Lady Anne Clifford

Don’t you just love the St John women – intelligent, feisty, and brave? From Anne St John, Countess of Rochester who juggled her estates, protecting her family fortunes during the English Civil War, to Anne Douglas, Lady Dalkeith who laid her life on the line to protect baby Princess Henrietta Maria, the 17th century St John women showed their mettle.

And here is the story of another, earlier, Anne – Anne Clifford, whose ancestry can be traced back to two St John women on both the maternal and paternal sides of her family.

In 2013 a lost portrait of Anne was discovered in a private European collection and purchased by the National Portrait Gallery – but the story of Anne is far from lost and her name appears in scholarly works and books by eminent historians such as Professor R.T. Spence and Lady Antonia Fraser.

Anne Clifford

Anne Clifford

Anne was born on January 30, 1590 at Skipton Castle, Yorkshire, the Clifford family seat. As the third child and only daughter of George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland, and his wife the former Lady Margaret Russell, Anne’s future was pretty much mapped out for her.

However with the death of her two elder brothers Anne became heiress to the title Baroness Clifford suo jure and extensive land and property in the north of England – but claiming her inheritance would be far from plain sailing.

The death of their two sons coupled with the de rigueur bad behaviour of the 3rd Earl, saw Anne’s parents drift apart and for much of her childhood the couple lived separately. Anne grew up with her mother’s family at the great Russell owned mansions Chenies in Buckinghamshire and North Hall in Northaw and was at the very centre of court life. When the Queen died in 1603 thirteen year old Anne wrote in her diary:

‘When the corpse of Queen Elizabeth had continued at Whitehall as long as the Council had thought fit, it was carried from thence with great solemnity to Westminster, the Lords and Ladies going on foot to attend it, my mother and my aunt of Warwick being mourners, but I was not allowed to be one, because I was not high enough, which did not trouble me then, but yet I stood in the church at Westminster to see the solemnity performed.’

 Surrounded by her intellectual relatives and all the big names on the 17th century arts scene, Anne grew up well educated.Throughout her lifetime she was a great reader with Chaucer a particular favourite. Anne could also be found swotting up on Turkish history and there was nothing she enjoyed more than being read to.

But then in 1605 her father died and Anne’s long battle to secure her inheritance began.

In his will George Clifford left his daughter a useful £15,000 portion but the extensive estates in the north he bequeathed to his brother Francis.

Anne’s mother, Lady Margaret, rapidly took up the legal cudgels on behalf of her 15 year old daughter and secured occupancy of the Skipton properties, although Francis retained possession of these and the rest of the estates. It would take more than 40 years of litigation and the death of Francis and his son Henry, before Anne could claim her rightful inheritance.

Before that she weathered two pretty unhappy marriages. The first to Richard Sackville, Earl of Dorset in 1609 who was dubbed ‘one of the 17th century’s most accomplished gamblers and wastrels.’ The couple had five children, three sons who died young and two daughters.

Richard Sackville, Earl of Dorset

Richard Sackville, Earl of Dorset

Dorset was openly unfaithful to his wife and even brought his mistress, Lady Penistone, to live at the family home of Knole House.

Even worse, Dorset involved himself in Anne’s inheritance battle, complicating the situation and winding up Anne at the same time. In 1615 the couple were told they could either have the Skipton and Westmorland estates or the £15,000 portion but not both. Dorset’s interference led to all the estates going to Francis and his male heirs while Anne received £17,000 in compensation which Dorset promptly snaffled.

Despite an injection of wealth on the death of Dorset in 1624 life didn’t get any easier.

The first thing Anne did was to buy from the crown the wardships of her two daughters Margaret and Isabella before securing her own future with a marriage to Charles I’s Lord Chamberlain, Philip Herbert, Earl of Mongomery and Pembroke in 1630.

Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery and Pembroke

Philip Herbert, Earl of Montgomery and Pembroke

Now in her forties Anne was not prepared to stand for any nonsense and as soon as he started with the ‘I want Skipton Castle …’ malarkey she left him to it. Taking her younger daughter Isabella with her, Anne divided her time between Pembroke’s Wiltshire homes until the outbreak of the Civil War, by which time he had moved across to the Parliamentarian side and needed her to guard his treasures at his London home, Baynard’s Castle.

