Amazing Women in History

Flora Sandes (1876-1956)

Ever heard of a British woman fighting on the Serbian front line in WWI? Read on to discover more about this fascinating woman with a true passion for adventure…Bvdy4N0CUAAR8nlFlora was born into a hardworking middle class family from Yorkshire. Eschewing the normal forms of amusement for little girls, Flora adored horse-riding and shooting. She spent hours out of doors, running wild through the woods and fields around her home. Flora wished she had been born a boy so she could become a soldier, but this of course was absolutely impossible at the time. As she grew older, her sense of adventure and desperation to see more of the world could not be abated. As soon as she turned eighteen, Flora used her secretarial skills to travel to Cairo, across British Colombia and the United States. On her return she became of the first women in Britain to obtain a driving license and bought a French racing car. She joined the shooting club and trained with the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry.

Flora’s first opportunity for adventure was on the horizon. In July 1914 Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia, and the European powers agreed to send support. Flora soon found herself on the way to the front line in Serbia as part of St. John’s Ambulance. Working on the front tending to the sick and wounded, at first Flora communicated using only sign language. By October of the following year however, Flora was fluent in Serbian. She joined the Serbian Red Cross, working for the 2nd Infantry Regiment- known as the ‘Iron Regiment’ because it spent so much of their time at the front. Flora showed such courage and fortitude that she was soon regarded as an invaluable resource for the Serbian troops. The war was going very badly, and as the army was pushed further back through the Albanian mountains, Flora was able to become more and more the soldier she had always dreamt of being.

Flora Sandes portrait with medalWomen were actually allowed to join the Serbian Army, something that would never had been allowed back in Britain. Flora jumped at the first opportunity to join as a private in the infantry. No British woman had ever done so before, so it really was an extraordinary thing to decide to do, in the midst of a war. The Serbs in turn greatly appreciated Flora’s commitment and many skills. She was the utmost professional, game for everything, but also had a humour and humility that endeared her to soldiers from all ranks. For the Serbs she personified Britain’s commitment to help them in their hour of need. Flora was also fantastically brave. She was twice mentioned in Dispatches, and was awarded the Serbian equivalent the Victoria Cross for her bravery during a particularly vicious attack. This attack left her seriously wounded from twenty-eight individual shrapnel injuries down one side. By this time she had been promoted to the rank of Sargeant- Major, and on sick leave in England, raised as much money as possible for her beloved Serbian troops. She returned to the front line in May 1917.

After the war ended Flora became the first woman or foreigner to be raised to the rank of Captain in the Serbian army. It was a huge honour, and Flora was delighted to be given command of her own platoon. In 1922 Flora left the army as the Serbian forces were scaled back after the war. Flora returned to England, but felt very out of place. She said ‘I felt neither fish not flesh when I came out of the army. The first time I put on woman’s clothes I slunk through the streets.’ Living on her army pension, she survived by teaching and writing her second autobiography.

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Flora with Yurie (sandesancestry.net)

In 1927 she married a Serbian called Yurie Yudenitch who had been a Colonel in the White Army and had escaped Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. They had met when Yurie was serving in Flora’s regiment, and they had fallen deeply in love. The couple moved to Paris where Flora worked for a time as a chaperone for young ladies at the famous Folie-Bergere bar. Flora and Yurie then moved to Belgrade where Flora worked as one of the city’s first taxi drivers. She also spoke about her experiences in the Serbian Army extensively, lecturing all around the world. She always gave her talks in her Captain’s uniform, which she wore with great pride.

