1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Stanhope, Lady Hester Lucy

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20508861911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 25 — Stanhope, Lady Hester Lucy

STANHOPE, LADY HESTER LUCY (1776–1830), the eldest child of the 3rd Earl Stanhope by his first wife Lady Hester Pitt, was born on the 12th of March 1776, and dwelt at her father’s seat of Chevening in Kent until early in 1800, when his excitable and wayward disposition drove her to her grandmother’s house at Burton Pynsent. A year or two later she travelled abroad, but her cravings after distinction were not satisfied until she became the chief of the household of her uncle, William Pitt, in August 1803. She sat at the head of his table and assisted in welcoming his guests, gracing the board with her stately beauty and enlivening the company by her quickness and keenness of conversation. Although her brightness of style cheered the declining days of Pitt and amused most of his political friends, her satirical remarks sometimes created enemies when more consideration for the feelings of her associates would have converted them into friends. Lady Hester Stanhope possessed great business talents, and when Pitt was out of office she acted as his private secretary. She was with him in his dying illness, and some of his last thoughts were concerned with her future, but any anxiety which might have arisen in her mind on this point was dispelled through the grant by a nation grateful for her uncle’s qualities of a pension of £1200 a year, dating from the 30th of January 1806, which Lady Hester Stanhope enjoyed for the rest of her days. On Pitt’s death she lived in Montagu Square, London, but life in London without the interest caused by associating with the principal politicians of the Tory party proved irksome to her, and she sought relief from lassitude in the fastnesses of Wales. Whilst she remained on English soil happiness found no place in her heart, and her native land was finally abandoned in February 1810. After many wanderings she settled among the Druses on Mt Lebanon, and from this solitary position she wielded an almost absolute authority over the surrounding districts. Her control over the natives was sufficiently commanding to induce Ibrahim Pasha, when about to invade Syria in 1832, to solicit her neutrality, and this supremacy was maintained by her commanding character and by the belief that she possessed the gift of divination. Her cherished companion, Miss Williams, and her trusted medical attendant, Dr Charles Lewis Meryon (1783–1877), dwelt with her for some time; but the former died in 1828, and Meryon left Mt Lebanon in 1831, only returning for a final visit from July 1837 to August 1838. In this lonely residence, the villa of Djoun, 8 m. from Sidon, in a house “hemmed in by arid mountains,” and with- the troubles of a household of some thirty servants, only waiting for her death to plunder the house, Lady Hester Stanhope’s strength slowly wasted away, and at last she died on the 23rd of June 1839. The dissappointments of her life, and the necessity of overawing her servants as well as the chiefs who surrounded Djoun, had intensified a temper naturally imperious. In appearance as in voice she resembled her grandfather, the first Lord Chatham, and like him she domineered over the circle, large or small, in which she was placed.

Some years after her death there appeared three volumes of Memoirs of the Lady Hester Stanhope as related by herself in Conversations with her Physician (Dr Meryon, 1845), and these were followed in the succeeding year by three volumes of Travels of Lady Hester Stanhope, forming the Completion of her Memoirs narrated by her Physician. They presented a lively picture of this strange woman’s life and character, and contained many anecdotes of Pitt and his colleagues in political life for a quarter of a century before his death. See also Mrs Charles Roundell, Lady Hester Stanhope (1910).