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.
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 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
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.