Friday, April 24, 2020

The Countess Dowager of Carlisle

by Lauren Gilbert

Coat of arms of Henry Howard, 4th Earl of Carlisle, KG
by Rs-nourse / CC BY-SA

The Honourable Isabella Byron was born either October 11 or November 10, 1721; her place of birth is shown as Lancashire, England, possibly in Clayton. Her father was William Byron, 4th Baron Byron of Rochdale, born January 4, 1669/70 Newstead, Nottinghamshire. He died August 8, 1736 Newstead, Nottinghamshire and was buried at Hucknall, Nottinghamshire. Her mother was the Hon. Frances Berkeley, who was born c 1702. Sir William and Frances Berkeley were married December 3, 1720. She was his third wife. They had at least five children prior to Sir William’s death. Lady Byron married again to Sir Thomas Hay, Baronet. She died sometime in September 1757, and was buried September 21, 1757 in Twickenham, Middlesex, England. Sources indicate the family had financial difficulties.

Isabella had four younger brothers (her father had had children by his second wife, but they seem to have all died young). She was described as pretty and charming. Apparently, she was considered rather exotic with her black hair and dark eyes. As a young lady with an aristocratic background, she acquired accomplishments: writing, music, drawing and etching (she primarily made copies of Rembrandt’s works). She may have been taught with her brother by artist Joseph Goupy. Her known works were done mostly during her marriage to Earl of Carlisle.

Isabella's first marriage occurred on June 8, 1743 at St. George’s Hanover Square, London. The groom was Henry Howard, 4th Earl of Carlisle. He was born in 1694. He was much older: about 49 to her 21, and she was his second wife. (He had had four children by his first wife: two sons who had died and two daughters who survived.) Lady Mary Wortley Montagu seemed somewhat taken aback by the marriage, describing the new Lady Carlisle as very agreeable and very gay. Note that, at that time “gay” meant merry and light-hearted, but also had a connotation of wantonness and lasciviousness, so Lady Mary was not necessarily being complimentary. To see portraits of Henry, Earl of Carlisle and Isabella, visit the Castle Howard website.

Isabella and Henry had four living daughters and one surviving son. Lady Anne was born in 1744, and went on to become a Lady of the Bedchamber to Princess Amelia, aunt of George III. She died about 1799. Lady Frances was born in 1745. She married John Radcliffe Esq. in April 1768. He died in April 1808 and she died Sept 4, 1825. Lady Elizabeth was born in 1746. She married twice: first, in 1769 to Peter Delme’ Esq. who died in 1789; second, on Jan 13, 1794 to Charles Garnier Esq., Captain in the Navy, who died in 1796. She died in June 1813.

Their only son Frederick was born May 28, 1748 in Westminster, London, England. He became the 5th Earl. He was a close friend of Charles James Fox, Lord Fitzwilliam and George Selwyn. He married Lady Margaret Leveson Gore and had children. He built a career in politics. He died Sept 4, 1825. The youngest surviving child was Lady Juliana, born in 1750. She died unmarried on Jan 22, 1849. She was very involved with Isabella in Isabella’s old age.

The Peerage of England of 1768 listed a fifth daughter, Margaretta, but showed no details of birth, marriage or death. Most other sources do not mention her at all. The Peerage may have been in error, or possibly she died in infancy and her dates were not captured. There is also an indication that Isabella may have had a miscarriage in 1749.

As a wife and the mistress of Castle Howard, a large Yorkshire estate, as well as a London home, Isabella dealt with household accounts, and was interested in the gardens, including fruits and vegetables. She was reputedly not above getting her hands dirty, and was interested in how the products were used. She compiled a book of receipts for culinary dishes and medicinals. Available data indicates she was happy at Castle Howard.
AdCastle Howard, Stately Home in Yorkshire, UK
by jcw1967 from Leeds, UK (CC BY-SA

Lord Carlisle died September 3, 1758, leaving Isabella a jointure of 2000 pounds and control of her children and the estate. These arrangements also specified that remarriage would cost her custody of the children and loss of the estate (leaving her only the income). He was buried in the Castle Howard mausoleum. His heirs were left considerable debt. Her son Frederick, who was now the fifth Earl, was only ten years old.

Her second marriage, which was considered rather shocking as her husband had been dead just over a year, occurred on December 10, 1759 at St Margaret’s, Westminster, London. The groom was Sir William Musgrave, 6th Baronet of Hayton Castle. Sir William was born c. 1737, making him much younger than Isabella. He had no other marriages. Her remarriage cost her the custody of her children and the estate; it also resulted in a reduction of her income, in spite of the fact that such a reduction was not required by the late Earl of Carlisle’s will. (Her son and the trustees of the estate obtained this reduction. Apparently, it was considered that, it now being her new husband’s responsibility to support her, she was not entitled to the full amount.)

Sir William was interested in history and art (he assembled a number of biographical papers, and a collection of lists of portraits), which presumably attracted Isabella, but was also of a rather cold and bookish character, which led to conflicts. Such incompatibility resulted in her leaving Sir William. They were living apart by March 10, 1769. They had a separation agreement of March 15, 1769, which protected what she brought to the marriage.

Isabella went abroad to live, spending time in France, Italy and Switzerland. She also spent time in Cologne in the 1770’s. She was reputed to have had many affairs, particularly a long-running relationship with a man known as “Baron de Weinheim” is documented. (He was not a baron, just plain Monsieur Larcher.) Apparently they socialised with an artistic set, and she turned her attention to writing. Her poem “The Fairy’s Answer to Mrs. Greville” c. 1770, which has also been attributed to the Margravine of Anspach (Elizabeth Craven), was a response to a poem by Mrs. Frances Greville titled “Prayer for Indifference”, c. 1770.