When WWII broke out, having refused to leave Yogoslavia, Flora was arrested and imprisoned by the Gastapo. Flora later recalled of prison life: ‘There were fourteen women in that room–British and Serb. There were also streetwalkers and so on, but we were bound together by our common misfortunes and became good comrades.’  Later one of Flora’s cell mates recalled that she ‘possessed a wonderful fund of Serbian swear words which she launched at the guards with such devastating effect that they behaved almost respectfully.’  After her release she had to report weekly to the Gastapo. Devastatingly Yurie fell ill soon after her release and died of heart failure.

bhbFlora was forced to endure three and a half years of solitude in Belgrade, cut off from friends and family. When the war  ended Flora was free to return to England, but without her beloved husband, it was a difficult decision. However her sense of adventure had not diminished, and so Flora decided to go and live with her nephew in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). She loved living there but was forced to leave after only a few months as the locals were appalled to find her smoking and drinking with the African locals, in a fashion that was deemed totally unacceptable! Flora reluctantly returned to England, where she lived out her remaining years dreaming of more adventures. She even renewed her passport in the months before her death in 1956, in the hope that she might get to explore more of the world.

A real heroine of the First World War!

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Categories: 20th Century, Amazing Women in History, Heroes | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Deborah Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (1920-2014)

avt_deborah-devonshire_9082Last month saw the sad news of the death of the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, who has personal heroine of mine since I began to read the novels of her sister Nancy Mitford at school. As I learnt more about anecdotes and antics of her family, I developed a real soft spot for their youngest daughter, Deborah. I thought a short piece on her life might be interesting. Variously known in society as ‘Debo’, as the saviour of Chatsworth House, and as an all round ‘good egg’, Debo was a national treasure; and shall be remembered warmly in the hearts of many.

Our heroine was born the Hon. Deborah Freeman-Mitford. She was the youngest of the famous Mitford sisters, who became stars of the literary and political social scene in pre and post war London. Daughter to the 2nd Baron Redesdale, the ever growing Mitford family grew up in the Oxfordshire countryside, They enjoyed a rough and tumble kind of life, surrounded by numerous ponies, dogs and chickens. With six older sisters and one brother, Debo was reminded at every opportunity that the Mitford’s would have loved another son. None of the sisters were educated beyond reading, writing and learning to hunt, but luckily they all ended up highly proficient in all three disciplines. Always happiest out of doors, Debo adored all animals. The younger children concocted many secret languages, stories, family jokes and nicknames with which to entertain themselves. Their unique humour and sharp wit made them a hit with friends and peers alike.  Debo was routinely terrorised by her older siblings, especially by the acid tongue of the eldest Nancy; who was soon to become a successful novelist. Nancy (pictured below) had a wickedly sharp humour, and was idolised by Debo.

The family already knew the Churchills, the Kennedys and Evelyn Waugh. As Debo’s older siblings, Nancy, Pamela, Thomas, Diana, Unity, and Jessica (known as Decca) grew older and began to socialise in 1930’s London, Debo was introduced to even more extraordinary characters.  But the political scene in London was changing, and two of the older sisters, Diana and Unity, became infatuated with the cause of the right wing Nazi movement in Germany. Both went to stay for a time in Germany, and Debo and her mother visited Unity there. It was at this time, in 1937, that Debo took tea with  none other than Hitler himself. Unity had fallen deeply in love with the despotic ruler, and the pair chatted away for hours. However but Debo recalled that the ‘atmosphere was rather awkward because neither my mother nor I could speak German’. Hitler made little impact on Debo, and in general she did not take an active interest in politics, saying to one newspaper ‘Well, I’ve never been very interested in politics, you see….and the truth is that I didn’t give it much thought. If you sat in a room with Churchill you were aware of this tremendous charisma. Kennedy had it, too. But Hitler didn’t – not to me anyway’.

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Debo, far left, and her sisters

Diana Mitford caused a tremendous scandal when she divorced her Guinness husband, and married instead Oswald Mosley, Leader of the British Union of Fascists. During the Second World War both Diana and her second husband were imprisoned for their extreme right wing views. Unity was in Berlin when Hitler declared war on England, and in despair of the thought of her beloved Germany at war with England, she shot herself in the head with a gun Hitler  had given her. She suffered severe brain damage but the family were able to get her back to England and care for her. Never fully recovering, she died in 1948.

