Lady Mary St John

Lady Mary Kerr married Frederick St John in December 1788. She had just celebrated her 21st birthday and he was soon to turn 25.

Mary was a member of the Scottish aristocracy whose family seat was the medieval Newbattle Abbey at Dalkeith. Mary was the 4th child and 3rd daughter of William John Kerr, 5th Marquess of Lothian and his wife Elizabeth Fortescue.


Elizabeth Fortescue – Lady Mary’s mother

Frederick St John was the younger of two sons born to the warring Frederick St John, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke and Lady Diana Spencer whose marriage ended spectacularly  in divorce in 1768.

Frederick Jnr joined the army in 1779 aged 14 as an ensign in the 85th Regiment of Foot and went on to become the second most senior general in the British Army. But in 1788 he had marriage on his mind and the young Lady Mary Kerr fitted the bill nicely.

Frederick St John

Frederick St John

Mary didn’t become pregnant immediately after the wedding, perhaps Frederick’s military duties took him away from home, but by February 1791 she was due to give birth to the couples’ first child. A son, Robert William, was born on February 5; the following day Mary died. She was 23 years old.

At first it seemed that this was about all the information I would be able to garner about Mary. Her death warranted a brief mention in the Annual Register, or a View of History, Politics and Literature for the Year 1791 – Lady Mary St John, lady of the honourable major Frederick St John. In The Gentleman’s Magazine the entry is equally brief 6 [February] at her house in Park Lane, Lady Mary St John, lady of Major St J. and daughter of the Marquis of Lothian.

Horace Walpole, Whig politician and friend of Frederick’s mother Lady Di, mentioned Mary’s death in a letter to Miss Berry, and that seemed to be that.

And then a visit to the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre revealed a most fascinating document filed among the household bills of Henry Herbert, 10th Earl of Pembroke.

Frederick had close family ties to the Pembroke family. Henry Herbert, the 10th Earl, was married to Lady Elizabeth Spencer, the sister of Frederick’s mother, Lady Diana Spencer. Their son and Frederick’s cousin, George Augustus Herbert, who became the 11th Earl of Pembroke, married Elizabeth Beauclerk, Frederick’s sister by his mother’s second marriage to Topham Beauclerk.

However, I certainly didn’t expect to find the following in a box of Pembroke family papers:

2057/A6/18 Account for the funeral of Lady Mary St John at Lydiard Tregoze; to be paid by Lord Herbert.


A view of the South Door at St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze, through which the funeral cortege would have entered.

In fascinating detail this document recounts the cost of Lady Mary’s funeral, from the arrangements at her London home, the long journey to Wiltshire and the short one from the Hall in Lydiard House to the church at St Mary’s just footsteps away.

According to this document Lady Mary’s body was collected from her home in North Audley Street and she was buried on February 12 in the family vault at Lydiard Tregoze in Wiltshire by the order of the Hon. Lord Herbert.

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Details from the funeral account – Lady Mary St John died 1791

The first items to appear on the long list are:

Superfine Crape Shroud, headress & pillow neatly pink’d £2 2s

Large Superfine Crape Sheet to wrap the Body in £1 5s

An Elm Coffin lined with Superfine Crape, Quilted lining & a thick Mattress for the Bottom of the Coffin £1 11s 6d

Other expensive items include the outer lead coffin, inscription plate and brass handles, but it is the details of the journey which are especially interesting.

Feathers [ostrich] placed on the Corps in Audley Street & carried before the Funeral to the Stonesend, placed on the Corps at the Inn on the Road & place of Interment.

Travelling costs were expensive – Two men on Horseback as Porters to attend the Funeral to the place of Interment 6 days each cost £7 4s; a Hearse & 4 Horses £2 2s 6 days cost £12 12s and a coach & 4 Horses £2 2s 6 days cost £12 12s.

Rooms at the Inns on the Road for the Corps cost 17s 6d with a further 17s 6d for two men sitting up with the Corps.

As the funeral cortege neared Lydiard Tregoze a bell was tolled at Marlborough – 6s 8d and again at Swindon 5s.

At Lydiard Tregoze 8 Bearers were employed to carry the Corps from the Hall to the place of Interment by Mr Crooks appointment £2 2s.

