Thursday, May 26, 2011

The two wealthiest bankers in the 1820s

So who were the wealthiest bankers in London in the 1820's? Two women who were known as the Peeresses.
First was Sarah Child Villiers, Lady Jersey who  was a lady Patroness of Almack's and responsible for introducing the quadrille aka square dancing to London. She had seven children and was the active senior partner in Childs from 1806 until her death in 1867. She retained the right of last say on all partners.  She doesn't have a biography.
Second was Harriot Mellon Coutts who became Duchess of St Albans when she married the much younger Duke of St Albans, a man half her age in 1825.  The Duke and Duchess of St Albans were united by a love of Shakespeare. She also does NOT have a modern biography. There are some early 19th memoirs about...Harriot Mellon is a rag to riches story. She started life as a child of a single mother and went on stage, particularly in the West End. She was incredibly prudent and practical, and always respectible. Her mother abused her dreadfully. She eventually married Thomas Coutts (four days after his first wife died) and when he died in 1822, she became the senior partner of Coutts and drew the biggest salary, basically four times the other partners. She continued in this position until her death.  Like Lady Jersey, she kept the final word on who got made partner. Thomas Coutts's daughters aka The Three Graces were not overly fond of their stepmother and the eldest suggested that she get presented at court, thinking Queen Charlotte would refuse.  Harriot was received with the most marked kindness by the Prince Regent. She lived a full and colourful life.
When she died the senior partnership went to Angela Burdett, the youngest child of Thomas Coutts youngest daughter on the condition she take the name of Coutts and not marry a foreigner. Harriot hoped she'd take an active part.  Angela did not become an active partner and married an American at age 57. The bank was divided between her and her sister at that point and eventually it went to the sister's son 5th Baron Latimer. He didn't take an actuve role but his children and grandchildren did.
I am currently reading Women who made money -- Women Partners in British Private Banks 1752-1906 by Margery Dawes and Nesta Selwyn. My jaw is on the floor.
How can these women have been ignored like this? Why are they not considered influential? Why are more people not demanding biographies?
These are women who should be held up as role models. In 1812, fourteen women owned licenses to print money. And no one has had a modern in depth biography. The Dawes and Selwyn book was published last year by a small press publisher. Get it and read it. These women did not worry about glass ceilings. They got on and did it. Most had families.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like any one of them would make a great heroine in a book!
x Daisy

Michelle Styles said...

The book that just got accepted had a business woman as a heroine. And I had to overcome editorial skepticism that such women existed and were accepted in the highest parts of society. I just didn't realise the full extent!

Nell Dixon said...

Fascinating stuff, Michelle.

Lucy King said...

I'm intrigued by these women and have just hopped over to Amazon to order the book you're reading. Thanks for the tip!

Caroline said...

Fascinating stuff Michelle! Love the concept of your heroine being a businesswoman. Am I right in thinking that Coutts is still in existence, and is the bank of choice for the Royals today? Caroline x

Michelle Styles said...

Lucy --
I hope you enjoy the book. I think it is absolutely fascinating. These women are just not really mentioned.

Caroline --Yes that is right Coutts Bank as in the bank of choice for the Royals. Why Harriot Mellon Coutts does not have a proper biography beggars belief.She is far more interesting than Lady Caroine Lamb.

Amalie Berlin said...

I guess most women successful in any field have very little written about them. I knew about the dearth of info about female artists, but didn't really think much about those other professions. People starting masters Art History programs and focusing on female artists have a wide array of women to choose from, but a very difficult time finding information about them. Mostly, we know about some of these women from footnotes in articles about their male teachers. Most people can't name more than 3 or 4 female artists of any century. Sad sad.

Amalie Berlin said...

Er, I meant historical female figures in any field seem to have very little written about them. Not present day awesome women.

Lucy King said...

The lack of biogs of women in certain fields is strange, isn't it? I have a few about intrepid women travellers in the late 19th/early 20th centuries (which are fascinating) but other than that, there's very little...

Michelle Styles said...

Amalie --

Yes I know it is so frustrating with female artists as there were a number.
It is easier to find a biography on a famous mistress or courtesan than on a woman who succeeded in her own right.

Lucy -- I love intrepid Victorian women travellers. They had such spunk and they did it in corsets!
I don't know why these women are ignored. I have a theory that they don't conform to the accepted notion that females were oppressed before women's sufferage and they didn't necessarily take thier cue from Mary Wollenscroft. Or it may be that people just have not bothered to investigate them.