Following Pembroke’s death in 1649 Anne spent her last years doing – well, exactly what she wanted to. She restored numerous castles on her estates between which she progressed with royal like splendour. She built properties and almshouses for her retainers and commissioned works of art and monuments. A generous friend she bought books in bulk, mainly of a devotional nature, to give as presents.

Lady Anne Clifford in later life

Lady Anne Clifford in later life

Anne died on March 22, 1676 in Brougham Castle aged 86 – one of the wealthiest noblewomen of her time – and was interred in St Lawrence Church, Appleby.

Anne Clifford's monument in St Lawrence Church, Appleby.

Anne Clifford’s monument in St Lawrence Church, Appleby.

The recently recovered portrait was painted by William Larkin in about 1616 when Anne was 26/28. Anne’s description of herself – ‘The colour of mine eyes was black like my father’s and the form and aspect of them was quicke and lively like my mother’s. The hair of my head was brown and very thick … with a peak of hair on my forehead and a dimple in my chin’ was one of the contributory factors when it came to identifying the portrait.

On her paternal side Anne’s 3x great grandmother was Anne St John, the daughter of Sir John St John and Alice Bradslaugh. Sir John was the elder son of Oliver St John and Margaret Beauchamp and headed the senior, Bletsoe branch of the St John family. He was half brother to Margaret Beaufort and therefore uncle to Henry VII.

On her maternal side Anne’s grandmother was Margaret St John, the daughter of Sir John St John and Margaret Waldegrave. This Sir John was the grandson of Sir John and Alice – I know, it’s tricky keeping tabs on everyone.


The Great Picture tells of Lady Anne’s family history and was commissioned by her in 1646. It hung in Appleby Castle for more than 300 years and today is on show at Abbot Hall Art Gallery.Visit the website to learn more about the picture.

In 1615 St John St John 1st Baronet of Lydiard House, Wiltshire commissioned something very similar to commemorate his family history. The polyptych in St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze, will be open on the weekend of July 25 and 26 to celebrate its 400th anniversary.

St John polyptych

St John polyptych

For more about the history of Lydiard House see Status, Scandal and Subterfuge.

The Beautiful Lady Craven

Ashdown House was the subject of a recent talk at Swindon Central Library by best selling author of historical romances Nicola Cornick. The former hunting lodge on the Berkshire and Oxfordshire borders was built in 1662 by the fabulously wealthy William Craven for the exiled Elizabeth of Bohemia, sister of Charles I.

Elizabeth of Bohemia

Elizabeth of Bohemia

The Purbeck stone floor in the entrance hall at Ashdown made from stone quarried in Swindon was just one of the local connections Nicola revealed. And even more interesting were a couple of St John family ones as well.

In 1714, Henry, Viscount Bolingbroke, politically adrift following the death of Queen Anne, holed up at Ashdown House where he plotted and planned to restore James II’s Catholic son to the English throne.

Among the Craven ladies Nicola mentioned was the colourful, self styled ‘beautiful’ Lady Craven.

Elizabeth Berkeley married William Craven, 6th Baron Craven, on May 30, 1767 at St Martin in the Fields, Westminster. Elizabeth would later describe her husband as fond and stupid while she was beautiful and clever. The marriage, which had begun happily enough, eventually failed after thirteen years and seven children. In her memoirs Elizabeth blamed the breakdown on her husband’s affair, but it might not have been quite so one sided as that.

The beautiful Lady Craven

The beautiful Lady Craven

The gutter press of the day delighted in the antics of the indiscreet Lady Craven. And in 1773 literary hostess Mrs Frances Boscawen wrote to that other literary lady, Mrs Mary Delany – “we talk much of Lady Craven and have a variety of stories which I shall not employ my pen to string for you…”

In 1780 Craven settled £1,500 a year upon his troublesome wife, sending her on her way. Taking her youngest son Richard Keppel Craven with her, Elizabeth set up home in a house at Versailles.

An intrepid traveller and prolific writer, Elizabeth’s oeuvre consisted of “sonnets, rebuses, charades, epilogues, and songs, and besides, not a few plays” according to a contemporary. Elizabeth numbered lexicographer Samuel Johnson among her devotees who described her as “the beautiful, gay, and fascinating, Lady Craven.”

