Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey

If there was one attribute the Villiers family had in abundance it was – how can I put this – a tendancy to be lewd and loose with a propensity to party.  So the last thing the gene pool needed was another dollop of debauchery.

Frances Villiers, Lady Jersey

On March 6, 1770 Frances Twysden married George Bussy Villiers at her stepfather’s home in St Martin in the Fields, London.  George, the great-great-great grandson of Sir Edward Villiers and Barbara St John, was some twenty years older than his salacious seventeen year old bride. Frances was the daughter of Rev Philip Twysden, Bishop of Raphoe.  An impeccable pedigree you might hazard – except the Right Reverend was allegedly shot dead while attempting a stagecoach robbery in London. It could be said that the writing was on the wall.

Frances gave birth to at least ten children between 1771-1788, although it begs the question how many her husband George actually fathered. Among her lovers she numbered Frederick Howard, 5th Earl of Carlisle and William Fawkener. And being best friends with Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire didn’t stop Frances from having an affair with her husband, William Cavendish, the 5th Duke of Devonshire either.

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, captured by Diana Beauclerk – another St John wife

But Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey, is probably best remembered for her affair with George, Prince of Wales, later George IV.

George IV

Apparently the amorous 20 year old prince tried his luck with Frances in 1782, but she turned him down, making him wait more than ten years before granting him her favours.  Frances was almost ten years older than the prince and already a grandmother when their affair began.

A member of the Devonshire House set, Frances was both intelligent and witty and enjoyed mixing things up.  Lady Bessborough, the Duchess of Devonshire’s sister, once remarked that Frances could not be happy ‘without a rival to trouble and torment.’

With George’s marriage to Mrs Fitzherbert dismissed, invalid under the Royal Marriages Act of 1772, Frances encouraged him to marry his cousin Caroline of Brunswick.  While pointing out this would be a speedy way to settle some of his debts, Frances’s motives were less than altruistic, anticipating that the marriage of the the mismatched Prince and Princess would be a disaster and that she would retain her power and influence over George.  Having secured a position as Lady of the Bedchamber to the princess, when the couple parted soon after the birth of their daughter, Frances assumed control of the Prince’s household.

However, embroiled in the couple’s marital disagreements, Frances was accused of stealing letters written by Caroline to her mother and then passing them to Queen Charlotte.  Frances’s royal interference did little to endear her to the populace. Caroline had already won the affection of the British people, appalled by the treatment metered out to her by her unpopular husband. Following this latest outrage the mob turned it’s attention on Frances who went in fear for her safety.

Caroline of Brunswick

Although the Prince would later install Frances and her compliant husband in a home adjoining Carlton House, which incidentally fuelled more public anger, the events of 1796-98 tolled the death knell for their relationship.

Frances died at Cheltenham on July 25, 1821 and was buried in the Villiers family vault at Middleton Stoney, Oxfordshire. Following her death the executor of her will, Lord Clarendon was instructed to burn her papers, including a large number of letters from George IV.

Labelled as one of the most notorious of George IV’s mistresses, Frances’s affair with the then Prince of Wales had lasted six years, considerably shorter than his 26 year relationship with Mrs Fitzherbert whom she had persuaded him to abandon.

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Lady Eleanor Cave

When it come to memorials, whether in stained glass, marble or oil painting, no family does it better than the St John family.

The historic church of St Mary’s next door to the manor house in Lydiard Park, Wiltshire is stuffed to the rafters with them. Simon Jenkins writes in England’s Thousand Best Churches – “Were the South chapel to be removed lock, stock and barrel to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, it would cause a sensation.”

Nicholas St John, who died in 1589 and his wife Elizabeth Blount have a particularly impressive coloured memorial commissioned by their son John.

Nicholas St John and his wife Elizabeth

Nicholas not only owned the estate at Lydiard Tregoze but also the manors of Shrevenham, Salop, Compton Beauchamp and Stanford in the Vale as well as the ancient manor house at Purley Magna, which he rebuilt.  His third daughter Eleanor was born in c1560 probably at Purley where she grew up with her seven siblings.

