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halls, and gazed upon the bare walls of the
despoiled rooms, which for ten long weary
months had been tenanted by the rough and sour
soldiers of the Parliament, instead of by his own
gentle wife and his noble-hearted mother. How-
ever, he did return; and the family once more
occupied such portions of the Castle as could be
put into a habitable condition.

Just a hundred years ago, when the old Castle
had seen a hundred and thirty years of ruin and
desolation, a new and noble mansion, in the
Classical style, which now bears the name of
Wardour Castle, was built by the then Lord
Arundell, about a mile from the ancient site,
where the old grey walls rising proudly out of
a wilderness of dark foliage beside a lake, and
what once was a garden and a " pleasaunce,"
still tell the tale of their defence by the hands of
the Lady Blanche Arundell.

And what about Lady Blanche herself? She
survived for some six years or more the loss of
her husband and the siege of his Castle. On
her release from captivity at Slmftesbury, she

VOL. i. C



18 TALES' OF OUR GREAT FAMILIES.

retired to Winchester, where she lived in seclu-
sion, leading a life of piety and charity; and
there she ended her days in October, 1649,
having lived long enough to add to her other
griefs by mourning the fate of the sovereign
whom her husband had served so loyally. The
fine old parish church of Tisbury, adjoining the
park of Wardour, now holds all that is mortal
of the Lady Blanche Arundell.

It is some satisfaction, though a poor one at
the best, to know that Providence in the end
punished the proud house of Hungerford, one of
whose members had taken so active a part in
bringing about the desolation of the fair Castle of
Wardour. Those who wish to know how justice
overtook the Hungerfords, will do well to con-
sult that storehouse of amusing anecdote, " The
Vicissitudes of Families," by Sir Bernard
Burke.



19



THE TWO FAIR GUNNINGS.



CAN it be that female beauty has degenerated
in England during the last century ? Such
a decadence seems improbable, nay, impossible,
in a country where the fair sex avail themselves
so plentifully of Nature's two great beautifiers,
fresh air and cold water ! And yet, which among
our celebrated beauties of the present day, whose
photographs may be seen in every stationer's
window, can boast of having excited one half of
the furore created by the two fair Miss Gunnings,
who took the London world of fashion by storm
in the year 1751, and turned the West End
almost mad ?

These ladies, whose beauty and whose names
are familiar to every reader of Horace Walpole
and of books of contemporary anecdote and
biography, were sisters, of plain Irish extrac-

C 2



20 TALES OF OUR GREAT FAMILIES.

tion, wholly without fortune; and their only
title to aristocratic family wus the fact that they
were distantly related to an Irish baronet of the
name. The sudden appearance of these stars in
the heaven of London fashion caused so great a
sensation that even the staid rules of a Court
drawing room at St. James's were defied by a
mob of noble gentlemen and ladies clambering
upon chairs and tables to get a look at
them.

Walpole speaks of them as being " scarce
gentlewomen, but by their mother ;" but this
somewhat ill-natured remark is scarcely true.
The family of Gunning could hardly be said
to be aristocratic in name or in lineage, but
still it was respectable enough; and on their
mother's side Maria and Elizabeth Gunning might
fairly boast that the blood of the Plantagenets
ran in their veins.

All that the Heralds' College can tell us of the
Gunning family beyond the fact that a member
of it, having been British Minister at the Courts
of Berlin and St. Petersburg, was raised to a
baronetcy about a century ago is that it was
divided into two branches, which possessed in
the reign of Henry VIII. considerable estates in
the counties of Kent, Somerset, and Gloucester,
and that one of the Kentish Gunnings, in the



THE TWO FAIR GUNNIXGS. 21

reign of James I., settled in Ireland, where he
became the ancestor of the Gunnings of Castle
Coote, in the county of Roscommon. One of
these, a Mr. John Gunning, by his marriage with
the Hon. Bridget Bourke, a daughter of Viscount
Bourke, of Mayo, had. along with a son who
became a general in the army, and who dis-
tinguished himself at the battle of Bunker's
Hill, three fair daughters, who were said to rival
the Three Graces. Two of these came to
London, like many other portionless girls before
and after their time, to push their way in
the world of fashion, their "faces" being their
"fortunes," in the words of the well-known
song :

" My face is my fortune, Sir, she said."

The third, and youngest, appears to have settled
down quietly in matrimonial life, in the south of
Ireland ; but she does not come within the scope
of this paper, which I intend to devote to the
career of her two sisters.

