"Lovelier than the evening air, Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars."
She was also the heroine of a drama strongly resembling a modern play, but recorded by a poet rather than playwright, who has conferred on her an immortality that her beauty alone might not have given her.
To come to a later date, we have the lovely Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, who canvassed for Fox; the eccentric Duchess of Gordon, who raised a regiment with kisses; and both these ladies have come down to us with more vividness than the lovely Duchess of Rutland.
She was the peerless beauty of her time; not only was her face but also her figure of a perfection seldom equalled. She was called "a faultless example of female loveliness."
Her face was oval, with delicate features. She had an abundance of dark hair, an exquisite complexion, and was in bearing and movement extremely graceful. It would have been almost impossible for her not to be self-conscious, considering that from her earliest youth she was told of her loveliness, and taught to consider it sufficient to ensure her success in the world. One can picture fathers of that day heaving sighs of relief when they perceived their daughters growing pretty, and realised that proportionately they need not trouble about expensive education or costly surroundings.
A memoir writer of the time says of her when she was first married: "I never contemplate her except as an enchanting statue, formed rather to excite admiration than to awaken love, this superb production of Nature not being lighted up by corresponding mental attractions." But there has never been a memoir writer who would yield to a beauty the pre-eminence given to her by the poets and painters of her time. Dr. Johnson, discussing the rival merits of the Duchess of Rutland and the Duchess of Devonshire, said that the former " must be very weak and silly, as he knew that she endured being admired to her face, and complimented perpetually both upon her beauty and her dress." Dr. Johnson knew more about etymology than about women. There have been many pretty women who were clever but liked being told they were pretty.
A Jealous Duke
Lady Mary was the youngest daughter of the fourth Duke of Beaufort, and on Boxing Day, 1775, she married Charles Manners, afterwards fourth Duke of Rutland, son of the jovial and gallant Marquis of Granby who attained a high military reputation as Commander-in-chief of the British forces serving under Prince Ferdinand of Brunswick. He was extraordinarily handsome, kind, generous, and extremely popular, but reckless, and he possessed the lax moral standard of many of his contemporaries. She, on the other hand, had little depth of character, but possessed a passion for two things - admiration and entertaining. She was able to enjoy an abundance of both.
In 1784 her husband was made Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Irish society was at that time exceedingly brilliant. The country was more prosperous than it had been for centuries, and in Dublin a Court was held that was almost as brilliant as that of St. James's, and with the advantage, so far as the Duchess was concerned, that she occupied practically the position of queen.
Nowhere in the world is beauty more appreciated than in Ireland. The new Viceroy and his wife were pronounced the handsomest couple in the country, and this alone went far to ensure them popularity. People flocked to Dublin in increasing numbers, and entertaining was held on an un-prece dented scale. Their extravagances gave a great fillip to trade, and it was only by a few among the more o 1 d -fashioned of the very exclusive and refined Irish aristocracy that they were found " deficient in the calm, elevated dignity which had generally dis-tinguished former Vice-royalties."
But while sunning themselves in all but universal popularity, domestic un-happiness began to make itself felt. Anyone who knows the Irish character will understand that from the first day of her arrival in Ireland the Duchess had been surrounded by a cloud of adoring Irishmen, "sighing like furnaces," paying her compliments as gallant and as absurd as any woman could wish either to accept or to laugh at, proclaiming their inordinate admiration of this "wonderful, glorious, exquisite woman" to the four winds of heaven, and generally behaving in the usual manner of Irishmen in love, a manner which only a jealous Englishman could have suspected of any harm. A sensible husband would have been half proud, half amused at this open
Lady Mary Isabella Somerset, wife of the fourth Duke of Rutland. As wife of the Lord
Lieutenant she captivated Ireland by her charm. She was the most popular toast of the eighteenth century, and a favourite subject for Reynolds' brush
Engraved by F. R. Sherwin adoration of the impressionable young Irishmen. Sir Herbert Langrishe wrote complimentary verses to the Duchess, which spread over Dublin like wildfire, surely the greatest safeguard any husband would wish. The Duchess was toasted nightly by a host of admiring beaux, who vied with each other in obtaining smiles and attention.
But the Duke saw fit to be jealous. The worst that anyone could say of the Duchness was that she was too natural and impulsive for a position in which reserve and dignity were expected of her. A period of domestic bickerings followed. The Duke scolded his wife about her admin and she, con scious of her innocence, very naturally retorted.
Matters, however, were patched up, and only finally came to a head on a comparatively trivial question. The Duke was a passionate gambler, and nothing in -furiated him so quickly as an interruption of any kind when he was at dice or cards. The Duchess tried in various ways to restrain him, and one night, wishing to detach him from a long game which threatened to make a serious inroad in his income, she resorted to the very innocent device of going out of doors and tapping at the window of the room in which the Duke sat at play. He flew into a rage, and asserted that she had violated his privacy.
The Duchess, who had forgiven his jealousy, was so exasperated by this instance of unreasonable and petty tyranny, that a few days afterwards she left the scenes of her great triumphs, ostensibly to consult Dr. Richard Warren, then the most eminent physician in London, about her health.
She left an inconsolable Dublin, and the Duke found even his popularity slightly shaken, when the length of the Duchess's stay in London suggested to her disconsolate admirers that a temporary separation had been agreed upon, and that the Duke, by his jealousy, had driven from Ireland the loveliest woman ever seen there.
However, in the autumn of 1787, the Viceroy undertook a State tour through Ireland which made him more popular than ever. He was feted royally everywhere, and indulged in every whim, which included rare vintages, unlimited gambling, and quantities of rich food. Too much indulgence culminated in his over-eating at a State banquet to such an extent that a fever ensued, from which he died at Phoenix Lodge, in October of the same year, at the age of thirty-three. This was, perhaps, the most undignified death which could befall a handsome and gallant young man. The King of England who died from a surfeit of lampreys came to a less inglorious end.
On receiving the news of his illness the Duchess, all her affection reviving, immediately sent Dr. Warren to Ireland. When he reached Bangor he heard of the Duke's death, so he hastened back to London, just in time to prevent the Duchess from starting for Dublin. The Duke's body was brought to England and interred in the family vault.
As so often happens, his death obliterated from the mind of the Duchess the faults which had estranged her from him. She mourned him most sincerely, and for a long time lived in the strictest retirement. When she reappeared, in the winter of 1788, she was more beautiful than ever, her grief having given her face the softness and character it had previously lacked. She was now about thirty years of age.
She died at the age of seventy-five, still mourning her gallant young duke. For all that time she retained her remarkable beauty to such a marvellous degree that rumours were circulated, as they always are when lovely women of high rank preserve their beauty beyond their youth, that she enamelled her face to hide her wrinkles, and would never stay for a moment in any room with open windows, lest the damp might disturb her complexion.
Her portrait was painted four or five times by Sir Joshua Reynolds, otherwise we might have heard even less of her than we have, for her lack of intellectual gifts made her less famous than other beauties, added, perhaps, to the quietness with which she conducted her family life and brought up her four sons and two daughters. Of domestic detail in these matters we have practically no record, from which we may judge that she was a good mother and a wise instructress.
The Duchess had good taste in many matters, and dressed well. She had not the art of winning the affection of women as had some other beauties, but, on the whole, she seems to have been a pleasing character, if a trifle shallow in early youth. After the death of the Duke she gained in depth. She died at Sackville Street, Piccadilly, in 1831, nearly fifty-seven years after her marriage.