Tag Archives: mary nugent

Monday 13 February 1804. A fine party at Swanbourne

With her husband sailing towards Copenhagen as Captain of the Ganges, and soon to fight alongside Nelson in the glorious battle of that port, Betsy Fremantle was busy keeping house at Swanbourne in Buckinghamshire. The following diary account of a party at Swanbourne would not be out of place in Jane Austen’s novels.

Swanbourne, 13th February. Monday. Lady Buckingham arrived soon after nine o’clock with Lord George, Lady Mary and Mr. Martin. We breakfasted in the Library and she admired much the House. She saw all my brats and was very civil to old Mrs Fremantle who had not seen her for some years. She left us at eleven and the moment she was gone I was busy in clearing my room for this evening’s dance, preparing the supper table &c. We dined in Capt. Fremantle’s dressing room. Miss Chaplin came in the morning and little Harriet Howard who I asked to please her Mamma and is the ugliest little ape I ever saw.

Did Betsy Fremantle ever expect her diaries to be read? If she did she might not have called poor little Harriet Howard “the ugliest ape I ever saw”! Lady Buckingham is Richard Temple’s mother, Lord George and Lady Mary his brother and sister. Mr Martin is Abbé Martin, an exiled French catholic priest. His mother, sister and the Wynne sisters are all Catholics (Betsy Fremantle was Betsy Wynne before her marriage).

the_misses_harriet_and_justina_wynne_from_a_drawing_at_helensburghBetsey & Justina

The party began at eight:

We all dressed after dinner and our company began to assemble at eight o’clock—Miss Heslop, Miss Bennett and her brother, five Miss Pouletts and their brother, General Poulett was ill but paid me a great compliment by sending all his children—Mr. and Mrs. Howard, Dr. Millner, Wodley, the Blicks, Capt. Brown, Mr. and Mrs. Harman, five Lowndes, a Mr. Oddy and another friend they brought, in all we were thirty-four. Dancing was kept up with much spirit and thirteen couples had just room enough in the Library. We supped at twelve, our table in the dining room held twenty-two, the rest were in the Dressing room. Supper was very good and all went off better I expected. Dancing soon recommenced and was kept up till half-past four; I was so lame I could not dance and played Casino with Mrs. Fremantle. Everybody seemed much pleased with the party… Mr. Wodley was a great treat.

It is amusing that a Miss Bennett is mentioned as this might have been a scene out of Pride and Prejudice. Among the five Miss Pouletts was Anne Lucy who was falling in love with my brother Lord George.

4 March 1805. The Polish Dwarf—“a little horror”

Betsey Wynne records a unusual meeting in her diary. She travelled to London with her husband, Captain Thomas Francis Fremantle. Mary Nugent, Marchioness of Buckingham called on her:

Lady Buckingham called to take us to see Count Barlowsky, the little polish dwarf who is only three feet two inches & 69 years of age, he is a little horror, tho’ better proportioned than dwarfs are in general, but his manners & conversation exceedingly done.

The Count’s name is incorrect in the published edition of the Wynne Diaries and it may have that Betsey did not know how to spell his name. Józef Boruwłaski, born in 1739, was a Polish-born dwarf who toured European and Turkish courts, ending his days in Durham, England.joseph_boruwlaski-scaled500

He was never a Count of course. That was a title adopted by a man of great wit and intelligence, a talented dancer and musician, to ease his way through European society. Just 8 inches tall at birth, he grew to 3 feet 3 inches in adulthood. He arrived in Britain in 1782 and retired to Durham in 1791.

In Durham, he was great friends with Stephen Kemble, an actor of Falstaff proportions. They strolled the banks of the River Wear together, the original Little and Large!

For all his lack of height, Boruwłaski did not lack in longevity. He died in Durham in 1837, aged 97.

Betsey of course did not mean “horror” in the way the word is used today. She meant “oddity” rather than “disgraceful” or “terrifying”.

15 March 1773. My mother she conquers as Oliver Goldsmith stoops

She Stoops to Conquer was first performed on this day at Covent Garden Theatre in 1773. Over two-and-a-half centuries, countless people have laughed at the antics of Tony Lumpkin as related by his stepfather, Hardcastle:

MRS. HARDCASTLE. Humour, my dear; nothing but humour. Come, Mr. Hardcastle, you must allow the boy [Lumpkin] a little humour.

HARDCASTLE. I’d sooner allow him a horse-pond. If burning the footmen’s shoes, frightening the maids, and worrying the kittens be humour, he has it. It was but yesterday he fastened my wig to the back of my chair, and when I went to make a bow, I popt my bald head in Mrs. Frizzle’s face.

This event was inspired by a prank played on the author, Oliver Goldsmith, by the young Mary Nugent, later the 1st Marchioness of Buckingham, mother of Richard Temple, 1st Duke of Buckingham and Chandos.oliver_goldsmith_by_sir_joshua_reynolds-scaled500

Oliver Goldsmith, studio of Sir Joshua Reynolds c. 1770

The story is told in the Memoir of Robert Nugent by Claude Nugent (1898):

Nugent’s daughter Mary was a great favourite of Goldsmith’s and an amusing story is told of how on one occasion, when he was asleep after dinner, she tied his wig on the back of a chair, so that on walking and rising to his feet, his wig was dragged from his head exposing his baldness. He treated it as a joke, however, with the utmost good-nature, and put the incident into his delightful comedy, She Stoops to Conquer.

So Richard’s mother was, in part at least, an inspiration for the antics of Tony Lumpkin!

Richard Temple’s eyes: the Chubby Cherub at Stowe identified

The State Music Room at Stowe is one of the great jewels in the crown of this magnificent house. Its ornamentation is pleasing, gracious and intriguing.

Accounts of the décor, furniture and artists are given elsewhere (for example, Stowe House, Michael Bevington 2002 and The Stowe Catalogue Priced and Annotated, Henry Rumsey Forster 1848). This note focuses on a single panel, featuring Apollo, and a woman and child.

The Music Room and the panel we are examining was painted by Vincenzo Valdre (1742–1814). Bevington suggests that the room was finished after 1781 and I know of no more precise date for its completion.

mary_nugentAll the elements of the panel are superbly executed but only two have a significant interest to a historian of Stowe and the Grenvilles. These are the lady and the child.

Bevington almost says it, as others have before and since. “Perhaps it is not too-far fetched to see in the attractive lady before [Apollo] a reminder of Lady Buckingham, herself a keen musician,” he writes. This is too coy. The sitter for the Grecian lady playing her lyre in an offering to the god of music is without a doubt Mary Nugent—Lady Buckingham, who from 1784 was the Marchioness of Buckingham. The following portraits illustrate the likeness (Valdre c. 1780; Unknown c. 1770; Reynolds 1780-82).

mary_nugent_headsThis is not the only likeness in Vincenzo Valdre’s panel. The chubby cherub is a stocky child just a little too large for the assemblage and has familiar features. There is no doubt in my mind that this child is Richard Temple, later the first Duke of Buckingham and Chandos. He was born in 1776 and would have been a few years old when the panel was painted. The hair and eyes are Richard Temple through and through. Again the portraits illustrate the likeness (Valdre c. 1780; Reynolds 1780-82; Romney before 1802).


We need entertain no discomfort in recognising the lady of the house as the sitter for a portrait that borders on the raunchy. Mary Nugent, politically minded, devoutly catholic and the mother of a duke to be, was a lady who loved art, music and fun in equal measure. Betsy Wynne’s diaries, and a host of letters give witness to the merriness and gaiety at Stowe at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries.

And of course, her son was the model for the cherub. You only need to look at the eyes. They are Richard Temple’s eyes.