It’s a truism that the higher you climb in society or show biz the more you have to lose to blackmailers or stalkers. But this is not a phenomenon of modern times. In a previous Jot it was shown how C. M. Westmacott, a gutter press editor of the Regency period, used his position to extract money from high society offenders. At around the same time the Duke of Wellington—since 1815, the most Famous Living Englishman—was a victim of a determined aristocrat by the name of Lady Georgiana Fane...
Born in 1801, Fane had first met Wellington just after the battle of Waterloo, when at the age of 14, she had danced with him at a ball. In her twenties, she became friendly with Lord Palmerston, who apparently proposed marriage to her. This shedeclined and instead turned her attention once more to the hero of Waterloo. Lady Georgiana, whose beauty was captured in two portraits by Thomas Lawrence, was also highly strung, possibly to the point of neurosis. When she features in the memoirs of her cousin, Lady Arbuthnot, Wellington’s confidante, she is often described as being chronically ‘ill’ and at one point Arbuthnot suspects that her indisposition was ‘almost entirely nervous’. Nevertheless, Wellington seems to have become very fond of the young aristocrat and despite his marriage their friendship developed into romance, with the result that intimate letters were exchanged. After the death of his wife Kitty in 1830, a number of other high society ladies were eager to snare the eligible widower, and possibly because he felt uncomfortable about the increasingly persistent tone of her letters to him, Wellington decided to break off his relationship with Lady Georgiana.
However, it seems, that rejection did not discourage Wellington’s dotty admirer, although affection eventually turned to hate. During his final years, Fane tormented the Duke with deranged threats to expose him as someone who had reneged on a promise to marry him, by publishing the love letters he had sent her while a married man. Quite recently Christies sold a letter that had turned up in a drawer at Fulbeck Hall, Lincolnshire, a former seat of the Fane family. In it the Duke, then aged 82, pleaded with Fane’s mother, the Countess of Westmoreland, to ‘prevail upon her Ladyship to cease to molest me with daily vituperative letters’. Naturally, Wellington was wise enough not to preserve these threatening letters, which is a shame, since psychiatrists today would surely recognise the conduct of such a disturbed stalker as symptoms of a mental illness that has delusional erotic or romantic fantasies at its core.
The letter from Fane featured here dates from 15th September 1839, and though it does not appear to touch on the Wellington issue, manages to give a flavour of the stalker’s peculiarly obsessive character. Written in the third person (in itself a sign of egotism) it is addressed from the Bedford Hotel to someone (perhaps a lawyer) who is helping her recover a debt. There are mentions of a writ being served, angry underlinings, and a rather querulous tone that underpins the polite language.
Wellington died not long after he wrote the angry letter to Fane’s mother, but Fane herself lived for another twenty-two years. Following the death of the Countess in 1857, Lady Georgiana spent the next twelve years as the sole mistress of the delectable Brympton d’Evercy, the Fane country seat near Yeovil.
She never married. [RMH]