Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Waldegrave, Frances Elizabeth Anne

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WALDEGRAVE, FRANCES ELIZABETH ANNE, Countess Waldegrave (1821–1879), the daughter of John Braham [q. v.], the singer, was born in London on 4 Jan. 1821. She married, on 25 May 1839, John James Waldegrave of Navestock, Essex, who died in the same year. She married secondly, on 28 Sept. 1840, George Edward, seventh earl Waldegrave. After the marriage her husband was sentenced to six months' imprisonment for assault. During his detention she lived with him in the queen's bench prison, and on his release they retired into the country. On the death of Lord Waldegrave on 28 Sept. 1846, she found herself possessed of the whole of the Waldegrave estates (including residences at Strawberry Hill, Chewton, Somerset, and Dudbrook, Essex), but with little knowledge of the world to guide her conduct. In this position she entered for a third time into matrimony, marrying on 30 Sept. 1847 George Granville Harcourt of Nuneham and Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire. Her third husband, who was a widower and her senior by thirty-six years (being sixty-two at the date of the marriage, while she was only twenty-six), was eldest son of Edward Harcourt [q. v.], archbishop of York, and a follower of Peel, whom he supported in parliament as member for Oxfordshire.

As Harcourt's wife, Lady Waldegrave first exhibited her rare capacity as a leader and hostess of society. Of her conduct to Harcourt, Sir William Gregory wrote in his ‘Autobiography:’ ‘She was an excellent wife to him, and neither during her life with him nor previously was there ever a whisper of disparagement to her character. No great lady held her head higher or more rigorously ruled her society. Her home was always gay, and her parties at Nuneham were the liveliest of the time; but she never suffered the slightest indecorum, nor tolerated improprieties.’ She delighted in private theatricals, and her favourite piece, which she acted over and over again both at Nuneham and Woburn, was the ‘Honeymoon,’ because it had some allusions to her own position. She always said she should have liked to act Lady Teazle, if it had not been that the references to the old husband were too pointed. The other pieces in which she performed were generally translations of French vaudevilles.

Some years before Harcourt's death she determined to reopen Strawberry Hill, which had been left to her by her second husband, whose father had inherited it from Horace Walpole. The mansion had been completely dismantled by Lord Waldegrave and denuded of all its treasures in 1842. She preserved Horace Walpole's house exactly as it stood, and restored to it many of its dispersed treasures. The stable wing was turned into a set of sleeping-rooms for guests, and she joined it to the main building by two large rooms. These contained two collections, the one of eighteenth-century pictures of members of the families of Walpole and Waldegrave, the other of portraits of her own friends and contemporaries. Strawberry Hill, when finished, became a still more convenient rendezvous for the political and diplomatic society of London than Nuneham had been.

Harcourt died on 19 Dec. 1861, and then Strawberry Hill became her principal residence, although she occasionally resided at the Waldegrave mansions of Chewton in Somerset and Dudbrook in Essex, both of which places she restored and enlarged. On 20 Jan. 1863 she married Chichester Samuel Parkinson Fortescue (afterwards Lord Carlingford), and from that time until her death her abilities, as well as her fortune, were devoted to the success of his political career and of the liberal party with which he was associated. Her salon at Strawberry Hill or at her residence in London, 7 Carlton Gardens, was from the date of her fourth marriage until her death, sixteen years later, one of the chief meeting-places of the liberal leaders.

Lady Waldegrave may be described (in the words of La Bruyère) as ‘a handsome woman with the virtues of an honest man,’ who united ‘in her own person the best qualities of both sexes.’ Her reward for the exercise of these virtues was the affectionate friendship with which she was regarded by all who knew her. In conversation she preferred to listen rather than to shine. Flashes of wit occasionally came from her lips without effort or preparation, but she forgot her epigrams as soon as she uttered them; indeed she was known on more than one occasion to repeat her own jests, forgetting their origin and attributing them to other people. Her friends among politicians and men of letters included the Duc d'Aumale, the Duke of Newcastle, Lords Grey and Clarendon, M. Van de Weyer, Bishop Wilberforce, Abraham Hayward, and Bernal Osborne. Among her associates who were nearer her own age, Sir William Harcourt (the nephew of her third husband), Lords Dufferin and Ampthill, Julian Fane, and Lord Alcester were perhaps the most noteworthy.

Lady Waldegrave died without issue at her residence, 7 Carlton Gardens, London, on 5 July 1879, and was buried at Chewton, where Lord Carlingford erected a monument to her memory and placed on it a touching record of his love and gratitude. Portraits of Lady Waldegrave were painted by Dubufe, Tissot, James Rannie Swinton, and other artists, but none were very successful. A full-length marble statue was executed by Matthew Noble.

[Gregory's Autobiography; personal recollections.]

H. R. G.