Isabella also wrote THOUGHTS IN THE FORM OF MAXIMS ADDRESSED TO YOUNG LADIES ON THEIR FIRST ESTABLISHMENT IN THE WORLD (published in 1789-90). This was a book on conduct and household management. According to World Cat, fifty editions have been published between 1789 and 2018. Her collection of receipts for culinary dishes and medicinals, and some household hints, titled My Book of Receipts, was held in the Castle Howard Archives. She included some French remedies acquired during her time abroad, as well as some requested from England in her correspondence, in this compilation. It can be read on line.

Isabella’s expenses exceeded her income and she accumulated significant debt. In the late 1770s, Frederick and the family sent Rev. John Warner to settle things (a sale of her jewellery and personal possessions was held) and conduct her back to England. She managed to evade returning to England, citing various excuses, and remained in Europe. Her credit was publicly ruined and, as a result of action taken by her family and the trustees, her income was reduced again. Embroidery became an interest during this trying period. She was reputed to be reclusive and eccentric as well. She left her home in Moulins, France when she chose to return to England in November, 1783. Fanny Burney was reluctant to meet her, considering her a “demi-rep”, (a woman who intrigues with men; compromised).

At some point, she returned to France to rejoin her baron. Subsequently, her second and final return to England happened in 1787. Her relationships with her children had been difficult after leaving Sir William Musgrave. Upon her return, she lived with her daughters or in the London house. Her finances were poor. Her children supported her but were reluctant to relinquish any of their own funds to provide her additional income, although they did look into establishing a pension for her. They were determined that she would not ruin the family, financially or otherwise.

It is interesting to note that, when THOUGHTS IN THE FORM OF MAXIMS ADDRESSED TO YOUNG LADIES ON THEIR FIRST ESTABLISHMENT IN THE WORLD was published in 1789, Isabella’s name as author was shown as Countess Dowager of Carlisle. I found no indication that she used Sir William’s name after she left, nor that either of them made any attempt at contact or reconciliation. She died on Jan 22, 1795, age 73. I was unable to determine the site of her burial. Sir William survived her, passing away January 3, 1800. She is not mentioned in his obituary in THE GENTLEMAN’s MAGAZINE.


THESES: (A lot of information was gleaned from these works.)

Larsen, Ruth M. “Dynastic Domesticity: The Role of Elite Women in the Yorkshire Country House, 1685-1858.” 2003: University of York, Department of History. HERE

Day, Julie. “Elite Women and Household Management: Yorkshire, 1680-1810.” 2007: University of Leeds, School of History. HERE

Duncan, Andrew I. M. “A Study of the Life and Public Career of Frederick Howard, Fifth Earl of Carlisle, 1748-l825.” 1981: University College, Oxford. HERE

OTHER SOURCES: Thoughts in the Form of Maxims Addressed to Young Ladies on Their First Establishment in the World by Carlisle, Isabella Howard, Countess of, 1721-1795. Pre-1801 Imprint Collection (Library of Congress) DLC. HERE “Isabella Musgrave (Biographical details).” Sloan (Cat. No. 159). HERE HERE Troide, Lars E. and Cooke, Stewart J. THE EARLY JOURNALS AND LETTERS OF FANNY BURNEY, Volume V. 1782-1783. P. 449. 2012: McGill-Queen’s University Press. HERE; Roscoe, E. S. and Clergue, Helen, ed. GEORGE SELWYN: His Letters and His Life. 1899: T. Fisher Unwin, London. HERE; THE NEW PEERAGE; Or, Present State of the Nobility of England, Scotland, and Ireland: Containing an Account of the Peers, Their Descent and Collateral Branches, Their Births, Marriages and Issue, Also Their Paternal Coats of Arms, Crests, Supporters and Mottoes, Volume 1. 1769: R. Davis, London. HERE; Burke, John Esq. A GENERAL AND HERALDIC DICTIONARY OF THE PEERAGE AND BARONETAGE OF THE BRITISH EMPIRE, 4th edition, Volume I. 1832: Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, London. HERE; Collins, Arthur Esq. THE PEERAGE OF ENGLAND; Containing a Genealogical and Historical Account of All of the Peers of the Kingdom, Now existing by Tenure, Summons or Creation. Volume III. 1768: London. HERE THE GENTLEMAN’S MAGAZINE Vol. 70 Part I. 1800. P. 87. HERE ; Wharcliffe, Lord, ed. THE LETTERS AND WORKS OF LADY MARY WORTLEY MONTAGUE, 1689-1762, Vol. 2, 3rd edition. P. 120-121. 1861: Henry G. Bohn, London. HERE “A Question of Disputed Authorship?” posted November 10, 2017 by Julia Gasper. HERE “THOUGHTS IN THE FORM OF MAXIMS TO YOUNG LADIES, ON THEIR FIRST ESTABLISHMENT IN THE WORLD. BY THE COUNTESS DOWAGER OF CARLISLE.” HERE

Lauren Gilbert was introduced to English authors early in life, and the passion has never left. An avid reader, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal arts English with a minor in Art History. She is a contributing writer to both volumes of CASTLES, CUSTOMS AND KINGS: True Tales by English Historical Fiction Authors. She has written two novels, including her new release, A RATIONAL ATTACHMENT. She is working on a non-fiction book about powerful women in Regency Europe, and is also researching material for another novel. Visit her website for more information.

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