A letter concerning the Gunnings, written by
the parish clerk of Ileiningford Grey, in Hunt-
ingdonshire, to Mr. James Madden, of Cole House,
Fulham, is worth transcribing, less for the sake
of the information it contains, which is,
for the most part, an incorrect version of well-



22 TALES OF OUR GREAT FAMILIES.

known facts, than on account of the amusing
self-importance of the writer. I follow his ortho-
graphy :

" Sir,

"I take the Freedom in wrighting to you,
from an information of Mr. Warrinton, that
you would be Glad to have the account of my
Townswoman the Notefied, the Farm's, Beauti-
full Miss Gunnings. Born at Hemingford Grey,
tho they left the Parish before I had Knoledge
Enough to Remember them, and I was born in
32 (1732). But I will give you the Best account
I can, which I believe is Better than any man
in the Country besides M3 7 self, tho I have not
the Birth Register for so long a Date, and since
Dr Dickens is dead, I dont know where it is,
but the Best account I Can Give you is, Elizth.
the Eldest, married to his Grace the Duke of
Hamilton, after his Decease to the Duke of
Arguile; the second, Mary, to the Viscount of
Coventre ; the third I never knew ritely to
home, but I beleeve to some privett Gentleman.
I Rember a many years ago at least 30, seeing
her picture in a print shop, I believe in St. Foul's
Churchyard, as follows :

" the youngest of these Beauties here we have in vue,
so like in person to the other two,
ho Ever views her features and her fame,
will see at once that Gunning is her Name."



THE TWO FAIR GUNNINGS. 23

which is the Best account I Can give you of these
three but then there was two more, which
perhaps you don't know anything about, which
I will give you the true Mortalick register off,
from a black mavel which lies in our chancel, as
follows : Sophia Gunning, the youngest of four
daughters, all born at Hemniingford, in Hunt-
ingdonshire, to John Gunning, Esq.; died an
infant, 1737. Lissy Gunning, his fifth daughter,
born in Ireland ; died December 31, 1752, aged
8 years 10 months. ' Suffer little children and
forbid them not to come unto me, for of such is
the kingdom of heaven.' Matt. xix. 14. This,
Sir, is the Truest and Best Information I Can
Give you, or can Get, and if this is of any use
to you, I should be much obliged to you to let
me have a line or two from you, that I may be
satisfied that it was not in vain.

" And am, Sir,

"Your most obedient and humble servant,
" WM. CRISWELL.

" Hemmingford Grey, August 14, 1796."

But little is known of Catherine, the third Miss
Gunning, in the annals of fashion ; but I can so
far supplement the information of Mr. William
Criswell, as to tell your readers that the "privett
gentleman " alluded to was Robert Travis, Esq.,



24 TALES OF OUR GREAT FAMILIES.

to whom Catherine Gunning was married in
1769, and who had a daughter who in the next
generation kept up the fame of the family for
personal beauty.

Whatever may have been the original fortune
and estate of John Gunning, of Castle Coote,
Ireland, the progenitor of " the two fair Gun-
nings," it would seem that at the time when they
were just budding into womanhood, their mother,
the Hon. Mrs Gunning, seriously contemplated
sending them to seek their fortunes upon the stage.
Walpole more than once alludes to this intention ;
and the circumstances under which the lovely
sisters were presented at Dublin Castle the year
before their debut in London, would seem to give
colour to the supposition. The Gunnings were
on intimate terms with Thomas Sheridan, at that
time manager of the Dublin Theatre ; and Mrs
Gunning, wishing to present her daughters to
the Earl of Harrington, then Lord-Lieutenant,
consulted Sheridan how could she procure
the necessary dresses, which she had not the
means to purchase. The difficulty was over-
come by Sheridan arraying the distressed beauties
out of the resources of the stage wardrobe ;
and so Maria and Elizabeth Gunning made
their first courtesies to the Lord-Lieutenant at-
tired as Lady Macbeth and Juliet, and, as tradi-



THE TWO FAIR GUXNINGS. 25

tion states, looked most lovely. I wish it did not
also state that, when they became great ladies,
they proved forgetful of former kindness in their
time of need on the part of the warm-hearted,
improvident Sheridan.

The first mention that we find of the fair Gun-
nings as the "Belles of the season" in London,
is in a letter from Horace Walpole in June, 1751,
when he speaks of them as " two Irish girls of no
fortune, who make more noise than any of their
predecessors since the days of Helen, and who
are declared the handsomest women alive." The
fastidious Horace " was willing to allow the truth
of the statement if they were both taken to-
gether ;" though he adds by way of qualification,
that " singly he has seen much handsomer women
than either of them." How this can be, however,
is not clear to my dull comprehension.

