Friday, July 25, 2008

Tart of the Week: Frances, Countess of Jersey



The insufferable Lady Jersey was not only a trollop, she was just plain nasty-mean. This wild Irish rose was the daughter of the Bishop of Raphoe, although he died before she was born. His death was the result of him trying to rob a stagecoach in London unsuccessfully. It remains unclear how the simple Frances Twysden was able to nab George Villiers, the next in line for the Earldom of Jersey. He was more than 20 years her senior and she was only 17 at the time of their marriage. George would later become the Master of Horse and Lord of the Bedchamber to the Prince of Wales. You probably know where this is going already.

Frances' marriage proved to be fruitful and she had ten children from 1771 to 1788. In between the children she made a hobby (and reputation) of wrecking her friends' marriages. She was a definitive member of the ton and one of the elite members of the Devonshire House Circle. This allowed her even more access to her friends' husbands and lovers. She was like a really evil version of Lady Melbourne. During Georgiana's first years of marriage she naively considered Lady Jersey to be one of her friends. Frances felt the same way, but she had an odd way of showing it. While Georgiana and her friends paraded in their gowns en militaire in Coxheath, Frances took advantage of the Duchess' brief absences from her husband to visit him alone in his tent...frequently. Worst of all, both parties made no secret of it; in fact they both seemed to flaunt the affair to poor Georgiana. The affair was ended by Georgiana's parents, Lord and Lady Spencer, who threatened Frances if she decided to continue the affair as well as told the Duke how disgusted they were with his behavior.

No matter to Frances, she moved on to other lovers very quickly, not worried at all about her reputation. When an article ran in the paper about her infidelities, this only caught her husband by surprise. The couple was visiting Chatsworth at the time and during dinner George jumped up and declared he would show the world he did not believe the press' slander against his wife. Everyone must have rolled their eyes. She continued to have affairs with the likes of Lord Morpeth and the Earl of Carlisle.

Her most famous affair was, of course, with the Prince of Wales. From 1794 to 1798 she was his main squeeze. In fact, it was she who broke up the prince's relationship with Mrs. Fitzherbert. The satirical cartoonists had a field day depicting the chubby prince canoodling with a haggish grandmother (Frances was over 40 when the affair began). Frances turned out to be more than just an outlet for the prince's carnal desires. Like Camilla with Prince Charles, she convinced Prince George to marry Caroline of Brunswick because she didn't think her to be a threat. She even became Caroline's Lady of the Bedchamber, much to Caroline's dislike. Frances continued her habit of torturing wives. The Prince took two pearl bracelets from Caroline's wedding jewels on the wedding day and gave them to Frances who made sure to always wear them in Caroline's presence. From day one, Frances was involved in the marriage and therefore a huge reason for it's ill-success.

Harriet Lady Bessborough (Georgiana's sister) made the comment that Lady Jersey could not be happy unless she had some rival to torment. Frances' hate for Caroline reached a point where she went out of her way to torment the poor princess. This caused her downfall, she became the most hated woman in England while the crowds cheered for poor Caroline. When she arrived at the Duchess of Gordon's ball, no one greeted her and every time she went up to a group of people to chat, the talking immediately stopped and the crowd dispersed. This wasn't as bad as her treatment by the lower classes who threw rocks at her house and drove her away in embarrassment by parading figures dressed as her and the prince on donkeys. Her golden age of snobbery and evil had come to an end.

2 comments:

Kira said...

Just wanted to say I adore your blog! I can't read enough about Georgiana and European society during that time.

Heather Carroll said...

Thank you so very much! I needed that after a very stressful day (walked 20 blocks to the Metropolitan Museum in heels to find it closed, grr)