|Sarah Sophia Child-Villiers, Countess of Jersey (nee' Fane), (1785-1867)|
By Lauren Gilbert
Best known as one of the feared Lady Patronesses of Almack's, she was born Sarah Sophia Fane in March 3, 1785, the eldest daughter of John Fane, the 10th earl of Westmorland, and his wife Anne Child (or Sarah Anne Child), the only child of the banker, Robert Child. Disapproving of the earl, Mr. Child tried to stop the marriage when Anne eloped with John at age 17 to Gretna Greene in 1782. (He actually pursued the couple without success.) Determined that neither the earl nor his heir would benefit from the marriage, Robert Child changed his will so that his estate would bypass his daughter and go to either her second son or her eldest daughter. Robert Child died the same year of his daughter’s marriage, so Sarah Sophia was born to be an heiress. There is no indication of what Sarah Sophia’s relationship with her parents or siblings was. Her mother died when Sarah Sophia was eight.
Sarah Sophia married George Villiers, Viscount Villiers, on May 23, 1804, at home in Berkley Square. However, there were several hints of an elopement to Gretna Green for her as well. Many of the sources I found were careful not to cite the place of marriage. (This may be a result of confusion with her mother, both being named Sarah. It is also possible that Sarah Sophia and George did elope but also had a ceremony to satisfy family or convention.) By all accounts, she held him in great affection. George became the 5th Earl of Jersey and 8th Viscount Grandison in 1805. Sarah Sophia had fully inherited the Child fortune and property after the deaths of her mother and grandmother, including Osterley Park, at a very young age, and took control when she came of age at age 21 in 1806. In an age of women as chattels, Sarah was unique in that her inheritance made her the senior partner of Child & Co., a position she held for over 60 years. She took an active interest in the bank, visiting the premises, checking profit and loss statements, and intervening in employee issues. The couple had five sons and three daughters, seven of whom survived to adulthood.
Sarah Sophia, also known as Sally, became a leader of the "Ton", and wielded a great deal of influence in Society. Considered a beauty, she made a name for herself by being extremely rude and behaving theatrically. She chattered incessantly, acquiring the nickname of "Silence." Determined to stand apart from her mother-in-law, the scandalous Frances, Lady Jersey, who was mistress of the Prince of Wales, Sarah Sophia made a great show of personal virtue, although she apparently throve on gossip. In spite of her affectations, she appears to have been regarded with fondness by many of her peers. In a letter written in 1816 to her brother, General Alexander Beckendorf, Princess Lieven described Lady Jersey as one of her “most intimate friends.” (Princess Lieven also said in a later letter to Prince Metternich that “…Lady Jersey has the most dangerous tongue I know.” Written in 1823, it would appear that there had been a falling out.) Although she called herself Sally, one of her nicknames in Society was “Queen Sarah.” Several novels featured characters supposedly based on Lady Jersey. When Lady Caroline Lamb published her novel GLENARVON in 1816, Lady Jersey was ostensibly the inspiration for the character of Lady Augusta. As a result, “Queen Sarah” banned Caroline from Almack’s, effectively ending Caroline’s social career.
Sarah Sophia and her husband entertained at their home in Berkley Square, and Middleton Park in Oxfordshire. They seem to have spent little time at Osterley Park in Middlesex. Sarah Sophia is supposed to have introduced the Quadrille to Almack's in 1815. She was a noted political hostess for her husband, who legally added the name of Child in 1819 to become George Child-Villiers, Earl of Jersey. An avid hunter and racing aficionado, her husband held offices in the households of William IV and of Queen Victoria. Sarah was interested in politics, and not shy about expressing her opinions. She seemed to have switched from Whig to Tory views by the 1820’s. She supported Caroline against George IV when he tried to divorce Caroline, wearing a portrait of Caroline in public. Sally also spoke openly against the Reform Bill of 1832.
George died October 3, 1859, followed shortly by their eldest son. Her grandson (her oldest son’s son) inherited the title. After her husband’s death, she stayed busy, entertaining and taking an interest in what was going on around her. Charitable concerns were a special interest, particularly the establishment of schools on the family estates to assist tenants and laborers. She died of a ruptured blood vessel, according to her obituary, at Berkley Square on January 26, 1867, at age 81, outliving her husband and six of her seven children. Both Lord and Lady Jersey were buried at Middleton Stoney, Oxfordshire.
[This is an updated version of a post on my own blog January 29, 2013, which was in turn an expansion of some information I posted on Goodreads on Oct. 20, 2011 in the Historical Info for Historical Fiction Readers group. You can see the post on my blog HERE )
Image: Wikimedia Commons. "Sarah Sophia Child-Villiers (nee' Fane), (1785-1867)." by Alfred Edward Chalon (1780-1860). HERE (Photo by Jan Arkesteijn, posted June 27, 2012.)
Gronow, Captain Rees Howell. Reminiscences of Captain Gronow. Originally published 1862: Smith, Elder & Co., London; republished by IndyPublish.com, McLean, VA.
Quennell, Peter, ed. The Private Letters of Princess Lieven to Prince Metternich 1820-1826. 1938: E. P. Dutton & Co. Inc. NY. (P. 283)
Robinson, Lionel G. Letters of Dorothea, Princess Lieven, during her Residence in London, 1812-1834. 1902: Longmans, Green, and Co. London. (P. 29)
RBS Heritage Hub. "Sarah Sophia Child-Villiers." Here
FIND A GRAVE. "Sarah Sophia Fane Child-Villiers." HERE
Number One London. "Death of Lady Jersey in 1867," by Kristine Hughes and Victoria Hinshaw. Posted March 3, 2012. HERE
The Peerage On-line. "Lady Sarah Sophia Fane." HERE
Regency History. “Lady Jersey (1785-1867).” By Rachel Knowles, posted Nov. 4, 2011. HERE
A Web of English History. “Sarah Sophia Child, Lady Jersey, 1785-1867.” Dr. Marjory Bloy. HERE
Lauren Gilbert is the author of HEYERWOOD: A Novel, and a long-time member of the Jane Austen Society of North America. She lives in Florida with her husband, and is working on her second novel, A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT. Visit her website HERE