Throwback Thursday- Lady Elizabeth Hamilton Stanley

Countess of Derby, by George Romney c. 1776-78.
Countess of Derby, by George Romney c. 1776-78.
I’m editing A Sense of Obligation (and posting a newer version on Beyond Austen, Austen Authors, and The Peculiar Ramblings Library) and while working on it I recalled the research I put into Darcy’s London House. They don’t spend much time at Pemberley before the story ends, so I really wanted Darcy House to mean something instead. There weren’t any London outings for Darcy to show his love and devotion to Elizabeth, etc.

At some point in my youth, I wanted to be an architect and/or a home designer. Naturally, I wanted to see actual floor plans of houses on Grosvenor Square and other fashionable districts. One of my favorites was of Derby House, renovated by Robert Adam- famous Georgian architect- at the direction of the 12th Earl Lord Stanley. I didn’t do any research on the Earl while I wrote my story, but I recalled there being only one room listed as a bedchamber, and I thought that was rather interesting for the era! Upon further, recent research it seems there was a twin bed made for his lordship’s dressing room (which reminds me of the arrangements for Downton Abbey). The other week I decided to look him up, and I expected to read about a happily married couple. Instead, I found one of Society’s scandals!

Born in 1753, Elizabeth Hamilton was the eldest daughter of the 6th Duke of Hamilton. When she came out, she was considered quite the catch, but it was Edward Smith-Stanley, heir to the Earl of Derby, who won her hand. After a publicized and fervent courtship in which Derby hosted a ball in Lady Elizabeth’s honor twice, they married in 1774. They settled in his recently remodeled town house, and her husband inherited the earldom in 1776. A son was born in 1775 and daughters in 1776 and 1778. Lady Derby became a leader in Society, on the scales of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.

The first two floor plans here are the renovated layout of No. 26 (formerly 23) Grosvenor Square, known as Derby House. The changes were commissioned by the future 12th earl when he came of age and inherited the family London house, but before he inherited the earldom.
The first two floor plans here are the renovated layout of No. 26 (formerly 23) Grosvenor Square, known as Derby House. The changes were commissioned by the future 12th earl when he came of age and inherited the family London house, but before he inherited the earldom.
In early 1778, however, rumors arose that she was having an affair with the 3rd Duke of Dorset, John Sackville. The situation escalated so by August of that year she was openly living apart from her husband. At first it was expected that they would divorce, and she would marry Dorset. Her standing in Society was not immediately destroyed as she might soon be a duchess. A year later her husband announced he would never divorce her, and Lady Derby’s reputation was obliterated. Her husband kept custody of the children, as was the standard of the time. Historians believe blocking access to her children contributed to her poor health, and she became chronically ill. She lived abroad until 1783 when she returned to London as her husband was openly in a relationship with actress Elizabeth Farren- reportedly unconsummated. Around 1784, Lady Derby was finally accepted in London society again, including being seen in company with the Duchess of Devonshire (later to have her own scandalous affair and matrimonial tale). Still refusing to divorce his wife, Derby and Farren finally married in 1797, two months after Lady Derby died of tuberculosis.

Historians disagree over if Lady Derby’s loss of standing was because she left her husband or because the affair was not conducted more privately. While many ladies of the huate ton had affairs, to keep their social status, they were tolerated if conducted out of the public eye. Additionally, there were cases of elopements and divorce in which the lady was still accepted in Society. In Lady Derby’s situation, it seems she misplaced her trust not only in choosing a husband, but in selecting a lover who appears did not press the case of desiring to wed her. She quickly fell like a star from the heavens, illustrating how hypocritical and fickle high society could be.

2 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday- Lady Elizabeth Hamilton Stanley

  1. How interesting! I had no idea. What a sad life for this whole family really. And where are all the bedrooms for guests? This seems so different than all I have read in the stories.


    1. The other night I was thinking about Lady Derby again. One account I read said that her second daughter could be fathered by the Duke of Dorset but other accounts dismissed that. Not to be too graphic, but if she were already pregnant when the affair started, might this have been bad pregnancy hormones running amuck? I’d be curious to know more about her husband during that time, if he was traveling or what. Elizabeth Farren had made her stage debut in 1777, it’s possible he was already enamored with her.

