Marguerite Power, Countess of Blessington

The Countess of Blessington was born Marguerite Power in Ireland on 1 September 1789. Her father was a small landowner named Edmund Power, and her childhood was not particularly happy because of her father’s controlling character, drunkenness, and poverty. Moreover, in 1804, at the tender age of fifteen, a compulsory marriage was forced upon her by her father.

Marguerite Power, Countess of Blessington

Countess of Blessington. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

She married a drunken English officer named Captain Maurice St. Leger Farmer, and, from the start, it was an unhappy marriage. Marguerite barely spoke of her marriage, although she once said that “she had not been long under her husband’s roof when it became evident that he was subject to fits of insanity.”[1] Apparently, her father had been aware but concealed the information from her, and, in addition, according to Marguerite:

“[Her husband] frequently treated her with personal violence; he used to strike her on the face, pinch her till her arms were black and blue, lock her up whenever he went abroad, and … left her without food till she felt almost famished.”[2]

It should therefore come as no surprise that Marguerite left him after three months of marriage. Moreover, Farmer was eventually imprisoned for debts and during that imprisonment, in October 1817, he died after being involved in a drunken orgy that resulted in him falling out the prison window. 

Marguerite married her second husband, Charles John Gardiner, 1st Earl of Blessington, four months later, on 16 February 1818. He was seven years older than Marguerite, an Irishman, and a widower with four children. They married at St Mary’s, Bryanston Square in Marylebone, which is today an affluent inner-city area of central London, located within the city of Westminster.

Charles John Gardiner, 1st Earl of Blessington, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Charles John Gardiner, 1st Earl of Blessington. Courtesy of Wikipedia,

Marguerite, who has been described as having incomparable beauty, undeniable charm, and exceptional wit, went on the Grand Tour with her youngest sister in August of 1822. During their tour, they met British poet, politician, and a leading figure in the Romantic movement, known as Lord Byron. They also met Alfred d’Orsay, a French amateur artist and man of fashion who was quite the character. Besides being a dandy, he was also witty, charming, and artistic, and he was lauded for his painting and sculpturing abilities. He was also a zealous Bonapartist and somewhat of a spendthrift, which would eventually got him into trouble. Further, he became great friends with Benjamin Disraeli, the man who twice served a British Prime Minister. The two men were such good friends that Disraeli once asked d’Orsay to be his second in a duel after Morgan O’Connell, the son of Irish agitator Daniel O’Connell, mistakenly claimed Disraeli slandered him and Disraeli thought a duel necessary. However, d’Orsay was able to get out of it as he “considered that a foreigner should not interfere in a political duel, and found Disraeli another friend.”[3]

D’Orsay eventually married the Count of Blessington’s daughter, Harriet. The Blessingtons and the newly weds then moved to Paris and took up residence at the Hôtel Maréchal Ney. It was while living there that the Count of Blessington suddenly died of an apoplectic stroke in 1829 at the age of forty-six. His body was taken to Ireland and deposited in the family vault at St. Thomas’s Church. After his death, D’Orsay, Harriet, and the Countess of Blessington returned to England. Harriet and d’Orsay legally separated in 1838, as their marriage had always been unhappy. Thereafter, d’Orsay lived openly with his mother-in-law Marguerite. William Benemann in his 2012 book Men of Paradise, alleges that d’Orsay had sexual relations with both Count and the Countess of Blessington, and to cover up these affairs, Benemann alleges Harriet married d’Orsay. It appears that many people knew that d’Orsay cared for Marguerite more than Harriet, and, in fact, in some circles, d’Orsay and Marguerite’s relationship was openly sanctioned after Count Blessington’s death.

Sketch by James Fraser of d'Orsay, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Sketch by James Fraser of d’Orsay. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Marguerite had spending habits similar to d’Orsay and spent her money freely. So, soon after her husband’s death, she found she needed to supplement her income. That is when she began working as an editor, contributing to periodicals, and writing numerous works. Two popular works she wrote were The Idler in Italy and The Idler in France. Both these books involved gossip and anecdotes. For instance in The Idler in Italy, she noted:

“Our Corsican acquaintances related to us last evening several interesting details of the Buonaparte family. Even while yet a mere child, Napoleon was distinguished from his companions by a decision of character, and promptitutde of action, as well as by a fierté, that led him to usurp a command over those with whom he was brought in contact … and strongly indicative of his future career.”[4]

(Left to right) d'Orsay and Benjamin Disraeli in 1852, Public Domain

(Left to right) d’Orsay and Benjamin Disraeli. Public domain.

