Monday, May 09, 2011

Biographies and the Lady Patronesses

As part of my research, I have been trying to discover any recent or even not so recent biographies of the Lady Patronesses of Almack's.  Basically we know the Lady Patronesses in 1814 because Captain Gronow mentions them in his bio of Brummell. The ones from the founding in 1781 are also known. Others are more shadowy. It is not known how often they changed or how they were chosen or indeed when they were elected. YOu can get sketchy biographies of the women and sometimes you can get the collected letters (Princess Lieven's to her brother Alexander for example) but there is not any really good modern biographies. Why not?
These women had enomormous influence. Both Princess Esterhazy and Countess (later Princess) Lieven played active roles in promoting their respective countries in England.  Princess Leiven's letters give a much more cosmopolitian slant on London and the ton. Lady Castlereagh was the wife of the Foreign Secretary. Lady Jersey was the senior partner of Childs Bank, played an active role in its affairs and did not allow the men in her life to interfere with her duties at the bank. Lady Jersey and Countess Lieven's soirees were known for their political influence. Lady Jersey is credited for introducing the square dance (the French Quadrille) and Countess Lieven the waltz. The women had a number of affairs with influential men. Lord Palmerston figures quite a bit.
So why isn't there a series of modern biographies -- either of the place or the Lady Patronesses (here I am thnking specifically of Sarah Fane Child Villiers, Lady Jersey)? Note it is not my field. I write fiction, not non-fiction. It just irks. I wanted to know more!
Currently I am reading Lady Dorothy Nevill's Reminences from 1902. She is an untrustworthy narrator (her contra-temps in the summer house with George Smythe MP which led to her marriage to Mr Nevill and explusion from court is glossed over -- never mentioned) but fun.


Nicola Cornick said...

What an interesting topic, Michelle.It is curious that there are no modern biographies of some of the more influential patronesses and in some cases it seems next to impossible to discover anything at all about them. The case of Sally Jersey has always fascinated me. She seems a very interesting woman. I do know a little about Lady Sefton because she was a Craven by birth and so I've done some research into her. But there is definitely potential for a very interesting non-fiction book there!

Michelle Styles said...

Nic --
If you can find one (or indeed if you want to write one!) I would be delighted to read it.
Sally (Silence) Jersey is absolutely fascinating. Childs does have her papers (mostly on partnerships) and her other papers are kept in various archives in the South. Reading Princess Leiven's letters as the Lit and Phil did have a collection is really fascinating and gave me a different insight into the ton. I had not appreciated that Princess Esterhazy was a Princess of Thurm and Taxis for example. I too know a little about Lady Sefton.
But my jaw dropped several weekends ago when I realised that I couldn't find a modern biography. The Lit and Phil didn't even have an old biography, just the collected letters.

Nicola Cornick said...

Actually I would love to write that book one day - if someone doesn't beat me to it! The research would be a wonderful experience.