful, and deceiving’; haughty arrogance, which was to be her defining characteristic, also became ingrained. The death of her father brought her into possession of vast estates in co[unty] Durham but also into conflict with her mother. Hence Frances Anne was made a ward in chancery, and at thirteen was given her own establishment and had her first love affair (with the brother of a suitor of her mother).”

3.) She was inspected and courted from an early age by a great many lords who wanted to make her, as a powerful heiress, their bride. She finally settled on Charles William Stewart, the future Marquis of Londonderry, who was more than twice her age. She was 19 and he 40 when they married. Her mother encouraged the match, but her other guardian in chancery didn’t, so Frances [who was still considered a minor and a ward at the time] had to take her guardian to court so she could marry.

Her husband then took her name and became Charles William Vane “to reflect the importance of the connection” to her wealth and family.

4.) They were ultra, ultra conservative. Normally this would be nothing newsworthy, except that her husband was such an ardent Tory that it “even alienated him from the Duke of Wellington”. Dude. The Duke of Wellington was the poster boy for conservative politics at the time. Dayum. I can’t even imagine what views you’d want to have in order for the Duke of Wellington to find them too conservative.

5.) Some of her children scandalized the family:

Her son Adolphus became a politician, married a woman against his family’s wishes, and went mad. According to Anne Isba, author and Victorian Studies scholar, Vane was “notoriously unstable” and was “described by Queen Victoria as having ‘a natural tendency to madness.’ Vane, who on one occasion violently attacked his wife and infant son, died four years later during a struggle with four keepers.”

According to Wikipedia, Frances’s daughter “disgraced the family by eloping with her brother’s tutor, Rev. Frederick Henry Law.”

And her youngest son, Ernest, “fell in with a press-gang and had to be bought a commission in the army, from which he was subsequently cashiered.” Jesus wept. He basically fell in with some cool military thugs who forced people to fight for them under duress, got his parents to pay for him to hang out with his rough new friends (to be fair, aristocratic sons being bought a commission in the army was extremely common at this time), and then acted himself such a fool that he got dishonorably dismissed from the army, losing all of his expensive commission. Nice.

by James Thomson (Thompson), after  Alfred Edward Chalon, stipple engraving, published 1849

“Goddamn it, Ernest. My hair and I are not impressed. Not impressed at all.”


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One Response to The Marchioness of Londonderry

  1. Pingback: BizarreVictoria: Celebrating 4 Years | BizarreVictoria

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