Frances Talbot, Countess of Tyrconnel

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Frances Talbot
Countess of Tyrconnel
Frances Jennings.jpg
"La Belle Jennings"
Born c. 1647
Sandridge, Hertfordshire
Died 9 March 1730
Dublin
Known for Restoration-era beauty

Frances Talbot, Countess of Tyrconnel (née Jennings, previously Hamilton; c. 1647 – 9 March 1730) was a noteworthy figure at the English Restoration-era court, along with her younger sister, Sarah Jennings. Once a maid of honour to the Duchess of York, she was twice widowed and eventually died in poverty.

Early life[edit]

The daughter of Richard Jennings and Frances Thornhurst, Frances was born at Sandridge, Hertfordshire, England. Her beauty earned her the nickname "La Belle Jennings." Macaulay describes her as “beautiful Fanny Jennings, the loveliest coquette in the brilliant Whitehall of the Restoration."[1] In 1664, Frances was appointed maid of honour to the Duchess of York, Anne Hyde. Pepys records an incident in which she disguised herself as an orange seller, but was eventually recognised because of her expensive shoes.

Comtesse de Hamilton[edit]

In 1665, Frances married Sir George Hamilton, Comte de Hamilton, maréchal de camp, son of Sir George Hamilton, 1st Baronet, and Mary Butler, daughter of Lord Thurles. With him, she had three daughters:

Duchess of Tyrconnel[edit]

Memory plaque in the chapel of the former Scots College in Paris

After Hamilton's death, Frances remarried in 1681 to an old suitor she had previously rejected: Richard Talbot. Talbot was later created Earl of Tyrconnel in the peerage of Ireland and subsequently Duke of Tyrconnel, although this latter title was bestowed by James II after the Glorious Revolution and was not widely recognised. Nonetheless, Frances is frequently called Duchess of Tyrconnel.[2] They had no children.

Her husband was appointed as Lord Deputy of Ireland and the couple lived in Dublin. Following his defeat at the Battle of the Boyne, the king fled to their home and was met by Frances. King James remarked, ‘Your countrymen, madam, can run well’. Lady Tyrconnel replied, ‘Not quite so well as your majesty, for I see that you have won the race’.[3]

After her husband's death in 1691, Frances was reduced to poverty and for a while, she had a dressmaker’s stall near the Royal Exchange. She dressed in white with her face covered by a white mask and was described as "the white milliner".[4] In the 1840s, this was dramatized and performed as a play at Covent Garden.

Following the accession of Queen Anne, Frances (and her stepdaughter, Charlotte Talbot) had some of her husband’s former property restored to them by act of parliament — presumably assisted by her sister’s influence with the queen. Eventually she retired to and died at the Poor Clares nunnery in Dublin. She was buried in St Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin.

A biography of Frances and her second husband — Little Jennings and Fighting Dick Talbot: A Life of the Duke and Duchess of Tyrconnel — by Philip Sergeant was published in 1913.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Macaulay, The History of England from the Accession of James the Second
  2. ^ For example in the catalogue of the National Portrait Gallery
  3. ^ The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  4. ^ 'The Strand, southern tributaries - continued', Old and New London: Volume 3 (1878), pp. 100-110. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=45138 Date accessed: 5 April 2008.