Eleanor married in 1586 to Sir Thomas Cave who was the nephew of Elizabeth I’s powerful Lord Treasurer William Cecil, Lord Burghley.  The couple moved to the Cave ancestral home at Stanford on Avon where they raised five sons and three daughters.

When their eldest son Richard 19, died in Padua in 1606 while on his grand tour the couple made sure he had a fitting memorial in the 14th century parish church.

Thomas died in 1613, the date of Eleanor’s death is imprecise.  She was still alive in 1612 when she was engaged in a bitter dispute with her daughter Margaret’s father in law, Sir John Wynn 1st Baronet of Gwydir, Llanrwst. But by 1614 Margaret was a widow and her mother was dead as well.

Eleanor and her husband were buried together in the Stanford parish church of St Nicholas.  And like her parents at Lydiard Tregoze the couple left an impressive monument of their own, next to the one they erected for their son, as can been seen from these photographs.

The couples three daughters Eleanor, Margaret and Alice

And their five sons, Richard, Thomas, Oliver, John and an unnamed son who died in childhood.

Katherine Fitzgerald Villiers, Viscountess Grandison

In the 1660s the war torn medieval castle of Dromana high above the River Blackwater in County Waterford commanded stunning views across oak woodlands.  The vast estate had been the seat of the Fitzgerald family for more than four hundred years and when Sir John Fitzgerald died without a male heir in 1664, all eyes were on his three year old orphaned daughter Katherine.

Katherine became first the ward of Charles II and then of her ambitious uncle Richard Le Power.  Keen to extend his land holdings and increase his wealth, Baron Le Power married Katherine to his son John. The ceremony was performed by the Archbishop of Canterbury Gilbert Sheldon in his chapel at Lambeth Palace on May 20, 1673.  Katherine was just short of her 13th birthday and her groom was eight years old.

But Katherine was no pushover.  Two years later, still only 15 years old, she appealed to the Archbishop for an annulment, citing that she had been married against her consent due to ‘immoderate importunity, threats, fear and the false suggestion of losing her estate.’ Power’s father in law, Lord Anglesey, who had been instrumental in arranging the marriage, described Katherine as a ‘jadish viper, fair flirt, wicked urchin,’ in other words – a girl who would not be messed with. 

And two years after this she eloped with the man of her choice dashing guardsman Edward Villiers, eldest son of George Villiers, 4th Viscount Grandison of Limerick, who would rise to the rank of Brigadier General in The Queen’s Bays.

Oliver St John, 1st Viscount Grandison

The Grandison title had come into the Villiers family via the marriage of Edward’s grandparents, Sir Edward Villiers and Barbara St John, one of the six daughters of Sir John St John and Lucy Hungerford of Lydiard House.  The viscountcy was created in 1620 for Sir Oliver St John, Lord Deputy of Ireland, with special remainder to the male issue of his niece Barbara.  First to inherit the title was Barbara’s eldest son William, father of the Royal mistress Barbara, Countess of Castlemaine.  Upon his death in 1659 it went to her second son John who died in 1659 when Barbara’s third son became 4th Viscount Grandison.

 

Memorial to Oliver St John, 1st Viscount Grandison in St Mary’s Church, Battersea – David Conway

Edward and Katherine had six children, Mary, Katherine, Harriott, Elizabeth, William and John who became the 5th Viscount and 1st Earl Grandison. Following Edward’s death in 1693 Katherine set about providing for herself and her children.  In a letter to the Rt Hon Thomas Keightley, Vice Treasurer of Ireland, Katherine accuses Lord Grandison and the Villiers family of ill treatment. In a direct challenge to her father in law, George 4th Viscount Grandison, plucky Katherine obtained a patent from King William granting her the privilege to enjoy the same title and precedence ‘as if her husband had survived his father.’  Through a private act of parliament Katherine established her rights, provided for her younger children and regulated the descent of the family estates.

Having secured her family’s fortune, Katherine married again.  Her third husband was William Steuart, MP for Waterford, Privy Councillor in Ireland and commander in chief of the army during the Duke of Ormonde’s absence.

Katherine died in 1725 aged 64 according to some accounts, insane.  She was buried in Westminster Abbey with other members of the Villiers family.  Her last husband William joined her there a year later.