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LADY SARAH LENNOX (1745-1826)
A rival to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz-George II charmed by Lady
Sarah Lennox-Lady Sarah at Court attracts the attention of the Prince of Wales—Her beauty and charm—The Prince, on his accession to the throne, wishes to marry her-A conversation-Lady Sarah's flirtation with Lord Newbattle_The King expresses his wish to herHis engagement to Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz announced-Lady Sarah unconcerned-A bridesmaid at the royal wedding-She marries William Bunbury-Her elopement with Lord William Gordon-Divorce—She marries the Hon. George NapierHer famous sons-Death-Lady Sarah and the King.
THERE was at one time a serious rival to Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz for the high position of Consort of George III.
This was Lady Sarah Lennox, youngest daughter of Charles, second Duke of Richmond, and a granddaughter of Charles II by Louise de Keroualle, Duchess of Portsmouth. She had attracted the attention of George II in 1750, when she was five years old, by walking up to him in Kensington Gardens, and saying, Comment vous portez-vous, Monsieur le roi ? Vous avez une grande et belle maison ici, n'est-ce pas ? The King was charmed with her, and she was often sent for to come to him at the Palace. She went to Ireland for some years, but, at the age of thirteen, she returned to London when she stayed with her eldest sister, Lady Georgiana Caroline, who in 1744 had secretly married Henry Fox In 1762 Lady Georgiana Caroline was created a peeress in her own right; a year later her husband was created Baron Holland of Foxley, Wiltshire. She was the mother of Charles James Fox.
Lady Sarah went again to Court on her return to London, and now it was the Prince of Wales who was much attracted by her looks and fascinated by her charm. At the age of fifteen she was already lovely. “Her
' beauty if not easily described, otherwise than by saying she had the finest complexion, most beautiful hair, and prettyest person that ever was seen, with a sprightly air, a pretty mouth, and remarkably fine teeth, and excess of bloom in her cheeks, little eyes—but this is not describing her, for her great beauty was a peculiarity of countenance, that made her at the same time different from and prettyer than any other girl I ever saw.”'. So wrote Henry Fox; and Horace Walpole, writing to George Montagu in 1761, entirely endorsed this opinion : “There was a play at Holland House acted by children, not all children; for Lady Sarah Lennox and Lady Susan Fox-Strangways played the women. Jane Shore. Charles Fox was Hastings. The two girls were delightful, and acted with so much nature that they appeared the very things they represented. Lady Sarah was more beautiful than you can conceive ; her very awkwardness gave an air of truth to the sham of the part, and the antiquity of the time kept up by the dress, which was taken out of Montfaucon. Lady Susan was dressed from Jane Seymour. I was more struck with the last scene between the two women than ever I was when I have seen it on the stage. When Lady Sarah was in white, with her hair about her ears, and on the ground, no Magdalen of Correggio was half so lovely and expressive."
The Prince of Wales became more and more infatuated with Lady Sarah, and after his accession began seriously to consider whether he should not invite her to share his crown. His mother, the Queen Dowager, and Lord
* The author wishes to acknowledge his indebtedness to The Life and Letters of Lady Sarah Lennox. Edited by the Countess of Ilchester and Lord Stavordale. (John Murray, 1901.)
. Bute were, of course, entirely against this, as it would first undermine and probably in the end destroy their influence with him. Henry Fox, naturally enough, was all in favour of such an alliance, though he was astute enough not openly to take any part in promoting it. Indeed, leaving Lady Sarah with his wife at Holland House, he paid frequent visits to his Thanet home.
Though Fox went himself to bathe in the sea, and possibly even to disguise his intrigues,” wrote Walpole, who saw through the ruse,“ he left Lady Sarah at Holland House, where she appeared in a field close to the great road (where the King passed on horseback) in a fancy habit making hay.”
George, much in love as he was, proceeded warily. Instead of speaking direct with Lady Sarah on the matter he had at heart, he talked with her friend, Lady Susan Fox-Strangways (eldest daughter of Stephen, first Earl of Ilchester). The conversation has been recorded by Henry Fox :
“ KING: 'You are going into Somersetshire ; when do you return?'
'LADY SUSAN : 'Not before winter, Sir, and I don't know how soon in winter.'
“ KING : 'Is there nothing will bring you back to town before winter?'
LADY SUSAN: 'I don't know of anything.'
LADY SUSAN : 'Yes, Sir. I hope I should come to see that.
“ KING: 'I hear it's very popular, my having put it off.'
“ LADY SUSAN : (Nothing.)
KING : ‘Won't it be a much finer sight when there is a Queen ? '
“LADY SUSAN : 'To be sure, Sir.'
“ King: I have had a great many applications from abroad, but I don't like them. I have had none at home; I should like that better.'
“ LADY SUSAN : (Nothing. Frightened.)
“ KING : What do you think of your friend ? You know who I mean ; don't you think her fittest ?'
LADY SUSAN : ' Think, Sir ? ' “ KING : ‘I think none so fit.'
The King then crossed the room and told Lady Sarah that he wished her to ask Lady Susan what he had been saying. Upon this Fox commented: “His Majesty is not given to joke, and this would be a bad joke too. Is it serious ? Strange if it is, and a strange way of going about it.”
The members of the Fox family were all agog with excitement, and impatiently awaited the next Court, which was held a week or so later. The King went to Lady Sarah, and learnt from her that his conversation with Lady Susan had been imparted to her. approve ? ” asked His Majesty. Lady Sarah, looking very cross, remained silent, and the King, after a moment, walked away.
What impelled Lady Sarah to upset the apple-cart was that she was heavily engaged in a flirtation with Lord Newbattle, who had been much in love with Lady Caroline Russell, but from whom she had, as a test of her charms, detached him. It was really a commerce of vanity, not of love, on each side," Fox declared.
The King overcame his pique and pursued his suit.
“ Do you
His attentions to Lady Sarah at the Court ball on his Birthday on June 4, 1761, were more than usually marked. A fortnight later he said to her, “For God's sake, remember what I said to Lady Susan before you went to the country, and believe that I have the strongest attachment.
On July 8 the King in Council announced his forthcoming marriage with the Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz !
This came as a great surprise to nearly everybody. It had been thought that the offer would certainly be made to Lady Sarah. There is a story that Lady Barrington said to Lady Sarah, “Do let me take the lead and go on before you this once, for you will never have another opportunity of seeing my beautiful back.” On hearing of the engagement Lady Susan Fox-Strangways, Lady Sarah's most intimate friend, remarked humorously, And I had almost thought myself Prime Minister.”
Lady Sarah herself was but little concerned. My mother,” one of her sons, Henry Napier, wrote later,
would probably have been vexed, but her favourite squirrel happened to die at the same time, and his loss was more felt than that of a crown." Lady Sarah certainly was not grieved, but, at the same time, she was not quite so philosophical as would appear from her son's account. “I did not cry, I assure you, as I know you were set upon it that I was,” she wrote to Lady Susan Fox-Strangways. “The thing I am most angry
' at is looking so like a fool, as I shall for having gone so often for nothing, but I don't much care ; if he was to change his mind again (which can't be though) and not give me a very good reason for his conduct, I would not have him, for if he is so weak as to be governed by everybody, I shall have but a bad time of it."