Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Lady Diana Spencer

Did you know that the St John family, who owned Lydiard House and Park for 500 years, can boast several connections to our modern Royal family, including at least one to the late Diana, Princess of Wales?

Lady Diana Spencer, the daughter of Charles Spencer, the 3rd Duke of Marlborough, was born on March 24th 1735 at the Little Lodge in Windsor Park, a property owned by the indomitable dowager Duchess of Marlborough.

Her marriage to Frederick St John 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke in September 1757 was hardly a love match, but began as something of a joke according to an account by fellow artist Mary Delaney in a letter to her sister. She wrote that at a party in Vauxhall "the company was teasing Lord Bolingbroke to marry, and he turned quick to Lady Diana and said, Will you have me? Yes, to be sure, she replied."

It seemed like a good solution for all concerned. Lady Diana had arty ideas and Frederick needed a steadying influence.

With a marriage settlement of £10,000 paid by the Duke of Marlborough and a further £5,000 received from her great-grandmother's will four years later, Diana was worth the equivalent of £20.5 million today.

The couple began married life at 7 St. James Square in London spending the summer seasons at their Lydiard Park home.

Diana was a talented artist, producing a large body of work from designs for the Wedgewood pottery to pastel and watercolour portraits, including one of her second cousin, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, which was later engraved and went into mass production.

But unfortunately Diana is inevitably remembered more for the scandals surrounding her private life then her skill as an artist.

With the violent Frederick showing little inclination to curb his rakish behavior, Diana sought solace in the company of Topham Beauclerk, a great grandson of Charles II and Nell Gwyn.

Following the birth of Diana and Topham's daughter Mary, Frederick petitioned for a bill to divorce his wife. The divorce settlement saw Frederick pocket the marriage portion of £15,000 while Diana was forced to renounce all claims to the Bolingbroke estate. Frederick raised the couple's two sons, with Diana seeing little of the boys during their childhood.

Diana and Beauclerk were married soon after her divorce was granted, but apparently her second marriage was only marginally happier than her first. She outlived her second husband by 28 years and died on August 1, 1808 at her home in Richmond.

The scandal of Diana's life continued when her son by Frederick, George Richard St. John, 3rd Viscount Bolingbroke fathered four sons in an incestuous relationship with Mary, her daughter by Beauclerk.

Improper Pursuits by Carola Hicks, the story of Lady Diana Spencer's life and work, is available from the gift shop at Lydiard House, all good bookshops and on loan from Swindon Central Library.

Visit the 'Blue Closet' in Lydiard House where examples of Diana's work are on display. Lydiard House is open Tuesday to Sundays visit the website on www.lydiardpark.org.uk for further details.

Lady Diana Spencer

Spot the resemblance to Diana, Princess of Wales

Diana's portrait of her cousin Georgiana, Duchess of  Devonshire

Gainsborough's portrait of Georgiana
These little cuties have a connection to Lydiard House and Park - Prince George and Princess Charlotte.

Important notice for lovers of Lydiard House:

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