Debo had always been particularly close to her sister Decca, who was only a few years older than her. Decca grew into a very left wing mindset, often clashing with Diana and Unity. At the age of 17 she ran away from home, eloping to America with Esmond Romilly, a committed left wing activist.  One newspaper reported wrongly reported that it was Debo, not Decca, that had run away to marry across the pond. The Mitford’s jumped into action, suing the newspaper for damaging Debo’s marital prospects; for which they were made to pay her the grand sum of £1000. Debo later admitted ‘That really was one of the best things that had ever happened to me. Just wonderful: £1,000 was a huge sum of money in those days’. But her relationship with Decca was never to recover from this betrayal. In the end greater sadness was in store for Decca, as her young husband was killed in the war in 1941. She never returned to live in England, choosing to stay in America.

It was during the war that Debo ‘came out’ and enjoyed her first London season. It was at one of these grand parties that she met her future husband, Andrew Cavendish: ‘That was it for me’, she later wrote, ‘the rest of the Season passed in a would-he-wouldn’t-he be there sort of way; nothing and nobody else mattered’. They married in London in 1941 during the Blitz, in a ball-room with shredded curtains, the floor covered in broken glass. Andrew was the younger Cavendish heir, and Debo married him in the belief that they would probably be ‘terrificially poor’, but at least they could enjoy having lots of dogs. Debo lost many close friends to the war, as well as her only brother Tom; who was shot dead in Burma by a single bullet through the neck. Andrew’s brother was also killed in the war, meaning that Debo and her young husband faced a future as Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. When Andrew’s father died in 1950, the couple were saddled with not only grand titles and the gorgeous house and estates of Chatsworth, but with millions of pounds of inheritance tax and death duties.

Deborah_Mitford_Duchess_of_Devonshire_with_familyAfter moving into Chatsworth, Debo developed a real prowess for business, a talent never considered a necessity in the pre-war partying years of her youth. The Mitfords were from a class of English family had rarely been forced into work. But as a Cavendish Debo proved her worth. The couple set about opening Chatsworth to the public for the first time in its long history, setting a precedent for many other country estates which had fallen on hard times since the end of the war. Restoring the house to its former glory and opening a farm shop, cafe and restaurant on site, Debo worked tirelessly to improve the management of the estate and make Chatsworth self sufficient. It it now a shining example of how a stately home with a large amount of land can be an important provider of jobs and tourism to rural England.

The Duke and Duchess entertained many eccentric and influential people in their home. Debo became very close friends with Lucian Freud, and used to bring him eggs from the country when she visited his flat in London. His portrait of her has become very well known.

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Despite her lack of education, and the fact that she claimed never to have read a book in her life, Debo proved a dab hand at writing. She published several popular books over the years, including several books about Chatsworth House, ‘The Mitfords: Letters between Six Sisters’ (2007), ‘Home to Roost, and Other Peckings’ (2009), and her excellent biography ‘Wait for me! Memoirs of the Youngest Mitford Sister’ (2010).

The Duke once told an interviewer ‘wonderful things have happened in my life…When I was young I used to like casinos, fast women and God knows what. Now my idea of Heaven, apart from being at Chatsworth, is to sit in the hall of Brooks’, having tea’. After he passed away in 2004, Debo became the Dowager Duchess, and moved into a house on the estate. Her son Stoker, became the 12th Duke of Devonshire, and continues Debo’s hard work with his wife Amanda. Debo was still involved in the management of the house and estate, and continued to write and give interviews until very recently.

At her passing, the Prince of Wales offered this unusually personal and moving epitaph: ‘My wife and I were deeply saddened by the death of the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, whom both of us adored and admired greatly. She was an unique personality with a wonderfully original approach to life, and a memorable turn of phrase to match that originality. The joy, pleasure and amusement she gave to so many, particularly through her books, as well as the contribution she made to Derbyshire throughout her time at Chatsworth, will not easily be forgotten and we can miss her so very much.’ Couldn’t have said it better myself.

