Friday, May 20, 2011

Tart of the Week: Fanny Crewe


In the late 18th century there were three main Whig society hostesses, Georgiana, Lady Melbourne, and Mrs. Crewe.  All were good friends and all were considered the ton and members of the Devonshire House set.  All also qualify as tarts!

Frances Anne Greville was born in 1748 to two published authors, into a family with strong political connections, strong ties to the great minds of the time, and kickass girl power.  Who could complain?  Just sit back and absorb all of these connections.  Fanny's mother, Frances Macartney, was besties with Lady Spencer so Fanny and Georgiana most likely knew each other since childhood.  Fanny's Dad, Fulke Greville was besties with Dr Charles Burney, father of Fanny Burney so the two Fannys grew up together and were friends as well.  Talk about friends in all the right places!

With this social upbringing it is no wonder Fanny grew up talking and talking and talking.  All her life she was known as quite the chatterbox.  Georgiana once complained that Fanny had lately been a bit of a sycophant with her and needed to stop cooing over her.  Lady Douglas once stated that Fanny's "ideas came so quickly that [she] could not follow them" and assumed that neither could Fanny!

Fanny was also privileged enough to be considered a great beauty of the time.  Which no doubt helped to attract her husband to her.  She was married to John Crewe in 1766, joining two powerful Whig families together which worked out just perfectly for Mrs. Crewe who quite enjoyed playing hostess.  Her beauty and wit also got Fanny in trouble as well.  She succumbed to an affair with a frequent house guest and cohort of her husband's, Richard SheridanFox was right when he said "she loved high play and dissipation."

Of course Fanny's well-known beauty was up for debate depending on who you asked.  Fanny Burney said she was so beautiful that she "uglified everything near her."  However, if you asked the critical Lady Douglas she would tell you Fanny was "very fat with a considerable quantity of visible down about her mouth..."  Lady Sour Grapes seemed to not be be impressed with Mrs. Crewe.

Regardless of whether she was pretty or not or whether she was a big mouth or not, Mrs. Crewe's political influence cannot be denied.  She like Georgiana and other society hostesses was the backbone of political causes.  Organizing events to bring together the minds of political factions, participating in elections, and being prominent in public (and also risking reputation) in order to further the cause; Fanny did it all tirelessly.  She died as Lady Crewe (due to her husband's elevation to Baron in 1806) in 1818. 

15 comments:

  1. Thanks for this. I'd never heard of Fanny Crewe before and now I'm intrigued.

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  2. I can't get past the remark on Fanny having 'a considerable quantity of down about her mouth...'; catty doesn't even begin to describe Lady Douglas and I love it (even though she was obviously jealous of Fanny...how many chubby Sasquatches could pull a Sheridan?)

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  3. LOL Excellent point!! (...although he was a drinker)

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  4. She reminds me a lot of a relative that I have. She talks incessantly as well.

    Fanny's portrait is a bit unsettling. Her eyes are so dead looking! I'd imagine for someone who talks so much to be painted with such lively looking eyes!

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  5. Most of the portraits published online of Fanny don't do her description justice. It's hard to believe she's the same person!

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  6. Talking of 18th century tarts called Fanny, I told my family that I wanted to watch the television adaptation of Fanny Hill. I just wanted to watch it for the costumes and hadn't realised what it was actually about. Only when I researched it did I understand why my parents had given me such a funny look.

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  7. Ha! I need to see it myself. I just read the saucy book last year. Verrry interesting.

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  8. Why call her a tart because she had an affair?

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  9. I use the term affectionately, and not necessarily to denote an affair, more for their association of going against the grain.

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  10. To me it has other connotations. I was looking her up because I recently re-read a Georgette Heyer book which repeated the True Blue phrase and I had never really known who they were talking about.

    Most of my blogging friends have removed the word verification captcha in their comments - in my case I found it hasn't particularly opened it up to spam

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  11. I'm sorry the phrase offends you, I've used it for years now to bring a light-hardheartedness to the old Friday series. So it has stuck!

    Unfortunately this blog too also began without the word verification but as it got more popular it became a vital course of weeding out spam. I don't like it either, but I certainly also don't like erasing all the spam that I get without it even more!

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  12. Blogger has a spam filter these days.

    Its not that the word offends me, I just found it inappropriate for Mrs. Crewe – or at least what I know of her. Maybe tart has a different connotation in the UK these days, but to me it means a sexually promiscuous and loose virtued female.

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  13. I understand that it does, however like gmail it doesn't catch all the spam for me. I still received spam on a newer post this morning unfortunately.

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  14. She was a fascinating woman - I've been researching her and her family for many years. Her family are still around today, and so is Crewe Hall, though it's now an hotel. You might like to see my book "An English Lady in Paris", based on a diary she kept during a visit to Paris in 1786 - available on Amazon.

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  15. As a follow-up to my last message you might like to know that Frances Anne Crewe and her husband were employers of the grandparents of Charles Dickens, as butler and housekeeper. Lady Crewe probably used her influence with George Canning to obtain a clerkship in the Navy Pay Office for Dickens' father. Sheridan succeeded Canning as Treasurer of the Navy, and John Dickens was said to be a favourite of Sheridan.
    Michael Allen

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