In The Idler in France, the Countess of Blessington wrote about meeting Count Charles de Mornay, half-brother of Emperor Napoleon III and grandson of Talleyrand.  She remarked that she “was agreeably surprised to find him one of the most witty, well-informed, and agreeable young men I have ever seen.”[5]

Another book that was doubtlessly Marguerite’s most popular work was Conversations of Lord Byron with the Countess of Blessington. It was first published in 1834, a decade after Byron’s death. Initially, Byron and Marguerite’s relationship got off to a rocky start, although they later developed a close friendship. Demonstrative of their rocky start is what the Countess wrote after meeting Byron for the first time:

“The impression of the first few moments disappointed me, as I had, both from the portraits and descriptions given, conceived a different idea of him. I had fancied him taller … and I looked in vain for the hero looking sort of person with whom I had so long identified him in imagination.”[6]

Lord Byron, Author's Collection

Lord Byron. Author’s collection.

Over the years d’Orsay had acquired extreme debt. Early in 1849, he left England to escape his creditors and settled in Paris, and, Marguerite, whose income was also somewhat limited, joined him there in mid April 1849. She had acquired a modest-sized apartment in June in the Rue de Cerq, close to the Champs Elysées. Needing rest and a change, she also began to form plans for a new literary career, and, in addition, according to one of her nieces:

“[She also] adopted a mode of life differing considerably from the sedentary one she had for such a length of time pursued; she rose earlier, took much exercise … This appeared to agree with her general health, for she looked well, and was cheerful.”[7]

Whatever plans Marguerite may have been making for a new literary career did not come to fruition. Apparently, she began to suffer breathing difficulties and as these worsened she was forced to reveal her health problems to a doctor. The doctor diagnosed her with bronchitis, a disease prevalent in Paris at the time. The medicine he gave her seemed to help, but she was not suffering from bronchitis. Thus, Marguerite had a sudden “apoplectic malady, complicated with disease of the heart, and was carried off suddenly.”[8] She died on 4 June 1849 at her home and d’Orsay was reported to be “heartbroken” about her death.

Countess of Blessington, Public Domain

Countess of Blessington. Public domain.

Despite all the rumors and gossip about her sex life, the Countess of Blessing was loved and admired by many people during her lifetime. For instance, upon learning about her death, one Paris correspondent wrote:

“We have all been much shocked this afternoon by the sudden death of Lady Blessington … she was loved … by all who had the happy privilege of knowing her and of joining in those social circles of the worthy and wise who congregated around her hospitable board.”[8]

Another person remembered her saying that one night after dining with her and the soup had vanished, “she led the conversation with the brilliancy and ease for which she [was] remarkable over all the women of her time.”[9] Another tribute stated:

“[H]ad she possessed no personal attractions, and had she not enjoyed the factitious aid of rank and wealth, her published works alone would have attracted admirers around her, and would have established her claim to be ranked with the most noteworthy of her contemporaries.”[10]

Countess of Blessington

Countess of Blessington by Mary Evans. Courtesy of fineartamerica.com

References:

  • [1] Madden, Richard Robert, The Literary Life and Correspondence of the Countess of Blessington, Volume 1, 1855, p. 32.
  • [2] The Panorama of Life and Literature, Volume 2, 1856, p. 88.
  • [3] Froude, James Anthony, Lord Beaconsfield, 1890, p. 62.
  • [4] Blessington, Countess of, The Idler in Italy 1839, p. 117.
  • [5] Blessington, Countess of, The Idler in France, 1842, p. 14.
  • [6] Blessington, Countess of, Conversations of Lord Byron with the Countess of Blessington, 1850, p. 1.
  • [7] Madden, Richard Robert, p. 215.
  • [8] “Sudden Death of Lady Blessington,” in Morning Post, 5 June 1849, p. 6.
  • [9] The London Quarterly Review, Volumes 54-55, p. 244. 
  • [10] “Death of Lady Blessington,” in Perthshire Advertiser, 14 June 1849, p. 1.

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