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Debo feeding her beloved chickens

Categories: 20th Century, 21st Century, Amazing Women in History | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lady Georgiana Lennox, later 23rd Baroness de Ros of Helmsley (1785-1891)

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Image: NPG Collection: NPG Archive

Lady Georgiana Lennox was born on the 30th September 1795 at Molecombe, the Dower House on the Goodwood Estate. She was the third daughter of the 4th Duke of Richmond and the former Lady Charlotte Gordon. She was one of fourteen children, seven sons and seven daughters.  In 1806 Georgy’s father succeeded to the titles and estates of Goodwood, Lennox and Aubigny.

The financial strain on the Richmond family resulting from their ever growing number and the spendthrift habits of the Duchess meant that the Duke was forced to close up Goodwood, and keep the family in Europe where living costs were cheaper. In 1807 The Duke of Richmond was made Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and reluctantly he left England for Phoenix Park in Dublin. His posting was a success, and the family remained in Ireland until 1813.

His Chief Secretary during this period was Colonel Sir Arthur Wellesley K.B., who had just returned from a successful military campaign in Southern India. It was here that Georgy first met Arthur. They rode out together daily, accompanied by some of Georgy’s many sisters. They called him the ‘great Sir Arthur’. The Richmond’s house in Phoenix Park was the centre of many evening events which Sir Arthur attended, socialising closely with the Duchess and her daughters.

In 1815 the family relocated again as Richmond was placed in command of the reserve forces in Brussels preceding the Battle of Waterloo. The entire family, including the three eldest brothers, all followed their father to Brussels. They moved into a large house on the Rue de la Blanchisserie, on the site of a 17th Century laundry. Wellington nicknamed it ‘The Wash House’. During the day Georgy would attend Reviews, as well as ride out with her sisters to visit other families who had settled in Brussels. There was a plethora of concerts, picnics, dinners, assemblies, and dances which filled the Richmonds’ diary. Balls were held two or three times a week. As Lady Caroline Capel wrote ‘Balls go on here as though we had had none for a year.’ The Duchess of Richmond was often out and more often than not took her eldest daughters with her. Wellington left for a time to attend the Congress of Vienna, having taken the place of Lord Castlereagh. Everyone was anxious for the great commander to return, as rumours grew about Napoleon’s plans to escape from the Isle of Elba.

The epic conclusion to the battle against Napoleon’s forces was drawing near. Daily rumours of an imminent French invasion were flying from letter to letter and house to house, with no one knowing which report to believe. Wellington returned from Vienna and set about making ready the troops. Lord March, Richmond’s eldest son, was A.D.C. to the Prince of Orange, and the two younger brothers George and William were also to be involved in the fighting in a similar capacity.

The Duchess intended to give a ball, to which Wellington agreed whole-heartedly. The now famous event took place in a large room previously used to build coaches in by the previous owner of the house. Its usual function was as a playroom in which Georgy and her siblings spent hour playing games of battledore and shuttlecock when the weather kept them indoors.

It was to this ball that Wellington arrived late and announced to Georgy that the French had crossed the border into Brussels, and that war which Napoleon was imminent. Many of the men attending there, the majority of which were officers, left immediately to join their regiments. Others stayed, danced and drank, attempting to enjoy what could be their last night as free men. As Georgy later recalled

‘When the Duke [of Wellington] arrived, rather late, to the ball I was dancing, but I went to him to ask about the rumours. He said very gravely, “Yes, they are true; we are off to-morrow.” This terrible news was circulated directly, and while some of the officers hurried away, others remained at the ball, and actually had not time to change their clothes, but fought in evening costume’

Wellington remained calm and collected. At dinner he sat with Georgy and Lady Frances Wedderburn Webster, seemingly unperturbed by the reports being bought to him. Requesting a map from Richmond, he retired into the library with his other Generals. Pointing with his finger on the map, he said that the small village of Waterloo would be the spot where the battle could be fought, and with luck, won. He knew the ground well, having covered the area during reconnaissance trips the previous year. Wellington remained at the ball until around 2.30am. Georgy went with her brother George to his house in the grounds to pack his belongings and bid her farewells. She, her sisters and her mother parted with painful goodbyes, not knowing if they would ever see their beloved brothers or father again. It was the same for many women in Brussels that night.