William Craven died in 1791 leaving Elizabeth free to marry her longtime amour, also recently widowed, Alexander, Margrave of Brandenburg-Ansbach and Bayreuth, a cousin of George III. Elizabeth and Alexander moved to England where they lived in some style at properties in Hammersmith and Berkshire.

Following Alexander’s death in 1806, Elizabeth returned to the continent. She died at her home, Craven Villa in Posillipo, Naples in 1828. She is buried in the English Cemetery at Naples.

And that all important St John connection? Elizabeth’s daughter Arabella Craven, born in 1774, married General Hon. Frederick St. John, second son of Frederick St John 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke, and Lady Diana Spencer. Ashdown House Today Ashdown House is owned by the National Trust and Nicola is a member of the team of volunteers who undertake guided tours of the property.

Anne Wilmot

At the end of the 17th century life continued to be pretty short and precarious whatever one’s status. Medicine was still mired in superstition and women of child bearing age were particularly vulnerable.

Johanna St John’s Booke dated 1680 representing a lifetimes collection of receipts and remedies is held at the Wellcome Library, a repository of books, manuscripts and archives recording the history of medicine. Most great homes had just such a book – the difference with Johanna’s is that she included contributions from eminent doctors of the day.

When John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester, lay in his final agonies, his mother Anne consulted her sister-in-law Johanna for a draught to ease his sufferings.

Johanna obviously practised what she preached, surviving the birth of 13 children and living to the grand old age of 75. Sadly her three Wilmot great nieces proved to be less fortunate and Anne died in 1703 aged 36.

Anne Wilmot

Anne Wilmot

Anne was the eldest of four children born to Elizabeth Mallet, Countess of Rochester, wife of the disreputable but talented second earl, John Wilmot. Anne’s early childhood was spent largely at her parents Oxfordshire home at Adderbury and her mother’s property at Enmore in Somerset.

It was at Adderbury that Anne married her first husband Henry Baynton in July 1685. Henry, the son of a family friend, was 21 and Anne was 18. Anne was a good catch. Along with her two younger sisters she was co-heiress to her late brother’s estate and brought land valued at £21,000 to the marriage.

The ancient Baynton family had long been pally with the Royal family and had played host to Henry VIII and James I at the magnificent Bromham House. Built in 1538 by Sir Edward Baynton at a reputed cost of £15,000 and said to be as large as the royal palace at Whitehall, sadly Bromham House was destroyed during the Civil War. Sir Edward’s grandson, another Sir Edward (1593-1657) rebuilt the Baynton family home as Spye Park and it was at this address that the newly weds set up home.

Farleigh Hungerford Castle

Farleigh Hungerford Castle

At the time of their marriage Henry, Tory MP for Chippenham, was already engaging in a spot of property speculation, buying Hinton Priory, the Manor of Farleigh Hungerford and various land from the profligate Sir Edward Hungerford.

Known as ‘Hungerford the Waster’ Sir Edward was a distant relative of Henry’s wife Anne. Anne was the 2 x great granddaughter of Lucy Hungerford, pictured with her first husband John on the St John polyptych in St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze. Following John’s death in 1594 Lucy married her kinsman Sir Anthony Hungerford, had three more children, bringing her total up to 13 before dying in 1597. Sir Anthony married secondly Sarah Crouch and Sir Edward was his grandson from this second marriage.

John St John and Lucy Hungerford (centre)

John St John and Lucy Hungerford (centre)

Henry bought the Manor of Farleigh with the Castle for £56,000. Although the immediate Hungerford family mourned the loss, they might have been consoled had they known the Castle remained in the extended Hungerford, St John, Wilmot family.

The young Baynton family moved in but within four years the dream came crashing down about their ears. Henry died suddenly on July 11, 1691 in his 27th year, following a short illness and was buried the same day in the crypt at St Nicholas’ Church, Bromham. Sadly all this property buying had left Henry up to his eyes in debt. His Will written shortly before his death devised most of the Hungerford estates to his executors Sir Edward Warneford and Walter Grubbe, to be sold to clear these debts.

Anne had the income from her mother’s estate at Enmore, which she inherited when she was 24, bit it was far from plain sailing thereon in. Anne was forced to sell most of the remaining Hungerford estates with her favourite Farleigh Castle and Park sold to Hector Cooper of Trowbridge.

Her two young children, John and Anne aged 3 and 2 respectively at the time of their father’s death, were placed under the guardianship of the said Walter Grubbe of Eastwell House, Potterne, MP for Devizes, although they probably continued to live with Anne.

