Sarah Child Villiers, Countess of Jersey (4 March 1785 – 26 January 1867), was a leading figure in Regency society and one of the patronesses of Almack's Assembly Rooms.
Lady Sarah Sophia Fane was born on 4 March 1785, the eldest daughter of John Fane, the tenth Earl of Westmorland, and Sarah Anne Child.
Her mother, Sarah Child, was the only daughter and heiress of Robert Child, the senior partner in Child’s bank. He was vehemently opposed to her marrying the Earl and so the couple were forced to elope to Gretna Green, where they were married in 1782.
Heiress to Child’s fortune
Robert Child was so incensed that his daughter had married against his wishes that he cut her out of his will, determined not to let the Earls of Westmorland benefit from his wealth. Under the terms of his new will, everything was left in trust for his daughter’s second surviving son or eldest daughter.
On this basis, on her mother's death in 1793, Lady Sarah became heiress to all her grandfather's wealth, with an estimated income in the region of £60,000 a year. She was a very wealthy lady! (1) She also inherited his position as senior partner of the Child and Co. Bank, a role which she actively held from her majority in 1806 until her death.
|The Earl of Jersey's seat at Middleton Stoney, Oxfordshire|
from Oxfordshire, The history and antiquities of the hundreds
of Bullington and Ploughley by J Dunkin (1823)
Marriage and family life
Lady Sarah married George Villiers, Viscount Villiers, on 23 May 1804. George Villiers became the 5th Earl of Jersey on his father’s death in 1805. The Earl took his wife’s name in addition to his own by royal licence in 1819 (2) and became known as George Child Villiers. The couple had seven children who survived infancy: George (1808), Augustus (1810), Frederick (1815), Francis (1819), Sarah (1822), Clementina (1824) and Adela (1828).
Although Lady Jersey had inherited Osterley Park from her grandfather, the couple chose rather to live at Middleton Park in Middleton Stoney in Oxfordshire, where Lord Jersey successfully bred and trained racehorses. When in London, they resided at 38 Berkeley Square.
Throughout the Regency period and beyond, Lady Jersey held a leading role in the ton, and was nicknamed “Queen Sarah” in acknowledgement of her position. According to Chancellor:
“Her amiable manners, her interest in politics, her admirable linguistic powers, her kindly, genial nature, all combined to give her a sort of prescriptive right to the exalted sphere in which she moved.” (3)
|The first quadrille at Almack's|
from The Reminiscences and Recollections of Captain Gronow (1889)
She was one of the patronesses of Almack’s Assembly Rooms, where she famously refused entry to the Duke of Wellington who turned up at the Rooms at seven minutes after 11pm when the doors were shut. On returning from Paris in 1815, she introduced the quadrille to the Rooms.
In her letters, Harriet, Countess of Granville, refers to Lady Jersey as “Silence”. The nickname does not appear to be used maliciously – it is rather a joke on her friend’s loquaciousness.
Captain Gronow describes Lady Jersey as being “inconceivably rude”, but Sir William Fraser describes her as being “very quick and intelligent, with the strongest sense of humour that I have ever seen in a woman; taking the keenest delight in a good joke, and having, I should say, great physical enjoyment of life."
|Sarah Sophia, Countess of Jersey|
from The Illustrated Belle Assemblée (1844)
For many years, Lady Jersey was an ardent supporter of the Whigs. She was a passionate advocate for Princess Caroline, Princess of Wales, and was her most prominent female supporter during the “Queen Caroline Affair” of 1820-21, when the Prince of Wales sought to prevent his estranged wife from assuming her role as Queen. Lady Jersey found herself under personal attack from John Bull, the most successful and widely circulated contemporary loyalist newspaper, which led to a libel suit against John Bull for impugning her honour.
By the end of the 1820s, she had switched her political allegiance to the Tory party and was championing Wellington and Peel. Her influence as a political hostess faded in the 1840s and she was eclipsed by others, particularly by her old rival Lady Cowper who had married Lord Palmerston in 1839.
|Engraving of the Princess of Wales |
from La Belle Assemblée (1807)
The other Lady Jersey
Lady Jersey is not to be confused with Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey, her notorious mother-in-law, who was once mistress to George IV while he was Prince Regent and was instrumental in encouraging his hatred towards Princess Caroline.
Lady Jersey died on 26 January 1867 at the age of 81 years. She left most of her property to her grandson, the 7th Earl of Jersey, but made generous bequests to her other grandchildren. She was buried at Middleton Stoney in Oxfordshire.
(1) The estimated income of £60,000 is from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (see below), but it gives no date as to which year it relates to. Taking 1804, the year of Sarah's marriage, as a base point and using the Measuring Worth website, an income of £60,000 would be equivalent to £4.12 million using the retail price index or an even greater £51.5 million using their average earnings method. Either way, it was a huge income!
(2) The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography suggests an earlier date of 1812.
(3) From Memorials of St. James’s Street and Chronicles of Almack’s by E Beresford Chancellor (1922)
For a discussion about relative costs in the Regency period, see my blog post: How much did a ticket to a Regency ball really cost?
Sources used include:
Chancellor, E. Beresford, Memorials of St. James’s Street and Chronicles of Almack’s (1922)
Dunkin, John, Oxfordshire, The history and antiquities of the hundreds of Bullington and Ploughley vol II (1823)
Granville, Harriet, Countess of, Letters of Harriet, Countess of Granville 1810-1845, edited by F. Leveson Gower (1894)
Gronow, Captain, The Reminiscences and Recollections of Captain Gronow (1889, 1900)
Reynolds, KD, Villiers, Sarah Sophia Child-, Countess of Jersey (1785-1867) Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn May 2006, accessed 6 Oct 2012)
Photograph © Andrew Knowles
More photos of Osterley Park by Andrew Knowles on Flickr.