The Elusive Lady Sefton

“Miss Maria Margaret Craven” by Thomas Beach 1776

          Maria Molyneux, Countess of Sefton, was one of the famed Lady Patronesses of Almack’s Assembly Rooms.   She is mentioned frequently in Regency novels, such as REGENCY BUCK by Georgette Heyer.    Lady Sefton had the reputation of being extremely good-natured; in fact, there is speculation that she was happy to leave to the question of blackballing of potential members, or revoking the vouchers of erring members, to the other patronesses.  (Harriet Cavendish supposedly disagreed with this assessment, but seemed to be in the minority.)  However, outside of her position as Almack’s patroness and Lord Sefton’s wife, very little is known about her personally.

          Born Maria Margaret Craven, she was the daughter of William Craven, 6th Baron Graven and Hampsted Marshall and Lady Elizabeth Berkley on April 26, 1769.  Her mother was the daughter of the 4th Earl of Berkley.    Lady Elizabeth was an author and playwright known for her travelogues, and a socialite with a reputation for multiple affairs.  Baron Craven was also reputed to have had numerous affairs.  Maria’s father separated from her mother in 1780; there after, Lady Elizabeth lived in France.   The Baron passed away Sept. 27, 1791 and Lady Elizabeth remarried Oct. 13, 1791 to the Markgraf von Brandenburg-Ansbach, with whom she had supposedly had a relationship for several years.    There is no indication of Maria having a relationship or even contact with her mother after her parents separated.

           On Jan. 1, 1792, Maria married William Philip Molyneux, Viscount Sefton, the son of Charles William Molyneux, 1st Earl of Sefton, and Isabella Stanhope (daughter of the 2nd Earl of Harrington).   Available information indicates that William’s mother Isabella is the Lady Molyneux who was one of the fourteen original founders of the Almack’s Assembly Rooms about 1765 with Mrs. Fitzroy, Lady Pembroke, Miss Pelham, Miss Lloyd and Mrs. Meynell (all mentioned by Horace Walpole in 1770 when he wrote about “The Female Coterie” – Maria Craven was only about a year old at that time).   It is also probable that Isabella was the Lady Sefton who sponsored Maria Fitzherbert into society (Mrs. Fitzherbert may have had a connection with Charles and Isabella’s family).   William succeeded his father in 1795 becoming the 2nd Earl of Sefton.    

          Known as  “Lord Dashalong”,  Lord Sefton, a friend of the Prince Regent, was passionate about racing, hunting, coursing and steeple chasing,  was a founder of the Four-Horse (also referred to as the Four-in-Hand Club).  He was Master of the Quorn Hunt from 1800-1805.  He was a member of White’s Club. Lord Sefton was known as a liberal and a reformer, and was a Member of Parliament, in the House of Commons (his title was Irish and did not automatically give him a seat in the House of Lords until 1831 when he was created Baron Sefton of Croxteth in the Peerage of the United Kingdom by William IV).   

          With his political career, as well as his club and sporting interests, Lord Sefton was obviously very active in society and was known for a magnificent mode of living and hospitality, which included setting an excellent table.   He and Maria had at least five children, possibly more.  Maria was a patroness of Almack’s by 1812, at which point she was one of the older (if not the oldest) of the group.  With the reputations of her parents and the scandal of their separation and her mother’s remarriage, it seems probable that Maria had high standards of behavior, if only to preserve her own reputation and standing.  Obviously, Maria would have been  very busy managing their homes and acting  hostess in Arlington Street in London, Stokes Farm in Berkshire and Croxteth Hall near Liverpool, in addition to her social life and her responsibilities as a Patroness of Almack’s.  However, I have yet to find any indication of letters or diaries or other information detailing her daily activities, personal feelings or friendships.  Clearly, she was also very discreet.

          Lord Sefton had a falling out with the Prince Regent, when he protested the Prince of Wales effort to cause the exclusion of the Princes of Wales from the White’s Club ball in 1814, which was ultimately cancelled.  Although this greatly reduced his involvement with court activities (and possibly, by extension, Lady Sefton’s presence at court as well, to some degree), his political and sporting activities continued.  There is no indication of any reduction of Lady Sefton’s activities in Society in general, although it appears that the responsibilities of the Lady Patronesses declined around 1824.  He was restored to favor at court by William IV, who was reported to be an admirer of Lady Sefton.

