" Why," said Mr. Child, with an un-bankerlike recklessness inspired by his wine, " run away with her, to be sure."
Not long after Mr. Child was awakened in the early hours of the morning to find that the Earl had acted on his advice. The front door was open, his daughter's companion drugged, and his daughter gone. The irate banker flew after the couple, who were on the road to Gretna Green, and, after a chase of forty miles, came up with them. The Earl turned and shot the leader of the banker's team, and got safely away with his heiress.
Mr. Child swore that his daughter should never have a farthing of his money, and he would not recognise her first-born, a boy. But three years later, when the future Countess of Jersey arrived, and the young mother was very ill, he relented, and was reconciled with his daughter. But he never forgave her husband, and he always hated his grandson. His immense fortune was bequeathed only to the Countess, and eventually passed into the hands of her daughter Sarah, afterwards Lady Jersey, whose birth had been the means of reconciling him to his only child.
A Leader of Society
It is perhaps but natural that the daughter of this romantic runaway marriage should have inherited considerable character from her parents. When this girl made her bow to society she attracted considerable attention. She was the richest heiress in England, and her beauty was of no mean order. Her appearance was stately, her figure commanding and well-formed. Deep blue eyes were set in a complexion so alabaster-white that her veins showed through. She appears to have had but little emotional capacity, and her heart remained untouched until the addition of Lord George Villiers to the ranks of her admirers.
He was a magnificent figure - England's most daring horseman, an aristocrat in appearance, and the possessor of a strong sense of honour and courage. They were married in 1804, and the next year Lord George became Earl Jersey.
Lady Jersey wielded undisputed sway over London society for many years, and took a leading part in all the brilliant social life of her time, and in the faction fighting which raged around the Regent and Princess Caroline. On this question her views were the same as her husband's, and she espoused the cause of the Princess with such vigour as to let it be known that, in her opinion, no self-respecting woman should be seen at a Court presided over by the Regent. She possessed an extreme amount of energy, and once she took up the cudgels on behalf of anyone, she rested not until the victory was gained. So keenly were her feelings engaged in Queen Caroline's trial that many of her friends feared for her sanity.
Of course, her championship of the Princess made the Regent furious. He sent back her portrait, to which he had given the place of honour in his Gallery of Beauties, and she took her revenge by fighting even more determinedly in the Princess's cause. She was dismissed from the Regent's Court, and if by chance the two happened to come face to face, they would glare at each other with a curious mixture of disdain and fury in their expression that must have been amusing to witness.
Lady Jersey supported Byron, too, in the face of the rest of society, and gave a party to bid him farewell from England, in defiance of the feeling existing against him. She received him at her house at Middleton when nearly every door in the country was closed against him, and he refers to the visit in the following words : "I spent a week at Lady Jersey's once, and very agreeably it passed : the guests were well chosen, the host and hostess on hospitable thoughts intent, the establishment combining all the luxury of a maison montee en prince with the ease and comfort of a well-ordered house." As a matter of fact, although he never admitted it, Byron was on the verge of insanity at this time, and sometimes he would lock himself in his room at Middleton for several days, living on hard biscuits and water, and at other times he would spend the night roaming in the woods. Lord and Lady Jersey behaved on these occasions with the utmost tact and consideration.
The house at Middleton Park, which was the Oxfordshire seat of the Earl, was really like a palace. Seventy servants were employed, and sometimes as many as 1,600 persons were entertained there in a week. Lord Jersey spent most of his time while in Oxfordshire in breeding and training horses, while his wife gave much attention to charitable work, at Christmastime really behaving like a veritable Lady
Bountiful. Yet she was not popular with the country folk. Perhaps she was a little condescending. One of their complaints was that she did not give her presents herself, as " the wicked Lady Jersey used to do." She had no real sympathy with them, and consequently there was an unconscious aloofness about her manner. She was only in her element in society.
A Contemporary Verdict
Thomas Creevey was a guest at Middleton for some little time, and his description of his hostess is really delightful. " Shall I tell you what Lady Jersey is like ? " he writes. " She is like one of her numerous gold and silver musical dickey birds that are in all the show-rooms of this house. She begins to sing at eleven o'clock, and, with the interval of the hour when she retires to her cage to rest, she sings till twelve at night without a moment's interruption. She changes her feathers for dinner, and her plumage both morning and evening is the happiest and most beautiful I ever saw."