The last item on the funeral account is the charge of Turnpikes £1 18s 6d.

The final bill came to £98 18s 8d.

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Details from the funeral account – Lady Mary St John died 1791

Sadly so little is known about the life of Lady Mary St John, but a great deal is known about her after her death.







Jane Eyre

Frederick St John’s wife may have had a novel name and like that other Jane Eyre she too stood by her man through good times and bad.

The Bronte sisters

The Bronte sisters

Jane Margaret Eyre married Frederick Charles St John, a Lieutenant in the 30th Regiment of Madras Native Infantry on June 17, 1860 at Ramandroog near Bellary, Madras.  Jane, the daughter of Edmund Walter Eyre, Deputy Inspector of Hospitals in the Madras Army, was born on October 6, 1832 in Secunderbad and so was no stranger to India.

The couple’s first child was born in Bellary the month before their first wedding anniversary. It seems likely Jane spent most of the following eight years in India with her husband, where five of a further six children were born.

Frederick was the great grandson of racehorse loving Frederick, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke who ended his days ‘out of his mind’ at Lydiard Park.  His great grandmother was the artist Lady Diana Spencer, an ancestor of the late Diana, Princess of Wales.

Lady Diana

Lady Diana

Frederick Charles St John spent a long career in the Indian Army, gaining the rank of Colonel in the Indian Staff Corps. In July 1879 he wrote a letter to his friend John Hancock from his mud hut in Camp Vitakei during the middle of the Second Anglo Afghan War.

His long letter provides many details of the campaign and the area in which he was camped.  He describes Beloochistan, a region located in the Iranian Plateau between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, as ‘a wild wretched country perfectly bare not a tree to be seen in some of the plains a little scrub and grass. the hills as bare as can be rocks and stones – Afganistan is the same.’



As the son of naturalist and sportsman Charles William George St John is is not surprising he makes a reference to the wildlife he sees around him. ‘ – birds are few as you may suppose.  Partridge, the grand black, which is a splendid bird, the chookoor a beautiful bird, the little see see here and the common grey – sand grouse I’ve come across, of another kind to what we have in south.  The English Mallard is up here and in the Punjab Teal and ducks as usual.’  Although sometimes it seems Frederick was more interested in bagging a few with his gun than simply admiring their plumage.

He writes about the wolves that creep into the camp after dark and of fishing in a nearby stream catching up to 10 lbs of fish with just a stick, string and hook.

Frederick St John 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke

Frederick St John 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke

But like his great grandfather and so many other St Johns, Frederick struggles to live within his means. He writes: ‘.. my folly of getting into debt as I did, god knows it has been a fearful lesson to me, as here I am as much in debt as ever, as all I can pay off will not keep the interest down even, as the money lenders charge so much – but I must not go off on this subject, as it only upsets me and can be of no interest to others, but oh to be clear of debt, what a relief. I don’t know how I bear it, and much dread what will happen on my return to when they can get hold of me.’

During this period Jane is back in England living at 13 Kensington Place, Bath.  Frederick was busy making plans for her and he adds ‘I want to have my poor wife and 3 of the girls out in Octr it will save so much exchange and she has had to lead a hard life 7 children in lodgings and no servant and not enough to live on.’  

Sadly there is no record of how Jane coped with her difficult life in Bath but by 1881 she had returned to India where her eldest daughter Anne married John North in Trichinopoly. And on Feb 4, 1885 second daughter Emily married Hugh Thornton, also in Trichinopoly.


The market place at Trichinopoly pictured c1800

The couple eventually came home to England where Jane died in 1899 and Frederick the following year.


Mary and Elizabeth Beauclerk

The illegitimate child of Lady Diana Bolingbroke and Topham Beauclerk, Mary was obviously born with a propensity to shock.

Mary and her sister Elizabeth had little to do with their mother’s two sons by her first marriage to Frederick St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke.  Then in 1787 Mary paid a visit to her half-brother George Richard, his wife Charlotte and their three young children where she clearly forgot her manners.

The couple embarked upon an incestuous relationship and later that same year Mary, accompanied by Charlotte, fled to Paris where she gave birth to a son whom her sister in law tried to pass off as her own to avoid scandal.  A second son was born a year later and in 1789, pregnant for a third time, Mary, George Richard and their two little sons headed yet again for Paris where they intended to live as Mr and Mrs Barton, in exile and in secret for the rest of their lives.  Poor deluded Mary.