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Some of the battle could be heard from the houses in which wives, mothers and sisters waited, but information was limited and often inaccurate. Over the next three days Georgy waited anxiously for news of their fate. Yet as a young woman from a sheltered background, it must also have been thrilling to be present at such an important and historic moment.

Writing to her aunt Lady Bathurst Georgy exclaims ‘We had a great ball last night, and fancy the horror of hearing this news in the middle of it, and seeing all one’s friends fly to the right and to the left’. Despite putting a brave face on her fear, Georgy knew she was lucky.  Most of her family, friends and admirers had survived the onslaught. Her brothers and father had seen a good deal of action. Acting as A.D.C’s to the Prince of Orange and then Wellington himself, the latter was able to keep the Richmonds’ out of trouble.

After Waterloo

After the battle the family went to live in Paris, where Georgy and her family continued to socialise with Wellington at numerous grand galas, balls and operas. After Georgy recovered from a serious illness, the family returned first to Brussels, and then to England. During these years many letters passed between Georgy and Wellington, often passing on local gossip about love sick officers in Wellington’s staff.

In 1818 Richmond was made Governor General of British North America, and travelled with his two eldest daughters to Canada. Georgy stayed behind and went to live with her beloved Aunt, Lady Georgiana Bathurst. Tragedy struck the family the following year when Richmond was bitten by a pet fox which he caught fighting his spaniel, Blücher. Richmond contracted rabies, and after several days of writhing in agony, died. The whole family, who had adored their brave and kind-natured father, were devastated. The title was succeeded by Georgy’s beloved brother George, who became the 5th Duke.

In 1824, at the age of twenty-nine, Georgy married William Lennox Lascelles Fitzgerald de Ros, who would later succeed his brother to become the 23rd Baron de Ros of Helmsley. But why did Georgy wait so long to marry? She was certainly not without suitors. Perhaps she was still holding a flame for Wellington, who she adored for his brilliance, his celebrity, and his attention to her over all her other sisters.

William de Ros was a military man, a diligent officer and a fine husband. After Georgy’s marriage the de Ros’ continued to socialise with the Wellesley’s, attending dinners and opera’s together, and visiting Wellington at his country estate of Stratfield Saye. Together William and Georgy had three children: Dudley, later 24th Baron de Ros (1827-1907), Frances Charlotte, (c.1840-1851) who died tragically young at the age of twenty-one, devastating both her parents; and Blanche Arthur Georgina (1832-1910). Wellington was named Blanche’s godfather, and they developed a touching friendship as Blanche grew up.

Georgy's son Dudley after he had inherited the title from his father. 'Spy' drawing from Vanity Fair

Georgy’s son Dudley after he had inherited the title from his father. ‘Spy’ drawing from Vanity Fair


The year after the premature death of Frances de Ros, Wellington himself died. Although ill and infirm, his passing caused a great shock to Georgy, herself now fifty-five years old. She wrote in her diary

‘From childhood I loved and venerated him and invariably received the most unremitting kindness from him and so many years of unclouded friendship cannot be given with without much suffering’.

Commiserations poured in from friends and relations. Georgy had known the Duke for forty-six years. William was charged with organising and executing the funeral with military precision. This he did with his usual flair and attention to detail.