It was imperative that Anne remarry, and quickly, but she chose her new husband carefully, marrying Francis Greville, MP for Warwick, on January 26, 1693. Francis was the son and heir of Fulke Greville, 5th Baron Brooke of Beauchamp’s Court, and herein lies yet another connection to Anne’s St John ancestry.

The Manor of Beauchamp’s Court at Alcester had been acquired by Sir Fulke Greville in the mid 16th century, inherited by his son and grandson. However the third Sir Fulke Greville died in 1628 unmarried and without issue and his titles and estate passed to his adopted son Robert Greville, his second cousin once removed and now came into the branch from which Anne’s second husband Francis descended. Unfortunately Francis missed out on inheriting the title of 6th Baron Brooke and Beauchamp’s Court – oh, and not forgetting Warwick Castle – as he died just 11 days before his father also shuffled off this mortal coil. All the goodies went to Francis and Anne’s eldest son Fulke who only survived his father by four months when everything then went to his brother William.

So where is the St John link? Beauchamp’s Court had once belonged to Walter de Beauchamp, the 4 x great grandfather of matriarchal Margaret Beauchamp who married Oliver St John c1425.

Well now we’ve sorted out that medieval Monopoly board, let’s proceed. Anne went on to have a batch of Greville children, four of whom survived to adulthood. Fulke born c1693, William 1694, Elizabeth and Catherine in 1698.

Her Baynton daughter Anne eventually went on to marry wealthy Edward Rolt while her second Greville son moved into Warwick Castle.

Anne died in 1703. Her body was returned to Bromham for burial alongside her first husband Henry. The photograph of her memorial in the church is reproduced here courtesy of Duncan and Mandy Ball.

Anne Wilmot's memorial Bromham

Many thanks to the Baynton History website.

Julia, Countess of Jersey

According to librettist W.S. Gilbert – ‘When constabulary duty’s to be done, a policeman’s lot is not a happy one.’ The same cannot be said for Sir Robert Peel, founder of the Metropolitan Police Force, and his family, whose lot seems to have been pretty jolly, by and large.

Julia, Lady Peel painted by Lawrence in 1827

Julia, Lady Peel painted by Lawrence in 1827

The Peel’s London residence was No 4 Privy Gardens, a property adjoining Whitehall Palace, boasting a large bow window and a fine gallery of paintings by old masters, and the best collection of modern portraits by Sir Thomas Lawrence, including one of Lady Peel.

Julia Peel as a child

Julia Peel as a child

The couple’s eldest daughter Julia was born at the Peel’s Drayton Manor estate in Staffordshire in 1821, shortly before Sir Robert became Home Secretary in 1822, establishing the Metropolitan Police Force in 1829.  Sir Robert held the office of both Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister in 1834 – 1835, and served again as Prime Minister in 1841 – 1846.

On July 12, 1841 Julia married Tory politician George Augustus Frederick Child Villers, who served as MP for Rochester, Minehead, Honiton, Weymouth & Melcome Regis and Cirencester during a career spanning more than twenty years.  George’s ancestry can be traced back to that dynastic coupling of Sir Edward Villiers, half brother to Royal favourite  the 1st Duke of Buckingham, and Barbara St John who grew up at Lydiard House in Wiltshire.

Julia, Lady Jersey

Julia, Lady Jersey

Julia and George divided their time between their country home at Middleton Stoney, Oxfordshire and their London address.  Following 18 years of marriage and six children, George, who was suffering from consumption, died suddenly at their London home on October 24, 1859, just three weeks after succeeding to the title and estates of the earldom of Jersey.  The couple’s fifteen year old son Victor unexpectedly became the 7th Earl of Jersey.

Julia appears to have been in no hurry to remarry and when she did so it was to Charles Brandling, a man some 12 years her junior.  The wedding took place at St Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge on September 12, 1865 ‘in the presence of a large circle of relations and friends,’ according to The Standard.

The ceremony was followed by a ‘sumptuous dejeuner’ at the home of Julia’s sister Eliza Stonor.  Invitations were restricted to immediate family members and a few intimate friends with a guest list straight out of Burke’s peerage – the duke and Duchess of Wellington, the Countess of fife and Lady Anne Duff, the Earl and Countess of Clarendon and a selection of honourable Villiers’s and various Peels.

