Friday, March 5, 2010
Tart of the Week: Hannah Lightfoot
Many mysteries surround our tart this week. So many so, that some even question her existence. Her portrait, for example, by Joshua Reynolds, has been attributed as Hannah Lightfoot but she is described in life as being a blond bombshell and the clothing is a little too luxurious. So her tartly tale is about 10% fact and 90% gossip; most of the gossip springing from the following century. But I know gossip shouldn't be an issue for this crowd.
Hannah Lightfoot was born into the middle class in 1730. Her family was Quaker and she was raised as such, growing up in extreme simplicity in an age of extreme outrageousness. Her father died when she was young which relocated the girl to live with her uncle, a linen-draper in Westminster. It was here than Hannah not only grew up but would work to earn her keep, much like a Cinderella story. Perhaps some day her prince would come?
At the age of twenty Hannah had had enough of the linen-draping business and secretly married a grocer, Isaac Axford. The young Quaker soon tired of her rebellious marriage and around this same point in her life we loose track of what is fact and what is fiction of the fair Quaker "maid."
Allegedly it was in this time frame that Hannah met up with none other than the Prince of Wales, the future George III, who was thirteen by many accounts. Of course, this doesn't add up since by the time Hannah married her husband, George would have been 15. Either way George was young, naive, and not yet the prudish person we now come to think of. Some tales chatter of him first seeing her in her uncle's shop window as he was leaving the Royal Opera, other, more daring tales speak of them meeting at a masquerade. Either way, the prince and the Quaker met, and despite the age gap, began an affair. Allegedly.
It is interesting to envision the young George having this affair. It is even more perplexing to think that the affair is alleged to have resulted in a marriage between the already married Hannah and the teenage George III. This is the same man who passed the Royal Marriage Act making it impossible for members of the royal family to marry without the king's permission. It is also the same man who flew into a rage when he found out his son married the Catholic widow, Mrs. Fitzherbert. A bit hypocritical if true, huh?
Supposedly the affair produced two, maybe even three illegitimate children. Oh whom descendants graves were found in 2000. Hannah herself conveniently disappeared into obscurity. Her own mother stated that she didn't know if her daughter was living or dead since she had not seen her for two years when she made her will in 1760. Isaac Axford remarried in 1759 with his certificate stating he was a widower. Yet there is no trace of where Hannah could have disappeared to. With the few sources citing she married George in 1759, had three kids with him, and then wasn't heard from again a year later, there are obviously many missing pieces in the mystery.