Friday, October 22, 2010

Tart of the Week: Sophia Musters


Many smitten men through time have sung the praises and dangers of a beautiful face.  One of the legendary beautiful faces of 18th century England was that of Mrs. Sophia Musters whom many found hard to resist.

Sophia Heywood was born in 1758, her father being the governor of Plymouth she was thrown into the path many aristocratic young ladies were forced into.  By the age of eighteen her parents had found Sophia a husband who was convenient to them, John Musters.  John was rich, good looking, and not too much older than Sophia.  Sadly Sophia had feelings for George Pitt who, as a younger son, was not a convenient marriage for the Heywoods. Sophia and John married in 1776.  A child was born to the couple every year for the next four years, sadly though, their last daughter did not make it past infancy.  Life at their country home, Colwick Hall was quiet.  Both John and Sophia were patrons of the arts.  Many portraits during this time exist of both husband and wife as well as John's various horses and Sophia's beloved spaniels, giving the outside world the idea that the Musters were in isolated bliss.

Fanny Burney described Sophia as "most beautiful, but most unhappy" as well as being the toast of the town.  John was happy being a country gentleman but Sophia flourished in a metropolitan environment.  She was adorable yet swore like Lady Lade.  The men couldn't stay away from the charming Mrs. Musters and who was she to deny them the attention?  Once, at a ball, a man approached Sophia with a glass of chalk and water and used this clever pickup line: "Chalk is thought to be a cure for the heartburn; I wonder whether it will cure the heartache?"* No word on whether the line worked.  It wasn't long before Sophia threw caution to the wind and dove into numerous love affairs.  There was and Penniston Lamb who would go on to marry Caroline St Jules (The illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Devonshire and Lady Bess Foster) and also her first love, George Pitt.  Rumors also surfaced about other men as well such as the Prince of Wales (who wasn't he attached to!) and even Joshua Reynolds who spent man hours with the beauty behind closed doors, either painting her or giving her private painting lessons. 

As with all 18th century aristocratic affairs, infidelity never stays secret for long.  John was furious over the discovery of being cuckolded, he took an artistic revenge and had Stubbs paint Sophia out of their portrait in front of Colwick Hall.  As commenter, Jennifer pointed out in a past post, " It was only in the late '80s that restorers realized what was behind the layers of paint and restored it to it's original form."  How ancient Egyptian of him! 

Despite the jealousy and deceit earlier in the marriage, somewhere down the road the couple kissed and made up.  Perhaps once Sophia got the wild child out of her system and John felt he could forgive her, they realized they could settle down to a contented marriage.  When Sophia died at 61 in 1819 John was heartbroken.  In her memory, he commission a tomb sculpture portraying a weeping woman so that someone will eternally morn the beautiful Mrs. Musters.


*I've seen other texts saying she had said this to the man, oh gossip!

12 comments:

  1. The was beautiful -- even to our own modern standards. Great story. I love that they made it up in the end and were content.

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  2. Thank you for this -- I wondered about the couple after seeing the Stubbs painting (both w/ and w/out). I agree with Lucy -- so nice that they got back together. Katherine Louise

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  3. My question is slightly off topic, but I could use some insight into Mr Monckton in Cecilia. (I'm halfway through.) He is secretly in pursuit of Cecilia, yet except for that secret he is truthful with her, that is, he understands people's darker motivations (probably because of his own way). His advice to her is often good. I cannot like him, but he is smart and savvy. What do other people think of him? I'd love to hear your opinions. Katherine Louise

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  4. I also agree with Lucy, I love the fact that Sophia and her husband reconciled. I find it very romantic when couples find back to each other after struggle :)

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  5. It is little wonder that infidelity was so rampant; can you imagine how perfectly bored an intelligent woman would have been during this era? And especially if you weren't really in love with your spouse!

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  6. @KL, I personally can't give you an opinion because I haven't read Cecilia yet. You're already halfway through, though?

    @Lady Webster, Exactly! Getting married in your teenage years is no help either

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  7. She's so beauiful. I love your tarts of the week! Thank you for such an awesome blog!

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  8. Thanks for the shout-out! Sophia and her husband and that Stubb's portrait were one of my favorites to research while writing my Master's thesis. Sophia was so cheeky but everything ended up happily in the end anyway!

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  9. Thank you for this write up. I love this blog.

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  10. I rather think that the Peniston Lamb Sophie erred with was the 1st Lord Melbourne; the one who married the redoubtable Elizabeth Milbanke. His eldest son, also Peniston, died unmarried. It was Melbourne's youngest son, George, who married Caro St Jules. A very unhappy marriage as he was impotent.

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  11. I just discovered this blog and I absolutely love it! I was wondering what were the sources used to write the post on Sophia Musters? I'm writing a paper on courtesans from this time period and I'd like to use Sophia, but my searches keep coming up blank! Please help!

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