Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey

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Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey. A mezzotint engraving by Thomas Watson (1743–1781), published in 1774 after the original portrait by Daniel Gardner.

Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey (25 February 1753, St James's – 23 July 1821, Cheltenham) was one of the more notorious of the many mistresses of King George IV when he was Prince of Wales, "a scintillating society woman, a heady mix of charm, beauty, and sarcasm".[1]

Early life[edit]

She was born Frances Twysden,[2] second[3] and posthumous daughter of the Rev. Dr Philip Twysden (c.1714–1752), Bishop of Raphoe (1746–1752) (died 2 November 1752, allegedly shot while attempting to rob a stagecoach in London)[4][5][6] and his second wife Frances Carter (later wife of General Johnston), daughter of Thomas Carter of Castlemartin, Master of the Rolls.

Her disreputable-in-death father was third son of Sir William Twysden, 5th Baronet of Roydon Hall, East Peckham, Kent, by his wife and second cousin Jane Twisden. The Twysden family was convincingly traced from one Roger Twysden living around 1400.

Barely a month past her 17th birthday, she married the 34 year-old new (4th) Earl of Jersey, George Villiers, son and heir of William Villiers, 3rd Earl of Jersey and his wife Lady Anne Egerton who, the year before, had been appointed a Gentleman of the Bedchamber to King George III.

Her husband was appointed Master of Horse to the Prince of Wales in 1795.

Royal affairs[edit]

The future George IV began his affair with Lady Jersey, then a 40 year-old grandmother and mother of ten, in 1793.[1] She was also romantically involved with other members of the English aristocracy, including Frederick Howard, 5th Earl of Carlisle. It was not until 1794 that she lured the Prince of Wales away from his "wife", Maria Fitzherbert, with whom he had undergone a form of marriage in a clandestine illicit Church of England ceremony that all parties to it knew was invalid under the Royal Marriages Act 1772.[7]

Having encouraged the Prince of Wales to marry his first cousin, Caroline of Brunswick in 1794, Lady Jersey nevertheless set out to make Caroline's life difficult. However, the now Princess of Wales (Caroline) had very little regard for George IV, nor he for her, and after the birth of their child, they lived apart during their twenty-five year marriage, leaving a void Frances and other mistresses, including Mrs Fitzherbert, continued to fill.

Since Lady Jersey enjoyed the favour of Queen Charlotte, even the displeasure of George III was not enough to threaten Lady Jersey's position, and she continued to run the Prince of Wales' life and household for some time. In about 1803, her previously undisputed place as senior mistress to the Prince of Wales was challenged by his infatuation with Lady Hertford. Eventually, he replaced Lady Jersey, and she would come to have no active involvement with the royal court.

According to Archaeologia Cantiana,

"The home of the Bishop's daughter Frances, Lady Jersey, a favourite of George IV, became a society gambling rendezvous, at which the reputations of her cousins were in no way enhanced.[8]

Lady Jersey by Thomas Beach.

She had remained married to George Villiers throughout. In 1805 George Villiers died, after a long marriage which had produced ten children:

Her son George's wife, Sarah (also famous as Lady Jersey), was a leader of the ton during the Regency of the Prince of Wales and his reign as George IV.

Though it may be said the death of her husband—who had narrowly avoided imprisonment in 1802[1]—in 1805 left her without means (to support her rank),[9] her son increased her jointure to £3,500 per annum and settled her debts many times.[1] "her attempts to economize appear to have been unavailing".[1] She died on 25 July 1821 in Cheltenham and was buried at Middleton Stoney in the Villiers family vault.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Martin J. Levy, 'Villiers , Frances, countess of Jersey (1753–1821)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2008
  2. ^ Frances: On Sunday the Lady of the late Dr. Twysden, Bishop of Raphoe, was safely delivered of a Daughter at her House in St. James's Street. London Evening Post, 24 February 1753 – 27 February 1753; Issue 3952.
  3. ^ Mary: We hear that on the 10th Instant the Lady of the Lord Bishop of Raphoe was safely delivered of a Daughter, at his Lordship's House in Pall-mall. London Evening Post, 26 September 1751 – 28 September 1751; Issue 3735.
  4. ^ The story usually provided is that the Bishop was staying with his brother the Baronet. The Baronet had summoned his doctor down from London. Overnight the Bishop was observed surreptitiously removing the charges from the doctor's pistols. The next morning the BIshop left early. The doctor was warned to check the charges in his pistols. After the doctor had joined the Coach it was held up by a masked figure who continued to advance though repeatedly warned to stop and was shot dead.
  5. ^ (Thursday) morning died at his House in Jermyn-Street, the Right Rev. Dr. Philip Twisden, Bishop of Raphoe in Ireland, and nearly related to Sir Roger Twisden, Bart. Knight of the Shire for the County of Kent. London Evening Post, 2 November 1752 – 4 November 1752; Issue 3903.
  6. ^ "Archaeologia Cantiana Vol. 58 - 1945 page 46: Notes on the Family of Twysden and Twisden, By Ronald G. Hatton, C.B.E., D.Sc., F.R.S., and the Rev. Christopher H. Hatton, O.S.B.". Kent Archaeological Society. 15 February 2005. Retrieved 2008-01-11. 
  7. ^ Farquhar, Michael (2011). Behind the Palace Doors: Five Centuries of Sex, Adventure, Vice, Treachery, and Folly from Royal Britain. House of Hanover: Random House. pp. 226–227. ISBN 0812979044. 
  8. ^ "Archaeologia Cantiana, op.cit.". Kent Archaeological Society. 15 February 2005. Retrieved 2008-01-11. 
  9. ^ Catalogue note for the portrait by Thomas Beach, R.A.