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.