There can be no doubt of the sensation caused
by the two fair Gunnings wherever they went
about London. They could not take a walk in
the park, or spend an evening at Vauxhall,
without being followed by such mobs as to force
them to retire and go home. One day when the
sisters visited Hampton Court, the housekeeper,
whether in sport or in earnest, showed the
company who were "lionising" the place into
the room where the Miss Gunnings were sitting,



20 TALES OF OUR GREAT FAMILIES.

instead of into the apartment known as the
" Beauty room," with the significant remark,
" These are the beauties, ladies."

The fair sisters, the elder of whom had barely
completed her eighteenth year at the time of which
lam speaking, as may easily be imagined, did not
long retain the humble patronymic which they had
brought with them from Ireland, and had rendered
so famous. Elizabeth, the younger sister, drew
the first prize in the matrimonial lottery ; and the
story of her courtship and marriage had best
perhaps be told in Horace Walpole's own words,
which lets us into a scene in Mayfair Chapel in
the days when marriages not a la mode were
solemnised there. The old gossip writes to his
friend Sir Horace Mann, at Florence, under date
Feb. 27, 1752 :

" The event which has made the most noise
since my last is the wedding of the younger Miss
Gunning. . . . About six weeks ago the Duke
of Hamilton, the very reverse of the Earl [of
Coventry], but debauched, extravagant, and
equally damaged in his fortune and in his person,
fell in love with the youngest at a masquerade,
and determined to marry her in the spring.
About a fortnight since, at an immense assembly
at Lord Chesterfield's, made to show [off] the
house, which is really most magnificent, the



THE TWO FAIR GUNNINGS. 27

Duke made love at one end of the room, while
he was playing at pharaoh (i.e., faro) with the
other : that is, he saw neither the bank nor his
own cards, which were of .300 each. He soon
lost a thousand. I own I was so little a professor
in love that I thought this parade looked ill for the
poor girl, and could not conceive, if he was so
much engaged with his mistress as to disregard
such sums, why he played at all. However,
two nights afterwards, being left alone with her
he found himself so impatient that he sent for a
parson. The doctor refused to perform the
ceremony without either a license or a ring.
The Duke swore he would send for the arch-
bishop. At last they were married with a ring
of the bed curtain, at half an hour after twelve,
at Mayfair Chapel. The Scotch are enraged ;
the women mad that so much beauty has had its
effect; and, what is most silly, my Lord Coven-
try declares that now he will marry the other.
The Duchess was presented on Friday. The
crowd was so great that even the noble mob in
the drawing room clambered into chairs and on
tables to get a look at her. There are mobs at
their door to see them get into their chairs ; and
people go early to get places at the theatres
when it is known that they will be there."

A few weeks after the marriage, the Duke of



28 TALES OF OUR GREAT FAMILIES.

Hamilton conducted his lovely bride to the home
of his ancestors ; and so widely spread was the
fame of the beautiful Duchess, even in those
days when railways, penny postage, and daily
newspapers were things unknown, that, when
they stopped one night at a Yorkshire inn during
their journey, " seven hundred people sat up all
night in and about the house merely to see the
Duchess get into her post-chaise the next morn-
ing."

There can be little doubt that Elizabeth Gun-
ning's first marriage was prompted by ambition :
it could hardly have been a happy one, if we
may credit Wai pole's account of the Hamilton
menage. "The Duchess of Hamilton's history,"
says he, " is not unentertaining. The Duke of
Hamilton is the abstract of Scotch pride. He and
the Duchess, at their own house, walk in to dinner
before their company, sit together at the upper
end of their own table, eat off the same plate,
and drink to nobody beneath the rank of an
earl. Would not one wonder how they could get
anybody, either above or below that rank, to
dine with them at all ?" It is indeed a marvel
how such a host could find guests of any degree
sufficiently wanting in self-respect to sit at his
table and endure his pompous insolence the
insolence of an innately vulgar mind, which,



THE TWO FAIR GUNNINGS. 29

unhappily, is sometimes to be met even in the
most exalted rank of life.

Let us now for the present leave Elizabeth
Duchess of Hamilton to the enjoyment of her
conjugal felicity in the congenial society of her
stately spouse, and see what had meanwhile be-
fallen her sister Maria.

