Sarah Villiers, Countess of Jersey
Sarah Sophia Child Villiers, Countess of Jersey (4 March 1785 – 26 January 1867), born Lady Sarah Fane, was an English noblewoman, and through her marriage a member of the Villiers family. She was the eldest daughter of John Fane, 10th Earl of Westmorland, and Sarah Anne Child. Her mother was the only child of Robert Child, the principal shareholder in the banking firm Child & Co. Under the terms of his will, the Countess of Jersey was the primary legatee, and she not only inherited Osterley Park but became senior partner of the bank. Her husband, George Villiers, added the surname Child by royal licence. The inheritance made her one of the richest women in England: in 1805 she was able to give £20000 each to four family members without impairing her own income.
Lady Jersey married George Child Villiers, 5th Earl of Jersey, on 23 May 1804, in the drawing room of her house in Berkeley Square. Her husband's mother, Frances Villiers, Countess of Jersey (also Lady Jersey), was one of the more notorious mistresses of King George IV when he was Prince of Wales. Her sister Maria married John Ponsonby, Viscount Duncannon, later the 4th Earl of Bessborough, a brother of Lady Caroline Lamb. Her own affairs, though conducted discreetly, were said to be numerous: Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston, was thought to be one of her lovers. When asked why he had never fought a duel to preserve his wife's reputation, Lord Jersey dryly replied that this would require him to fight every man in London.
Lady Jersey was one of the patronesses of Almack's, the most exclusive social club in London, and a leader of the ton during the Regency era. She was immortalized as Zenobia in Disraeli's novel Endymion. Caroline Lamb ridiculed her in Glenarvon; in revenge Lady Jersey had her barred from Almack's, the ultimate social disgrace. This, however, was unusual since she was notable for acts of kindness and generosity; and she was eventually persuaded to remove the ban.
In politics she was a Tory, although she lacked the passionate interest in politics shown by her cousin Harriet Arbuthnot. On hearing that the Duke of Wellington had fallen from power in 1830, she burst into tears in public. She reportedly "moved heaven and earth" against the Reform Act 1832.
Lady Jersey was known by the nickname Silence; the nickname was ironic since, famously, she almost never stopped talking. The memoirist Captain Gronow, who disliked her, called her "a theatrical tragedy queen", and considered her "ill-bred and inconceivably rude".
She is a recurring character in the Regency novels of Georgette Heyer, where she is presented as eccentric and unpredictable, but highly intelligent and observant, and capable of kindness and generosity.
Lady Jersey had seven children:
- George Child Villiers, 6th Earl of Jersey (1808–1859)
- The Honourable Augustus John Villiers (1810–1847), married Georgiana Elphinstone, daughter of George Elphinstone, 1st Viscount Keith.
- The Honourable Frederick William Child Villiers (1815–1871), married Elizabeth Maria van Reede, daughter of the 7th or 8th Earl of Athlone.
- The Honourable Francis John Robert Child Villiers (1819–1862).
- Lady Sarah Frederica Caroline Child Villiers (1822–1853), married Nicholas Paul (Miklós Pál), 9th Prince Esterházy (1817–1894). His mother, Princess Maria Theresia of Thurn and Taxis was a friend of Lady Jersey and a fellow patroness of Almack's.
- Lady Clementina Augusta Wellington Child Villiers (1824–1858).
- Lady Adela Corisande Maria Child Villiers (1828–1860), married Lt.-Col. Charles Parke Ibbetson, and had one daughter Adele. Lady Adela's scandalous elopement to Gretna Green with Captain Ibbetson increased the circulation of all the London newspapers in November 1845.
She outlived not only her husband, but six of her seven children.
- Ridley, Jasper Lord Palmerston London: Constable, 1970; p. 42
- Lord David Cecil Melbourne Pan Books Edition, 1965; p. 122
- Ridley, p. 42
- Fraser, Antonia Perilous Question: the Drama of the Great Reform Bill 1832 Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2013; p. 91
- cf Georgette Heyer The Grand Sophy "Dreadful woman-she never stops talking! ...She is known as Silence in London".
- Portraits of Sarah Sophia Child-Villiers (née Fane), Countess of Jersey at the National Portrait Gallery, London
- Lady Sarah Jersey [sic] at The Dukes of Buckingham and Chandos
- The Lady Patronesses of Almack's at Georgian, Regency & Victorian Research by Kristine Hughes.
- "Archival material relating to Sarah Villiers, Countess of Jersey". UK National Archives.