Friday, November 2, 2012

Lady Hester Stanhope-A Regency Character if Ever There Was One

by David W Wilkin

Lady Hester Lucy Stanhope
March 12 1776 to June 23 1839

Her prominence is from 1803 to 1806 when she served as Hostess for her uncle, William Pitt the Younger


She was the eldest child of the 3rd Earl of Stanhope, whose wife was sister to William Pitt the Younger, and in 1800 went to live with her grandmother, the Countess of Chatham, widow of the William Pitt the elder. So Lady Hester could be counted to have lived in the households of the highest political circles. Her grandmother, the countess, Hester Pitt, who our Lady Hester was obviously named after died in 1803 at the age of 82. Our Hester was then 27 and still unmarried. She was on the shelf in our regency terminology.

At this time, Pitt the Younger was Prime Minister and also unmarried. (Nothing scandalous here I believe though Lady Hester was accounted a great beauty) The Prime Minister needed a hostess and his niece had just finished doing duty to his mother. She did this task with great success and when Pitt was out of office, she served as his private secretary.


She was the initiator of the gardens at Walmer Castle while Pitt was Lord Ward of the Cinque Ports.


Upon his death the government awarded her £1200 a year. She first lived in Montagu Squar in London, then moved to Wales but left England for the second act of her life in 1810.

It is claimed that when she and her party (which included a man who became her lover) arrived in Athens, Lord Byron dived into the sea to greet her. En route to Cairo her ship encountered a storm and was shipwrecked on Rhodes. (Again, another classic heroic tale) All possessions gone, the party had to borrow Turkish clothes. Here Lady Hester wore male garb. And this was how she met the Pasha. (Again, classic heroine stuff here.) For the next two years she visited Gibraltar, Malta, the Ionian Islands, the Peloponnese, Athens, Constantinople, Rhodes, Egypt, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria.


Her entourage to visit Palmyra was so large (22 camels just for her luggage) she was greeted as Queen Hester.
In 1815, she was now a fixture of the middle east. A document came into her possession that said a great treasure was hidden in the ruins of the mosque in Ashkelon. She journeyed there, and the governor of Jaffa was ordered to accompany her. They did not find the three million gold coins she thought she would find. But they did find a seven foot headless marble statue. She ordered it to be smashed into a thousand pieces and thrown into the sea. Aside from the horrific destruction, this was considered the first modern archealogical excavation of the Holy Lands.

One should note that Lady Hester began her travels and continued them while the Napoleonic Wars were taking place.

Now the last act of her life was her settling permanently in the Middle East. She settled in Sidon, in now Lebanon. These last years she provided sanctuary to the Druze and the local emir, Bashir Shihab II who at first greeted her with courtesy turned against her. However she had such power that she had near absolute authority over the surrounding districts. Truly, ‘Queen Hester.’ Ibrahim Pasha had to consult with her when he was about to invade Syria in 1832.

This did change. She accumulated debt, and when the money ran out, she became a recluse. Her servants began to take off with her possessions when she could not pay them any longer. She would not receive visitors in the end until it was dark, and then they would only see her hands and face. She wore a turban over her shaven head.


* * *

Mr. Wilkin writes Regency Historicals and Romances, Ruritanian (A great sub-genre that is fun to explore) and Edwardian Romances, Science Fiction and Fantasy works. He is the author of the very successful Pride & Prejudice continuation; Colonel Fitzwilliam’s Correspondence. He has several other novels set in Regency England including The End of the World and The Shattered Mirror. His most recent work is the humorous spoof; Jane Austen and Ghostsa story of what would happen were we to make any of these Monsters and Austen stories into a movie.

And Two Peas in a Pod, a madcap tale of identical twin brothers in Regency London who find they must impersonate each other to pursue their loves.

The links for all locations selling Mr. Wilkin's work can be found at the webpage and will point you to your favorite internet bookstore: David’s Books, and at various Internet and realworld bookstores including the iBookstoreAmazonBarnes and NobleSmashwords.

He is published by Regency Assembly Press
And he maintains his own blog called The Things That Catch My Eye where the entire Regency Lexicon has been hosted these last months as well as the current work in progress of the full Regency Timeline is being presented.

You also may follow Mr. Wilkin on Twitter at @DWWilkin
Mr. Wilkin maintains a Pinterest page with pictures and links to all the Regency Research he uncovers at Pinterest Regency-Era


  1. Lady Hester Stanhope wasn't 'on the shelf'--she was engaged to be married to Sir John Moore, the first Commander in Chief of the British Forces in the Peninsula, who was fatally wounded by a cannonball during the retreat to La Coruna in January 1809. She was inconsolable in her grief and was thought never to have properly recovered from her loss.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Didn't know that. I like Moore. He is what made Sandhurst, Sandhurst. Before the army went to the Peninsula, if my dim memory is right, he put the regiments through their paces readying them for the type of warfare that was being fought by Napoleon.

  4. Life is greater than fiction in this instance, David. Very interesting, thank you. I seem to remember a character in a Mary Stewart book which may have been drawn from her.

  5. I am intrigued to know why she destroyed the statue. Was it seen as un-Christian, or was it naked? Destroying that which you find - or rather being unable to appreciate what you find - seems antithetical to any form of historical research.

  6. Yes Maggi. The Gabriel Hounds sprang to mind immediately, especially where Lady Hester received people in the dark and showed her hands only. And I have to say I only became interested in Lady Hester Stanhope AFTER I'd read The Gabriel Hounds.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.