      The other storeys weren’t included in the image but this is what the Survey of London says about Derby House:

      No. 26 (formerly 23).

      This house, later celebrated as Derby House, was built about 1728 under a lease to Charles Griffith, carpenter, from whom it was bought in about 1730 by Sir Robert Sutton, M.P. and former ambassador, and husband of the Dowager Countess of Sunderland. Sutton paid Griffith £6,500 for the ninety-seven-year residue of the lease, and Lady Sunderland laid out £1,000 to fit the house up. In 1732 the ground floor contained a hall, staircase compartment (domed by 1773, if not before), dining-room, drawing-room, back room, library, closet and back stairs. On the first floor were a ‘first’ and a ‘second’ front room and a ‘Drawing Room’, as well as a back room, bedchamber and closet. The rooms above included ‘nursery rooms’ and a valet-de-chambre’s room.

      Internally the brilliant management of the room-spaces was contrived mainly within the existing plan . As Adam says, the principal storeys were ‘altered and newly decorated’, with an ‘addition’ (probably exaggerating, he calls it ‘large’) to the rear wing.

      Other designs dated 1774, especially after Stanley’s marriage in June, are for fittings and furniture and these continued through 1775, although Lady Stanley opened ‘her fine House’ in November 1774. In September Adam designed a remarkable domed twin bed to occupy a round-topped alcove in the first-floor bedchamber.

      Adam himself published a statement of his aims here. His planning was ‘an attempt to arrange the apartments in the French style’. This seems to have meant the creation of a sequence of ceremonial rooms ‘well suited to every occasion of public parade’, with a distinct private part of the house commodiously arranged. Adam claimed that for the latter purpose he had made his ‘large addition’ to the wing; but it is not clear how accurate this was: the number of rooms on each of the two main floors exceeds that in 1732 only by a small rear closet. In the disposition of these private rooms Adam confessedly had to adhere to the separation of the gentleman’s and lady’s apartments on different floors enforced on English architects by custom and the narrowness of London house-sites, and could really only point to the provision of a private communicating stair between them and the contrivance of a servant’s bedchamber on an entresol within this private domain as instances of commodiousness. With its own water closets and powdering-rooms (the former being the only ones on the main floors), the private ‘rearward suite’ on two floors nevertheless represented an arrangement still thought valid three generations later.

      They don’t have plans of what it looked like when first built, so they are unsure how large Adams’ renovation was. I would think given the excitement reported about it in a paper following a ball, that it was larger than just the back closet as this account fears. Additionally, the first description lists a bedchamber on the first floor and instead we see a dressing room- which were actually used to privately entertain close family and friends in, not actually for dressing- hence the closet, previously called cabinets (hence Lady Catherine suggesting shelves in them). I think it’s possible in addition to extending the size of the house at the rear, that they re-ordered the primary rooms. The ante-rooms in this floor plan may have actually been used as rooms. I think it’s worth noting that the future Lord Derby renovated this house while courting his wife and it seems like he may have given up an actual bedchamber. For her to have an affair and then choose to leave him (it’s unclear if she believed he would grant a divorce) may say something even sadder about their marriage, which while a good match as to fortune and rank seems to have been a passionate love match.

      As for guests, there were some much larger houses but even on Grosvenor Square most of them did not house many guests. I think they were more about entertaining others with houses than hosting people like one did with country house parties. Darcy likely needed to fear the Bennets invading Pemberley more than having to house all of them in London, but it’s possible his had an extra floor. Lord Derby’s remodel was one of the earlier ones and still 40 years before P&P is generally set, many houses saw yet another remodel during that time and many added a storey for guests. But the original houses built in the 1720s were really not near as large as we tend to think. In general, as an American it can be a surprise when internationally traveling and I’m reminded how close together the rest of the world lives, as well. I haven’t seen a floor plan with room dimensions. Somewhere I’ve seen averages for the total area. I will post that if I come across it again. In my story which sparked this research quest, I leave the original 1720s footprint of the house and state it had not been remodeled extensively and was one of the smaller originals of the Mayfair district (I don’t list which street precisely). The Hursts could house both Caroline and Bingley so I explain that one is quite large. After all, Caroline never fawns over Darcy’s London house, just over Pemberley. 🙂


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