Friday, August 21, 2009

Tart of the Week: Anne Countess of Upper Ossory

It's strange that there isn't much information on Anne since she was both a tart and a best friend of Horace Walpole. For this reason I have also thought of her as the great (and please don't be offended by this title since there's no nicer alternative) 'fag hag' of the eighteenth century. In fact, Anne is best known for her gossipy correspondence with Walpole but today it is she that we will be gossiping about!

Anne was born around 1738, the only issue of her father, the first and last Baron of Ravensworth. She was clever and beautiful and was known for being quite the charmer. Like many a daughter of a peer, Anne entered the marriage market in her teens and was probably eighteen when she was scooped up by a duke. A duke, of course, was quite a catch for Anne who didn't have much to offer in terms of titles. This Duke just happened to be the well-rounded, youthful, and not bad looking, Augustus, 3rd Duke of Grafton. From the outside the couple looked almost ideal. They were both beautiful, young and successful. Anne immediately began having babies, one of which would grow up to be very hunky, and Augustus busied himself in politics and hunting. But below this facade of ideal living was a bored and unhappy duchess.

To amuse herself, Anne took up the national pastime of gambling, a pastime her husband was not exactly fond of. The Duke was especially not fond of Anne gambling when she began to loose large sums of money, this caused some marital tension. Their relationship only went downhill from there. The duke began taking up with a series of mistresses, and not even trying to cover this up from his wife. Five years into their marriage, the couple were living in separate homes and the latest mistress, Nancy Parsons was playing wife to the Duke, even hosting social gatherings and whatnot in Anne's former house. Skank! Anne was able to take her daughter but her poor little sons had to be left behind to live with their father and his mistress.

Now that Anne was separated from her husband she began to continue her partying ways that were formerly curtailed by her husband. First she had an affair with the Duke of Portland and then she moved on to John, the young Earl of Upper Ossory. A pregnancy was a result of the later affair and it did not take long for the Duke to find out. He promptly divorced Anne and then set out to marry some one else...who happened to not be Nancy Parsons. But luck was on charming Anne's side. Unlike many of our other pregnant tarts' stories, the Earl didn't leave Anne hanging and he married her, making her the Countess of Ossory.

The rest of Anne's life seems to be lived out in happiness with her younger, new husband. She had her fun and gossiped with Mr Walpole until the end of her days in 1804.


  1. Hi Heather! I just love your blog...very informative and you cover my absolute favorite time in art history. I have a blog award for you over at Hist-Fic Chick, here

  2. she may have been a tart but quite an amusing one, by the sound of it...and hubby was a bit of a bounder himself.

  3. I don't think the phrase 'fag hag' is that offensive, if only because I think it is a very real personality type. Lord knows I've had my share of applicants. However, it gets used a little loosely these days. It used to be specifically a woman with a physical aspect that caused her social awkwardness or isolation, like extreme obesity, who tended to forge a friendship with a gay man. They both understood the outsider status and could sympathize with the other's sense of rejection. Today any woman who enjoys gay male humor and company is called a 'fag hag'.
    In any event, the Countess looks quite lovely and I'm sure one couldn't have had a crazier, grander pal.

  4. Mmmm, was there a juicy crim con case? She was actually very fortunate to get her daughter. She may have been better off with her father, but who knows. That 18c was pretty loosey goosey.

    And skank is right, though I'm sure a lot of the "better sort" didn't attend gatherings hosted by her. Esp those with daughters just out.

    I know very little about Walpole, except a few of his waspier comments. So I've always had the feeling he was on the priggish side. He was very good friends with Hester somebody (Stanhope?) who, after she was widowed, married an Italian music master. That's when Horace dropped her like a hot potato. Did I get that aright?

  5. I'd never heard the term 'fag hag' before but having read Paul's definition, then I am most definitely one! I am SO attracted to camp men, such as Julian Clary, etc...... and I love to see men wearing a touch of make-up. Oooops sorry, I'm supposed to be discussing the countess! :O)

  6. Upper crust affairs were so lurid and covered with a certain je ne sais quoi, to give the male of the species respectability and total innocence. Not that he was. 'Cur' was quick to take his opportunities. Quite the classy, bouncing boy philanderer really.

    I cannot say I blame the Duke for taking exception at losing lots of his money; that certainly is an unusual public reversal of roles for the period.

    There was a definite lack of interest in daughters wasn't there. He keeps the son and heir and male spares, Anne gets the girl.

    The story, as you say, has an equable finale for Anne, not an every day occurrence even then.

  7. I quite like her, despite myself. She sounds really messed up, but in her defense it's not entirely her fault and her husband sounds like a jerk. What else should you do when you're bored but gamble away millions and get pregnant?
    In any case, at least she had a happy ending.

  8. Was she an ancestor to The Alice Liddell by any chance? Although her family wasn't really aristocratic they were definately upperclass as her father was the principal of Oxford uni. Interesting....

  9. I was actually wondering the same thing but I would have to delve further to find out! I will add it to my to-do list.

  10. It is worth mentioning that Anne Liddell brought a fortune with her to the marriage, 40,000 pounds!
    She and her husband had very different expectations in marriage. Her pride could not accept his philandering and when she began socializing with members the Whig faction, those in political oppostion to her husband, their relationship became untenable.

    The title of Duchess meant a great deal to her, which is why she tried to hide her pregnancy from the Duke. She did not want a divorce. There is a portrait of her holding her coronet. Her loss of title was the worst part of her divorce. Although the Earl of Upper Ossory married her, she always mourned the loss of her social status.

    Horace Walpole wrote of her, "The Duchess a woman of commanding figure, though no regular beauty, graceful, full of dignity and of art too, passionate for admiration, unheeding of the Duke's temper, which, had she tried, it had been difficult to please, had yet thought to govern him by spirit, and had lost him before she was aware."
    Lawrence Stone "Broken Lives" pg. 143.

  11. What a lucky lady! She gets out of a boring marriage, gets to keep at least one of her children, and gets another husband with a title. Not a bad end for a tart, though she doesn't sound too bad, considering the way her husband was carrying on. And she must've been something if Horace Walpole thought she was cool.
    I'm just wondering if you know what happened to the child with whom she was pregnant when she married the Earl of Upper Ossory. I read that when John Fitzpatrick died, he didn't have a legitimate son to succeed him, and I could only find illegitimate issue attributed to him. Did Anne miscarry, or did the baby die young?