The couple’s affair soon became common knowledge and the subject of gossip in court circles.  Some commentators have suggested that George’s seduction of his sister was revenge upon his mother for her abandonment. However, after seven years and four sons, George deserted Mary at their bolt hole in Germany where they had removed.

But the resourceful Mary didn’t hang about and, perhaps surprisingly considering she had four illegitimate sons in tow, soon found herself a husband in Heidelberg where George had abandoned her.

In 1797 Mary married Francis von Jenison Walworth, Grand Chamberlain of the Household to the King of Wurteemburg and proceeded to have a further four children.

But the boys’ faithless father did not forget them or Mary apparently. George Richard might  have effected a speedy getaway but in 1794 he made provision for Mary with £100 for each of his sons.

So what happened to the four Barton boys?  Charles joined the navy and family folklore has it that he was killed fighting alongside Admiral Nelson.  The other three boys ended up in America, arriving shortly before their father and Isabella Hompesch, the woman he had bigamously married.

Edward trained as a doctor and settled in Philadelphia.  George worked as a Commission Merchant in Boston for Welles & Williams while Robert possibly had a much closer relationship with his father than was previously thought.  There is evidence to suggest he was living with George and Isabella in New York and returned to Lydiard Park with them in 1806.

So maybe Elizabeth Beauclerk doesn’t qualify as a Lady St John, but she deserves to be included in an account of the life of her sister Mary.

Elizabeth was betrothed to George Herbert, 11th Earl of Pembroke who was her first cousin, the son of Lady Di’s sister Betty.   George had joined the British Army as an ensign in 1775 rising to the rank of General by 1812.  Whig MP for the Pembroke family seat of Wilton, Wiltshire in 1780-1784 and again in 1788-1794, George was a Privy Councillor and also became Vice Chamberlain of the Household.

Tainted by her mother’s divorce and her sister’s shenanigans, poor Elizabeth’s engagement was also grist for the gossipmonger’s mill, including The Times society correspondent.

“The approaching nuptials of Lord Herbert and Miss Beauclerk promise well, and Hymen, who has been rather in the dumps during the winter, appears to be in high spirits on this occasion.  There are those qualities and graces on both sides which from the constituent part of connubial happiness, and we hope and trust that no envious daemon will possess the power of troubling the pure fountain of their felicity.”

The wedding took place at St James’ Westminster on April 8, 1787.  The couple began married life dividing their time between the Herbert’s London home in Hill Street and their country seat Wilton House, a former Benedictine Abbey that had come up for grabs during that famous 16th century property redistribution period, the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Following a miscarriage soon after her marriage Elizabeth gave birth to George in 1788, Diana in 1790 and Robert Henry in 1791.  Pregnant yet again in 1793 poor Elizabeth died giving birth to her third son Charles. Her funeral took place on April 3 and Elizabeth was buried in Wilton.

Mary lived considerably longer, spending most of her time in Germany.  She died in Neuenheim in July 1851 aged 84.

So did the Beauclerk sisters really have a hard time of it?  Were they victims of circumstance or their own appetites? Personally I blame the parents!

Lady Diana Spencer

“The woman’s a whore and there’s an end on’t,” Dr Samuel Johnson, lexicographer and moralist, once famously said of Lady Diana Spencer.

But what was sauce for the goose was not necessarily sauce for the gander in polite 18th century society, as Diana was to discover.

Diana was born on March 24, 1734 into the illustrious Spencer Churchill family, the great granddaughter of national hero John, 1st Duke of Marlborough and his indomitable wife Sarah.

The eldest daughter of Charles, 3rd Duke of Marlborough and Elizabeth Trevor, Diana grew up at the family home of Langley Park at Iver, Buckinghamshire.

When Frederick, 3rd Viscount St John and 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke met Lady Diana he had already spent a large slice of the family fortune on wine, women and an impressive collection of valuable Sevres porcelain.