Maria Gunning, the elder and according to the
general opinion the loveliest of the two sisters,
on her first introduction to the beau monde of
London was followed by a long train of aristo-
cratic and noble admirers, among whom was the
Earl of Coventry ; a grave young lord of the re-
mains of the patriot breed, who long dangled after
her. The wavering intention of the Eurl was
most probably decided by the example set
him by one even of higher rank than himself;
and the marriage of Elizabeth to his Grace of
Hamilton was followed in less than three
weeks by that of Maria to his Lordship. Our
old friend Horace Walpole comments in a most
characteristic manner upon the notoriety of the
fair sisters. After recording the fact of their
marriages, he continues, " There are two wretched
women that are just as mnch talked of as the
two beauties, a Miss Jefferies and a Miss Blandy ;
the one condemned for murdering her uncle, the
other for the murder of her father." Lady



30 TALES OF OUR GREAT FAMILIES.

Gower, writing to a friend in the country
shortly after the execution of these two
criminals, and lamenting the lack of sufficient
news to make her letter interesting says:
" Since the two Misses were hanged (Blandy
and Jefferies) and the other two Misses were
married (the Gunnings), there is nothing at all
talked of."

Shortly after their marriage the Earl and
Countess of Coventry, accompanied by Lady
Caroline Petersham another celebrated beauty,
whose charms were, however, at this period
somewhat on the wane paid a visit to France.
But the standard of beauty must have been
widely different in the two countries at that
time, for the English belles, doubtless to
their own extreme amazement, found themselves
entirely at a discount in the French capital.
" Our beauties," writes Walpole in October,
1752, " are returned, and have done no execution.
The French would not conceive that Lady
Caroline Petersham ever had been handsome,
nor that my Lady Coventry has much pretence to
be so now. Poor Lady Coventry," he continues,
" was under piteous disadvantages ; for, besides
being very silly, ignorant of the world and good
breeding, speaking no French, and suffered to
wear neither red nor powder, she had that



THE TWO FAIR GUNNINGS. 31

perpetual drawback upon her beauty ; her lord,
who is sillier in a wiser way, and as ignorant,
speaking very little French himself, just enough
to show how ill-bred he is." It would have been
well for Lady Coventry if she had never been
suffered to wear " red nor powder ;" for it was to
the lavish use of paint that the malady which
caused her early death was attributed by her
physicians.

The lovely Countess seems to have divided
her time between her toilette and her amusements,
On one occasion she exhibited to George Selwyn
the costume which she was going to wear at an
approaching fete. The dress was of blue silk,
richly brocaded with silver spots of the size of a
shilling. "And how do you think I shall look
in it, Mr. Selwyn ?" asked the self-satisfied beauty.
"Why," replied he, "you will look like change
for a guinea !"

Conspicuous in the list of this lady's adorers
was Frederick St. John, Viscount Bolingbroke,
apropos of whom Walpole writes, March 2, 1754 :
" T'other night they danced minuets for the
entertainment of the King at the masquerade,
and then he sent for Lady Coventry to dance.
It was quite like Herodias ; and I believe, if he
had offered a boon, she would have chosen the
head of St. John I think I told you of her



32 TALES OF OUR GREAT FAMILIES.

passion for the young Lord Bolingbroke." A
little later the Duke of Cumberland's admiration
of Lady Coventry was the topic of conversation,
according to that universal intelligencer from
whom most of the gossip of the day has come
down to us.

Many amusing stories are told of Lady
Coventry's extreme silliness ; one of the best of
them is as follows : The old King (George II.)
asked her one evening if she was not sorry that
there were to be no more masquerades. She
replied that " She was tired of them indeed, that
she was surfeited with most London sights ; there
was but one left that she wanted to see and
that was a coronation I" This wish (expressed
with such naivete) was not granted, for Lady
Coventry died just a fortnight before the King.

The prestige of Lady Coventry's exceeding
beauty attended her to the last. Only a few
months before her death in 1760, she was so
mobbed by a crowd of admiring plebeians while
walking in the park, that the King ordered a
guard to be always ready for the future, whenever
Lady Coventry should be pleased to ' take her
walks abroad." Another letter-writer of the
period, the Hon. J. West, gives an amusing
description of the result of these precautions.
"Her ladyship went to the park, and, pretending



THE TWO FAIR GUNNINGS. 33

to be frightened, directly desired the assistance
of the officer of the guard, who ordered twelve
sergeants to walk abreast before her, and a
sergeant and twelve men behind her, and in
this pomp did the idiot walk about all the
evening, with more mob about her than ever,
as you may imagine; her sensible husband
supporting her on one side, and Lord Pembroke
on the other. This is at present the talk of the
whole town."

