Among the holders of the title of Countess
, two are historically important. Frances, wife of the fourth Earl, was a mistress of the Prince Regent
(later George IV
), and her daughter-in-law Sally was one of the leading society hostess
es of Regency
England. As such she figures prominently in Georgette Heyer
romance novels, for example, but she was a very real and important person, who could make or break a lady's standing as her friend Beau Brummell
could for gentlemen.
This Sally was born Sarah Sophia Fane in 1785. Her mother, Sarah Anne Child of the influential banking family, disgraced herself when she was seventeen by an elopement to Gretna Green (on the 17 May 1782) with the tenth Earl of Westmorland (1759-1841). Eventually taken back by the Child family, her father arranged so that neither his daughter nor her eldest son (Westmorland's heir to be) would inherit their great estate, including the country house of Osterley Park outside London. It was instead to pass to a younger grandchild: Sarah Sophia.
In 1793 her mother died and the eight-year-old Sarah became a rich heiress. On 23 May 1804 she married George Villiers, styled Viscount Villiers, the heir apparent to the fourth Earl of Jersey. George became the fifth earl with his father's death in 1805. Ignoring the worthless surname of Fane, the wretched Westmorland's name, they took the surname Child-Villiers by royal warrant in 1819.
As Lady Jersey she became supremely influential, one of the patronesses of Almack's, the fashionable assembly rooms in London. Another was Countess Lieven (1785-1857), wife of the Russian ambassador and mistress of the Austrian minister Metternich; and others were Lady Sefton and Princess Esterhazy. The doors of Almack's closed at 11 o'clock and no-one more was admitted: no-one. Sally Jersey notoriously once refused admittance to the Duke of Wellington for being a few minutes late.
Her friends called her Sally and she signed herself Sally Jersey; other nicknames she acquired were "Queen Sarah" and, in irony, "Silence". She seems from a portrait in Osterley Park to have been a great beauty, though a written account denies it. She was also a literary inspiration to Disraeli, and is cast as Zenobia in his novel Endymion.
Their London address was 38 Berkeley Square and they preferred their country seat at Middleton Park in Oxfordshire to Osterley. She lived till 1867.
http://members.aol.com/LONDON20/mysite_010.htm on Almack's