Friday, March 13, 2009
Tart of the Week: Penelope Viscountess Ligonier
Penelope Pitt came from a typical family of good standing. Her father was a politician and future 1st Baron Rivers and her mother was a classy lady from Strasbourg. Penelope was smart, beautiful, and had a natural musical talent. Like many women born into aristocracy, Penelope was still a teenager when she got married. Lord Edward Ligonier was the lucky guy. In celebration of the marriage, Penelope's husband commissioned twin full-length portraits of the new Lord and Lady Ligonier by Gainsborough. Unfortunately, Penelope and her family didn't realize until later that Edward was not too smart and not toofantastic a catch. He also turned out to be more interested in his horses than he was with his cute wife.
Still, the couple put up the charade of the typical married aristocrats. They entertained many of their foreign friends at their home, Cobham Park. One of their visitors was Count Vittorio Alfieri, an Italian who would later become known as the founder of Italian tragedy. Penelope was quite taken with the dramatist, who found the affair with a married woman quite exhilarating. He later would write about it with embellished flair. When the amour came to light, Edward was furious that his sassy wife made a cuckold of him for all to see. Instead of taking the usual route of pressing a crim con suit against Alfieri, Edward, in a show of brute masculinity challenged him to a duel. Edward, who was a soldier, managed to wound Alfieri but not kill him. He then decided to focus his anger on his unfaithful wife and promptly divorced her. Penelope was in a panic over her future. She had hopes that her lover would marry her to save her from ruin but Alfieri would do no such thing. His excuse: she had been sleeping with her servant for quite a while. Yet, this most gallant of gentlemen still did her the honour of accompanying her to France until the scandal died down.
She returned to England and to social ostracism a few months later. With a small annuity she quietly tucked herself away to a more humble living. Every once in a while she would appear on the London scene with other divorcee friends. Perhaps this was to find other lovers who would be willing to care for her. But before you shed a tear for Penelope's plight there is something you should know. She never regretted it for a second. Years later she would go on to say she entered into the affair knowing the full effect it would have, and almost looking forward to the outcome. Penelope saw an illicit relationship as her means to exit out of one that was making her miserable. Whatever the outcome, it had to be better than her marriage.
Her ex would go on to marry again a couple of years later. It was another thirteen before Penelope would find another man she was willing to marry, a Captain Smith. She happily lived out the rest of her days with him and out of public scrutiny.