Charles Brandling lived on his interest of money, according to the census returns and appears to have little to recommend him.  In her book ‘Fifty one years of Victorian Life’ Julia’s daughter in law Margaret Leigh writes: ‘My mother-in-law and her second husband, Mr. Brandling, were among our frequent visitors.  Mr Brandling had a long beard and a loud voice, and a way of flinging open the doors into the dining-room when he came in in the morning which was distinctly startling.  Apart from these peculiarities he did not leave much mark in the world. He was very fond of reading, and I used to suggest to him that he might occupy himself in reviewing books, but I do not think that he had much power of concentration.  My mother-in-law was tactful with him, but he had a decided temper, especially when he played whist.  As I did not play, this did not affect me.’

Margaret Elizabeth Leigh, Julia's daughter-in-law

Margaret Elizabeth Leigh, Julia’s daughter-in-law

Julia contracted a chill whilst on holiday in Switzerland and died suddenly on August 14, 1893 at the Villa Lammermoor, Petit Saconnes, Geneva. Her body was returned to England where she was buried in the family vault at Middleton Stoney.

In an effusive obituary published in the Morning Post, Lady Jersey was described as ‘a type of those fast disappearing ladies who directly connect us with the fine manners and pleasant ways of the earlier part of the century… The passage of years left little trace upon her lively and impulsive character; but as they rolled by so amiable and sincere a heart was sure to gather, as it did, troops of friends in the best sense of the word.  She will be widely and sincerely mourned.’

Lady Methuen of Corsham Court

When the three St John Mildmay sisters married in the early nineteenth century, they each acquired a country residence within a stone’s throw of one another.

Jane Dorothea St John Mildmay

Jane Dorothea St John Mildmay

Eldest sister Jane Dorothea moved into Corsham Court following her marriage to Paul Methuen in 1810. Younger sister Maria married a distant cousin, Henry St John 4th Viscount Bolingbroke, in 1812 and inherited the rapidly deteriorating Lydiard House, while Anne married William Pleydell Bouverie in 1814 and as the Countess of Radnor was mistress of Coleshill House across the Wiltshire border in neighbouring Berkshire.

The manor of Corsham appears in the Domesday book as the property of King Edward the Confessor and ‘the great house at Corsham’ dates back to Elizabethan times, the work of Customer Smyth in 1582.

South Front - Corsham Court

South Front – Corsham Court

The property had been in the Methuen family for more than 60 years when Jane married Paul, and three generations had already left their mark.  In 1760 another Paul, the first owner, commissioned that celebrity landscape gardener Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown to weave his magic and transform the Corsham estate.  Brown planted numerous trees including the Oriental Plane, which still survives today and has entered the record books on account of its dimensions.

Paul’s son, Paul Cobb Methuen, commissioned architect John Nash to create a new North Front on the gothic lines of Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill home. The work included the building of an Octagonal Saloon and a music room for use as a picture gallery to house his father’s extensive collection.  A huge undertaking and fraught with problems, most of the North Front was subsequently demolished a mere forty years after it was finished.

A keen gardener, Lady Jane turned her attention to the formal gardens.  High walls with climbing plants enclose long herbaceous borders, a lily pond and garden statuary, reflecting her taste to the present day.

In 1846 Jane’s husband Paul 1st Baron Methuen brought in Thomas Bellamy to remodel the North Front, a project she would not live to see completed.

Thomas Bellamy's North Front - Corsham Court

Thomas Bellamy’s North Front – Corsham Court

Paul Methuen served as MP for Wiltshire 1812-1819, High Sheriff of Wiltshire 1831-32 and MP for North Wilts 1833-1837 and in 1838 he was created Baron Methuen. The couple had four children – heir Paul Mildmay who died in 1837 aged just 23, a daughter Jane Matilda, Frederick Henry Paul 2nd Baron Methuen and St John George Paul. The family divided its time between Corsham Court and their London home in Park Street where Jane died on March 15, 1846.  Her body was returned to Wiltshire for burial.

So how do the Mildmay sisters’ properties fare today?

The Grade I listed Corsham Court is still owned by the Methuen family and is open to the public.  It is also used by Bath Spa University as a post graduate centre and for the study of arts and humanities.

