The Daring Lady Di

Lady Diana BeauclerkNicola here. A couple of weeks ago I gave a talk and a tour at Lydiard House on the subject of Lady Diana Beauclerk, an 18th century aristocrat who was very unusual in her time for working as a professional artist. Born Lady Diana Spencer in 1734, the daughter of the 3rd Duke of Marlborough, she was for a while Lady St John, mistress of Lydiard House and wife to Frederick, 2nd Viscount Bolingbroke. Lady Diana’s life story is extraordinary both personally and professionally but the bit I wanted to focus on was her undoubted talents as a painter and the way in which these had been downplayed because she was a woman and a scandalous one at that. It was a particular pleasure to be giving the talk at Lydiard House, where we could follow in her footsteps in the house and garden and see the influence that her life there had on her art. In the “Diana Room” at Lydiard we also have the largest collection of her work in the UK.

Lady Diana Spencer was the eldest daughter of the 3rd Duke of Marlborough. She was born in 1734 and spent some of her childhood at Blenheim Palace. There was a great deal of fine art there to inspire her; one of her earliest childhood drawings was a pastel of a baby based on a Rubens painting that hung there and chubby Rubenesque cherubs remained a motif of her drawing all of her life. This was how she initially learned to draw and paint, through seeing artistic images and creating her own versions of them.

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The Impulsive Marriage

Friday's childNicola here, thinking about those impulsive marriages contracted both in novels and also in real life.

“I’ll marry the first female I see!” Rejected by the Incomparable Isabella, finished with love but urgently needing to obtain his inheritance, Sherry, Viscount Sheringham makes a reckless decision and ends up married to his childhood friend Hero Wantage. Friday’s Child is one of Georgette Heyer’s most charming novels (although at times I want to smack a bit of sense into Sherry and tell Hero to find someone more deserving of her.) It also acted as an inspiration for any number of Regency historicals where young men intent on gaining control of their fortune marry an unlikely heroine. Possibly these days there are books where heiresses marry unsuitable men for the same reason and perhaps someone can recommend one to me.

This always seemed to me an unlikely if entertaining trope in historical romance. I say unlikely because I had an image of the world of aristocratic marriages tightly controlled by parents or guardians. Advantageous marriages, money in return for a title, carefully chaperoned young ladies… It didn’t seem to leave much space for the impulsive marriage.  Then I came across Lady Diana Spencer.

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