Elizabeth Gunning, having become a widow in
1758, gave her hand, a twelvemonth later, to
one Colonel John Campbell, then heir presump-
tive to the honours of the great ducal house of
Argyll, and commenced married life for a second
time under auspices even more brilliant and far
happier than her first venture. Walpole writes
of it as " A match that would not disgrace Ar-
cadia. Her beauty has made enough sensation,
and in some people's eyes is even improved. He
has a most pleasing person, countenance, man-
ner; and, if they could but carry to Scotland
some of our sultry English weather, they might
restore the ancient pastoral life, when fair kings
and queens reigned at once over their subjects
and their sheep."

It is a well-known fact, frequently mentioned
by Chesterfield, Walpole, and other contem-

VOL. I. D



o4 TALES OF OUR GREAT FAMILIES.

porary writers, that for the sake of Colonel
Campbell, Elizabeth Gunning, in her year of
widowhood, had rejected another ducal coronet,
that of the Duke of Bridgewater.

But the career of the beautiful Countess was
fast drawing to a close, and Walpole writes to
a friend : " The kingdom of beauty is in as
great disorder as the kingdom of Ireland. My
Lady Pembroke looks like a ghost. My Lady
Coventry is going to be one." Poor creature !
The heartless wit spoke only too truly.

One of the last occasions on which we hear of
her appearance in public was at the trial of
Earl Ferrers, in the House of Lords, April 1760,
for the murder of his steward. Walpole writes
of this trial : " The seats of the peeresses were
not near full, and most of the beauties absent;
but, to the amazement of everybody, Lady
Coventry was there, and, what surprised me
much more, looked as well as ever. I sat next
but one to her, and should not have asked her
if she had been ill, yet they are positive she has
few weeks to live. She and Lord Bolingbroke
seemed to have different thoughts, and were
acting over all the old comedy of eyes."

Walpole's description of her death-bed is a
most melancholy one. " Poor Lady Coventry,"
he writes, " concluded her short race with the



THE TWO FAIR GUNNINGS. 35

same attention to her looks. She lay constantly
on a couch, with a pocket-glass in her hand ;
and when that told her how great the change
was, she took to her bed. During the last fort-
night she had no light in her room but the lamp
of a tea-kettle, and at last took things in through
the curtains of her bed, without suffering them
to be withdrawn." The mob, who never quitted
curiosit}' about her, went to the number of ten
thousand only to see her coffin. Her married
life extended over something more than eight
years. She did not, however, pass away until
she had borne to the earl three children; two
daughters, and also a son, George William, who
became the seventh Earl of Coventry, and lived
for nine years in the present century.

I have before mentioned that Lady Coventry's
early death was mainly attributed to her lavish
use of cosmetics; and I find another terrible
example of the same extraordinary infatuation
in the pages from which I have already so largely
quoted. Horace Walpole writes in 1762 : "That
pretty young woman, Lady Fortrose, Lady Har-
rington's daughter, is at the point of death,
killed, like Lady Coventry and others, by white
lead, of which nothing could cure her."

It will probably strike the reader of Horace
Wai pole's Letters that he speaks with undue

l> 2



36 TALES OF OUR GREAT FAMILIES.

harshness of Lady Coventry's ignorance and ill-
breeding, when we consider the giddy height to
which she had been raised from a life of obscu-
rity, if not of poverty, at a very early age; the
amount of adulation poured upon her by the
highest personages in the land ; and, above all,
the facts that coarseness and ignorance were
common failings among the aristocracy of that
day.

At the time of her sister's death, in October,
1760, the Duchess of Hamilton was in such bad
health that her physicians apprehended a rapid
decline, and ordered her to pass the winter
abroad. Walpole speaks of her at this time as
possessing " but little remains of beauty ;" her
features, he adds, " were never so handsome as
Lady Coventry's, and she has long been changed,
though not yet, I think, above six-and-twenty ;
the other was but twenty-seven." The Duchess,
however, recovered, and was one of the three
ladies appointed to accompany the Princess
Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz from Ger-
many to England previous to her marriage with
George III. It is said that when the young
German bride arrived in sight of the palace of
her future husband, she turned pale, and evinced
such evident symptoms of terror as to force a


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