A 1930s postcard view of Coleshill House

A 1930s postcard view of Coleshill House

Anne’s stately pile at Coleshill is sadly no more.  An accident with a blow lamp during restoration work in the 1950s saw the property gutted by fire.  What remained of the building was later demolished.

Perhaps the surprise success is the survival of Lydiard House.  By the 1830s even Maria and Henry declined to live there, renting it out to Maria’s distant cousin Julia and her husband Sir George Orby Wombwell.

Lydiard House

Lydiard House

When Lady Bolingbroke, Maria’s daughter in law and a former housekeeper at Lydiard, died in 1940 the estate was mortgaged to the hilt and the house all but derelict.  Bought by Swindon Corporation in 1943 deputy Borough Architect Mr Flack would later write that “the whole roof was held in place by its own weight, the friction between the tiles and spiders; webs.”

During a period when country houses were being demolished at an alarming rate, Lydiard House was rescued and restored and today is also open to the public.

Lady Constance Lytton

Lady Constance Lytton will be a name familiar to anyone who has studied the Votes for Women campaign waged between 1903 and the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Her involvement came about by a meeting with that other famous Emmeline, Mrs Pethick-Lawrence.  Constance joined the Women’s Social and Political Union in 1909 and worked as a paid organiser for the Union. Soon she was lobbying Parliament and using her influential contacts on behalf of the cause.  Her membership of the militant wing came later.

Lady Constance Georgina Bulwer Lytton was born in Vienna on February 12, 1869 the daughter of diplomat Edward Robert Bulwer Lytton.  His wife, the former Edith Villiers, could trace her ancestry back to the parish of Lydiard Tregoze and her five times great grandmother Barbara St John who spent her childhood at Lydiard House. It was this aristocratic inheritance that would set Lady Constance on the dangerous path of militancy.

Throughout history the Villiers women proved to be notoriously single minded and despite her lack of confidence and ill health, Lady Constance followed true to form.  Having nailed her colours to the suffrage mast Constance defied the disapproval of society, her family’s consternation and common sense itself in her devotion to the cause.

Lady Constance spent her first prison sentence on the hospital ward at Holloway.  Her second one ended abruptly with her early release when doctors were alerted to her title and a pre existing heart condition.  Constance set about making  public the treatment suffragettes received and to reform prison conditions.  To do this she considered it necessary to have shared the same experience.  Dressed in dowdy clothes and with her hair cut and styled unflatteringly, Constance assumed the identity of Miss Jane Warton when she appeared at a protest outside Walton Gaol, Liverpool.  She was arrested but this time there was no special treatment and no medical examination.  She went on hunger strike with the other women and was forcibly fed eight times.

Lady Constance later wrote about her experiences.

Tuesday, January 18, I was visited again by the Senior Medical Officer, who asked me how long I had been without food. I said I had eaten a buttered scone and a banana sent in by friends to the police station on Friday at about midnight. He said, “Oh, then, this is the fourth day; that is too long, I shall have to feed you, I must feed you at once,” but he went out and nothing happened till about 6 o’clock in the evening, when he returned with, I think, five wardresses and the feeding apparatus. He urged me to take food voluntarily. I told him that was absolutely out of the question, that when our legislators ceased to resist enfranchising women then I should cease to resist taking food in prison. He did not examine my heart nor feel my pulse; he did not ask to do so, nor did I say anything which could possibly induce him to think I would refuse to be examined. I offered no resistance to being placed in position, but lay down voluntarily on the plank bed. Two of the wardresses took hold of my arms, one held my head and one my feet. One wardress helped to pour the food. The doctor leant on my knees as he stooped over my chest to get at my mouth. I shut my mouth and clenched my teeth. I had looked forward to this moment with so much anxiety lest my identity should be discovered beforehand, that I felt positively glad when the time had come. The sense of being overpowered by more force than I could possibly resist was complete, but I resisted nothing except with my mouth. The doctor offered me the choice of a wooden or steel gag; he explained elaborately, as he did on most subsequent occasions, that the steel gag would hurt and the wooden one not, and he urged me not to force him to use the steel gag. But I did not speak nor open my mouth, so that after playing about for a moment or two with the wooden one he finally had recourse to the steel. He seemed annoyed at my resistance and he broke into a temper as he plied my teeth with the steel implement. He found that on either side at the back I had false teeth mounted on a bridge which did not take out. The superintending wardress asked if I had any false teeth, if so, that they must be taken out; I made no answer and the process went on. He dug his instrument down on to the sham tooth, it pressed fearfully on the gum. He said if I resisted so much with my teeth, he would have to feed me through the nose. The pain of it was intense and at last I must have given way for he got the gag between my teeth, when he proceeded to turn it much more than necessary until my jaws were fastened wide apart, far more than they could go naturally. Then he put down my throat a tube which seemed to me much too wide and was something like four feet in length. The irritation of the tube was excessive. I choked the moment it touched my throat until it had got down. Then the food was poured in quickly; it made me sick a few seconds after it was down and the action of the sickness made my body and legs double up, but the wardresses instantly pressed back my head and the doctor leant on my knees. The horror of it was more than I can describe. I was sick over the doctor and wardresses, and it seemed a long time before they took the tube out. As the doctor left he gave me a slap on the cheek, not violently, but, as it were, to express his contemptuous disapproval, and he seemed to take for granted that my distress was assumed. At first it seemed such an utterly contemptible thing to have done that I could only laugh in my mind. Then suddenly I saw Jane Warton lying before me, and it seemed as if I were outside of her. She was the most despised, ignorant and helpless prisoner that I had seen. When she had served her time and was out of the prison, no one would believe anything she said, and the doctor when he had fed her by force and tortured her body, struck her on the cheek to show how he despised her! That was Jane Warton, and I had come to help her.