After William’s died in 1874, Georgy left the family seat in Strangford, Ireland and lived permanently in London. Cherished as one of the last surviving personal friends of the Great Duke, every Waterloo Day she enjoyed receiving scores of guests, flowers and telegrams rejoicing in the victory. In her 93rd year she produced, at the behest of many friends, two articles in Murray Magazine entitled ‘My Recollections of the 1st Duke of Wellington’, which continues to be one of the most important first hand recollections of the Duke. Georgy’s description of the ball-room in Brussels and of Wellington’s actions in the days during and after the battle has become a vital source to historians.

Georgy continued to receive friends and relatives, as well as producing brilliant illuminations and keepsakes, until her health and sight began to fail her. Georgy died on 15th December 1891 in London and is buried in the family vault at the Old Court Chapel, in Strangford. Two years later her daughter Blanche published ‘A Sketch of the Life of Georgiana, Lady de Ros, With Some Reminiscences of Her Family’, which is the only source where a small portion of the de Ros family archive has been made public.

Categories: 19th Century, Amazing Women in History, British Political Figures, Heroes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Angela Burdett-Coutts, 1st Baroness Burdett-Coutts (1814-1906)

Angela Burdett-Coutts by Julius Jacobs
Today we see female philanthropists on a daily basis in our news and in the pages of our glossy magazines. Think, for example, of Ophrah Winfrey, who has given tens of millions to charities over the years. When one acquires great wealth, it seems the natural step to start dealing it out to those less fortunate. Look back to the age of Victorian charity-giving, and we see a very different kind of philanthropist emerge from the urban sprawl of post industrial England . The emphasis was on moralising the subject, the aim being to help them onto the respectable path of productivity and hard work. Alcoholism, prostitution and vagrancy were seen as the moral ills of society. Women often took it upon themselves to help the ‘lower orders’. None did more, in her own way, than Angela Burdett-Coutts. This is her story.

Born Angela Georgina Burdett in 1814, Angela was the daughter of the Radical and popular politician Sir Francis Burdett and Sophia Coutts, the daughter of the famous banker Thomas Coutts. In 1837 she inherited the vast Coutts fortune on the death of Harriot Mellon, who had married Thomas Coutts in old age. Harriot came from a working background, but enjoyed a position of huge wealth and influence after her husband died, and bagged herself a Duchy to boot when she marryied the Duke of Argyll. She hand-picked Angela to become her sole successor. Angela was a quiet, prim and upright girl, well-educated and level headed. She did not succumb to the frivolities of her class like many of her peers. She became one of the wealthiest women in England, a position that bought her great power, but also a profound sense of duty to those around her who were less fortunate. It was reported that Angela inherited around £1, 800, 000 when Harriot died, making her the richest heiress in the country.
minrec.org Angela<
Image: minrec.org

When Angela came of age, she did not follow the ‘normal’ route for women of her class by marrying and having children. Her vast wealth brought with it suitors, and many asked for her hand. To each she politely refused. Feeling that they were only interested in her for her money, and knowing that under English law the power over wealth was controlled by husbands, Angela retreated into a single, quiet life of philanthropy and friendship. True, she held many lavish parties at her inherited house of Holly Lodge in Highgate, but the majority of her time was spent in companion with people who were both serious and sensible.

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Image: Holly Lodge, in Highgate.

Her philanthropic works are legendary. It is impossible to name them all here. Her first works perhaps are most famous as they so closely involved the help and friendship of Charles Dickens. Together they set up and ran the revolutionary Urania Cottage, which took women off the streets and re-trained them away from a life of prostitution and petty crime. Angela also supported and funded immigration to countries like Australia and Canada. Like many Victorian women of her time, Angela’s charity works often centred on moralising and reforming the lower classes. Although in hindsight this is seen as controlling these charity works were, in Angela’s case, not done out of a preconceived idea of superiority, but a genuine desire to help those less fortunate than herself. She had seen with painful clarity the sufferings of those living in the East End of London, the squalor, the crime and the hardship. She sought to alleviate some of this suffering, and poured money into re-housing, sanitation, schools and training centres, and green open spaces where children could play. She gave generously, but always oversaw the work her money achieved, and so aimed to diminish any mismanagement.