His dissolute uncle Henry once described him as having ‘contracted habits that are not of the best, and for that are less corrigible by that sullen obstinacy and constant cause of dissimilation and falsehood…’ which could be said to be a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Born in 1732 the son of John 2nd Viscount St John and his wealthy wife Anne Furnese, Frederick inherited titles, property and a predilection for the good life.

Diana was meanwhile busy pursuing her artistic hobbies and showing a reluctance to settle down and marry when the couple met at that notorious party venue Vauxhall Gardens, where wealthy young aristocrats rubbed shoulders with the working girls of London.

Frederick’s companions were teasing him about his single status when apparently he turned to Diana and jokingly asked, “will you have me?” to which she replied, “yes, to be sure.”

Following a brief engagement the couple married on September 8, 1757 at Harbledon, Kent. Diana brought to the marriage a £10,000 settlement with an additional £5,000 due from her great grandmother Sarah in 1761.

Unimpressed with the St John family home at Battersea, which Frederick later sold to his wife’s cousin John, Earl Spencer, Diana and Frederick ‘Bully’ Bolingbroke made their home at 7 St James’ Square. They spent the summer months at Lydiard where Frederick indulged his love of bloodstock breeding and Diana developed the walled garden, created by her father in law during his landscaping of the grounds and parkland.

With Bully’s extravagant lifestyle depleting the family finances, Diana used her influence to secure him an appointment as Lord of the Bedchamber to the new King George III.

Their first child, George Richard, was born at the couple’s London home on March 5, 1761 and was christened at St. George’s, Hanover Square. Their second, a daughter, was born in 1762 when Diana was working long hours as Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Charlotte, and died aged just five months. A second son, Frederick was born on 20 December 1765.

In 1765 Diana was painted by her mentor Royal Academician Joshua Reynolds, depicted as a practising artist, indicating the seriousness of her vocation. For Diana art was to become much more than just a pleasant pastime but an important source of income – a career.

Diana was talented and produced a large body of work from designs for the Wedgwood pottery to pastel and watercolour portraits, including one of her second cousin, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, which was later engraved and went into mass production. Horace Walpole commissioned her to produce illustrations of his tragedy The Mysterious Mother on seven large panels in black wash mounted on Indian blue damask, which he hung in a specially designed room named the Beauclerc closet.

Sadly marriage had little changed Frederick who showed no inclination of curbing his ways and by the mid 1760s the Bolingbroke’s were merely keeping up appearances and leading separate lives.

Diana moved out of their Lower Brook Street home and placed herself under the protection of her brother George, Duke of Marlborough. A private deed of separation followed in which Bully agreed to pay her an annual income of £800. Diana cited his violent behaviour and constant drinking, but in truth her eventual reason for leaving her badly behaved husband was that she had fallen in love.

Diana sought solace in the arms of Topham Beauclerk, a great grandson of Charles II and Nell Gwyn. By 1768 Bully would wait no longer to end his marriage. On January 22, 1768 he petitioned the House of Lords to bring in a Bill to dissolve his marriage with Lady Diana Spencer. The divorce was issued on March 10, 1768 and on March 12 Diana and Topham were married by licence at St. George’s, Hanover Square.

The divorce settlement saw Frederick pocket the marriage portion of £15,000 while Diana was forced to renounce all claims to the Bolingbroke estate. Frederick raised the couple’s two sons, with Diana seeing little of the boys during their childhood.

But sadly Diana’s second marriage proved to be no happier than her first. As Beauclerk’s laudanum addiction took hold he became increasingly ‘morose and savage’ and notorious for his lack of personal hygiene. Infested with lice, when told the ladies at a grand Christmas party at Blenheim had also been ‘inconvenienced’ by the vermin, he replied that he had enough to stock a parish.

Following Beauclerk’s death in 1780 Diana moved to Spencer Grove, a house at Little Marble Hill, Twickenham where she concentrated on her work, but her life continued to be plagued by scandal and heartbreak. In 1787 George Richard, her son by Frederick, fathered four sons in an incestuous relationship with Mary, her daughter by Beauclerk.

Frederick suffered both mental and physical ill health towards the end of his life, and was described as being ‘out of his mind.’ He died on May 5, 1787 and was buried in the family vault at St. Mary’s, Lydiard Tregoze eight days later.

Diana died at her home on August 1, 1808 aged 74 and was buried in Richmond.