          Lord Sefton died Nov. 20, 1838.  He was succeeded by his son with Maria, Charles William Molyneux.    Maria survived him by almost twenty-three years, dying at the age of 81 Jan. 1, 1851.  As of this writing, I have found no information about her life during the period from the death of Lord Sefton until her own death.    It’s strange and rather sad to think that so little personal information survives about a woman of so much influence in her time.  Hopefully, more information will surface.

REFERENCES

Hibbert, Christopher.  GEORGE IV The Rebel Who Would Be King.  2007: Palgrave MacMillan, New York.

Murray, Venetia.  AN ELEGANT MADNESS High Society in Regency England.  1999: Penguin Group, New York.

ANGLOCENTRIA. Almack’s.  http://anglocentria.com/Almacks.htm

CROXTETH HALL Liverpool online.  http://www.bygonetimes.org.uk/croxteth_hall.htm

Dandysme Blog.  THE EARL OF SEFTON. Posted 2/7/2012 by von Melanie Grundmann.  An obituary taken from THE GENTLEMAN’S MAGAXINE, Dec. 1838, Vol. X.

HISTORICAL AND REGENCY ROMANCE UK blog.  Regency Connections. By Nicola Cornick.Posted 9/7/2009.  http://historicalromanceuk.blogspot.com/2009/12/regency-connections.html

THE HISTORY OF PARLIAMENT ONLINE.  Molyneux, William Philip, 2nd Earl of Sefton [I], of Croxteth Hall, nr. Liverpool, Lancs.  Published in the History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986.  http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1790-1820/member/molyneux-william-philip-1772-1838

THE JANE AUSTEN CENTRE website.  The Patronesses of Almack’s: The Arbiters of London Respectibility, by Laura Boyle.  Published 7/17/2011.  http://www.janeausten.co.uk/the-patronesses-of-almacks-the-arbiters-of-london-respectibility/

THE PEERAGE ONLINE. Person Page 2080. http://www.thepeerage.com/p2080.htm  [Information about the Hon. Maria Margaret Craven and William Philip Molyneux, 2nd Earl of Sefton]

THE PEERAGE ONLINE.  Person Page 10875. http://www.thepeerage.com/p10875.htm [William Craven, 6th Baron Crafen of Hampsted Marshall and Lady Elizabeth Berkley]

A WEB OF ENGLISH HISTORY.  Sir William Philip Molyneux, 2nd Earl of Sefton (1772-1838).  Dr. Marjory Bloy.  (no date)  http://www.historyhome.co.uk/people/sefton.htm

Wikipedia.   William Molyneux, 2nd Earl of Sefton.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Molyneux,_2nd_Earl_of_Sefton

Wikipedia.  Almack’s.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almack’s

  (If you would like to read about another Patroness, please check out an earlier post on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog about Princess Lieven!  http://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com/2011/11/dorothea-christorovna-benckendorff.html )

Image:  http://www.wikigallery.org/wiki/painting_373952/Thomas-Beach/Portrait-Of-Miss-Maria-Margaret-Craven

Women and Politics In Jane Austen’s Time

     As we are heating up for presidential elections, politics of course is becoming all-consuming.  What were politics like in Jane Austen’s time, and what were women’s concerns?  This is a big subject, and I would like to present some thoughts in a two-part article.  The first will present some thoughts and information about the political situation of the time; the second will address some ideas about politics and Jane Austen’s novels.

PART I

     Politics in Jane Austen’s time have little in common with politics today.  Before 1832, only 5 to 6% of the male population could vote, made up largely of aristocrats who were large property owners.  Parties (and party loyalty) were much more fluid.  Rhetoric was much more uncontrolled.  After the French Revolution, a more cautious spirit pervaded the English political landscape, reigning in ideas of change and individual rights.  Although women had been actively involved with politics in the previous generation (witness the Duchess of Devonshire and her sister soliciting votes for the Whigs, and the political hostess Mrs. Crewe; and women at the lower ends of the social scale participating in mobs and rallies), by the time Jane was a young woman, women were discouraged from concerning themselves directly with political activity.  Does that mean that women, and in particular Jane Austen, were uninformed or uninterested in politics?  For that matter, what were the issues in politics during Jane’s time that might have interested women? 

     A general political overview is helpful.  In Glorious Revolution of 1688, the Whigs succeeded in removing James II (and the exclusion of James VII/II from the throne) and establishing a constitutional monarchy  (William and Mary, followed by Queen Anne; after Anne’s death, Elector of Hanover was invited to rule.)  The Whig party felt that they had saved the realm and expected to be rewarded.  They embraced ideals of the American and French revolutions, but wanted to retain the existing structure.  Whig power declined due to their support of the French Revolution (popular until the Terror and the executions of the King and Queen).   The Tory government was much more conservative, wanted to win the Napoleonic Wars, and concerned with  fiscal responsibility.