Upon her release from prison Constance continued to profess the different treatment she had received when her true identity was unknown.  The Times published a letter from Sir Edward Troup, permanent under secretary at the Home Office, challenging her version of events.  This was swiftly shot down in flames by Lady Constance’s brother Victor, Lord Lytton.

In 1911 Lady Constance suffered a slight stroke, but she soon returned to militant protest, taking part in a window smashing campaign.  A second stroke in May 1912 resulted in a partial paralysis down her right side.  No longer able to fight on the front line, she picked up her pen instead and with her left hand wrote about her experiences in Prisons and Prisoners published in 1914.

Lady Constance lived the rest of her life as an invalid, cared for by her mother.  She died on May 22, 1923 at her London home at Oxford Square.  She was 54 years old.

Edith Villiers, Countess of Lytton

Symbolist, sculptor and portrait painter George Frederic Watts is widely considered to be the greatest Victorian painter.  In an era that produced Edwin Landseer, Frederick Leighton and the Pre Raphaelites that’s no mean feat. During a career that spanned more than 60 years, G.F. Watts was influenced by that avant garde brotherhood of artists, particularly Dante Gabriel Rossetti, as is evident in his portrait of ‘Edith.’

In 1862 Watts requested permission to paint a portrait of Edith Villiers, the 21 year old daughter of his old friend Edward.  Edith was at a bit of a low point in her life.  Her twin sister Elizabeth had recently married Henry Loch, a man with whom Edith was also in love.

Edith was sent to Little Holland House, the home Watts shared with the Prinsep family, where it was thought the exercise of being painted would cheer her up.  The portrait was completed in an estimated eight hours across several sittings which Edith apparently didn’t enjoy much. ‘They pulled down my hair and then made me sit to Mr Watts,’ she recalled. ‘It was such a bore.’

Edith was born on September 15, 1841 and on her paternal side could trace her ancestry back through more than two hundred years of Royal favourites.  Perhaps most famous was the Countess of Castlemaine, formerly Barbara Villiers, mistress of Charles II and mother of five of his illegitimate children.  Edith’s three times great grandfather Edward Villiers 1st Earl of Jersey numbered two royal favourites among his sisters; squinty eyed Betty Villiers who was the unlikely mistress of William III and Barbara, best friends for ever with Queen Anne, that is until they fell out. All these rampant Villiers women trace their lineage back to a marriage between Edward Villiers and Barbara St John, daughter of Sir John St John and Lucy Hungerford, immortalised in the St John polyptych at St Mary’s Church, Lydiard Tregoze.

Having recovered from her romantic disappointment Edith married statesman Edward Robert Bulwer Lytton, the son of novelist Edward Bulwer Lytton, on October 4, 1864. Edith was a devoted help mate, supporting her husband’s diplomatic career in Europe and especially in India.  Robert was appointed Viceroy of India in 1876 where in Delhi the following year he proclaimed Queen Victoria Empress of India.

