Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey
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". Through marriage she belonged to the Villiers family.
She was born Frances Twysden, second and posthumous daughter of the Rev. Dr Philip Twysden (c.1714–52), Bishop of Raphoe (1746–1752) (died 2 November 1752, allegedly shot while attempting to rob a stagecoach in London) 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.
The future George IV began his affair with Lady Jersey, then a 40 year-old grandmother and mother of ten, in 1793. 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 Church of England ceremony that all parties to it knew was invalid under the Royal Marriages Act 1772.
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.
She had remained married to George Villiers throughout. In 1805 George Villiers died, after a long marriage which had produced ten children:
- Lady Charlotte Anne Villiers (1771–1808), married Lord William Russell in 1789, and had issue.
- Anne Barbara Frances Villiers (1772–1832), married William Henry Lambton and had issue, including John Lambton, 1st Earl of Durham; married secondly Hon. Charles Wyndham, son of Charles, 2nd Earl of Egremont.
- George Child Villiers, 5th Earl of Jersey (1773–1859), married Sarah Sophia Fane daughter of John Fane, 10th Earl of Westmorland and Sarah Anne Child, only child of Robert Child, the principal shareholder in the banking firm Child & Co.
- Lady Caroline Elizabeth Villiers (1774–1835), married firstly Henry Paget, 1st Marquess of Anglesey and had issue. She divorced him in the Scottish courts in 1809 and married secondly, George Campbell, 6th Duke of Argyll.
- Lady Georgiana Villiers, d. young.
- Lady Sarah Villiers (b. 1779), married Charles Nathaniel Bayley in 1799.
- Hon. William Augustus Henry Villiers (1780–1813), died unmarried in America, having assumed the surname of Mansel in 1802, pursuant to the will of Louisa Barbara, Lady Vernon daughter of Barbara Villiers and Bussy, 4th Lord Mansell.
- Lady Elizabeth Villiers, d. unmarried 1810.
- Lady Elizabeth Frances Villiers (1786–1866), married John Ponsonby, 1st Viscount Ponsonby, in 1803.
- Lady Harriet Villiers (1788–1870), married Richard Bagot, Bishop of Oxford in 1806, and had issue.
Though it may be said the death of her husband—who had narrowly avoided imprisonment in 1802—in 1805 left her without means (to support her rank), her son increased her jointure to £3,500 per annum and settled her debts many times. "her attempts to economize appear to have been unavailing". She died on 25 July 1821 in Cheltenham and was buried at Middleton Stoney in the Villiers family vault.
- Lady Jersey sets her cap at the Prince
- The Rt. Hon Thomas Carter M.P. Master of the Rolls Privy Councillor Secretary of State
- Carter-Campbell of Possil
- English royal mistress
- Martin J. Levy, 'Villiers , Frances, countess of Jersey (1753–1821)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, May 2008
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- (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.
- "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.
- 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.
- "Archaeologia Cantiana, op.cit.". Kent Archaeological Society. 15 February 2005. Retrieved 2008-01-11.
- Catalogue note for the portrait by Thomas Beach, R.A.