Angela was heavily involved in the establishment and development of both the National Society for the Prevention and Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). Without her continued financial support neither of these two now nationally important charities would have survived.

Angela was also a generous benefactor of the Church of England, being herself very religious. She funded several expeditions into Africa with the aim to spread the message of missionaries. Mostly these were failures, Africa being large non-Christian at this time. She founded many bishoprics is Australia and Canada, and was seen as a national hero there due to the thousands who benefited from her funds which allowed them to emigrate. She also set up her own church, St. Stephen’s, in the heart of the West-end, which still stands today.

Angela and Mrs. Brown

In her personal life, Angela was devoted to her former governess and companion Mrs. Brown. She also developed a deep love and affection for the Duke of Wellington, to whom she proposed when she was 33 and he was 78. The proposal may seem shocking to us, but Angela had always had friends of all ages. She had grown up with Harriot happily married to her grandfather, who was double her age. Angela and the Duke were undoubtedly in love with each other and forever in each other’s company. Angela even had her own apartment at Stratfield Saye which had an enjoining staircase to the Duke’s quarters on the ground floor. But the Duke felt he could not accept her proposal, and wrote her a charming letter in which he said:

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‘I have passed every Moment of the Evening and Night since I quitted you in reflecting upon our conversation of yesterday, Every Word of which I have considered repeatedly. My first Duty towards you is that of Friend, Guardian, Protector! You are Young, my Dearest! You have before you the prospect of at least twenty years of enjoyment and Happiness in Life. I entreat you again in this way, not to throw yourself away upon a Man old enough to be your Grandfather, who, however strong, Hearty and Healthy at present, must and will certainly in time feel the consequences and Infirmities of Age.’

His refusal did not break their relationship, in fact it bought them closer together. They remained constantly in touch until the death of the Duke in 1852. In 1878 tragedy struck again when Mrs. Brown passed away. Anyone who knew Angela knew that this would be a devastating blow, as she and Mrs. Brown had been inseparable for years. Angela wrote to a friend of the loss of ‘my poor darling, the companion and sunshine of my life for fifty-two years!’

Greatly shocked and isolated by the death of Mrs. Brown, three years later she shocked the nation in turn by announcing her marriage to the American Ashmead Bartlett. She was 67 and he was only 29. Bartlett had been acting as one of Angela’s secretaries for many years and she had known him since he was a boy. By marrying a foreigner, Angela was forced to forfeit her claim to the Coutts fortune, although she remained handsomely provided for for the rest of her life. Even so, she was forced to stop many of the large annual donations which saw her projects flourish. The social housing schemes and church funds were the first to be halted, causing distress to both sides. But Angela could do not without the companionship of Bartlett, especially as so many of her close companions and family members had now died. Bartlett became and MP for Westminster in 1821, just as Angela had wanted. She herself never involved herself in politics, and was not allowed to involve herself in the business of the bank. Her talents laying in social work and social reform. She was also a skilled writer, which she worked hard at all her life. She published works on social reform and charity work on several occasions; often to great acclaim.

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Angela lived the rest of her long life in quiet companionship with Bartlett, traveling extensively. She spent much of the year either in Brighton or Corsica, but always loved to get back to London. She developed an extensive art collection, including Old Masters and contemporary pieces. When photography developed she kept extensive albums with images of herself and her numerous note-worthy friends, including Henry Irving, Princess Mary of Cambridge Duchess of Teck, Mr. Darbishire (the architect of her Columbia Square), and Sir James Brooke, the Rajah of Sarawak. Angela died of acute bronchitis on 20th December 1906. She lived a long and full life which was not without its personal tragedies and losses. As she married so late, she did not have any children, and so her title died along with her. Edward VII described her as ‘after my mother, the most remarkable woman in the kingdom’.

Categories: 19th Century, Amazing Women in History, Heroes | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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