     Political parties were not like today.  Membership was fluid: members of all sides switched with various issues.  There was cooperation as well as conflict (see Ministry of All The Talents-both Whigs and Tories –formed by Lord William Grenville, in place 2/1806-3/1807).  Party affiliations were often drawn along the lines of one issue, which resulted in strange partnerships and fluid alliances.  Forming of factions was characteristic of the period.  There were three basic groups active during this time, with movement back and forth at will.

     The Whig party supported a landowner-controlled monarchy (constitutional), and was somewhat reform minded (i.e. favored education as expected gratitude and support, supported some expansion of suffrage but didn’t expect or desire basic social structure/class changes), and sought electoral, parliamentary and philanthropic reforms within their constitutional position.  They resented the king’s control of patronage.  The Whig families controlled polite Society  (The “Upper 400”, the London season).  During Jane Austen’s era, they were the minority party, but still wielded great power on the social level.   They supported Prince of Wales.  George III hated the Whigs.

     The Tory party supported strong monarchy, and the Church of England.  More conservative, the Tories considered moves toward political reform dangerous.   Hard work, and personal worth allowed individual advancement.   The Tories took a more pragmatic, fiscal-minded view, and believed that the king should determine the direction of the state.   Country gentry, tradesmen and official administrative groups were most often allied to Tory goals.

     A third group, the Radicals, were much more independent.   They wanted broad reforms (expanded suffrage, broader religious freedom, etc.)

     Parliament was made up of two houses: the House of Lords consisting of peers of the realm (dukes, marquesses, earls, viscounts and barons), with the bishops and archbishops of the Church of England (Pool, p. 35), and the House of Commons (from the Norman French “Communes” or localities-elected from boroughs (towns) in the shires by electors whose right to vote was determined by sheriffs and the rules varied widely.)  For elections, seats were not linked to population, so representation was uneven, and a disproportionate number of seats were controlled by a few powerful men.  As a result of the Septennial Act of 1716, parliamentary elections were required every 7 years, with by-elections held between the general elections to replace a sitting member who died or resigned.  A very small number  were eligible to vote, and votes were bought and sold (both parties involved with this, even though illegal).  Public opinion had little effect on outcomes.  “Pocket boroughs” were small localities owned by one man who controlled the few resident voters, and were even bought and sold (see Duke of Bedford, Duke of Devonshire).    Both parties (Whigs and Tories) were entrenched in political system of patronage and nepotism.

      Jane Austen is often considered a Tory sympathizer, but did not disclose her personal opinions at length, as far as we know.  (Her brother Henry in 1818 was at pains to state that she was “thoroughly religious and devout” and “her opinions accorded strictly with those of our Established Church.” (CAMBRIDGE COMPANION p. 154)  This implies strong Tory leanings.)   Her mother Cassandra Leigh was connected to James Brydges, the 1st Duke of Chandos and Lord Leigh of Stoneleigh Abbey, but her immediate family had no money or influence (her father was a clergyman).   Jane’s father’s family was professional (George Austen’s father was a surgeon, his uncle a lawyer).  (George Austen was born in Tonbridge in Kent, one of four children of William Austen, a surgeon, and Rebecca (nee Hampson).) Both parents died before George was nine, and he was raised by his uncle, Francis Austen, a wealthy lawyer, who paid for George’s education at Tonbridge School and St. John’s College, Oxford.  In 1755, he was ordained in Rochester Cathedral.

                Various factors in Jane Austen’s life would have awakened an interest in many issues.  Her father, George Austen, a landless clergyman, had no money or property, leading to inheritance problems for his daughters.   Her cousin Eliza was the daughter of an East India merchant and her father’s sister who was sent out to India to find a husband (again, no money); Eliza’s mother took her to France where she married a minor French aristocrat connection.  During the French Revolution, Eliza’s husband was guillotined, a victim of the Terror.  (Eliza subsequently married Jane’s brother Henry.)  Jane’s  brother, Edward Austen-Knight, was a landowner with money, but had to be adopted to achieve his rank and fortune.    She had two brothers in the Navy, participating in war; for both the rank of admiral was achieved-they rose by merit and hard work.

