Friday, March 5, 2010

Tart of the Week: Hannah Lightfoot



Many mysteries surround our tart this week. So many so, that some even question her existence. Her portrait, for example, by Joshua Reynolds, has been attributed as Hannah Lightfoot but she is described in life as being a blond bombshell and the clothing is a little too luxurious. So her tartly tale is about 10% fact and 90% gossip; most of the gossip springing from the following century. But I know gossip shouldn't be an issue for this crowd.

Hannah Lightfoot was born into the middle class in 1730. Her family was Quaker and she was raised as such, growing up in extreme simplicity in an age of extreme outrageousness. Her father died when she was young which relocated the girl to live with her uncle, a linen-draper in Westminster. It was here than Hannah not only grew up but would work to earn her keep, much like a Cinderella story. Perhaps some day her prince would come?

At the age of twenty Hannah had had enough of the linen-draping business and secretly married a grocer, Isaac Axford. The young Quaker soon tired of her rebellious marriage and around this same point in her life we loose track of what is fact and what is fiction of the fair Quaker "maid."

Allegedly it was in this time frame that Hannah met up with none other than the Prince of Wales, the future George III, who was thirteen by many accounts. Of course, this doesn't add up since by the time Hannah married her husband, George would have been 15. Either way George was young, naive, and not yet the prudish person we now come to think of. Some tales chatter of him first seeing her in her uncle's shop window as he was leaving the Royal Opera, other, more daring tales speak of them meeting at a masquerade. Either way, the prince and the Quaker met, and despite the age gap, began an affair. Allegedly.

It is interesting to envision the young George having this affair. It is even more perplexing to think that the affair is alleged to have resulted in a marriage between the already married Hannah and the teenage George III. This is the same man who passed the Royal Marriage Act making it impossible for members of the royal family to marry without the king's permission. It is also the same man who flew into a rage when he found out his son married the Catholic widow, Mrs. Fitzherbert. A bit hypocritical if true, huh?

Supposedly the affair produced two, maybe even three illegitimate children. Oh whom descendants graves were found in 2000. Hannah herself conveniently disappeared into obscurity. Her own mother stated that she didn't know if her daughter was living or dead since she had not seen her for two years when she made her will in 1760. Isaac Axford remarried in 1759 with his certificate stating he was a widower. Yet there is no trace of where Hannah could have disappeared to. With the few sources citing she married George in 1759, had three kids with him, and then wasn't heard from again a year later, there are obviously many missing pieces in the mystery.

16 comments:

  1. I have just finished Foreman's excellent book on G, so I had fun reading about Mrs Fitzherbert. The more I learn about G the more I like her -- very smart (what political acumen!), warm, friendly, loving, generous. I was so distressed by her gambling and wished myself there to help her. What a lovely friend she must have been! Katherine Louise

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  2. what an interesting story, GeorgeIII was a stoic believer of the family with no mistress.
    Thank you

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  3. Well, he must've had some sort of girlfriend before marrying Queen Charlotte. And perhaps with the records being so unclear at the time, there was some sort of issue with Hannah's first marriage?

    Yes, I'm essentially making this up.

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  4. sounds like it would make a good movie! Fiction of course ;)

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  5. Either way, fact or fiction, what a lovely name to have! Puts me in mind of Holly Golightly...

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  6. out of topic: Have you ever heard of Franz Xaver Messerschmidt?

    check it HERE

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  7. I hadn't but I had seen some of those sculptures. Thanks for the article, I will have to spread the word!

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  8. My Great Aunt went by the maiden name of Lightfoot. It was always whispered in the family that she was the immediate descendant of Hannah Lightfoot. There was also a set of Georgian-era porcelain crockery with the Royal Crest on it. This set of crockery was always referred to as the 'china that the Prince gave us'.
    Unfortunately, I never got to see this set of crockery because when my Great Aunt died (before I was born), the house containing all her worldly possessions was sold to Barclays Bank for auction. Why my aunt had the name of Lighfoot, I don't know, as it would have meant her descendants took the name of their mother rather than their father, which is rather odd.

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  9. My Grandmother tells the story of Hannah Lightfoot being sent to the Americas by King George III. We have several pictures with notes and dates on the back of Hannah. The LDS Church Geneology Web site shows our family line thru Hannah and King GeorgeIII. The Journals and Pictures told over the years support the Geneology pages?

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    1. Your story rings true Andy. My grandmother also told the same story and she claims and has proof of our being direct descendants. Hannah and her children were sent to the Americas in order to save their lives. Their names in the America's are REX. I am a direct descendant of their son George Rex. During the American Revolution, when George Rex and his wife were expecting, King George sent a child's replica of a Brittish officer's uniform as a gift for his first grandchild. This uniform is still in existence in the family.

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  10. Very interesting, Andy! It makes you wonder

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  11. I have been told that a marriage certificate exists and is on display in England. Some Lightfoots have promised to check that out for the rest of us. None of us are related to Hannah so far as we know. She is a sideline in the Lightfoot Family story.

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  12. Andy, I too am linked too the Lightfoot family. We are descended from Hannah's fathers brother, so alas no Royal heritage for us.

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  13. I am a fitzgeorge ment to be the illegitimate side I too from a very young age was told about hannah lighfoot and george the 3rd if I am of any help please ask england

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  14. My mother always said that we were from the illegitimate side of George 111 and Hannah Lightfoot, and that Hannah was married off to a Duke , he was given a large property in exchange to marry Hannah, of which he gambled it all away and that her son was sent to France...who knows
    maybe just a story.....

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  15. I can't believe how many people can trace their family roots back to her!

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