Friday, January 23, 2009

Tart of the Week: Lady Letitia Lade

Doesn't her name alone just send the message that Letitia was no saint? We can't be sure of the true origins of Letitia, or even what her true name really was. We can infer that she came from humble origins which led her to employment in seedy London as a servant in a brothel. It is here that the young Letitia met the first of her movie-worthy lovers, John Rann. Rann was a dashing highwayman, and we know how irresistible those can be! But bad boys are never good for the long haul. Sixteen String Jack was captured and sentenced to death in 1774. Not one to go down without a show, he came out in a custom green suit, joked around with the executioner and crowd, then danced a jig before he was dropped through the floor. Letitia recovered from her loss and moved on from her romantic bad boy to a rich aristocrat, the Duke of York.

Climbing the social ladder proved to work out well for Letitia. Her connections with the Duke helped her form even more. Soon she was modeling for Reynolds under the name of "Mrs. Smith," the portrait of which was exhibited at the 1785 Royal Academy exhibition. Knowing that a son of the king would eventually tire of her, Letitia began to set her sights on his (and Rann's) friend, the Baronet, Sir John Lade. John was rich, fun, good looking, and friends with the Prince of Wales so he was the perfect target for Letitia. He was was a true horseman, one of the best riders and drivers at the time. He was so into it, that he was constantly wearing his riding gear and even insisted on carrying a whip on his person all the time. No wonder Letitia was interested! She won John over with her own natural horsemanship. Here was a beautiful, vivacious, and slightly dangerous woman who shared his love of the sport. Perhaps he could hone her riding skills and maybe even tame her as well? Their affair lasted quite a while and was scoffed at by his family before John made Letitia "Derby" a honest woman, when he married her in 1787.

I imagine the marriage was actually a fun one. The two were so similar in their tastes. When John's friend, the Prince took interest in Letitia, the two seemed to enjoy the game of his pursuit (The Prince even commissioned Stubbs to paint her portrait). Unfortunately, they also had similar spending habits and were commonly in financial turmoil. Letitia relished her new place among the aristocracy while they, in turn, found her a bit course. Her casual cursing was overwhelming to many and began the phrase, "he swears like Letty Lade!" Her carnal past also was a hot topic and she was said to, "withstand the fiercest assault and renew the charge with renovated ardour, even when her victim sinks dropping and crestfallen before her," and that she never "turned her back against the most vigorous assailant."

In the saddle, Letitia proved to be just as reckless and daring as her expert husband. He himself, had trained her well. Not only did she enter herself in the Newmarket Races one year (scandal!) she also placed a bet on herself as well (the audacity!). The portrait the Prince of Wales commissioned to hang in his London home shows Letitia's talent in the saddle. Her horse rears partially en levade as she sits side-saddle, perfectly balanced in this most challenging of position; a position more difficult for the rider than the horse.

Although financial problems may have forced the Lades to relinquish ownership of some of their prized horses, Letitia lived a fairly happy life. She died in 1825 and was followed years later, by her husband. She stands today as a tartly tamer of beasts!


  1. "Bad boys are never good for the long haul." Ain't that the truth.

    I can imagine Letitia reading the newspaper: "OH MY GOD HE'S BEEN ARRESTED AND HANGED!!!"

    "Sixteen String Jack, I will never forget you, never ever!"

    "...Right. What's for breakfast?"

    (Yes, I have memorized that entire BlackAdder episode, what of it???)

  2. This week's tart seems to have galloped her way up the road quite effortlessly. I keep thinking she reminds me of some celebrity...can't think of who, though...

  3. Emily J,

    I just watched that episode last night! "Squirrels!"

    This tart's story is one of my favorites. Ahh, a horsewoman :-D I want to be scandelous, in 18th century terms, and ride horses, race, and bet on myself. Tee Hee.

  4. Hee, Georgette Heyer was always bringing up Lady Lade in her novels... and rarely in a good sense. ;P

    Still, she's a fascinating tart!

  5. Thanks Elyse. I thought I was imaging that Lady Lade appeared in Friday's Child and I was too lazy to check. I seem to recall her not being able to get vouchers for Almack's! (Those patronesses were hard as nails.)

  6. I don't know if you could tell, but I just love this tart! It's not often we get a horsewoman who opens up the door to so many Blackadder jokes!

  7. This is my fave Tart from the last few months. Some of them seem like they didn't have much fun, even when living the high life. This one got it all, and used smarts to do it.

  8. I would totally agree with you there! And that's what makes her such a fabulous tart.

  9. Emily J, you're a woman after my own heart.

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  11. So I kept coming across the name Lady Lade in historical novels especially my favourite historical novelist, Georgette Heyer and it's very satisfying to know about her.
    PS:scandalous or not, I love her spirit!