     There were specific political issues that would be of particular interest to women, including Jane Austen.  First would be war; with husbands, fathers, sons, etc. going to war, there was a loss of protection and income for many (pay was slow to come, if issued at all; prize money could not be counted on).  Secondly were moral issues, such as the questions of slavery, and civil and criminal laws and penalties.  Although the slave trade was abolished in 1807, ownership was still legal.  Aunt Perrot’s trial for theft of a card of lace would have been an immediate concern, especially as possible penalties included being transported to a penal colony.  Thirdly, and for many most importantly, were marital issues; although much was written about love, marriage had more to do with property.  Frequently, family pressure was applied to compel young people to marry appropriately.  Once married, women had little or no control of their assets (in essence, they and anything they owned became the property of their husbands).  Divorce was hugely expensive and time-consuming, involving a  petition to Parliament; women had great difficulty gaining custody of children, or funds. 

     Another issue of huge importance was inheritance law-the issues primogeniture (property and money going to the oldest son), entail (restrictions on the disposal of property), etc. limited women’s ability to inherit.  With few opportunities available to support themselves, women were frequently left at the mercy of the intentions and generosity of male family members to provide support.

     General reform was a major topic of the day on many levels.  Regarding slavery issues, William Wilberforce (and his Anti-Slavery league) was active during her life.  Although the slave trade in the British Empire was abolished in 1807, there was still on-going activity to abolish ownership of slaves.  In education, Hannah Moore (a prolific writer, founder of schools) and Mary Wollstonecraft (who wrote about women’s education) brought issues of education to the forefront,  as availability of education to all was not considered a right, or even desirable.  Election reforms, including suffrage and other rights for Catholics and non-landowners were also major issues.   In the political climate of the time, given the loss of the American colonies and the French Revolution leading to the destruction of French society and the rise of Napoleon, these were sensitive issues, not to be embraced lightly. 

    The fear of revolution in Britain was real, and issues of reform exacerbated these fears.  Indeed, laws were passed to restrict the press from publishing material that could be construed as critical or seditious.

Bibliography:

Washington & Lee University, “The World of Jane Austen” 2009 Alumni College – Dr. Taylor Sanders-  Lectures: ‘The British Empire at Full Attention (or Why were all those men in uniform?)’ on 7/21/09, and  ‘The Court Jester: Was George III Truly Mad?: The Political Scene’ on 7/23/09; Dr. Marc Conner-Lecture ‘The Economies of Jane Austen: Wealth/Religion/Marriage’ on 7/24/09.  (Outlines and my notes)

Austen, Jane.  PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.  London: 1813.

                          PERSUASION.  London: 1817.                       

Copeland, Edward and McMaster, Juliet, ed.  THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO JANE AUSTEN. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.  “Religion and Politics” by Gary Kelly, PP. 149-169.

Erickson, Carolly.  ROYAL PANOPLY Brief Lives of the English Monarchs.  “Epilogue: Historical Turning Points, ‘England in 1714’”, pp. 350-352.  New York: History Book Club, 2003.

Johnson, Claudia L.  JANE AUSTEN Women, Politics, and the Novel.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988. 

LeFaye, Deirdre, ed.  JANE AUSTEN’S LETTERS. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Mitchell, Leslie.  THE WHIG WORLD. London and New York: Hambledon Continuum, 2005.

PERSUASIONS, No. 24, 2002.  “Jane Austen and the Enclosure Movement: The Sense and Sensibility of Land Reform,” by Celia Easton.  PP. 71-89.

Pool, Daniel.  WHAT JANE AUSTEN ATE AND CHARLES DICKENS KNEW From Fox Hunting to Whist-the Facts of Daily Life in 19th Century England.  New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.

ELECTIONEERING (from Robert Southey’s “Letters from England,” written in 1802 [originally published in 1807])

On-Line Research Sources:

Bloy, Dr. Marjory.  A WEB OF ENGLISH HISTORY – THE AGE OF GEORGE III.  http://www.historyhome.co.uk

FIND A GRAVE http://www.findagrave.com

 THE EFFECTS OF THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION ON POLITICS , http://www.factmonster.com/ce6/history/A0858818.html    

GEORGIAN BRITAIN: British History Under George I/II/III/IV and William IV http://www.ukstudentlife.com/Britain/History/Georgian.htm 

A WEB OF ENGLISH HISTORY: THE AGE OF GEORGE III                                                 http://www.historyhome.co.uk/c-eight/ministry/ldgrenmi.htm

THE GEORGIAN INDEX http://www.georgianindex.net/Election/election.html 

REGENCY COLLECTION.  “Whig or Tory?”  http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~awoodley/regency/whig.html