Something of a fashion plate, Edith dragged the viceregal court into the modern era.  But she wasn’t just a nineteen century clothes horse and invested both her time and money in women’s education.

The couple left India in 1880 and in 1887 Robert was made Ambassador to France.  He died suddenly in Paris in 1891 from heart disease leaving Edith in a precarious financial situation from which she was rescued by non other than Queen Victoria.  Invited to attend court as a Lady in Waiting, the Queen later honoured Edith with the Royal Order of Victoria and Albert and, in recognition of the role she had played as vicereine, the Imperial Order of the Crown of India.

Edith went on to serve as Lady in Waiting to Queen Alexandra before retiring to a house on the Lytton family’s Knebworth estate in 1905.

Edith died on September 17, 1936, two days after her 95th birthday.  She had outlived her husband by 45 years and three of her seven children.


Louisa, Lady Bagot

Louisa St John was born c1744 just as building work on Lydiard House drew to a close.  The only surviving daughter of John, 2nd Viscount St John and his wife Anne Furnese,  Louisa was born when the St Johns were busy on construction work on both their London and Lydiard homes.  But with the death of her mother in 1747 and her father soon after the little girl grew up away from the remodelled Palladian mansion house in Lydiard Tregoze, Wiltshire.

In his memoirs Louisa’s son William states that his parents met in 1759 and that his mother was extremely young at the time of her marriage.  With only an approximate birthdate to go on, it seems possible that Louisa was as young as 15 when she met her future husband and only 16 when she married William, 1st Baron Bagot at Wroxton, Banbury on August 20, 1760.

William served as MP for Staffordshire from 1754 to 1780.  His son describes him as ‘a firm Tory and ever a most zealous supporter of Church and King.  From the Administration of Lord Bute to the end of his life, he invariably refused all offers of place and preferment; though frequently and anxiously pressed at different times, and by various Ministers.’

The Bagot family seat at Blithfield in Staffordshire had belonged to the family since the 14th century.  Louisa and William also had a home in Bruton Street, Mayfair.

In the summer of 1773 Louisa, heavily pregnant yet again, left the swelter of London for  Blithfield to await the birth of her latest baby.  Her four children, Louisa 11, Edward 10, Walter 7 and five year old Barbara were already enjoying their escape to the country.  Little did the expectant mother suspect the tragedy that lie ahead.

Scarlet fever swept through the family at the big house and all four children caught the malignant and fatal disease. Across three days in the month of June three of the children died, Edward, Walter and little Barbara, only eldest daughter Louisa survived. In the 18th century a child’s life was so easily snuffed out and even the privileged upper classes had little defense against the deadly scarlet fever.

Louisa gave birth to a son on September 11.  But this was not the end of the heartache she had to endure.

Louisa would go on to have four more children, Hervey born in 1777, Henrietta in 1780, Charles in 1781 and Richard in 1782.  In 1787 yet again Louisa had to nurse her children through an outbreak of scarlet fever.  Hervey, who had so recently celebrated his 10th birthday, died on May 31 and was buried in the churchyard at St Nicholas, Chiswick on June 2.

Louisa’s husband William died in 1798 aged 71. She survived him by more than 20 years, dividing her time between the estate at Blithfield where her eldest surviving son then resided, and a house at Brook Street.

Louisa herself is described as having a delicate state of health, no doubt further weakened by repeated pregnancies but her son makes an intriguing comment.  Towards the end of her life her constitution improved and for many years before her death she enjoyed a much better state of health.  Married when little more than a child perhaps having eventually gained her independence for the first time saw her general well being improve as a consequence.

Louisa wrote her own will on January 1, 1818, a document which later needed the verification of her handwriting.  To her daughter Louisa, the only survivor of that devastating outbreak of scarlet fever, she leaves a monetary bequest and ‘my pair of Diamond Ear rings all my books in Town and here the little cabinet in Town given me by my brother John and a small heart set round with Diamonds containing the hair of my three four children deceased.’

Louisa makes her eldest son executor and refers to him constantly as ‘dear William’ the child born just weeks after her great loss.

In this eulogy to his parents William concludes – “This best of women, most exemplary of wives and most affectionate of mothers, expired at Blithfield, upon the 4th February 1820, and lies buried there with her much revered husband.”